The concept of police diplomacy was realised more than a century ago and was perceived to be merely police international cooperation aspect aimed at tracing fugitives from justice. Within United Nations perspective, this notion changed as in conflict and post-conflict countries, the public loses confidence in domestic security forces, and, the presence of international police and collaboration amongst other law enforcement agencies help in restoring the lost confidence and the rule of law through peacekeeping.
Previous research on the police in the international realm focused mainly on international policing and multilateral frameworks such as International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) and how these organisations exercised their responsibilities. However, certain areas of police involvement have been overlooked due to the over-emphasis on police responsibilities regarding crime patterns and the criminal justice system. These limitations also extend to international police obligations and they neglect the study of intercontinental police roles as a distinct research topic.
As already mentioned above, transnational policing has been in existence for a long time. However, the SAPS international activities before and after 1994 have not been considered crucial as it relates to support of South Africa’s national interests. Even after 1994 their role was seen to be that of being Liaison officers. The South African Police Service (SAPS), previously the South African Police – SAP) has been in existence since 1913 and it is one of the government departments which falls under the Security Service Cluster.
The international involvement of the SAPS is not inconsistent with their national responsibilities, and in fulfilling their constitutional mandate they are guided by various pieces of legislation and policy guidelines. Although the South African Police Service continues to perform international obligations, the diplomatic nature of these activities and related involvement in international security cooperation receives little attention.
There is limited information on the definition of police diplomacy and the writer mostly relied on the evidence from personal experience and conducted interviews, hence this research is a position paper. It traces the relationship between police, security, and defence, with the assumption that their strategies and policies in the area of international relations are similar. It explores the role, more specifically the obligations, involvement and activities of the SAPS at international level and it argues, using defence diplomacy as an analogy, that this involvement constitutes what can be termed police diplomacy. The theme is relevant in theoretical and practical terms and in the absence of a definition of police diplomacy, the theoretical relevance of this study resides in the development of a conceptual framework for the understanding and analysis of the nature and scope of police diplomacy. The practical relevance is, therefore, based on the fact that the SAPS has indeed for a very long period conducted transnational diplomacy which not only corresponds with the defence diplomacy of the SANDF, but which have largely gone unnoticed.