Australia's peacekeeping missions since 1947
Australians have served in peacekeeping missions every year since 1947. The first Australian peacekeepers were deployed to the Netherlands East Indies (now Indonesia). Their intense experience of observing the front between Netherlander troops and East Indian republicans foreshadowed the experiences of generations of Australians to come. We commemorate the contribution made in the service of peace by Australian military, police and civilian peacekeepers.
Australia and the United Nations
In 1945, during the final months of World War II, representatives of 50 nations met to talk about the role and structure of the United Nations (UN). The UN officially came into existence on 24 October 1945 with 51 member states. Its role was, and remains, to maintain international peace and security. Today, the UN has 193 member states.
Australia played an important role in the formation of the UN and represented the interests of smaller, less powerful nations. Since then, the Australian Government has continued its support for the UN: Australia is firmly committed to effective global cooperation, including through the United Nations (UN) and its specialised agencies and regional commissions. Engaging with the multilateral system is a key pillar of Australia’s foreign policy. This is because we live in a complex, inter-connected world where countries cannot address on their own some of the major challenges we face today
[Permanent Mission of Australia to the United Nations]
The Australian Government has provided peacekeepers and resource support to many UN-led peacekeeping missions. However, not all Australian operations have involved the UN.
Role of peacekeepers
In 1947, the first Australian peacekeepers served as military observers to a UN operation in the Netherlands East Indies (present day Indonesia).
Peacekeepers are selected as needs arise: they can be Australian Defence Force personnel from any of our services, or public servants, state or federal police workers, aid workers, scientific or other specialists. Many civilians from Australia have served in peacekeeping roles as UN volunteers. Peacekeeping has evolved over time and requires management of complex and multi-dimensional issues. Peacekeepers usually serve in countries destroyed by war.
Duties of peacekeepers might include:
- operations as military observers to give logistical support and monitor ceasefire violations
- standing between hostile armies
- treating casualties
- landmine clearance operations (and teaching locals to do it)
- providing communications, medical and movement control teams
- supporting democratic elections
- providing policing support functions
- helping to deliver or make possible humanitarian aid
For many Australians who serve, peacekeeping can be a personally rewarding experience, offering:
- extensive training before deployment
- support during the operation
- development of skills, experience and career
- a rewarding experience of helping others and witnessing positive outcomes for unstable or disadvantaged regions
However, peacekeeping missions often occur in dangerous situations. While some peacekeepers are armed and others unarmed, all peacekeepers are limited in the amount of force that they can use. At times, this places peacekeepers in challenging and dangerous situations.
Sometimes peacekeepers work alone or in small groups. More recently, Australia has committed large forces to peacekeeping missions in Africa, Asia and the Pacific region.
Warrant Officer Paul Copeland, a veteran peacekeeper of Cambodia and Sinai missions, summarised the different experiences of service men and women in wartime and peacekeeping missions:
in a war it's a simple case of contacting an identified enemy and trying to win a battle. Whereas when it comes to peacekeeping you're constrained to a large degree by UN (United Nations) mandates, the charters, the ROEs (rules of engagement) and what you can and can't do
Our service men and women have helped establish Australia’s reputation as a willing, experienced and generous contributor to regional and global peace and security.
Australians as peacekeepers
Since 1947, members of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) have been involved in UN and other multinational peacekeeping operations. Most recently, thousands of troops have been deployed in anti-terrorism campaigns in Afghanistan, the Middle East and South West Africa. Peacekeeping locations that involved Australian military personnel include: · Indonesia 1947 to 1951
- Kashmir 1950 to 1985
- Korea 1953 to now
- Israel (under Operation Paladin) 1956 to now
- Congo 1960 to 1961
- West New Guinea 1962 to 1963
- Yemen 1963
- Cyprus 1964 to now (including Australian police personnel)
- India-Pakistan Border 1965 to 1966
- Sinai (under Operation Mazurka) 1976 to 1979, 1982 to 1986 and 1993 to now
- Israel-Syria Border 1974
- Lebanon 1978
- Zimbabwe 1979 to 1980
- Uganda 1982 to 1984
- Iran 1988 to 1990
- Thailand-Cambodia Border 1989 to 1993
- Namibia 1989 to 1990 (under UNTAG)
- Afghanistan 1989 to 1993
- Iraqi Kurdistan 1991(under Operation Habitat)
- Iraq 1991 to 1999
- Western Sahara 1991 to 1994
- Cambodia 1991 to 1993 (under UNTAC)
- Somalia 1992 to 1995 (under Operation Solace)
- Yugoslavia 1992
- Rwanda 1994 to 1995
- Mozambique 1994
- Bougainville 1994 and 1997 to 2003
- Haiti 1994 to 1995
- Guatemala 1997
- Yugoslavia 1997 to now
- Kosovo 1999 to now
- East Timor 1999 to 2013 (under INTERFET, UNTAET, UNMISET, Operation Tower and Operation Astute)
- Solomon Islands 2000 to 2013 (under RAMSI)
- Ethiopia and Eritrea 2000 to now
- Sierra Leone 2000 to 2003
- Sudan 2005 to now (under Operation Azure)
- Darfur 2007 to now (under Operation Hedgerow)
As a leader in its region, Australia has led or taken a leading role in: · UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) from 1992 to 1993
- multinational Peace Monitoring Group in Bougainville from 1998 to 2003
- multinational International Force for East Timor (INTERFET) from 1999 to 2000
- Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) from 2003 to 2017
Commemoration of Australian peacekeepers
With so many Australian personnel having been involved in often-dangerous peacekeeping operations over 70 years, some Australian peacekeepers have been killed or suffered injury and trauma.
In earlier decades, people debated how to commemorate the service of peacekeepers. It's now recognised that although some aspects of peacekeeping are unique, the operational experience of peacekeepers is similar to service in war-like contexts.
The Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial records the names of Australia’s war dead. The Council of the Memorial made an historic decision on 6 March 2013 to change the criteria for the Roll of Honour to include Defence personnel who died in non-warlike operations. The council added the names of 48 Australian service men and women to the Roll of Honour that day.
The Australian Peacekeeping Memorial in Canberra was officially dedicated by Australia's Governor-General, Sir Peter Cosgrove, on 14 September 2017. The national memorial commemorates the contribution made 'in the service of peace' by Australian military, police and civilian peacekeepers.
We encourage all Australians to respect and honour the service of the 16 ADF members who have died on peacekeeping operations. We also reflect on those who have served in all peacekeeping missions, including those currently serving in:
- Middle East UN Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO)
- UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS)
National Peacekeepers’ Day is observed in Australia on 14 September each year. This date signifies when Australia deployed its first contingent of peacekeepers in 1947.
International Day of UN Peacekeepers is held on 29 May each year.
Engage more with this topic
Present our discussion cards in the classroom:
Read our digital education books, which include inquiry activities on Australia’s involvement in peacekeeping:
- Control: Stories of Australian peacekeeping and humanitarian operations
- Keeping the Peace: Investigating Australia's contribution to peacekeeping
Watch the 2020 commemorative service for the 25th Anniversary of Operation TAMAR