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In this edition, we find out what is driving the work of, essentially, the world’s top cop.͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
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May 26, 2023


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Jay Solomon
Jay Solomon

Hello and welcome to Semafor Security, where we dive into the forces and personalities defending, defining, and destabilizing the world.

The U.S. and its allies are ramping up billions of dollars of arm deliveries to Ukraine, including now F-16 fighter jets. But the world’s top cop — Interpol Secretary General Jurgen Stock — tells me this week in an interview that he’s increasingly worried about what happens to these arms when the war finally ends. Recent history offers a lesson, he says: They’ll likely flood into other conflict zones, from Africa to South America, and the international community needs to be on guard.

Karina Tsui and I also look at some key new security appointments in the world — the chairman of the Joint Chiefs in the U.S. and Iran’s national security advisor. And Karina also explains why some in Australia aren’t gung ho on the country doling out billions to buy new nuclear submarines as part of the AUKUS alliance with Washington and London. The not-so-subtle subtext: They don’t want to be drawn into a conflict with China.

Let me know what you think of this newsletter, and please send tips to jsolomon@semafor.com.


Washington. The U.S. military is about to get a new top dog: President Joe Biden has nominated Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown Jr. as the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, replacing Gen. Mark Milley, whose steady presence (and canny media management) during the chaotic end of Donald Trump’s first term and its aftermath helped make him the most famous figure to hold the position in a generation. Brown, who has commanded troops at every level of the Air Force, is a veteran of U.S. campaigns to destroy the Islamic State and contain China. In his new role, he will also be in charge of arming and training hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers for combat.

Minsk. Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko announced that Russia has begun moving tactical nuclear weapons into his country, saying that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed off on a decree allowing Minsk to serve as a launching pad for attacks on Ukraine. In response, Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya said that the shift would endanger the lives of Belarusians — creating a “new threat against Ukraine and all of Europe.”

Guam. Microsoft warned on Wednesday that China’s state-sponsored Volt Typhoon group had inserted malware into critical infrastructure in Guam and the U.S. in an effort to disrupt communications “during future crises.” Cybersecurity agencies in the Five Eyes countries — the U.S., Australia, U.K., New Zealand, and Canada — put out their own alerts. The incident could undermine Biden administration efforts to reengage Beijing diplomatically following heightened tensions over Taiwan and the U.S.’s shooting down in February of a Chinese surveillance balloon.

– Karina and Jay

Jay Solomon

What’s worrying the world’s top cop?

Daniel Löb/picture alliance via Getty Images


The U.S. and its NATO allies have shipped over $40 billion in arms to Ukraine since Russia’s full-scale invasion last year. Interpol Secretary General Jurgen Stock is preparing for the risk that these weapons will eventually seep into Europe and conflict zones as far afield as Africa and Latin America.

In an interview with Semafor, Stock said Europe’s recent history shows that weapons deployed in local conflicts, such as the Balkan Wars of the 1990s, inevitably make their way to other battlefields, through either legitimate trade or criminal networks, once the guns go silent.

“You don’t need to be skilled with a lot of foresight capabilities, because that is what we have seen in other theaters around the world,” Stock said.

I sat down with Stock to find out what was driving the work of, essentially, the world’s top cop. A German police officer and academic, Stock has led Interpol since 2014, overseeing its mission to coordinate the world’s police agencies. These days, he is especially concerned about the growing power of transnational criminal syndicates, such as the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico and Italy’s ‘Ndrangheta, to challenge the power of national states, not just in Latin America and Africa, but also Europe. (Last year, Belgium arrested four gang members for attempting to kidnap the country’s Justice Minister.) Stock is pressing for a greater collaboration among Interpol’s 195 members to combat this threat.

Countering the global flow of narcotics, including fentanyl, is also at the top of Interpol’s mandate, said Stock. He explained how Interpol’s headquarters in Lyon, France has quietly provided the U.S. and China a venue to cooperate on the issue, even as their respective governments have sparred over it. “These people are sitting together, and it’s a platform for dialogue and we are talking with each other,” he said.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Jay Solomon: What concerns you and Interpol the most right now globally?

Jurgen Stock: Cybercrime, organized crime groups getting stronger and stronger despite all the efforts and all the great success stories we have had, or international law enforcement has had. Most of these criminal gangs — whether they call them gangs, cartels, transnational organized crime groups — are getting stronger and stronger.

Jay Solomon: What’s making them stronger?

Jurgen Stock: There’s a bunch of reasons. But let’s say they are quite flexible, in terms of the crime areas in which they invest. We have seen that [when] we were organizing operations targeting drugs, and we identified on that occasion thousands of firearms. We are organizing operations targeting firearms particularly on that occasion, [and] we seize tons of drugs, different drugs. So, you see how flexible they are.

Jay Solomon: What threats do these criminal syndicates pose to nation states?

Jurgen Stock: Corruption plays a huge role. We see that criminal gangs are investing millions and millions to corrupt officers. This is increasingly undermining the rule of law all across the world, not only destabilizing, let’s say, so-called fragile states that are having certain problems, social problems, economic problems and so on. But even undermining the rule of law and stability in the developed world.

You’ll see more and more violence on the streets. Belgium is an example, the Netherlands is an example, Sweden is an example. Where at the end of such a drug distribution chain, the supply chain, there are fights between groups — Is it my turf? Is it your turf? And more violence on the street intimidating governments. We have seen that in Belgium, where they attempted to kidnap the Minister of Justice. So more open violence against state officials.

Jay Solomon: How do strained relations between the U.S. and China impact the fight against the fentanyl trade?

Jurgen Stock: Interpol is providing a platform again where even if it’s politically difficult, we can at least have a conversation on the Interpol level. We have an enterprise Executive Committee in my Supervisory Body: We have the U.S. represented and we have China represented. So, these people are sitting together, and it’s a platform for dialogue and we are talking with each other. Again, I’m not saying that all the time it leads to immediate, tangible results. But very often, it helps at least a little bit. And it’s better than, let’s say, radio silence.

Jay Solomon: You’ve been raising since last summer your concerns about weapons in Ukraine flooding into Africa and Europe. Can you say more?

Jurgen Stock: You don’t need to be skilled with a lot of foresight capabilities, because that is what we have seen in other theaters around the world. That is still a big concern. And, again, Interpol is providing an opportunity [to stop this]. We have a database where these weapons can be tracked, traced. And we strongly encourage our member countries to use that database to help tracking and tracing these weapons.

Jay Solomon: How successful are policing agencies in seizing illicit money?

Jurgen Stock: How successful are we as a global law enforcement community? The experts are saying, optimistically, 2% to 3% of all the criminal assets. Even that would be more than disappointing. And some experts are saying you’re getting less than 1%, perhaps realistically.

Jay Solomon: How often are criminal syndicates using crypto?

Jurgen Stock: More and more definitely. I don’t have any figures and numbers now, but we see that it’s increasingly being used. I mean, sometimes whenever the central platform is breaking down, there might be a certain reluctance or reorientation, but of course they are using it. They have been using it maybe faster than police could develop its tools at least in law enforcement.

Jay Solomon: Do digital assets provide an opportunity for law enforcement?

Jurgen Stock: It’s a double-edged sword. Right? So in the one hand, of course, you provide criminals opportunities to hide their illegal activities, particularly if they are fast, faster than law enforcement. We also have opportunities to track and trace and investigate if we have the necessary tools. If we have the legal framework.

Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

We’re all about room for disagreement here at Semafor, so we were intrigued by a recent open letter from a group of more than 100 Australian scholars raising their concerns about their country’s new pact with the U.S. and U.K., known as AUKUS, to purchase and later develop nuclear submarines — part of broader effort by Washington and its allies to counter China in the Pacific.

With a potential price tag of AU$368 billion, the letter argues that AUKUS “will come at a huge financial cost and with great uncertainty of its success.” The letter suggests that nuclear submarines’ impressive technical capabilities, such as stealth and long-range weaponry, may not translate into a stronger defense of Australia’s coasts.

“There has been no compelling strategic argument made for why a small number of expensive nuclear-powered submarines confers greater defence advantages rather than a much larger number of cheaper conventionally powered ones,” the piece argues.

The letter’s signatories are also concerned that the agreement could drag Australia into a U.S. conflict with China, suggesting it will “compound Australia’s strategic risks” while “increasing the threat of nuclear war.”

Consider it a reminder that, among U.S. allies, there’s some vocal public skepticism towards Washington’s efforts to contain Beijing.

– Karina

One Good Email

Dakota Cary is a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Global China Hub. We reached out following Microsoft’s alert that China is targeting Pentagon infrastructure in the U.S. and Asia.


The percentage of Chinese citizens who believe Beijing should use military force overseas to protect compatriots facing security threats, according to a new survey by Tsinghua University’s Center for International Security and Strategy.

– Karina


⋉ ADVANCE: Jets in flight. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that the first F-16s sent to Ukraine will provide the “strongest signals in the world that Russia would lose” its war. His remarks follow U.S. President Joe Biden’s decision to allow allied countries to transfer the fighter jets to Kyiv.

⋊ RETREAT: Wagner’s fight. Russia’s Wagner paramilitary group allegedly began withdrawing its troops from Bakhmut, according to the militia’s commander, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has repeatedly complained about the Kremlin’s lax supplies of ammunition. “We are handing our positions to the military,” he said on Telegram, in reference to Russia’s Defense Ministry. Prigozhin claims that he will pull all his soldiers out of the eastern Ukrainian city by June 1.

– Karina

Person of Interest
ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images

Ali Akbar Ahmadian, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council. A former dental student-turned-revolutionary naval commander has emerged as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s top national security advisor. On Tuesday, Iran’s president announced the appointment of Ali Akbar Ahmadian to run the Supreme National Security Council, which will give him enormous sway over both Tehran’s foreign affairs and domestic security strategy. In Iran’s theocratic system, proximity to Khamenei means everything, as the ayatollah is both commander-and-chief and final arbiter on all security decisions.

This marks Ahmadian’s first post outside the formal chain of command of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran’s most powerful military body. Like most of the IRGC’s top brass, the 62-year-old Ahmadian took part in the 1979 Islamic revolution and then fought in the brutal eight-year war with Iraq. State media cited Ahmadian as a “trenchmate” of Brig. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the late IRGC commander whom the U.S. assassinated in a 2020 drone strike. Soleimani’s network of hardline IRGC leaders are seen as amassing even more power with Ahmadian’s appointment.

Ahmadian succeeds Ali Shamkhani, whose departure this week has been bathed in intrigue. Shamkhani’s 10-year tenure in his post is seen as standard for an Iranian national security advisor. But Iran analysts also say he was weakened by corruption charges against his family and the execution this year of one of his former deputies, Alireza Akbari. An Iranian court convicted Akbari of spying for the U.K. and announced his hanging this January in Tehran.

Ahmadian’s expertise is maritime warfare, having previously led the IRGC Navy. Iranian state media credited him this week for being at the forefront of developing the Revolutionary Guard’s asymmetric aquatic capabilities, which are critical to combatting the U.S.’s much more powerful naval forces in the Persian Gulf. Iran and the U.S. are currently facing off in a tit-for-tat targeting of oil tankers in the strategic waterway, which has led the Biden administration to increase its patrols and presence in the region.

The U.S. Treasury sanctioned Ahmadian in 2007 for his role in leading the IRGC.

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— Jay

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