x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

More study needed on GCC police force

Proposals for a GCC-wide police force should consider coordination and accountability as paramount goals.

In a meeting on Wednesday, GCC interior ministers announced a plan to set up a joint police force that would span the Arabian Peninsula. It is important to note that, as yet, it is still just a plan that needs to be studied and finalised at meetings in the coming year.

The idea, in principle, is a step in the right direction. Threats facing the GCC vary from crimes such as illegal immigration, money laundering, forgery and human trafficking to fundamental security issues such as terrorism and cyber warfare. GCC leaders have long recognised that policing those kind of threats depends on regional cooperation, although that cooperation has not always been perfect.

But the plan also raises some serious questions. Will the force have powers to arrest suspects? If so, who would issue arrest warrants? What would be the command structure of the agency and its breadth of operation on sovereign states' soil?

Sheikh Rashid bin Abdulla, Bahrain's minister of interior, said the police force would be "similar to models followed in Europe and Asia, which would strengthen our cooperation and security in fighting terrorism". The most prominent example of international law enforcement is Interpol (with which the UAE cooperates), which operates under a mandate forbidding political and military activity.

Given the shared security issues of the GCC states, this new police force would probably function in part as a shared intelligence service focused particularly on counterterrorism. In that context, a transnational task force would require a high degree of transparency and accountability. At a country level, oversight of police forces is built into the judiciary and ministries, and a similar mechanism would have to be developed.

Security threats cross borders with ease these days, whether over the internet or hiding behind a false passport. The need to share information on cross-border threats is obvious; whether a new force would also involve joint training of personnel and coordinated physical policing remains to be seen.

The six-member GCC was founded on principles of mutual guarantees of security. It has since been expanded in terms of economic support and considerations of a monetary union, but the basic principle of security is the precondition for every other initiative. Better coordination and transparency could lead to a more effective security force.