1 May 2023
May I begin by acknowledging we gather here on the land of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, and I pay my respects to their elders, past, present and emerging.
Thank you to the Association of Asia-Pacific Peace Operations Training Centres for the opportunity to speak to you this morning.
It is the first time I have addressed this audience, and it coincides with the first time this conference has been held in Australia – indeed it’s the first time Australia has been Chair of the Association.
I extend a very warm welcome to those who have travelled to be here, and thank you all for your ongoing collaboration both within the Asia-Pacific region and further afield.
Our shared purpose is reflected in the quote by US president Harry Truman, when he addressed the delegates who signed in the United Nations Charter in the final months of the Second World War.
“With firm faith in our hearts, to sustain us along the hard road to victory, we will find our way to a secure peace, for the ultimate benefit of all humanity”, he said.
“We must build a new world – a far better world – one in which the eternal dignity of the man is respected”.
This is our shared commitment.
It is impressive to learn from General Frewen’s comments this morning that your countries represent more than 40 per cent of UN personnel deployed in Peace Operations
And five nations here this morning are in the top ten UN troop contributors; a further four are in the top ten financial contributors.
This morning I will share reflections based on my experience to address three key themes: Purpose, Partnerships, and what might be best described as force preparation.
I will be drawing on my experience across four Peace Operations, all of which afforded me a different perspective on Peace Operations.
- INTERFET in East Timor in 1999 and 2000, which was sanctioned by the United Nations and was nationally led by Australia.
- UNTAET in 2001 - a classic UN mission that exercised legislative and executive authority in East Timor following elections and its transition to independence.
- Commander of the International Stabilisation Force, again in Timor-Leste in 2010, which operated alongside and in collaboration with UN Mission of Support in East Timor.
- And finally, the Multinational Force and Observers in the Sinai in 2017 to 2019, which was intended to be a UN mission under UN Security Council Resolution 340. In the end, this was not possible and the MFO became an alternative to the envisioned UN force; it nevertheless remained an operation that formed part of a broader Middle East Peace Operation framework.
Firstly to purpose and practice.
President Truman’s aspirational words sit starkly alongside the more pragmatic words of Sir Winston Churchill, who said “there is only one thing worse than fighting with allies, and that is fighting without them”.
This morning I will start broad and then narrow the aperture to follow the thread of my three key themes, beginning with Harry Truman’s view of the new world order where the eternal dignity of man is respected.
The United Nations and UN Peacekeeping Operations were borne of the benevolent victors of the Second World War.
They formed part of a rules-based order, both delivered by and a unique feature of Pax Americana.
The challenge for us today is to consider what a changing geo-strategic environment means for United Nations peacekeeping operations.
What does a return to a great power competition and the impact of changes to climate mean for Peace Operations?
We can be sure that there will be change in how the international systems function, and that it will impact the United Nations and Peace Operations.
I suspect there will be greater demand, and the circumstances in which the missions are executed will become more demanding and more complex.
Accordingly, it is even more important to ensure clarity of purpose in designing any mission and maintaining this focus throughout execution.
Context matters, and we do well by having a sound knowledge of the conflict in order to understand the nature of peace we seek to support.
This includes the history of the conflict; protagonists, proxies and those actors beyond the immediate mission area whom might benefit or not from the conflict.
Peace Operations are a means to an end – an enduring peace is the outcome, not the existence and execution of a Peace Operation itself.
Ultimately, Peace Operations support the creation of conditions for enduring political solutions.
And invariably, this takes much longer than expected or hoped – and indeed, some Peace Operations may be generational or intergenerational in their duration.
It is therefore important to keep in mind that the return on investment – indeed, the value proposition – of Peace Operations is that the cost to the protagonists and the international community is less than the cost of war.
The important perspective for United Nations missions is therefore relative to conflict between protagonists.
But it is still a conflict, and therefore there is risk to both the force and the mission.
Moving on, I’d like to address some misconceptions associated with Peace Operations.
Firstly, that Peace Operations are somehow peaceful and inherently safe.
Put simply, peace is the purpose or mission, not a description of the operating environment.
War is an enduringly human endeavour that inflicts an awful human cost – among the protagonists, yes, but also on civilian population and yes on Peacekeepers.
This is evident in the 4,280 fatalities suffered by the United Nations since 1948.
As Peacekeepers, we are not looking for a fight. But if we get caught in one, or indeed, if one comes to us, we need to be able to deal with it, successfully.
This requires competency and currency in the same skills required to prosecute combat operations.
Competence and currency also creates an important characteristic of any Peacekeeping Force, deterrence, against becoming a target.
And it is essential for any United Nations or Peacekeeping commander in order to protect the force and maintain confidence in the mission and in particular the confidence of troop contributing nations.
The second point I’d like to make concerns resourcing - because strategy without means is nothing more than an illusion. The idea that success is somehow assured by a mission’s existence is fallacy.
Peacekeeping missions reflect the desired conditions to be set for both political dialogue and an enduring political solution to be reached.
In other words, they address the root cause of the conflict.
The mission’s success or otherwise is dependent on a pragmatic assessment of what needs to be achieved in order to create conditions, and importantly the resources that will be required.
It also includes the risk associated if those resources are not made available.
In simple terms, adjusting ends, ways or means impacts each of the others.
So having established our purpose and some key considerations, lets move to the value of partnerships – which to me is what matters most.
Mission design is a collaborative effort and dependent on the following three principles.
- Sustainability. This needs iterative review and adjustment and needs to be based on mission assessment and an understanding of the risk.
- Sound understanding of the business of the mission – policy, personnel, resources. This includes what we broadly define as ‘enablers’ – medical, communications, and logistical elements.
- Mission leadership, which is perhaps the most important consideration because Peace Operations Force Commanders have a tough job.
They have limited authorities and resources with which to fulfil their accountabilities.
They are seemingly always ‘wrong’ - having disappointed one or both protagonists, the mission, United Nations or police headquarters, or one of more of the contributing nations.
And they are dealing with an incredible diversity of troop contributing nations, both a strength and a challenge.
So working in partnership to co-design and set up Peace Operations for success is indeed a worthy endeavour. As is partnership in support of Force Commanders.
I’d like to move on to my thoughts on the importance of force preparation – and in particular, partnerships in training.
The nascent Australia Pacific Defence School is a good example of a regional approach to ‘standardisation’.
Announced by the Australian government in 2022, the Australia Pacific Defence School seeks to provide training programs for members of Pacific Island country defence and security forces.
The new school will expand and bring greater coordination to existing Australian Defence Force Pacific security training and education programs with our regional partners
Learning through the school can be tailored to meet the unique and varied needs of Pacific partners, to deliver a mix of face-to-face, virtual and blended training programs in the partner nation.
The flexibility to conduct UN-recognised training courses – online, face to face, or through blended delivery – to remotely located military and police personnel across the Pacific regions helps to strengthen collective security within our region.
It builds on the example and experience of others, for example Uruguay’s National Peace Operations Training Institute or Escuela Nacional de Operaciones de Paz del Uruguay.
An increase in multilateral approaches and cooperation increases familiarity and the ability of troop contributing nations to work together effectively.
In my opinion, the following must also be kept in mind.
- Simplicity should be a key design feature in any multilateral environment.
- Communication requires careful consideration in order to ensure common understanding. It requires translation, testing products before delivery, a learning-by-doing approach, and using troop contributing nation trainers and operators.
- Development. This requires a clear articulation and assessment of entry standards. This sets clear benchmark for the preparation of troop contributing nations. It allows for the commander to understand the risk and therefore the prioritisation of mission capability. And it allows for the design of relevant and targeted mission training.
- Finally, understanding and using national or contingent strengths against mission requirements.
I am going to conclude my remarks with a quote that is much starker then the one I began with:
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”.
It often paraphrased and misattributed to the 19th century Irish poet, Edmund Burke, but I think it accurately captures the enduring necessity of Peace Operations.
I will leave you with three thoughts:
- We can expect Peace Operations to become increasingly more complex and demanding.
- Our partnership and preparation now and into the future are more important than ever.
- They will require redoubled effort and much greater levels of transparency.
Your presence here demonstrates the convening power of our shared interest and our common purpose – a secure, stable and prosperous global community.
Thank you again for the invitation and opportunity to address you this morning.