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The dispute between India and Pakistan over the State of Jammu and Kashmir is the United Nations’ longest running and among its most intractable problems, beginning in 1947 and still continuing more than 70 years later. Australia was involved in trying to resolve this dispute for almost half this time. As a fellow member of the Commonwealth, Australia had an early interest in contributing to diplomatic negotiations, and an Australian, Owen Dixon, was the first UN mediator. Another Australian, Major General Robert Nimmo, was appointed Chief Military Observer in 1950 and remained in the job for a further 15 years. Meanwhile, Australian military observers served in Kashmir (as Jammu and Kashmir were often described) for some 35 years until the Australian Government withdrew them in 1985. Also, between 1975 and 1979, Australia provided an aircraft with crew to support the UN observer mission. This chapter describes the early diplomatic efforts; later chapters are devoted to the observer mission and the Air Force contribution.
On 3 December 1971, for the third time since the partition of British India in 1947, Pakistan and India went to war. In the words of the political scientist Sumit Ganguly, Pakistan’s pre-emptive air strikes on Indian air bases ‘failed miserably on all counts’. India retaliated with a combination of its own air strikes, naval bombardments, and land operations using tanks, artillery, paratroopers and six infantry divisions. The fighting, most of which took place in East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh), showcased India’s military superiority over its neighbour and continued until 17 December when the Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered a ceasefire. Pakistan’s President, Yahya Khan, recognising the resounding defeat of his forces, accepted the ceasefire, and the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 ended.
Lieutenant Jim Truscott, a 23-year-old officer from the Royal Australian Engineers, vividly recalled his introduction to his task of monitoring the activities of the Rhodesian Security Forces (RSF). The day after their arrival in Salisbury, he and Sergeant Peter King were deployed by British helicopter. ‘The pilot was positively nervous as he furtively looked for low-strung wires’, but Truscott and King were blissfully ignorant of the danger and enjoyed the ride until they found themselves ‘dumped in a paddock beside the little country town of Marandellas’. There was nothing more they could do but squat on their packs and wait until the Rhodesian unit they were responsible for monitoring arrived about an hour later. In the meantime, they mused as to whether they should load their weapons, despite orders to the contrary. When they were finally picked up, the vehicles practised their counter-ambush drills just before leaving the town. As Truscott wrote: ‘We simply looked at each other and our magazines never left our weapons for the next two months.’
On the heights of Tiberias in northern Israel, in October 1973 Joan Howard looked out of her lounge-room window and had a grandstand view of a war. Spread out far below her was Lake Tiberias, known in Israel as the Kinneret, the biblical Sea of Galilee. Close across the lake rose the equal heights of the Golan escarpment, the southern end of the Syrian territory that Israel had captured in 1967. At night she could see the flashes of artillery. During the day, ignoring the sirens that warned her to take shelter, she stood at the window watching air battles as Israeli jets flew low over her house to keep under the Syrian radar, fighting dogfights above the lake before swooping down over the Golan. She was close enough to see Syrian tank formations come over the ridge and fight their way down towards the lake before being halted by Israeli armour.
The eleven months between the passing of UN Security Council Resolution 67 on 28 January 1949 and the formal transfer of sovereignty to the United States of Indonesia on 27 December 1949 presented the UN observers with new challenges. Ungoc had changed its name to Unci but, although there was no break in operations nor any change in organisation, clearly the situation was different now.
In 2006, three decades after the partition of Cyprus in 1974, and the subsequent concentration from its dispersed locations across the island to the buffer zone in 1975, the role and responsibilities of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (Unficyp) continued largely unchanged. Interposed between two former warring factions – the Turkish military in the north and the Cypriot National Guard in the south – continuous rotations of Unficyp soldiers have monitored the ceasefire lines, and successive contingents of United Nations civilian police (Uncivpol) have patrolled the buffer zone. Together they have performed humanitarian roles and overseen the security of the minority Greek Cypriot population in the north and Turkish Cypriot population in the south.
Until the Middle East descended into its fourth major war in a quarter of a century, 1973 had been more or less like any other year for Australia’s observers with the UN Truce Supervision Organization (Untso). On Anzac Day, they conducted a dawn service at the Mount Scopus war cemetery, overlooking the ‘misty orange-coloured’ Old City of Jerusalem. Beside the wreaths they laid a sheaf of oats for the horses of the 10th Light Horse Regiment, which the senior Australian, Lieutenant Colonel Keith Howard, had once commanded. Observers and their families often found the petty hardships and shortages of life in the Middle East frustrating, but for many they were outweighed by the heady mix of history, archaeology, culture and politics that the region offered.
War, sadly, has always been part of human affairs, however much poets and ordinary people from antiquity onwards have longed for the blessings of peace. From earliest times states have allied with each other, promising not to make war on each other and, often, to defend the other from attack. The subject of this volume, however, is not peace but peacekeeping: the use of members of armed forces (as well as police and other civilians), working in a multinational environment in the wake of conflict, helping bring about conditions that will allow the parties to the conflict to build a more peaceable future. The cardinal qualities of peacekeepers, as against those engaged in fighting wars, are that they should use the minimum level of violence necessary to achieve their goals and that at some level they should be impartial in the disputes between the parties. Importantly, they are representatives of the international community, not of their own country’s government and their own national interests. That is why peacekeeping is conducted by multinational forces, and unilateral efforts by one state to conduct ‘peacekeeping’ are liable to be regarded with suspicion.
On the morning of Monday, 25 May 1964, following a ‘very pleasant, well organised and enjoyable’ flight, 38 Australian police stepped from their specially chartered Qantas Boeing 707, City of Brisbane, onto the tarmac at Nicosia International Airport, in the capital of Cyprus. It had been a long flight, ‘the longest [day] of my life’, wrote First Constable John Owens. Their landing had been delayed while the pilot ‘flew the length of the island several times’ waiting for the mist to lift. Finally on the ground at 7am, Owens recalled, ‘the Cyprus air was noticeably hot and moist – a marked contrast to the early morning frosts of Canberra, which we had left 24 hours before’.
By 1992, when Australia was asked to recommit to the US-led peacekeeping force – the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) – more than a decade had elapsed since Israel’s withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula, marking the transfer of the Sinai back to Egypt and the start of the MFO’s operations. Peace, a shaky proposition in the region – and absent on Israel’s other borders – had held. Mostly, as an Australian diplomat recognised, this was because of the ‘political will’ that Egypt and Israel, encouraged by US leadership, displayed in maintaining the underlying aims of the 1978 Camp David accords and the subsequent 1979 Treaty of Peace. But the MFO also played a role.
On 13 September 1947, four Australian officers arrived by air in Batavia (now Jakarta), the capital of the Netherlands East Indies. The four represented all three services: they were led by Brigadier Lewis Dyke, who was accompanied by Major David Campbell, Commander Henry Chesterman and Squadron Leader Lou Spence. They had arrived to oversee a ceasefire, and the next day they split into two groups and went into the field. They were the first UN peacekeepers, and for Australia represented the start of a continuous record of service in peacekeeping that lasts to the present day.
Between 18 November and 25 December 1962, eleven members of the Australian Army’s 16 Light Aircraft Squadron were deployed to West New Guinea (now the Indonesia province of Papua) to assist with efforts to control an outbreak of cholera. This was essentially a humanitarian mission, but it became part of a wider UN peacekeeping mission, namely the United Nations Temporary Executive Authority (Untea) in West New Guinea, which operated from October 1962 to April 1963. The mission, which enjoyed the support of both Indonesia and the Netherlands, was held up as one of the success stories of the United Nations’ first 20 years of peacekeeping operations, satisfying its mandate on schedule and under budget. In a technical sense this was true, but Untea faced constant pressure from Indonesia and, in the end, the United Nations failed to uphold the right of the West New Guinea people to self-determination.
On 24 June 1950, two Australian UN military observers, Major Stuart Peach and Squadron Leader Ronald Rankin, completed a report on their observation of South Korean forces along the border between North and South Korea. At 4am the next day, North Korean tanks and infantry crashed across the border, thus initiating the Korean War. Within two days, based on Peach and Rankin’s report, the UN Security Council had passed resolutions authorising the use of force to eject the North Koreans from the South. The Peach–Rankin report became perhaps the most important written by Australian UN observers in the 70 years of Australian peacekeeping.
The 2006 Lebanon War, also known as the Israel–Hezbollah War, posed a severe trial for the unarmed observers of United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (Untso) as well as for the armed troops of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil). The UN observers were at risk from the crossfire between the Israelis and the Hezbollah militia, and needed to determine whether it was preferable to stay in their bases and to continue to observe and report to their higher headquarters, or whether to make the perilous journey back to their slightly more secure headquarters and rear bases. The danger of remaining in their patrol bases was brought home by the destruction of one of them by bombs from an Israeli aircraft and the death of the four UN Military Observers (Unmos) in it. Four Australians Unmos were serving in southern Lebanon at that time and were closely involved in these events.