Volume V: The good neighbour: Australian peace support operations in the Pacific Islands, 1980–2006

Author: Associate Professor Bob Breen

Published: 2016

Volume V deals 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 examines Australia’s military reaction to the coup in Fiji in 1987 and the unrest in Vanuatu the following year.

The main part of the volume is devoted to Australia’s response to the conflict in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea’s easternmost 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 leading the unique multinational Peace Monitoring Group (Operation Bel Isi) that served in Bougainville from 1998 to 2003. During that time more than 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, the prospects for instability in Papua New Guinea and elsewhere in the region presented challenges for defence planners in Canberra.

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

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 also includes an appendix describing how Australian police have been reorganised in recent years to deal with these new challenges.

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