THE CHALLENGE OF UN PEACEKEEPING OPERATIONS
the Current Situation in the Sinai
the Current Situation in the Sinai
Address to the Australian Peacekeeping Dinner
SHANGRI-LA HOTEL, SYDNEY
24 August 2012
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We are gathered here in Sydney for a good purpose.
To honour the nearly 100,000 Australians who since the first deployments in the then Dutch East Indies in 1947 have worn the blue helmet.
Proudly representing Australia.
Proudly representing the United Nations - the parliament of human kind.
We honour those who have fallen.
We honour those who suffered injuries.
We honour those who returned.
Wearing the uniform of Australia is no small thing.
I have said many times as Prime Minister of Australia that there is no higher honour than to wear the uniform of Australia.
Many words are spoken about war.
But then there is the doing.
And it is the soldiers who do the doing.
And that's where politics has yielded to diplomacy and diplomacy to the profession of arms.
That's where all the ambiguity of politics and diplomacy yields to the brutal, base-line reality of the decisions of war.
That's why I'm proud to be the son of a soldier and the brother of one as well.
Our peacekeepers have often had a more complex mission.
The complexities of UN or other multinational mandates.
The complexities of multiple partners with whom Australia may not have had close military dealings with in the past.
But as someone who has been proud to serve both as Prime Minister and as Foreign Minister, I have heard nothing but praise around the world for military participation in peacekeeping operations now spanning two thirds of a century and most theatres of the world.
The roll-call is like a lesson in geography of the world:
Iran / Iraq
The Kurds of Northern Iraq
Ethiopia and Eritrea
Naval deployments in the Gulf
And the Sinai
Virtually every year, somewhere across the globe.
So a grateful nation says thank you.
I would also like to thank you for your work for the UN.
Many criticize the UN.
I have too.
But in its absence, we would have global anarchy.
It is the best attempt at a global rules-based order in human history.
Australia is proud to be one of the 50 founding members.
Australia is proud to, through Foreign Minister Evatt, to have helped co-author the UN Charter.
We are proud to have been the first President of the UN Security Council.
We are proud to be one of the top 12 donors to the UN organisation - consistent with our global size; consistent with our global obligations; consistent with our tradition of creative middle-power diplomacy.
We do not seek simply to take from the global order.
We seek to give back to the global order.
Because we see the global rules-based order as a global public good in its own right.
Great powers may be able to act in defence of their interests and their values.
Middle powers and small powers cannot.
We depend on the integrity, stability, predictability and fairness of the rules-based order more than we think.
Rules against armed aggression.
Rules in defence of civilian populations in times of war.
Rules for the world trading system.
Rules for the underpinning of global financial stability through the IMF.
Rules for the protection of copyright and patents.
None of these rules are perfect.
Nor are they honoured perfectly.
But we need to think clearly about what our region and our world would be like if the rules-based order collapsed and there were no rules.
Only two thirds of a century ago that was the case.
And the consequences were horrific.
That is why defending the order through multiple dimensions (peacekeeping, economic sanctions, humanitarian intervention, environmental protection, development assistance) is critical.
Many today have simply forgotten what it was like when there was no order.
And to sustain the expansion of the order, given the challenge of the new century, requires all of us (particularly founding members such as Australia) to put our collective shoulders to the wheel - even when there are no votes in it at all.
That's why it is absolutely right that Australia put its hand up for the UN Security Council this year.
It will be over 25 years since we last served.
That is wrong.
There is no guarantee of success at all.
But it is absolutely right to have a go.
Finally, let us reflect on the many peacekeeping operations in which we are participating today.
In particular, I want to make some remarks about our current deployments in the Sinai.
This is not a UN mandated operation.
It is one agreed by a number of states following the 1978 Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel.
That treaty brought to a conclusion the end of the state of war that had existed between Egypt and Israel for the previous 30 years - in fact since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.
It is now 30 years since Australia sent its first deployment to the Sinai in 1982.
Only 12 nations contribute.
Its mission is critical.
"To observe, verify and report on the Israeli and Egyptian implementation of the Peace Agreements".
For 30 years we have helped keep the peace in one of the most explosive regions of the world.
But the truth is the geo-political circumstances of the region are now changing rapidly.
A new democratic government in Egypt with a President from the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.
Civil war in Syria.
Regime change in Libya.
As the tide of the Arab Spring rolls on.
There has been no progress on the Middle East Peace Process.
And Iran looms as a greater strategic threat.
In the Sinai, the security terrain has also changed significantly over the last 12 months.
This has not been the subject of much commentary in Australia.
The truth is this region has become increasingly violent in recent times culminating in a major incident on 5 August this year which resulted in the death of 16 Egyptian soldiers.
As someone who has followed these events closely over a long period of time I am deeply concerned about the security and stability of this area, including security of the MFO deployment.
I know the Australian Government is also following these developments closely.
The truth is, with fundamental political changes now having occurred in Cairo combined with continued terrorist activity in and around the Sinai border region itself, I am deeply concerned about the future.
Australian forces in the MFO are first class Australian Defence professionals and it was my privilege to spend some time them when I visited there as foreign minister.
I was briefed back then on early indications of concern.
Since then, the situation has continued to deteriorate.
So let us bear our troops (and their comrades) in mind in the difficult period ahead.
The Australian Peacekeeping Memorial is an important project for the nation.
I would like to acknowledge the great work of the Australian Peacekeeping Memorial Project Committee and its patrons in the great work they have done in support of the project.
This is a project which is worthy of the entire nation's support.