Volume I: The long search for peace: observer missions and beyond (provisional title)

Volume I of the Official History of Peacekeeping, Humanitarian and Post-Cold War Operations will span the history of Australian peacekeeping from September 1947, when the first Australian military observers arrived in Indonesia. The volume will cover all Australian peacekeeping operations that began before the end of the Cold War, including those that continued to the present day. Although the time period is long, the operations often involved small numbers of Australians, generally observers.

The volume will begin by describing League of Nations precedents for peacekeeping and the largely ad hoc way peacekeeping developed under the UN, which does not describe peacekeeping in its charter. Australia played a significant role in this process, especially in Indonesia, where the first UN peacekeepers were deployed in 1947. While member states were unwilling to commit forces to fight in conflicts of little concern to their own security, they found that unarmed military observers could make a useful contribution to monitoring and helping to maintain ceasefires. This worked in Indonesia, and the idea was soon adopted in Greece, Palestine, Kashmir, and Korea.

In Indonesia, Australia participated in a UN effort which saw a largely peaceful transfer of sovereignty from the Dutch to the Indonesians. In Korea, on the other hand, the UN failed to avert a catastrophic war. In June 1950 Australian observers played a critical role in providing the report that enabled the UN Security Council to adjudge North Korea the aggressor. Australia was also involved in unsuccessful UN efforts to achieve a peace settlement in Kashmir, providing a mediator, Sir Owen Dixon; a commander for the UN military observers in Kashmir, Lieutenant General Robert Nimmo; and, from 1952 to 1985, rank-and-file military observers.

A large part of the volume will deal with the Middle East. Since 1956, Australian observers have served with the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO) in Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. During this time the observers have had to adapt to several major changes in the situation, most notably after the 1967 war when ceasefire lines between belligerents were substantially redrawn. In the 1970s and 1980s Australia also provided RAAF helicopters to monitor peace in the Sinai; an army contingent operates there today.

Australian police peacekeepers have operated in Cyprus since 1964. They have also seen a major change in the nature of their operation, following the Turkish invasion of 1974 and the subsequent partitioning of the island.

The largest single operation the volume will deal with is Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). In 1979–80 a contingent of 150 army officers and non-commissioned officers monitored a shaky peace settlement leading up to elections and the introduction of genuine majority rule.

As well as describing in detail the background, planning, history, and results of each mission, the volume will discuss the attitudes of different governments to peacekeeping, and the place of peacekeeping in defence force activities and planning.

Author: Dr Peter Londey (Deputy General Editor)

Update: Peter is currently writing chapters on the Commonwealth Monitoring Force in Rhodesia.

Dr Peter Londey is a lecturer in the Classics Program of the School of Languages at the Australian National University. He holds degrees in ancient history from the University of New England and Monash University. His PhD was on international politics at Delphi in the fourth century BC.

After holding positions in Classics at the University of Queensland and the Australian National University, from 1991 to 2008 he worked as a historian at the Australian War Memorial. Peter’s activities there included editing the Memorial’s magazine Wartime for its first three years; working on a variety of exhibitions, including on the Memorial’s history, Aboriginal involvement in Australia’s wars, and Australians in the occupation of Japan; and served extended periods as acting Head of the Military History Section.

While at the Memorial Peter took up research on peacekeeping, and curated the Memorial’s first peacekeeping exhibition, in 1993, and a major travelling exhibition in 2001. He is the author of Other people’s wars: a history of Australian peacekeeping (2004) and is writing Volume I of Australia’s Official History of Peacekeeping, Humanitarian and Post-Cold War Operations. He has also written about the official war historian Charles Bean and the remembrance of war in Australia, and is currently working on the history of Delphi.