How do the military operations and peacekeeping missions described in this volume fit into the broader canvas of Australian history? Why were they important, and why should we remember them? For a start, they took place in a particularly dramatic period in world history and in the history of Australian defence and foreign affairs. Following Australia's involvement in the two world wars and several Cold War conflicts, these operations at the end of the Cold War were both a continuation of Australia's experience of war and conflict, and the beginning of a new paradigm of engagement with the world that had as much to do with setting the stage for the future as with continuing past traditions. Further, each of the operations had their own characteristics – the Australians involved in them needed to comprehend different strategic, political and cultural situations. Each mission was a new challenge. The stories of their experiences need to be not just recounted but also understood.
By chance, two events came together to create the circumstances by which Australia became involved in these activities. The first event was the end of the Cold War. As a result, the United Nations initiated many new peacekeeping missions between 1988 and 1990 and thus gave Australia the opportunity to play an expanded peacekeeping role. In addition, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's theme of a new world order, first enunciated at the end of 1988, was taken up by President George Bush, and their new-found cooperation enabled the United States to lead a UN-authorised coalition in the war against Iraq.