Peacekeeping emerged in the wake of the Second World War as a way of containing and resolving conflicts arising from Cold War tensions, postcolonial disputes or a host of other causes, sometimes unrelated to broader geo-political concerns.
Peacekeeping and peacekeepers
Peacekeepers and peacemakers play an important role in providing support and assistance to victims of conflict, often in unstable and dangerous locations.
Australian peacekeepers have been engaged as military observers, have provided logistical support and have monitored ceasefires. They have been involved in landmine clearance operations, they have supported democratic elections, facilitated the delivery of humanitarian aid and assisted in the repatriation of refugees.
Australia became involved in peacekeeping and peacemaking through the United Nations in September 1947, when the first peacekeepers arrived in the Netherlands East Indies (now Indonesia) to begin work as military observers.
Australia’s peacekeepers were initially unarmed military observers, contributing to conflict resolution by, in the case of the Netherlands East Indies, observing the movements and dispositions of both sides thus ensuring that any violations were brought to the attention of the international community.
Over time the nature of peacekeeping evolved, requiring peacekeepers to manage more complex and multi-dimensional issues, such as those that emerged in the Middle East and Africa.
Australian state and federal police forces have also had a long involvement in peacekeeping operations beginning in 1964 with the first deployment to Cyprus, a peacekeeping commitment that continues to the present day.
Challenges of the 1990s
In the early 1990s, following the end of the Cold War, the number and scale of deployments increased. After meeting with considerable success in Cambodia the UN experienced, three operations in the mid-1990s, in Yugoslavia, Somalia and Rwanda, that attracted international criticism. UN peacekeepers, inadequately resourced and lacking the political support of member states, were unable to prevent mass killings or restore order to societies mired in chaos. In the aftermath of these operations UN peacekeeping entered a lull as operations diminished in number and scope.
Towards the end of the 1990s and in the early years of the 21st century, continuing crises around the world reaffirmed the essential role peacekeepers play and large operations undertaken by UN or regional bodies once again became an important part of international peacekeeping efforts.
Australia is a large contributor of personnel to international peacekeeping efforts, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, with Australian Defence Force and Australian Federal Police personnel
deployed in several locations across the globe, including the Middle East, Timor-Leste, the Solomon Islands and Sudan.
Since 1947, more than 30,000 Australians have served in over 50 multi-national peacekeeping operations.
14 Australians have died during peacekeeping operations
Days of Commemoration
May 29 – International Day of United Nations (UN) Peacekeepers
Established by the UN General Assembly in 2002 to commemorate the service and participation of UN peacekeepers and peacemakers, as well as the memory of the UN Peacekeepers who have lost their lives.
Australia’s involvement in UN peace operations across the globe is remembered.