Book review: Common Enemies: Crime, Policy, and Politics in Australia-Indonesian Relations, by Michael McKenzie

Mathieu Deflem
University of South Carolina

This is a copy of a book review of Common Enemies: Crime, Policy, and Politics in Australia-Indonesian Relations by Michael McKenzie (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018. 272 pp., $90 hardcover 9780198815754), published in Global Policy, 2019.
Also available online from the journal.

Please cite as: Deflem, Mathieu. 2019. Review of Common Enemies: Crime, Policy, and Politics in Australia-Indonesian Relations, by Michael McKenzie. Global Policy, March 29, 2019. https://www.globalpolicyjournal.com/blog/29/03/2019/book-review-common-enemies-crime-policy-and-politics-australia-indonesia-relations



While there is no denying that the globalization of social life has also affected crime and its control, the scholarship on global and international forms of crime and policing still remains in need of further development. For that reason alone, it is interesting to see the appearance of Michael McKenzie’s Common Enemies, a book that centrally focuses on Australian-Indonesian cooperation in matters of crime and criminal justice. The book takes as its starting point the Bali bombings of October 12, 2002 that killed 202 people, including many Australians and Indonesians. The tragic incident was followed by a swift law enforcement response in which the Indonesian National Police was joined by officers from the Australian Federal Police who were present at the time on other international missions.

McKenzie notes that the 2002 Bali bombings acted as a catalyst for further cooperation in criminal matters between Australia and Indonesia, but not always successfully so. The conditions of successful cooperation are at the center of this book, a matter that is explored both intellectually as a contribution to scholarship as well as practically to promote effective cooperation. The author is ideally placed to develop such a perspective as he is both scholarly trained as well as practically involved as a legal official working for the Australian government. Relying on archival research and more than 100 interviews, McKenzie’s study is soundly grounded to study the dynamics of cooperation between Australia and Indonesia.

McKenzie draws a distinction between policy and politics to refer to the practical arrangements that exist on criminal law enforcement, on the one hand, and the pursuit and maintenance of power, on the other. The issue is a familiar one in the world of international police cooperation in that Australia and Indonesia readily, as neighboring nations, have much in common on a policy level, but that they can be more than many miles apart politically. For McKenzie, it is important to analyze this tension between policy (including police) and politics both theoretically to understand what is going on as well as practically to develop better cooperation strategies.

The theoretical perspective of McKenzie’s book is developed in relation to major theories in political science and sociology. On the one hand, there is the IR-related scholarship, specifically the work of Ethan Nadelmann, that explains international police work in terms of political processes involving the expansion of power across the world. On the other hand, there is the sociological approach, developed in this reviewer’s relevant work, that emphasizes the bureaucratic autonomy of police agencies to cooperate on the basis of professional standards irrespective of political concerns. Ideally placed to do so, McKenzie seeks to bridge these perspectives by adopting a framework that focuses on governance rather than politics, on actors rather than states, and on practices rather than ideals.

McKenzie applies his perspective to a number of issues in six thematic chapters. Centered on various ‘wars on crime’ such as drug trafficking, people smuggling, and terrorism, McKenzie first traces the empirical dimensions of the politicization of certain transnational crime problems as a condition to establish the political will to foster cooperation. He finds that when transnational problems are securitized, i.e., politicized as a national security concern, cooperation is more likely to be promoted at the political level from within the concerned countries. Politically, in other words, international cooperation is promoted because of distinctly national considerations.

In the subsequent empirical chapters, McKenzie studies the actors involved in criminal justice cooperation. He first examines the role of the relevant bureaucrats on the basis of my own theory of bureaucratic autonomy to affirm that the officers of the respective national police agencies of Australia and Indonesia cooperate when they are independent from their governments and share a common culture to combat certain crimes. Consistent with the theory, McKenzie finds that a common police culture has been formed between Australian police and their colleagues in the Indonesian national police, especially after the latter split from the military. Cooperation is manifested in the recognition of a common target among the members of a brotherhood of policing, even when politically there have occasionally been tensions between the countries. Separately examining the role of political actors, specifically in extradition matters, McKenzie finds that politicians primarily seek to pander to their respective national audiences and, as a result, face problems in international collaboration. In a third and final chapter on actors, the role of private actors, specifically foreign nationals who are detained for international crimes, is examined. These citizens, McKenzie argues, can influence both policy and politics in international matters when they collectively mobilize support, in part relying on an exposure of their causes in the media.

In the final two chapters of this book, McKenzie brings all he has empirically uncovered together to argue that the scope of criminal justice cooperation is influenced by the perception that the interests among all actors involved are shared. Cooperation in transnational criminal matters, McKenzie concludes, is most likely to be successfully planned and executed when political and institutional interests are evenly balanced.

Common Enemies by Michael McKenzie is undoubtedly a very fine contribution to the study of the internationalization of criminal justice and deserves to find its place in this ever-growing literature. The approach adopted in this book is one that makes a lot of sense, however astonishing this may be to those who continue to dwell on the state as an entity defined in non-instrumental ways. Since Max Weber, the focus on bureaucratic organizations is almost trivial to highlight in order to show that the consequential reality of policy is always policy-implementation rather than policymaking. Only from this viewpoint can it become possible to draw practical conclusion that have any chance of being efficient as well as effective.

It is tempting to concentrate on this book’s chapter on bureaucrats, not only because it is the field of my own work, but also because it indeed is the heart of the matter in the world of international policing. McKenzie’s identification of three actors (politicians, bureaucrats, private citizens) cannot overlook the fact that they are not all three equal in their respective impact on international criminal justice cooperation. Politicians may wish to regulate such cooperation but often find themselves ineffective against the police as the experts, while private citizens at best influence the execution of certain cooperative agreements but cannot actually affect their organization.

It is true, as McKenzie argues, that policy and politics are not always in line and have to be conceptually distinguished, not neglecting either one or the other. But it must also be recognized that the institutional level of policy involving police and other bureaucratic institutions has for too long been neglected, especially with the incessant and ultimately blinding obsession with politics and state. Confirming earlier studies, McKenzie’s book shows that international cooperation is built from the bottom up and cannot be regulated top-down by politics and law. In the interest of international cooperation, instead, it is necessary to argue that, and examine how, politicians can learn from the cops.


See other writings on international police cooperation.