Peacekeeping East Timor - Credit Australian War Memorial

Image courtesy of the Australian War Memorial

Peacekeeping Operations

Since 1947

Australia has had peacekeepers in the field with the United Nations continuously for over 50 years. In Indonesia in 1947, Australians were part of the very first group of UN military observers anywhere in the world, and were, in fact, the first into the field.

Six multinational operations have been commanded by Australians.

Military Observers

In the early years, Australia’s peacekeepers were generally unarmed military observers, promoting peace indirectly by ensuring that neither side in a conflict could violate a ceasefire or commit atrocities without the United Nations and the world community knowing about it.

In Indonesia, information from UN military observers ultimately helped the Indonesian republicans win their independence from the Dutch.

In Korea in 1950, the UN’s judgement that North Korea had invaded the south was based, in part, on a report by Australian military observers serving with the UN Commission on Korea. Observer missions help create stability, but do not necessarily help end the conflicts they are observing.

Australian observers took part in a UN operation in Kashmir from 1950 to 1985. The operation continues today, without a resolution of the conflict in sight.

Similarly, Australian observers have served with UN operations in the Middle East since 1956.

More recently, when the Iran-Iraq war ended in 1988, Australian observers took part in a UN operation monitoring the ceasefire.

Police in Peacekeeping

Since 1964, Australian police have served in Cyprus, an island wracked by conflict between its Greek and Turkish communities. There is no sign of an end to the conflict, but the police help minimise its effects and build bridges between the communities.

More recently, police officers from Australia have also served in places as widely separated as Cambodia, Haiti, Mozambique, Bougainville and Timor.

Larger Operations

Since the 1970s, Australia’s peacekeeping operations have increased in size and scope. In that decade, and again in the 1980s, RAAF helicopters operated in the Sinai, as Egypt and Israel ended three decades of hostilities.

At the end of the 1970s, an Australian infantry force of 150 soldiers took part in a British Commonwealth operation as Zimbabwe won its independence.

A decade later, an even larger contingent, composed largely of engineers, assisted a UN operation with a similar role in Namibia.

Peacekeeping in the 1990s

With the end of the Cold War, the 1990s proved to be the busiest decade in the history of multinational peacekeeping. For the first time, RAN ships took part in a peacekeeping operation, enforcing UN-imposed sanctions against Iraq both before and after the Gulf War.

For a period in 1993, Australia had over 2,000 peacekeepers in the field, with large contingents in Cambodia and Somalia. In Cambodia, Australia took a leading diplomatic role in the search for a settlement to factional strife in a country still suffering the effects of the genocidal Pol Pot regime of the 1970s.

In Somalia, where the international effort resulted largely in failure, a battalion-level Australian contingent was successful in allowing the delivery of humanitarian aid in the Baidoa area.

A year later, Australians were in Rwanda, another country to fall victim to genocidal civil violence. This time, the Australian contingent centred on medical staff who were able to treat many of the local people, in addition to members of the UN force.

After this there was a lull in Australian peacekeeping, though long-running operations continued in the Middle East and Cyprus and Australians were still involved with Iraq, inspecting weapons-manufacturing facilities and policing sanctions.

Since 1997, however, Australians have also served on Bougainville, where a settlement at last appears possible in the long-running conflict between the Papua New Guinea government and the separatist Bougainville Revolutionary Army.

Then in 1999, Australia led a peace enforcement operation which dwarfed all its previous peacekeeping efforts, as East Timor achieved independence from Indonesia.

Peacekeeping in the New Millennium

Australia has a number of troops currently on peacekeeping operations, they include:

  • Operation ANODE is the name of the Defence Forces contribution to the Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI). RAMSI’s assistance is known as Operation HELPEM FREN (Pidgin English for ‘Helping Friend’). RAMSI’s mission is to assist the Solomon Islands Government in restoring law and order, economic governance, and improving the machinery of government. The military component of RAMSI is comprised of personnel from four troop-contributing nations – Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Tonga. Since the introduction of RAMSI in 2003, the number of Australian troops in support has varied depending on the degree of unrest experienced. After the rioting that followed the April 2006 general elections, RAMSI military personnel have continued their contribution to maintaining a calming effect on the situation in the Solomon Islands. In April 2009 the government agreed to the extension of Operation ANODE until June 2010. Since 2007, the Defence Force has deployed eight Army Reserve Company groups accounting for more than 800 part-time soldiers. The deployment of these Defence Force personnel, at the invitation of the Solomon Islands Government, aims to ensure the ongoing success of RAMSI in improving law and order in the Solomon Islands. Australia remains determined to ensure that the law and order established in the Solomon Islands is maintained.
  • Operation MAZURKA is Australia’s contribution to the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) in the Sinai. The MFO is a non-UN organisation established in 1981 to oversee the Camp David Accords of 1978 and the Egypt/Israel Peace Treaty of 1979. The MFO is maintained by 13 participating nations including Australia, Canada, Colombia, the Czech Republic, the Republic of the Fiji Islands, France, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, the United Kingdom, the United States and Uruguay. Australia’s involvement in the MFO began in early 1982 with the formation of an Australia-New Zealand combined helicopter squadron. Both nations were founding contributors to the force and continue to support the MFO today. ADF members assist in the peace process by monitoring the border, preparing daily operational briefings and supporting the headquarters. The contribution includes military observers and personnel who specialise in air movements and logistic support. The UN Security Council authorised the establishment of UNMIS on 24 March 2005 under Resolution 1590, after the government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement to end a civil war lasting more than 20 years.
  • Operation PALADIN is Australia’s contribution to the UN Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO) that was established in 1948 to supervise the truce agreed at the conclusion of the first Arab/Israeli War. UNTSO involves Israel, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. Australian personnel have supported this operation since 1956. Members of the Australian contingent may be employed in a variety of roles, including staff officers in the UNTSO headquarters in Jerusalem as well as military observers in a variety of locations.
  • Operation TOWER is the Australian Defence Force (ADF) contribution to the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT). Established by UNSCR resolution 1704 following the Crisis in May 2006, is Timor-Leste’s fifth UN mission since 1999 and the third since independence in May of 2002. UNSCR 1897 (dated 26 February 09) extended UNMITs mandate by a further 12 months. Military Liaison Officers (MLOs) are a crucial component of the overall security effort in Timor-Leste. Their main responsibilities include monitoring the security environment and providing security and military advice to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG). MLOs also play a crucial role in security reform and recently contributed to the professional development of the Timor-Leste Defence Force (F-FDTL) by designing and delivering Liaison Officer (LO) training to F-FDTL officers and senior non-commissioned officers (SNCOs) deploying to border districts. Training was delivered under a UN banner but by an ADF MLO. At the completion of the first course, the MLO’s received appreciation from the Prime Minister of Timor-Leste and the senior leadership of the F-FDTL who requested they continue such training in support of future rotations of young officers and SNCOs deploying to western regions in Timor-Leste. This initiative has greatly enhanced the ADF’s profile with the F-FDTL as well as positively re-enforcing Australia’s contribution to UNMIT.