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Can the AFP really help in Ukraine?

Abbott wants to send the cops into war-torn Ukraine. Is this a wise move? Andrew Goldsmith, strategic professor of criminology and Grant Niemann, senior lecturer in law, explain.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott is reported to be considering using the Australian Federal Police’s International Deployment Group (IDG) as part of wider efforts to secure the MH17 crash site in eastern Ukraine. The objective would be to permit the recovery of bodies and the conduct of a full investigation into the crash. In the past the IDG has been used principally as part of missions to restore order and rebuild basic governance in places such as East Timor and the Solomon Islands, in our region, and well away from the type of scenario currently unfolding in eastern Ukraine. In the cases of East Timor and Afghanistan, Australian police have been either part of United Nations missions or under bilateral agreements between the two governments concerned.

The AFP has also sent detachments of police to more volatile and dangerous places, such as Sudan and Afghanistan. In these cases, however, the number of police has been typically very small, and much thought has been given to the military and private security support available to protect those officers, who are typically undertaking special training and intelligence tasks from within relatively well-protected environments. Protecting officers in such circumstances, needless to say, is very difficult and also expensive.

There are a couple of fundamental considerations raised by such a proposal. The first is the formal authority for undertaking a mission of this kind. Australia is unlikely to move in this direction without some formal approval. While technically the government of the Ukraine could agree to such a move, either through legislation or a formal agreement with our government, there is the issue of whether it could be operative in the contested area around the crash site. Separatist rebels may not be inclined to recognise and respect an agreement on political grounds, in which case, Australian police personnel would be extremely exposed, a risk our government would not contemplate.

The other option is pursuing a UN Security Council resolution authorising in effect a peacekeeping mission specifically for the purposes of securing the crash site and allowing forensic investigations and collection of human remains to proceed unimpeded. Australia’s IDG could well constitute a part of such a mission and would be consistent with past practice in places such as East Timor. There would indeed be AFP forensic expertise outside the IDG itself that could usefully be included in such a mission. This has occurred in the past in the aftermath of major bombing attacks and humanitarian disasters in Indonesia.

Behind the issue of formal approval, there is the obvious one of ensuring the safety of Australian police personnel. In the past, Australian police inserted into arguably far less dangerous environments have relied on Australian military personnel in the initial phases at least to provide the security “envelope” to enable them to perform their policing tasks. Who would play this role in an apparently more perilous environment such as eastern Ukraine at present is not clear. Press reports indicate the Australian military is also being considered for a role, in which case the IDG could draw upon its established links and previous experiences with the ADF in joint operations abroad. However, the composition of any peacekeeping mission is likely to be larger, given the extent of Dutch interest in the disaster, but Australian police have history in terms of working as part of larger multinational missions.

The AFP undoubtedly does have considerable offshore experience of a variety of kinds, more probably than any other single police force in the world. It thus could conceivably play a useful role in relation to supporting the crash site investigation. However, the political and practical challenges here are considerable, and without strong UN and Russian support, could prove insuperable.

*Andrew Goldsmith is strategic professor of criminology at Flinders University and chief investigator on Policing the Neighbourhood, a three-year study into the AFP interventions in East Timor, the Solomons and PNG. Grant Niemann is a senior lecturer in law, specialising in international criminal law, and was formerly a war crime prosecutor in the Hague.

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  • 1
    Daly
    Posted Thursday, 24 July 2014 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    This is just Tony Abbott looking tough to continue to deflect attention from a disastrous two weeks in Parliament during which his budget was torn to shreads and his poor negotiation skills on view.
    At least all this posturing will never happen because cooler heads in Defence and the AFP will tell him it is all rubbish. As are most of his solutions to problems. This one, like so many, is not one that requires a solution by Australia. It will be very competently handled by the Europeans.

  • 2
    Peter Watson
    Posted Thursday, 24 July 2014 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    In the week since the plane crashed, Ukraine has been on the offensive in the civil war in the Ukraine. This is a civil war, not just a government fighting a small group of terrorists.
    In this last week Abbott has not once called on the Ukraine Government to call a truce. He has not talked to the militia leaders to gain access as both the Dutch and Malay governments have.
    A Malay and Dutch delegation have been to the site, picked up the flight recorders, taken responsibility for the train load of deceased, and now have four Dutch aviation experts working on the crash site.
    Where are the Australians. Behind the Dutch, Australia lost the largest number of people, yet no Australian has bothered to go to the site.
    The site is about 40km from the front line. The local militia are not preventing experts inspecting the crash site.
    Abbott has had the loudest mouth yet it is the Malaysians and Dutch doing the hard yards.

  • 3
    Paddlefoot
    Posted Thursday, 24 July 2014 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    Just as we leave Afghanistan , we contemplate involvement in Ukraine. Frying pan to fire. That is high risk IMO. All we can hope for is the retrieval of those lost without too much collateral damage. Putin will not be overthrown. Ethnic cleansing is the historic norm in the Bloodlands and many are still to receive justice after 50 years. We’ve made our point and done well in the UN ( thanks to our position on the Security Council ) and hopefully provide some dignity to those unfortunate souls.

  • 4
    Mark Bransdon
    Posted Thursday, 24 July 2014 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    What the …? Has Abbott lost is? This is a WAR ZONE. What the hell does he think 50 cops are going to do (no disrespect to the police officers)!!!

  • 5
    Bill Hilliger
    Posted Thursday, 24 July 2014 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    Abbott as always with the ambitions of an ocean going tadpole. As long as it deflects the budget impasse and bad polls.

  • 6
    sparky
    Posted Thursday, 24 July 2014 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

    Australian exceptionalism moves from the Asia Pacific to Europe. Not going to happen.

  • 7
    leon knight
    Posted Thursday, 24 July 2014 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    Bill - love the “ocean-going tadpole” analogy..!!
    This has been a week of way over the top extremes from the media, even the ABC has lost the plot…and Abbott’s cynicism and hare-brained rhetoric just fuels the fire.
    I will be glad when the madness dies down - and this deployment of course will not happen.
    The reprieve from the the blowtorch will be short-lived for this shambolic LNP crew.

  • 8
    klewso
    Posted Thursday, 24 July 2014 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

    They can help Abbott’s photo-ops.

  • 9
    bushby jane
    Posted Friday, 25 July 2014 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    It’s worked anyway-Abbott has shot up in the polls. You can apparently fool a lot of the people…

  • 10
    H H
    Posted Friday, 25 July 2014 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Abbot has shot up in the Polls because he has proven to be the true statesman that he is. What we did at the UN a few days back was outstanding and Australia has done themselves proud. We should be congratulating MP Bishop on her achievements as other world leaders already have.

    Voters will remember this and ensure that the labor party and soon to be extinct greens will not be in power for the foreseeable future.

  • 11
    Allen Daniel
    Posted Friday, 25 July 2014 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    I believe that the AFP should be used for their police expertise, such as investigations, forensics, prosecutions, etc. However, due to the nature of the war zone that they will be entering, I also believe that a small detachment of Australian soldiers should be deployed as protection and security so the AFP staff can undertake their duties in a more safe and secure environment. Obviously in this case, not all risks can be mitigated, but risk management should be a priority.

  • 12
    Mike Smith
    Posted Friday, 25 July 2014 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    HH, I love your irony.

  • 13
    MJPC
    Posted Friday, 25 July 2014 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    HH, todays newspaper headline is tomorrow’s fish and chip wrapper.
    After the heady days of statesman, when Parliament resumes it will be back to the budget, medicare co-payment and screwing the populace. We’ll see what the polls say then.
    As for the Greens, I notice none of their party figured in the NSW ICAC deliberations; extinct, I don’t think so.

  • 14
    klewso
    Posted Friday, 25 July 2014 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    It certainly has worked better than his attempt to grab the international spotlight over MH370 - we’re not thinking near as much how his Budget stinks?

  • 15
    Fiona Brooke
    Posted Friday, 25 July 2014 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    So bugger it, lets put the AFP into a dangerous situation without appropriate support so Tony Abbott can hopefully resurrect his approval rating.

  • 16
    waiting dog
    Posted Monday, 28 July 2014 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    Forget the AFE. In the name of a free market why not send a private security firm over there?
    If there’s a dollar to be made out of any tragedy there’re always up for it and what’s more nobody cares if they get killed.

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