Interpol: the important election this November you may not have heard of

Delegates from around the world will meet in November to vote in the new Executive Committee of the world’s premier international policing organisation, INTERPOL. An analysis by Pietro Baldelli.

Credit to Shutterstock

To the casual observer, Bulgaria’s general election next month – the country’s third visit to the polls this year – looks like the last significant vote of 2021 in Europe. However, just a few days later, delegates from around the world will meet across Bulgaria’s southeast border in Istanbul to vote in the new Executive Committee of the world’s premier international policing organisation, INTERPOL.

Not always front of mind when considering multilateral relations, INTERPOL is in fact a remarkably successful inter-governmental organization which counts 194 member countries – and helps all of them make the world a safer place. It will soon celebrate 100 years of existence after its predecessor, the International Criminal Police Commission, was first agreed by 20 countries at the second International Police Congress in Vienna in 1923.

A scroll through INTERPOL’s news page quickly dispels any doubts one might have about the continuing relevance or impact of the organisation. In the last five months alone, it has coordinated separate and highly complex operations that shut down thousands of fake pharmacies in 92 countries; arrested 1,400 suspects across Asia and Europe on charges of illegal gambling and money laundering; seized 15,000 tonnes of illegal products across 72 states; and rescued 430 victims of human trafficking while dismantling 22 criminal groups.

Considering its modest budget, this is international cooperation on another level; in stark contradiction to several of the high-profile but hamstrung institutions of Brussels, New York, or Geneva. And it really counts. Modern-day security challenges are increasingly regional or global in nature, and they threaten the sustainable development of societies across the world.

INTERPOL tackles contemporary threats head on by prioritising a collaborative approach that shares best practice and, in theory, sees all of its members working towards the same core goals – countering terrorism; promoting border integrity; protecting vulnerable communities; securing cyberspace; curbing illicit markets; and supporting environmental security.

The organisation is entering a critical time in its trajectory, as increasingly sophisticated transnational criminals – often exploiting new forms of transnational crime – seek to outpace law enforcement resources. Perhaps more than any other point in history, technological advances are advancing at breakneck speed, in fields such as social networking, artificial intelligence, robotics, and quantum computing. For all the good these developments bring, there will always be those who seek to manipulate them for criminal use.

This is why the election of nine delegates, two vice-presidents, and one president of INTERPOL’s Executive Committee next month is so significant. This grand organisation must modernise at the same pace of those it seeks to thwart, and must remain relevant to every one of its 194 members if it is to continue as a viable force in building a safer world.

The Executive Committee does not run INTERPOL in an operational sense. It sits as its governing body, with responsibility for supervising the General Secretariat’s work, and setting overall policy and direction. At the top of the Committee sits the President, whose four-year mandate is soon to be completed by an institutional veteran from the Republic of Korea, Kim Jong Yang.

In the running to succeed Mr Yang are two candidates with differing visions for the future of the organisation. The Czech candidate, Colonel Šárka Havránková, has significant experience in European policing – including at EUROPOL, the Council of the European Union, and as Vice-President for Europe at INTERPOL itself. The Emirati candidate, Major General Dr. Ahmed Al-Raisi, offers a more global vision backed by four decades of domestic and international policing experience, and if elected would be the first Arab to serve as INTERPOL President – an important asset given the global threat posed by today’s criminal networks. Given the MENA region’s position at the centre of many modern transnational criminal issues, such as cybercrime, money laundering and drug trafficking, a candidate drawn from that same region would be of great value to law enforcement efforts – both within and beyond its borders, particularly in the broader Mediterranean area.

Given Major General Al-Raisi’s high profile, he has attracted a minor political campaign against his candidacy. Indeed, two lawsuits on this subject have recently been launched in France by a small network of activists – although there is no suggestion the accused has been involved in any wrongdoing, and the courts have not taken on the complaints. By contrast, we don’t know much about Colonel Havránková’s vision, as she has largely avoided campaigning publicly.

Whatever the outcome, it is clear that INTERPOL needs a strong leader with a clear programme for the future. The next 100 years of its existence will be sharply different to the first, as will the threats it must counter. Its President, working in close collaboration with the Secretary-General – currently another European, Jürgen Stock – is responsible for piloting this organisational direction. If they are to be successful, they must place collaboration and representation of all 194 members’ interests at the heart of their agenda.

With innovative, bold, and diverse leadership, INTERPOL’s remarkable success story will be well set to continue through the 21st century and beyond.


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