How Large Is The Democratic World's Financial Contribution To Interpol?

COMMENTARY Global Politics

How Large Is The Democratic World's Financial Contribution To Interpol?

Mar 4th, 2019 10 min read
Theodore R. Bromund, Ph.D.

Senior Research Fellow in Anglo-American Relations

Ted Bromund studies Anglo-American relations, U.S. relations with Europe and the EU, and the U.S.’s leadership role in the world.
The top six contributors – the US, Japan, Germany, France, the UK, and Italy – are all democratic, and together paid 55.8% of the contributions. FrankvandenBergh/Getty Images

In my last column, I looked at the share of Interpol’s budget paid by the U.S., and concluded it was likely around $19 million, or about 15.5 percent of Interpol’s total operating expenses. On its own, therefore, the U.S. has significant but not determining financial leverage over Interpol. This raises the next logical question: how large is the democratic world’s share of Interpol’s budget? This is not an easy question to answer.

As I noted in my last column, Interpol derives its income from three main sources: statutory contributions from its member nations, in-kind contributions from these nations (mostly deriving from the value added by national officials seconded to Interpol), and what Interpol describes as “reimbursements and recoveries.” The vast majority of this line-item derives from Interpol’s “Trust Fund and Special Accounts,” which are “specific agreements with external donors for the implementation of special project activities.” In other words, they are contracts for projects that produce revenue. Finally, Interpol has a number of other income sources that were not relevant to the U.S. share of its budget, but are relevant to this broader question.

It is relatively straightforward to assess statutory contributions. I divided all of Interpol’s assessed statutory contributions – not all of which were actually paid – into three groups: from democratic, partly democratic, and not democratic nations. These categories are, of course, arbitrary at their margins. But the overall position is clear. The 74 nations I defined as democracies account for 39% of Interpol’s membership, but paid 84.15% of the total assessed contributions of 54.368 million Euros. The top six contributors – the US, Japan, Germany, France, the UK, and Italy – are all democratic, and together paid 55.8% of the contributions.

Of the top 25 contributors, 20 are fully democratic, and they paid 78.1% of the contributions. The only non-democracies in the top 30 contributors are China (2.03 million Euros), Russia (958 thousand Euros), Turkey (503 thousand Euros), and Saudi Arabia (437 thousand Euros). Put together, all four of these nation contributed only 785 thousand Euros more in 2017 than the United Kingdom did by itself. Any way you slice it, the democracies pay an overwhelming share of the statutory contributions.

Statutory contributions are Interpol’s single largest source of income, but not its majority source of income. Interpol – see Note 27 in its 2017 Financial Report -- made 673 thousand Euros in financial income (interest on its bank accounts), and 768 thousand Euros in “other income,” a category comprised partly of “Other revenue” and partly of income from Interpol’s “I-Checkit” system, a travel document screening solution. It lost 786 thousand Euros on exchange rate movements. Leaving these three categories aside, the rest of Interpol’s operating revenue came from (1) Regional Bureau financing (1.267 million Euros); (2) In-kind contributions (30.977 million Euros); (3) Voluntary contributions (3.551 million Euros), and (4) Reimbursements and recoveries (33.510 million Euros).

Taking these categories in turn, the Regional Bureau financing is (page 50 of the 2017 Report) “statutory contributions received by the Organization to support RB operations. A total of 68 member countries support the Organization’s six RBs.” As these member countries are not identified, we cannot allocate their contributions.

Much the same is true, unfortunately, for In-kind contributions. Of the total of 30.977 million Euros, 19.630 was for in-kind staff costs and 11.347 went for in-kind premises running costs. It is quite likely that the overwhelming majority of this latter category was received from the government of Singapore, as Interpol states (page 20) that value of in-kind premises jumped sharply in 2015 when its Singapore center opened. Singapore is a partly democratic but Western-aligned nation. On the other hand, it is likely that a majority of the in-kind staff costs were born by fully democratic nations. Interpol notes that it employs staff from “100 different countries,” making it likely that the nations not represented on Interpol’s staff are its poorer and generally less democratic members.

Voluntary contributions are easier to assess. These funds derive partly from undisclosed “Member Country contributions” (551 thousand Euros), but primarily from the Interpol Foundation for a Safer World. The Foundation is a front for the United Arab Emirates, a known and frequent abuser of Interpol and a non-democracy, which in 2017 gave 3 million Euros to Interpol through voluntary contributions.

Finally, there are Interpol’s “reimbursements and recoveries.” These again are not itemized in Interpol’s financial reports. However, the overwhelming share of Interpol’s receipts here were from its “Trust Fund and Special Account income,” or, in other words, for projects. Interpol does identify the five largest contributors to this income, which include the European Commission, Canada, the Interpol Foundation (4.14 million Euros), the U.S. Department of State, and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation. Together, these five contributors paid 21.62 million of the 33.09 million Euros received from Trust Fund and Special Account income in 2017. While the European Commission is in no sense a democracy, the most troubling of these named contributors is the Interpol Foundation – i.e. the UAE.

Clearly, there are a number of mysteries about Interpol’s funding, including (from most to least significant) the identity of the other contributors to Interpol’s “Trust Fund and Special Account income” (who collectively paid about 11.47 million Euros to Interpol), the sources of its in-kind contributions, the sources of its Regional Bureau funding, and the sources of its unspecified “Member Country contributions” and its “Other revenue.” But the latter three sources of income are small, and there is no reason to believe the in-kind contributions conceal anything untoward.

The most significant step Interpol could take to improve the clarity of its financial reports would be to identify all contributors to its “Trust Fund and Special Account income.” Some of this income comes from partnerships with the private sector. This is reasonable in theory, but in practice, Interpol has a terrible track record of selecting sensible private partners. For example, it has worked with FIFA, the corrupt soccer organization, purportedly to stop corruption in soccer. If its partnerships today are sensible, then they could and should be published without embarrassment. If they are not sensible, they should be terminated immediately. Going forward, it would be wiser for Interpol, as an organization controlled by its member nations, to be funded only by those nations. It would also be very wise of Interpol to immediately terminate its relationship with the Interpol Foundation: the UAE is now, through the Foundation, providing almost 6 percent of Interpol’s entire operating revenue.

Because of the mysteries of Interpol’s funding, it is not possible to assess precisely how much money the democracies give to it. But it seems clear that, with the troubling exception of the Interpol Foundation (which gave 7.14 million Euros in 2017), and the much less troubling exception of the Singapore headquarters (an irrelevant expansion apparently undertaken only so that Interpol would have a major facility in Asia), the democracies provide a very large share of Interpol’s funding. It seems likely that, given the size of the Foundation’s gifts (which amount to 5.74% of Interpol’s total revenue in 2017), the democratic share is less than their 84.15% share of the assessed contributions. A reasonable estimate is that the democracies are responsible for between 75% and 80% of Interpol’s funding , and that UAE controls the single largest non-democratic share (about 3.5 times larger than China’s contributions).

Unfortunately, that is not quite the end of the story. Interpol is controlled by its General Assembly, a one-nation, one-vote body. All Interpol member nations are required to pay at least 16,310 Euros. Of the 190 nations billed in 2017, 107 were minimum-paying minnows. Collectively, these minnows (democratic, partly-democratic, and non-democratic together) paid 1.745 million Euros, or 1.97% of Interpol’s total assessed contributions. However, they control 56% of the votes in the Assembly. Together, the non-democratic (48 nations) and partly-democratic (30 nations) minnows on their own were in 2017 within 18 votes of having a majority (96 votes) in the Assembly. Worse, since there are 23 non-democratic major contributors – nations that paid more than 16,310 Euros – all the non-democracies (minnows and major contributors) pay only 11.15% of the dues, but command 71 votes.

In short, the position is this: the democracies pay the bills. But the non-democracies have at least an equal share of the votes. All the 71 non-democracies have to do is to get 25 of the partly-democratic minnows on their side, and they would be in an absolute majority, even though that majority would come with the backing of about 12% of Interpol’s budget. The fact that the minnows skew heavily non-democratic – 29 democracies versus 48 non-democracies – is both unfortunate and the fundamental reason why the democracies are, at best, at level pegging with the non-democracies in the Assembly. Among major contributors, democracies (44) outnumber partial and non-democracies (39) put together.

Admittedly, Interpol is not the only organization where minnows dominate the General Assembly. The same is true in the United Nations. The difference is that Interpol has no Security Council. Its General Assembly does not express opinions, in the manner of the UN General Assembly – it makes the rules. And since turkeys do not vote for an early Christmas, it is unlikely that the Interpol General Assembly will vote to suspend or expel non-democratic Interpol members. It is true that approximately 15 nations are delinquent on their dues, and are therefore suspended from voting in the General Assembly, and it is likely that at least some (if not a majority) of these nations are non-democracies, which may give the democracies slightly more breathing room in the Assembly. But what is really impressive about Interpol’s financial record is that in 2017 it received almost 98% of its assessed contributions on time.

We know very little about voting records in the Interpol General Assembly, as voting there is confidential (an indefensible practice). But what we do know confirms that the democracies are not in a commanding position in the Assembly, and that the non-democracies control a core of around 71 votes. In 2017, the Assembly voted to admit the Palestinian Authority, in spite of the Authority’s repeated statements that it planned to abuse its Interpol membership for political purposes. The vote was 75 in favor of the PA, 34 abstentions, and 24 against – meaning that 57 Interpol member nations did not vote for one reason or another. A year later, the Assembly voted for Kim Jong Yang of South Korea as its new president, against Russia’s Alexander Prokopchuk, a known leader in Russia’s abuse of Interpol, by a margin of 101 to 61, with 30 (of the then-192 member entities) presumably abstaining or being prevented from voting by their delinquency.

It therefore seems that Russia and the PA can command a minimum of 61 votes, and a likely maximum of 75, in the Assembly. The democracies, meanwhile, have between 24 to 101 votes on their side – a much wider range. The democracies do better when the question before the Assembly is existential (electing a Russian abuser to run Interpol) and far worse when fashionable follies like believing the PA is a responsible and respectable government are up for a vote. It is therefore unclear how the Assembly would vote if the U.S., or the democratic world, pressed for a vote on a contentious issue. If the democracies plan to work through the Assembly, they will have to work hard, given that the autocracies have a minimum of 61 votes on their side, to win votes from Interpol’s minnows. Given that at least 30 nations are likely not to vote, the maximum numbers of votes the democracies can win is around 103. If the non-democracies pick off just 22 of those votes, they win. Realistically, the democracies need to get about two-thirds of the partially-democratic vote (or every single one of the partially-democratic minnows) to be successful.

The fact thus is that while the democracies have substantial financial leverage in Interpol, it will likely prove extremely difficult to use that leverage to push changes through the General Assembly. The margins in the Assembly are narrow, and with the admission of the Palestinian Authority, they have become one vote worse. The best bet the democracies have is to use their financial leverage on Interpol and the Interpol Secretariat itself – not to change Interpol’s rules, but to ensure that it enforces the existing rules, which in theory, though not always in practice, provide mechanisms for preventing the politicized abuse of Interpol that has become notorious.

This piece originally appeared in Forbes