Recent controversies in and around Interpol has been awash in controversies of late. It granted membership to the Palestinian Authority, elected a Chinese political policeman to be its president, and then nearly elected a Russian abuser of the Interpol system to succeed the Chinese political policeman.
All of this has raised the question: What can the U.S. do to change the way Interpol operates? The U.S. has many levers it could apply. Financial contributions are just one of them.
To its credit, Interpol is relatively forthcoming about its finances, and annually publishes an audited financial report. Of course, that does not mean that Interpol’s finances are above criticism – indeed, I have myself written extensively and critically on aspects of its funding – but if Interpol has dirty laundry, a good deal of it, at least, is already in the open. As I will point out in this two-part series, Interpol can and should publish even more information. But most of the critical things that can be said about Interpol can only be said on the basis of documents published by Interpol itself.
The first point to make is that Interpol is, comparatively, a relatively small international organization, with a relatively small budget. In 2017, its total operating expenses (figures from Interpol’s 2017 Financial Statements, Note 26) were 122.236 million Euros, or about $137.70 million. This is relatively small change compared to the UN’s budget of around $2.7 billion for 2018 – and that is only a fraction of the amount spent across the entire UN system. Our concerns about Interpol should not center on how much money it is spending.
Furthermore, while there are reasonable concerns about Interpol’s empire-building tendencies – centering around its unnecessary “Global Complex for Innovation” in Singapore – it is hard to indict Interpol for systematic extravagance. Undoubtedly there is waste at Interpol, as there is everywhere, but stories about failures of budgetary control at Interpol are conspicuous by their absence. The important question about U.S. contributions to Interpol is not how much the U.S. is spending, but how large a share of Interpol’s total budget comes from the U.S., and how much leverage this gives the U.S.
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 it 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.
In 2017, Interpol’s total operating revenue was 124.328 million Euros, of which 54.368 million Euros came from statutory contributions. So while these contributions are Interpol’s single largest revenue stream, they comprise only 43.7 percent of its revenue. In 2017, the U.S. made a statutory contribution of 10.569 million Euros. That was almost exactly 4 million Euros more than Japan, the next biggest contributor, and 8.5 million Euros more than China, the largest non-democratic contributor.
But the U.S. does not contribute only through statutory contributions. It also makes additional contributions on a per-project basis to Interpol’s Trust Fund and Special Accounts. In 2017, the U.S. Department of State supported projects through Interpol with a total value of 2.66 million Euros. Thus, taken together, U.S. statutory and project contributions to Interpol total 13.229 million Euros.
Furthermore, Interpol has a Memorandum of Understanding with the FBI, which results in FBI payments of unspecified amounts to Interpol. Finally, the U.S. has officials seconded to Interpol, which means the U.S. also contributes to Interpol’s in-kind revenue – specifically, its in-kind staff costs. Again, the sums involved here are not known, but if we assume that the U.S. contributes in-kind at the same rate (19.43 percent of the total) that it makes statutory contributions, U.S. in-kind contributions may amount to around 3.8 million Euros of the total in-kind pay costs of 19 million Euros.
All told, therefore, U.S. payments to Interpol likely amount annually to around 17 million Euros, or $19 million. That is around 15.5 percent of Interpol’s total operating expenses, which seems a reasonable estimate of the share of Interpol’s budget paid by the U.S. The imprecision in this estimate stems almost completely from the fact that Interpol does not break out its staff costs by national payer. It would be very desirable for Interpol to be more forthcoming about how many staff from each member nation work in the Interpol General Secretariat in Lyon and in its Singapore center.
What the U.S. contributions are worth in leverage is hard to calculate, and depends on how that leverage is used. But, as my next column will make clear, the U.S. is by far the largest single contributor to Interpol, and it makes a major contribution to the predominance of democratic funders in Interpol. In short, if the U.S. in particular and the world’s democracies more generally wish to bring about change in Interpol, they do have meaningful financial leverage to exert.
This piece originally appeared in Forbes https://www.forbes.com/sites/tedbromund/2019/02/28/how-large-is-the-u-s-budgetary-contribution-to-interpol/#22ee96981ee0