In a further sign of a shift in the international balance of power – or what some Russians still more accurately refer to as “the correlation of world forces” – the Chinese and the Russians have successfully gained election to two of the top posts of the international police agency Interpol.
Interpol is not itself an international police force. Rather it is an organisation that exists to facilitate cooperation between national police forces. Its key function is to maintain very extensive international databases by participating national police forces for purposes of law enforcement, and it also provides a secure worldwide communications network between police forces.
Interpol’s most famous – or notorious – activity is however the distribution of Interpol Notices to national police agencies. These Notices are a type of international alert circulated by Interpol to communicate information to police forces around the world about crimes, criminals and threats to law and order.
These Notices extend all the way from Purple Notices, which are essentially requests for information, to the famous or notorious Red Notices, which are instructions to seek the location and arrest of a person wanted by a judicial jurisdiction or an international tribunal with a view to his/her extradition.
Interpol has had a patchy history. It was formally established in 1923, but notoriously in 1938, following Nazi Germany’s annexation of Austria where Interpol had its headquarters, it came under the control of the Nazi Gestapo. During the Second World War its presidents included Reinhard Heydrich and Ernst Kaltenbrunner, the successive heads of Nazi German’s umbrella secret police organisation the RSHA.
Since its reconstitution in 1946 Interpol has been under the effective control of the US and of the Western powers. Without exception, every single President of Interpol, and every single Secretary General of Interpol, has since 1946 been either a national of a Western state, or a national of a Western allied state.
Interpol’s constitution obliges the organisation to maintain strict neutrality and to be completely apolitical in its decisions. In practice Western domination of Interpol has ensured that it has shown clear partiality in certain politically sensitive cases. For example Interpol has refused or quashed repeated Russian requests to issue Red Notices against the British businessman Bill Browder, who is wanted in Russia on tax evasion charges in what has become known as the Magnitsky Affair.
Western control of Interpol has now been shaken, with confirmation that Interpol’s General Assembly has elected a Chinese official, Meng Hongwei, to be its President, and a Russian official, Alexander Prokopchuk, to be its Vice President responsible for Europe.
This does not completely end Western control of Interpol. Its bureaucracy is largely run by its Secretary General, who continues to be Jurgen Stock, a German.
However the election of top Chinese and Russian officials to the central bodies of Interpol – and the election of a Chinese official as its President – not only shows that Western control of Interpol is loosening, but means that Chinese and Russian views on politically sensitive cases like Browder’s will finally have to be taken seriously.