Peacebuilding in the Pacific: The Australian Military Experience

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) is currently involved in peacebuilding operations in Timor-Leste and Solomon Islands; Australian government agencies remain engaged in reconstruction in post-conflict Bougainville (Papua New Guinea). Peacebuilding has been and will remain a major task for the ADF in the Pacific, as part of a larger governmental and aid response. The wider context for these commitments is the view that state incapacity or even failure is in prospect in parts of Australia’s immediate Pacific region. The causes of state failure include lack of a diversified economy, a dependence on exports of natural resources, a rapidly growing population, and poor education levels; a number of Pacific countries exhibit these characteristics. The conflict on Bougainville has been the most intractable in which Australian forces have been involved. The formation of Peace Monitoring Groups (largely composed of ADF personnel, but unarmed) engaged in weapons destruction, building trust and encouraging the eventual realisation of local autonomy was a major contribution to the peace process. The ADF experience of Timor-Leste dates from INTERFET. The need to redeploy peacekeeping troops in 2006 demonstrated that the existing peacebuilding program focused especially on security sector reform, while positive was still too narrow to address governance incapacity problems. From 2003 ADF elements have been central to the RAMSI reconstruction program in Solomon Islands. Though violence has largely been eradicated, the political crisis of 2006 demonstrated the need for the closest cooperation with the host government. These regional case studies show that peacebuilding is a complex task which requires engagement across all of the institutions of order and governance as well as with the wider society. Security sector reform remains a crucial area of peacebuilding in which military forces are inextricably involved. However, effective security reform depends ultimately upon the existence of governments that welcome, support, and own such reform.