The Official History of Australian Peacekeeping, Humanitarian and Post-Cold War Operations is a six-volume project under the general editorship of Professor David Horner, published by Cambridge University Press and covers the story of Australian participation in more than fifty operations in areas of conflict since 1947, and includes details on nearly as many humanitarian operations.
Volume 1: The Long Search for Peace: Observer Missions and Beyond, 1947–2006, by Peter Londey, Rhys Crawley and David Horner, is the last volume of this series to be published and stretches over 900 pages, including notes, appendices and an index. Peter Londey began researching the Volume in 2004 and had almost completed drafting a third of the chapters by January 2008, when, due to Londey’s heavy workload, the assistance of Rhys Crawley and David Horner was provided to complete the volume; acknowledgement of the author is made at the start of a chapter. The content of the Volume is a chronological study of the peacekeeping and observer missions which have directly involved Australia between 1947 and 2006. Separated into three sections, all of which discuss the strategic aims of the Australian Government with regards to Australia’s involvement in that mission, and details of the peacekeeping/observer mission itself.
Part One begins with an exploration of the precedents of peacekeeping within the League of Nations, which provided observers and commissions in areas of dispute between countries, some of which crop up again within this volume after the establishment of the United Nations. These precedents were not taken into account as peacekeeping by the developed United Nations. This discussion leads into a description of the establishment of the UN, the development of its charter, and the involvement of Doctor Herbert Vere ‘Bert’ Evans, who, from 1941 to 1949, served as both the Attorney General and Minister for External Affairs. Londey indicates the two conferences which developed both the final structure of the UN and its charter left some delegates, including Evatt, disappointed with the result. Evatt was especially disappointed with the veto powers of the Great Powers within the Security Council, and attempted to limit its application, failure of which, as events proved, lead to decisions according to political alignment with said Great Powers.
Minimal thought was given to areas which would affect the operations of the United Nations in the future, namely ‘the subtleties of how the new organisation might use the military – and military skills and equipment – in the cause of peace’. Nowhere within the UN Charter is mention made of peacekeeping per se. We see an attempt was made to do so in Chapters VI ‘Pacific settlement of disputes’, and VII ‘Action with respect to threats to the peace, breaches of the peace, acts of aggression’, both of which became the focus of attempts to solve the Dutch/Republic of Indonesia dispute over the decolonisation of the Netherlands East Indies.
The discussion of this dispute and the actions of Evatt and the Department of External Affairs is enlightening. Evatt believed Australia should involve itself in the world, especially with the emerging decolonisation processes, expressing a desire to become involved in two of the larger peacekeeping missions of the time.
During the dispute between the Netherlands and the Republic of Indonesia, both India and Australia asked for action to be taken by the Security Council, the Indians under Chapter VI. The Australians proposed action be taken under Article 39 (Chapter VII):
The Australian government considers that these hostilities constitute a breach of the peace under Article 39 and urges the Security Council take immediate action to restore peace and security.
This approach, proposed by Ric Throssell, son of Hugo Throssell VC, and despite concerns within External Affairs, was supported by the Prime Minister, Ben Chifley. The argument being that a disturbance of the peace had already occurred, and that only Chapter VII (Article 40) allowed the Security Council to order a cessation of hostilities.
The Security Council ordered the cessation of hostilities, and established two committees: a Consular Committee, and the United Nations Good Offices (UNGOC). Australia was automatically on the former, because like its other members had a Consulate Office in Batavia. Australia was later nominated, by the Republic of Indonesia, to be a member UNGOC, a committee of three made up of two countries nominated by the disputing parties who, when nominated, would nominate the third. When the Consular Committee called for Military Assistants (later referred to as Military Observers), Australia was the first country to accede to the request and to have them in-country and working.
The establishment of the peacekeeping force concept gained traction with member states of the UN which were unwilling to commit fighting forces to conflicts which had little relation to their own security, but were willing to make observer or financial contributions towards monitoring the maintenance of ceasefires. This concept was a success in Indonesia, with a mostly peaceful transfer of sovereignty from the Dutch to the Indonesians, leading to its adoption in Greece, Palestine, Kashmir and Korea. The Australian involvement and the reports by the observers resulted in the development of procedures and standards still applicable to peacekeeping missions.
Part One covers what the writers have decided to call the early Cold War years, 1947 to the early 1970s. Changes in strategy and international relations policies throughout this period brought about different approaches to peacekeeping; government policy required a greater focus on the effect the dispute would have on Australian security, or the nation’s economy or some benefit flowing from international partnerships, as evidenced by the involvement of Australia on what was effectively the United States side in the Korean War. Australians present as observers assisted in the provision of a report which showed that the North Koreans were the aggressor, leading to the Korean War (1950-53), but which Londey suggests probably devolved from Cold War rivalries.
Kashmir was another failure, due to recalcitrant attitudes of the disputing parties, Pakistan and India, which seemed not to want peace. Australia’s involvement here included the provision of a commander of the UN Military Observers, and between 1952 and 1985 rank-and-file military observers.
Part Two covers the Whitlam and Fraser periods in office, explaining the different approaches to peacekeeping, and the impact of their respective defence policies. It was Malcolm Fraser’s activism over the future of Rhodesia which brought about Australia’s involvement in the largest single operation dealt with in this volume, the Commonwealth Monitoring Force in Rhodesia-Zimbabwe (1979-80). A contingent of 150 Army Officers and non-commissioned officers were sent to monitor a shaky settlement based on racist plans suggested by the head of the Rhodesian Security Forces, and which were, Londey argues, designed to fail. It was the humane and fair attitude of the Australian observers that enabled both the maintenance of the generally successful ceasefire in a highly tense situation and the eventual transfer of power to a government elected to provide genuine majority rule.
Part Three is generally concerned with the period after the Cold War but does complete the story of AUSTCIVPOL, started in Part One, in which Australian Police Officers served as peacekeepers, having done so since 1964 in Cyprus. Once again the duties varied from conducting duties similar to those carried out at home to a humanitarian role protecting and assisting those needing medical assistance or requiring transfer between the two regions of Cyprus established since the Turkish invasion of 1974. Also covered is the involvement of Australian peacekeepers in the Middle East, both as a part of UNTSO and service in the Sinai as a part of the Multinational Force and Observers.
The strategy and decision making behind each mission, the differences and evolution of the theories behind Australian government commitments to each mission, and the relevant attitudes of the ADF, are all spelled out. While there is no direct criticism of any of these decisions, there is an undertone of annoyance at the repeated claim by politicians and the media after 1972 that commitment to an overseas force would lead to ‘another Vietnam’. These sections, while enlightening and necessary to the history of peacekeeping, are extremely dry and heavy to read.
The scope of this volume does not allow for a close look at the peacekeepers as individuals. There are brief references but if one is looking for more, then this may not be the book.
This is an excellent volume and a worthy addition to the historiography of the ADF, the Australian Government and the Australian people. One should feel pride that Australia was one of the moving forces behind the establishment of the United Nations peacekeeping forces and those developed by other bodies around the world, including the Commonwealth and NATO, whether it was part of a particular commitment or not. Generally, the volume details maturation of a nation which has moved from a colony with deep-seated racist and discriminatory attitudes to the more enlightened society as it stands today.
Reviewed by Mark Moore MHSNSW Reconnaissance, Autumn 2020
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