Australian peacekeepers with small children

Keeping the peace

Anita Jaensch 14 September 2020

For countries torn apart by war, the appearance of the United Nation’s (UN) Blue Berets is a sign that the first tangible steps have been taken on the road to peace.

Peacekeepers are sent in to some of the most dangerous parts of the world, tasked with bringing peace and stability to regions that have been torn apart by war. While the conflict may have ceased, the danger often remains.

In 1947, four Australian military officers became the first UN peacekeepers in the world when they were deployed to the United Nations Good Offices Commission in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). Since then, Australia has contributed more than 60,000 troops to over 60 peacekeeping operations in countries including East Timor, Somalia, Rwanda, Bosnia Herzegovina, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.

They have joined military and police personnel wearing the uniforms of more than 120 countries, with only their sky blue berets or helmets to unify them as UN peacekeepers.

Peacekeepers primarily work to reduce the risk of conflicts flaring up again, enabling infrastructure, political processes and social institutions to be rebuilt. In fact, a study by the Rand Corporation showed that peacekeeping operations reduce the risk of conflict recurring by 50 per cent[i].

But over the years, the role of peacekeepers has become more complex. As well as maintaining security, peacekeepers may be involved in facilitating elections, disarming and demobilising former combatants, training military and police personnel and providing humanitarian assistance in the wake of natural disasters.

Peacekeepers in our ranks – from Kashmir…

Toowong RSL Sub Branch President George Hulse served with the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP). He arrived in the Karakorum Mountains of the Hindu Kush around Kashmir in January 1974.

“It was bitterly cold,” George remembers. “I arrived in January 1974 to one of the coldest winters they’d had. The snow and ice was metres deep and it was an area of the Himalayas where the weather was very changeable – bright and sunny one minute and a blizzard, a complete whiteout, the next.

“The terrain was somewhere between difficult and impossible to negotiate and yet you had two great armies there fighting each other.”

The first military observers had arrived in Kashmir in 1949 to supervise the ceasefire between India and Pakistan, but religious and political tensions between the nations had flared again in 1971. UNMOGIP was tasked with maintaining the fragile peace.

“As military observers, we had to observe and report, but we couldn’t interfere,” George says. “You got to see things you’d never read about in books.

“Some of the senior commanders [on both sides] were Sandhurst graduates and knew each other really well. They might have served together in the same unit before partition. You’d see them hug each other at a meeting in the battle-space which was, at times, in the middle of a minefield and be wondering what was going on!”

He reflects that peacekeepers have to possess a unique combination of traits. “Peacekeepers need to be great at negotiating, and specialists in understanding the human condition. They need to understand both sides of the argument, and have a clear idea of where you’re headed and how to get there. It’s not like being a combat soldier at all.”

…to Tehran…

In August 1988, RSL South Eastern District Vice President Kerry Gallagher AM led the first Australian UN team into Iran as part of the United Nations Iran Iraq Military Observer Group (UNIIMOG).

“When we arrived there, we were put up in the hotel that was then called the Esteghlal, which essentially means the Freedom Hotel,” Kerry says.

“Believe it or not, previously in the days of the Shah it had been the Royal Tehran Hilton, but the only piece of the Royal Tehran Hilton that remained was an etched nameplate above the door. It also had a couple of bullet holes in it, but obviously it hadn’t smashed. That was the only thing that was in any way like you would expect of a Hilton hotel.”Australian contingent of UNIIMOG before departure
Kerry Gallagher (centre, holding koala) with other members of the Australian contingent of UNIIMOG

Having suffered through eight years of war during which they had lost millions of young men, Kerry says the Iranian people were very welcoming to the peacekeeping force.

“Of an evening when I finished at the UNIIMOG headquarters I used to walk back to the house we had in one of the suburban areas of Tehran and I used to go through the markets – it was just a little bit of a shortcut. And a couple of nights there was a lady, an older lady, who would come out of the store and press a bunch of grapes into my hand and kiss the back of my hand and say, ‘Thank you for bringing peace to my country.’”

Kerry says that, even when the UN is able to broker a truce, there may still be tensions between the two sides that can escalate quickly even over relatively inconsequential matters.

“It was really important internationally that peace was brought to the region. Realistically, the people who brought peace were those couple of hundred people wearing blue berets standing between the two opposing forces.”

…and Somalia

Ipswich RSL Sub Branch Deputy President Michael Blaine arrived in Mogadishu in December 1993 as part of the ASC III, the third rotation in Somalia as part of UNOSOM II.

“Somalia was a mess. It just smelt of death and it was hot and dry, everything was ruined,” Michael says. “It was a bit of an eye opener to go to a country that had been bombed and shot to pieces by their own people in a civil war. And then they had a big drought that followed which wiped out half their population.”

The Australian contingent controlled movement of the food supplies that were being delivered into the devastated country, making sure it got to the regions where it was most needed.

“It’s an honour really to be in a peacekeeping or peacemaking force, because you’re working not just for your own country, you’re working for the United Nations.

“I think the Australian troops who have gone on United Nations tours have done great jobs. I think we can empathise with the people we’re providing security and protection for, and we get a great sense of joy helping other countries in their time of need.”

In 1999-2000, Michael also served on the international peacekeeping mission to East Timor.

A long history of Australian peacekeeping

Australians have played an instrumental role in both UN and multinational peacekeeping operations across the globe.

In fact, the largest deployment of Australian troops since World War II was the non-UN International Force for East Timor (INTERFET), organised to curb violence during East Timor’s transition to independence from Indonesia. Between September 1999 and February 2000, 5,500 personnel were deployed to East Timor, led by Major General Peter Cosgrove.

Australian peacekeepers are currently serving in the Middle East and South Sudan.

UN Consular Commission

Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia)

1947

UN Committee of Good Offices (UNGOC)

Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia)

1947–1949

UN Special Committee on the Balkans (UNSCOB)

Greece

1947–1951

UN Commission for Indonesia (UNCI)

Indonesia

1949–1951

UN Commission on Korea (UNCOK)

Korea

1950

UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP)

Kashmir

1948–1985

UN Commission for the Unification and Rehabilitation of Korea (UNCURK)

Korea

1951–1973

UN Command Military Armistice Commission (UNCMAC)

Korea

1953–

UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO)

Middle East

1956–

UN Operation in the Congo (ONUC)

Congo

1960–1961

UN Temporary Executive Authority (UNTEA)

West New Guinea

1962–1963

UN Yemen Observation Mission (UNYOM)

Yemen

1963–1964

UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP)

Cyprus

1964–2017

UN India–Pakistan Observation Mission (UNIPOM)

India, Pakistan

1965–1966

UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF)

Israel, Syria

1974

Second UN Emergency Force (UNEF II)

Sinai

1973–1979

UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL)

Lebanon

1978

Commonwealth Monitoring Force (CMF)

Zimbabwe

1979–1980

Commonwealth Military Training Team – Uganda (CMTTU)

Uganda

1982–1984

Multinational Force and Observers (MFO)

Sinai

1982–1986
1993–

UN Iran–Iraq Military Observer Group (UNIIMOG)

Iran, Iraq

1988–1990

UN Transition Assistance Group (UNTAG)

Namibia

1989–1990

UN Border Relief Operation (UNBRO)

Thai–Cambodian border

1989–1993

UN Mine Clearance Training Team (UNMCTT)

Afghanistan, Pakistan

1989–1993

First Maritime Interception Force (MIF I)

Persian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Red Sea

1990–1991

Second Maritime Interception Force (MIF II)

Persian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Red Sea

1991–2001

UN Special Commission (UNSCOM)

Iraq

1991–1999

Operation Provide Comfort

Iraq

1991

UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO)

Western Sahara

1991–1994

UN Advance Mission in Cambodia (UNAMIC)

Cambodia

1991–1992

UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC)

Cambodia

1992–1993

First UN Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM I)

Somalia

1992–1993

Unified Task Force (UNITAF)

Somalia

1992–1993

UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR)

Former Yugoslavia

1992

Second UN Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM II)

Somalia

1993–1995

Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC)

Cambodia

1994–1999

UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR)

Rwanda

1994–1995

UN Operation in Mozambique (ONUMOZ)

Mozambique

1994

South Pacific Peace-Keeping Force (SPPKF)

Bougainville

1994

Multinational Force (MNF)

Haiti

1994–1995

Accelerated Demining Program (ADP)

Mozambique

1994–2002

UN Verification Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA)

Guatemala

1997

Implementation Force / Stabilisation Force / Kosovo Force (IFOR / SFOR / KFOR)

Former Yugoslavia

1995–2004

Truce Monitoring Group (TMG)

Bougainville

1997–1998

Peace Monitoring Group (PMG)

Bougainville

1998–2003

UN Mission in East Timor (UNAMET)

East Timor

1999

International Force East Timor (INTERFET)

East Timor

1999–2000

UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET)

East Timor

2000–2002

International Peace Monitoring Team (IPMT)

Solomon Islands

2000–2002

UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE)

Ethiopia, Eritrea

2001–2005

International Military Advisory and Training Team (IMATT)

Sierra Leone

2001–2003

UN Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET)

East Timor

2002–2005

UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission for Iraq (UNMOVIC)

Iraq

2002–2003

UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA)

Afghanistan

2003–2004
2005–

Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI)

Solomon Islands

2003–2017

UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS)

Sudan

2005–2011

UN Office in Timor-Leste (UNOTIL)

Timor-Leste

2005–2006

International Stabilisation Force (ISF)

Timor-Leste

2006–2013

UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT)

Timor-Leste

2006–2012

African Union–UN Mission in Darfur (UNAMID)

Darfur

2008–2011

UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI)

Iraq

2009–2013

UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS)

South Sudan

2011–

Source: www.peacekeepingmemorial.org.au



[i] www.betterworldcampaign.org/un-peacekeeping/un-peacekeeping-101/

Tags:
  • History & commemoration
  • Veteran stories