The most recent annual meeting of Interpol’s governing body brought more bad news for its democratic member states, including the U.S.
Interpol’s General Assembly concluded on Oct. 21. Interpol is still governed by a committee on which stable democracies are in the minority, it is still kowtowing to China over Taiwan, and is still refusing to sanction its most abusive members like Russia while failing to address many of the actual challenges it faces.
Despite what Hollywood says, Interpol isn’t an international police organization. It’s more like a sophisticated electronic bulletin board on which its member nations can post “wanted” notices and other information. Unfortunately, Interpol’s autocratic members too often use that bulletin board to harass their political enemies or to justify their attacks on entrepreneurs. That’s what’s called “Interpol abuse.”
The past several years have not been good for Interpol’s democratic members, which pay 66% of Interpol’s budget but comprise only 40% of its membership. As a result, the democracies are easily outvoted in Interpol’s one nation, one vote General Assembly.
Last year, the autocracies almost swept the board when the General Assembly elected a slate of new members to Interpol’s executive committee, which supervises Interpol’s operations on behalf of the assembly. By the time the voting was over, the U.S., Spain, the U.K., and the Czech Republic were the only stable democracies left on the 13-member committee.
To top it off, the assembly in 2021 elected Ahmed Nasser Al-Raisi from the United Arab Emirates as Interpol’s president. Al-Raisi has been credibly accused of torture, the UAE is a known abuser of Interpol, and the UAE has given Interpol a great deal of money with limited accountability.
So, the U.S. didn’t go into the 2022 assembly meeting in a strong position. Even before the meeting opened, Interpol’s secretary general, Jurgen Stöck of Germany, asserted that Interpol could not grant Taiwan observer status at the assembly.
According to Stöck, Interpol recognizes Taiwan as part of China and it recognizes the People’s Republic of China as China’s sole representative; therefore, it can’t grant Taiwan any status of its own.
In reality, it’s not that simple. The Interpol General Assembly could vote to give Taiwan observer status or even to fully admit it. The fact is that Interpol, as an organization, does not want to acknowledge that Taiwan is a free and law-abiding democracy because it wants to stay on the PRC’s good side.
As British lawyer Stephen Bailey points out, Interpol has gone to extraordinary lengths to raise the drawbridge against Taiwan, even changing its interpretation of its own constitution to exclude the island nation.
Yet the momentum behind granting Taiwan observer status is increasing. The British and Dutch governments backed Taiwanese participation, as did the U.S., Japanese, and Australian missions in Taiwan, and lawmakers in the U.S., Canada, and South Korea.
Sooner or later, those democracies will have to choose between allowing Interpol to continue to kowtow to Beijing or taking a stand on behalf of Taiwan.
But for the time being, Taiwan remains on the outside.
And the news didn’t get much better by the time the assembly meeting had concluded.
As far as Interpol was concerned, the big development in New Delhi was its launch of the “INTERPOL Metaverse,” which, according to its news release, is “the first-ever metaverse specifically designed for law enforcement agencies around the world.”
The Interpol Metaverse will allow registered users—in other words, not you—to “visit a virtual version of the INTERPOL General Secretariat headquarters, … to interact with other agents via avatars, and even undergo immersive training in forensic investigations.”
If you don’t see the point of this, you’re not alone. Virtual tourism may be fun, but it adds no value. Interpol already has an expensive collection of regional bureaus to promote training, and there is no reason Interpol can’t train online without a fancy metaverse.
Interpol claims breathlessly that “the emergence of Metaverse has the potential to be a complete game changer.”
Games like Minecraft and Roblox are incredibly popular, that’s true. But right now, a lot of metaverses are close to digital ghost towns that are mostly the preserve of well-off Americans. And Interpol’s new metaverse looks more like another example of Interpol’s unfortunate tendency to chase headlines than it does a serious focus on the actual challenges that it needs to confront—such as the efforts of too many of its member nations to break its rules.
That’s no surprise. Al-Raisi based a good deal of his presidential campaign on the supposed need for Interpol to respond to the criminal potential of new technology (along with, inevitably, promoting “diversity,” a cause irrelevant to assessing the qualifications of Interpol staff but one that the assembly has also endorsed). Al-Raisi’s enthusiasm was a convenient way to advance an agenda that sounded serious but didn’t bring up any of the actual issues facing Interpol.
It’s not all metaverses at Interpol. The assembly elected most of its executive committee last year, and so there weren’t many vacancies in 2022. But it did have three committee slots to fill.
The results of those elections weren’t too bad. The assembly elected representatives from Belgium (no problem there), Egypt (a dictatorship and a known abuser of Interpol), and Namibia (one of the best African representatives the assembly could have picked).
But if you’re scoring at home, the committee still has only four stable democracies—the U.K., the U.S., Spain, and Belgium—while known abusers such as the UAE, Nigeria, China, Egypt, Turkey, and India hold a near majority. The U.S. isn’t going to be able to push major reforms through this committee before next year’s assembly meeting.
So, the U.S. will likely have to spend the coming year in Interpol in a familiar position—on the defensive. That’s doubly so because the assembly approved a resolution that Russia originated calling for an Interpol Working Group to examine how Interpol is to remain nonpolitical.
Interpol likes to pretend that it’s an open and transparent organization, but since it never publishes the reports that underlie assembly resolutions, its transparency doesn’t go very far. Without those reports, it’s hard to know what the Russians are up to—or what Ukraine has proposed in its own resolution, which was also adopted, on the process for suspending or expelling an Interpol member.
But it’s a pretty safe bet that Russia and Ukraine have proposed dueling resolutions—Russia seeking to make it impossible to kick out even Interpol’s most abusive members (i.e., Russia and China), and Ukraine seeking to make it easier to achieve precisely that aim.
Nor is it hard to guess where Interpol wants to end up. As Stöck was at pains to emphasize, he believes Interpol must be neutral—which by his way of thinking means avoiding “any state activity.” An Interpol member nation can be as terrible as it wants to be, and Interpol won’t seek to suspend or expel it for breaking Interpol’s rules.
By Interpol’s way of thinking, noticing rule-breaking isn’t “neutral.” In other words, Interpol is, in practice, taking the Russian side. All the fancy talk about diversity shouldn’t disguise that fact.
Needless to say, Interpol’s approach isn’t neutrality—it’s blindness. It means that Interpol values Chinese and Russian membership more than it values its own rules. Unfortunately, the U.S. refuses to weigh in on this fight—I am told that only Poland took the floor in the assembly to support Ukraine. It seems the Biden administration agrees with Stöck’s blighted vision of neutrality.
This is foolhardy. Trying to prevent Interpol’s politicization isn’t playing politics. It’s trying to stop others from playing politics. If Interpol doesn’t stand up for its rules, and if the U.S. doesn’t push it to do so, Interpol will keep on becoming more and more a political plaything for Russia and China. That would be even more bad news for Interpol’s democratic members and for the legitimacy of Interpol as an organization supposedly dedicated to apolitical cooperation against crime.
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