Note on terminology:
Peace support operations are often divided into "peacekeeping" (lightly armed) and "peace enforcement" (heavily armed), and sometimes into other categories as well. In this section, "peacekeeping" and "peacekeeping operation" are used as blanket terms to cover all impartial, multinational, military-based interventions into areas of conflict.
A proud record
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:
- Lieutenant General Robert Nimmo was Chief Military Observer in Kashmir with the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan, from 1950 to 1966
- Lieutenant General John Sanderson was Force Commander with the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia, 1992 to 1993
- Major General David Ferguson was Force Commander with the Multinational Force and Observers (in the Sinai) from 1994 to 1997
- Richard Butler led the UN Special Commission (in Iraq) from 1997 to 1999
- Major General Timothy Ford was Chief of Staff with the UN Truce Supervision Organisation from 1998 to 2000
- Major General Peter Cosgrove commanded the International Force for East Timor (Interfet) from 1999 to 2000.
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. Today the media can fill a similar role, but military observers with a peacekeeping operation are more impartial and can use their military training to assess a situation more accurately.
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.