Volume V: Good neighbour operations: Australian peace operation in the South Pacific, 1980–2007 (provisional title)

Volume V will deal with the story of Australia’s contribution to peace in the near region of the South Pacific. This contribution took place at two levels. First, over time the Australian Government attempted to promote collaboration between the nations in the region to prevent the breakdown of democratic governance and civil society and to build regional solidarity – a process that might be described as regional “neighbourhood watch”. Eventually, however, Australia’s contribution to peace moved to another level, when regional neighbourhood watch needed to be bolstered by military logistic support, then unarmed preventative intervention (peacekeeping), and eventually armed reactive intervention (peace enforcement).

The story begins in 1980 with Australia providing logistic support to the new Vanuatu Government as it attempted, with help from Papua New Guinea, to deal with a secessionist rebellion on the island of Espiritu Santo. The story then moves on to examine Australia’s military reaction to the coup in Fiji in 1987 and the unrest in Vanuatu the following year.

The major part of the volume is devoted to Australia’s response to the conflict in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea’s most eastern island province. It shows how Australia tried initially to keep out of the conflict, but eventually, in 1994, provided military support for an ill-fated peace conference. Then, after more conflict, the New Zealand Government revived the peace process and Australia played a major role, initially as part of the Truce Monitoring Group, and eventually led the unique multi-national Peace Monitoring Group (Operation Bel Isi) that served in Bougainville from 1998 to 2003. During that time over 3,500 Australian military personnel, police, and civilians served as unarmed peace monitors on the ground and offshore, in a remarkably patient and successful operation. At the same time, however, the prospects for instability in Papua New Guinea and elsewhere in the region presented challenges for defence planners in Canberra.

Before Operation Bel Isi had run its course instability occurred elsewhere in the Pacific, particularly in the Solomon Islands, where Australia deployed a peace-monitoring team in 2000, and especially in 2003 when Australia led the multi-national Regional Assistance Mission Solomon Islands (RAMSI) intervention.

By comparison with the other volumes of the official history, the deployments described in this volume have a high level of involvement by the Australian Federal Police and civilian government officials. It includes an appendix describing how Australian police have been reorganised in recent years to deal with these challenges.

Operation Helpem FrenChairman of the Solomon Islands National Police Council gets a helping hand from a Sapper, in destroying firearms during the first Operation Helpen Fren. The pair were watched by Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands Special Coordinator, Nick Warner, the Deputy Police Commissioner Ben McDevitt. Solomon Islands, 2006 (AFP)

Author: Dr Bob Breen

Dr Bob BreenDr Bob Breen

Update: Bob is currently working reviewing his volume for publication.

Dr Bob Breen is a research fellow at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies at the Australian National University. He has a military background and serves part-time as an operations analyst and advisor to the Australian Defence Force. He has conducted research in Somalia, Rwanda, Mozambique, Israel, Bougainville, East Timor, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Bob has published several books and monographs on Australian combat operations and peacekeeping, his most recent being Mission accomplished: Australian Defence Force participation in the International Force – East Timor. His next book, based on his PhD thesis, is Struggling for self-reliance: four case studies of Australian regional force projection.

Further information:

P03517.003Military Information Support Team B talking to Chief Patrick, Manetai Village. Bougainville, 2001. P03517.003

P04225.618 Australian RAMSI officials arrive at Rame'ai village. Solomon Islands, 2003. P04225.618

P04225.616 Australian RAMSI officials at Rame'ai village. Solomon Islands, 2003. P04225.616

P04580.050 Approaching Red Beach to land Australian soldiers and a bulldozer. Solomon Islands, 2003. P04580.050

P04580.052 Australian soldiers at Red Beach. Solomon Islands, 2003. P04580.052

P04225.264 Intelligence Battalion officer discusses a RAMSI flyer with a local man in Kwaiafaa village. Solomon Islands, 2003. P04225.264