Volume V of the Official History of Australian Peacekeeping, Humanitarian and Post-Cold War Operations is entitled The Good Neighbour: Supporting Peace in the Pacific Islands 1980-2006. It is the first comprehensive study of Australia’s peacemaking, peacekeeping and peace enforcement efforts (peace support) on behalf of Pacific Islands neighbours to support political progress in the face of instability, political violence and civil unrest.
What should Australia learn from these 25 years of periodic intervention? What are the attributes from this period that have enduring relevance to supporting peace in the Pacific Islands in future after what appears to be almost a decade of peace?
There were seven evolutions of Australia’s support for peace in the Pacific Islands 1980-2006. Each has enduring relevance for future Australian efforts.
The first was in the disposition and confidence of Australian governments to intervene in the Pacific Islands with peacemaking initiatives, as well as peacekeeping and peace enforcement operations as political and civil unrest increased and political, economic and social problems in the Pacific Islands worsened in the late 1990s and 2000s. The second was the development of a ‘whole-of-government’ ethos- a ‘bottom-up’ rather than a ‘top-down’ process. The third as the maturing of a ‘whole-of-region’ approach – a journey of discovery rather than the product of astute policy development. The fourth was the deepening of the Australian-New Zealand partnership for peace, which was forged by the Bougainville Crisis and brought together the two countries’ complementary attributes.
The sixth evolution, and one of the most significant features of Australia’s engagement for peace in the Pacific Islands, was the interaction of Australian and regional peacekeepers and peace enforcers with communities and civil society in Bougainville and Solomon Islands. The seventh was the differentiation of interventions into ‘light’ and ‘heavy’. These characteristics resembled the differentiation of contemporary peacekeeping and peace enforcement operations around the world but had features peculiar to engaging for peace in the Pacific Islands.
So what? For strategic, economic and humanitarian reasons, Australia matured as a ‘good neighbour’ in the late 1990s and 2000s. Ten years after the end of the period this volume covers Australia has the choice of moving a step further in its engagement for peace by taking a deeper ’whole-of-region’ approach to improving the poor living conditions and meagre employment opportunities of many Pacific islanders that have the potential to spawn instability and conflict. There is consideration of the formation of an Oceania Community modelled on the European Union. Steps in this direction began with a Pacific Islands Forum Special Retreat in 2014 that yielded a commitment to recast the extant Pacific Plan into a Framework for Pacific Regionalism. The question is whether Australia will continue to not only be the Pacific Islands most capable neighbour but also the region’s ‘good neighbour’.
About the Speaker
Associate Professor Bob Breen is Deakin University’s Director of Post Graduate Qualifications and Academic Adviser at the Centre for Defence and Strategic Studies, Australian Defence College, Weston Creek, ACT. He is the author of several books about Australian peacekeeping operations in Somalia, PNG (Bougainville) and East Timor, as well as an analysis of post-Cold War Australian military force projection based on his PhD Thesis, Struggling for Self Reliance: Four case studies of Australian Regional Force Projection in the late 1980s and the 1990s, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Canberra Papers on Strategy and Defence No. 171, ANU E-Press, Canberra, 2008.