Australian Mission to ASEAN

Lessons learnt from Australia’s involvement in peace and reconciliation activities in our region

Lessons learnt from Australia’s involvement in peace and reconciliation activities in our region

Mr Simon Merrifield, Australian Ambassador to ASEAN

Address to the ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation

Bali, 22 April 2014


I’m delighted to have this opportunity to share with you lessons learnt from Australia’s experience in peacekeeping and peacebuilding. May I add my voice to the congratulation to AIPR, IPD and Kemlu for an exceptionally good symposium. Australia has supported international peace operations for over 67 years, having deployed over 65 000 personnel to more than 50 UN and other multilateral peace and security operations since 1947.

In this region, Australia had the honour to play an active role in Indonesia’s achievement of independence from 1947 to 1949, including through referring the Indonesian dispute to the UN Security Council under Article 39 at the UN Charter, and through our role as the Indonesia Republic’s chosen representative as the UN Good Officers Committee at the Indonesian Question.

Australia also had the honour of leading the military component at the UN Transitional Administration in Cambodia, and commanding the International Force in East Timor. But today, I want to talk about lesser known but more recent endeavors in Western Pacific, in the Solomon Islands and in Bougainville in Papua New Guinea. I will endeavor to draw from these cases important evidence-based lessons (nine, in fact) of potential use in future peacebuilding efforts.

Solomon Islands

The Solomon Islands is an independent nation to the north-west of Australia with a population at just over half a million people. The five-year period from 1998 to 2003, known locally as ‘the Tensions’, saw militia violence and criminality deeply erode the state, producing severe economic decline, internal displacement, corruption and insecurity. A number of international and regional initiatives attempted to deal with underlying conflicts, and improve security, including a mission I led in 2000 and 2001, but these had neither the scale nor mandate to succeed.

In April 2003, in response to a request from Solomon Island’s then Prime Minister, a regional peace operation was deployed under the auspices of the Pacific Islands Forum to restore law and order and rebuild core public institutions. The Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands, or RAMSI, had a broad mandate to restore civil order, stabilise government finances, promote long-term economic recovery, and rebuild the machinery of government.

So RAMSI was not just about restoring peace, rather, peace and rebuilding. RAMSI broke new ground with its comprehensive approach. Restoring law and order went side-by-side with restoring government functions and finances. Political leaders were able to capitalise on the improved economic performance and thus had an incentive to support RAMSI.

RAMSI, as a legitimate outside party, helped convince belligerents that the time for violence was over. It was also able to remove most weapons, and to reassure each side that the other was acting in good faith. This reduced fear, mistrust and uncertainty.

By rebuilding the Solomon Islands Police Force, effective law and justice, and government institutions, RAMSI helps reduce the opportunity for state power to be abused or manipulated in ways that could make the resumption of conflict more likely.

The RAMSI military operation ceased on 1 July 2013 but the police mission is ongoing. To mid-2017, RAMSI’s police operation will continue to provide security assistance to the Solomon Islands police, including program of limited rearmament.

Bougainville, PNG

The conflict on Papua New Guinea’s islands of Bougainville, which ran from 1988 to 1997, was destructive and violent. It not only involved a separatist struggle, but also included localised conflict rooted in community-level tensions and grievances.

Australia has long been committed to the peace process in Bougainville, being closely involved with other international partners such as New Zealand and the UN in the truce in 1997, ceasefire in 1998 and finally the Peace Agreement in 2001. Following participation in the Truce Monitoring Group, from 1998 to 2003, Australia led the Peace Monitoring Group (PMG) of unarmed military and civilian personnel from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Vanuatu.

More than 4 000 personnel of the Australian Defense Forces (ADF) and civilians served in the PMG. The PMG helped build confidence in the peace process and laid the groundwork for the signing of the Bougainville Peace Agreement in 2001, closing a tragic chapter in Bougainville’s history. The deliberately light touch engagement of the PMG maximized the degree of control and ownership by parties to the process, helping to contain costs, reduce local dependency, manage safety risks and facilitate an exit strategy.

The ongoing Bougainville peace process has supported the restoration of democratic processes and government services. Most schools, aid posts and roads have re-opened while local agricultural industries have begun to revive.

Key features and lessons learnt

These recent efforts in Bougainville and Solomon Islands, produced a number of key lessons, policy innovations, and good practices that have great potential for use in future peacekeeping and peacebuilding elsewhere.

First, local ownership and leadership are crucial to successful peacekeeping and peacebuilding.

Strong national leadership and support from local communities is central and must be nurtured. Personnel of peace operations are outsiders who, despite good intentions, might introduce agendas that are a poor fit with local preferences and priorities or, worse, sideline the local leadership that is so crucial to building peace.

Second, efforts should focus on long-term capacity building, working with host governments to make public institutions self-sustaining.

Such transformation can be slow and demand long-term commitment by international partners. To be sustainable, capacity building requires strong host-country leadership and ownership and must be calibrated to local needs and the capacity of local institutions and systems to absorb it.

Third, a strong regional response is a key factor to the success of peacebuilding operations.

Regional initiatives strengthen the sense among states in a region that their security is indivisible.

RAMSI’s regional nature has been especially central to its success. Every member of the Pacific Islands Forum has participated in the mission, enabling the pooling of different skills and boosting the legitimacy of the mission in the eyes of the Solomon Islands people. It has also promoted a network across the Pacific and a peacekeeping capacity within that region.

Fourth, missions need to be comprehensive and integrated. Peacekeeping and peacebuilding are not linear, sequenced phases: instead, they are overlapping activities with mutually reinforcing outcomes. Australia’s support has required that military, police and civilian components operate in joined-up partnerships, with one another and with a diverse range of host country, regional and international counterparts.

Long-term planning for development can be incorporated from the earliest stages, while integrated planning and management structures help an operation to be more agile and responsive to changing conditions.

We have learnt that integration and coordination processes must begin at home, from whole-of-government planning to joint pre-deployment training. This must continue in the field through a conscious and sustained effort to communicate regularly and honestly and to promote mutual understanding among the various parts of an integrated mission.

Fifth, Australia’s experiences have demonstrated the importance of institution building to strengthen the rule of law in societies emerging from conflict.

Security sector reform is one of the most important components of Australian peacekeeping and peacebuilding support. Security sector reform is more effective when it is part of a comprehensive approach, integrated with wider public sector development, closely coordinated with other donor support, and focused not only on military and police forces but also on judicial and correctional systems.

Sixth, peacekeeping and peacebuilding in Bougainville and Solomon Islands featured substantial civilian components. Civilians contributed a wide array of expertise, ranging from civilian monitoring in Bougainville to financial management, prisons administration and parliamentary strengthening in Solomon Islands.

Women, peace and security

Seventh, the experiences of conflict in Bougainville and Solomon Islands each reflect the content of the UN Security Council’s landmark resolution 1325 on women, peace and security: that the experiences and needs of women and girls differ from those of men and boys in conflict and post-conflict situations; and that women have essential roles in conflict prevention, management and resolution. The centrality of women to community-level peacemaking in Bougainville and Solomon Islands demands that more attention be given to their potential roles as partners in peacekeeping and peacebuilding efforts in the future.

Australia has sought to build on this lesson through a number of national initiatives, most notably the 2012-2018 National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, which commits Australian peacekeeping and peacebuilding missions to empower local women to be involved in formal peace and security processes. Australia supports regional police development to facilitate women’s participation and protect women’s and girls’ human rights and has also supported RAMSI to help the Solomon Islands Government redress conditions of gender inequality.

Eighth, Australia’s experiences in Bougainville and Solomon Islands demonstrated the importance of the security-development relationship as both a driver of crisis and a guide to recovery. Insecurity and violence remain the biggest barriers to development, but for countries emerging from conflict and crisis there are huge development gains to be made. Security provides an essential platform for economic recovery and long-term development, while inclusive economic governance and poverty-alleviating aid help prevent the recurrence of conflict.

Ninth, Australia’s experience supporting peacekeeping and peacebuilding has demonstrated the value of tailored, context-specific mandates that enable operations to adapt to changing dynamics and respond to the priorities and agendas of local leaders, allowing pragmatic flexibility. A ‘one size fits all’ approach does not work.

This talk would not be complete without touching on the recent and historic Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro. Australia congratulates both sides on this milestone achievement, recognizing the leadership role played by President Aquino in prioritizing the peace process.

Australia has been a longstanding supporter of the Mindanao peace process. Our support has included technical assistance to the Office of the Presidential Adviser to the Peace Process, creating a database for registering former combatants, and documenting lessons learnt from other peace agreements to help inform the Mindanao peace process.

Capacity building has again been a key component of our support, as Australia made a contribution to the World Bank and UN to provide training and expertise to the MILF and the Philippine Government as they work through the process of designing the governance infrastructure and the Basic Law of the Bangsamoro.

On 27 January, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announced that Australian support for the peace process will continue, with $6 million committed over the next three years to help ensure the credibility of the peace process and boost the institutional capacity to implement the peace agreement.

Australia has endeavored to do it as part in peacekeeping and peacebuilding in our region. We all share the hope that such activities will not be necessary in the future but stand ready and committed to play a role if it becomes necessary in the future. Thank you