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Historical lessons from the birth of peaceKeeping in Indoneisa

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posted on Dec, 22 2019 @ 10:39 PM

This seminar will focus on the part played in the development of UN multinational peacekeeping by the peacekeepers themselves on the ground in Indonesia. Dr Peter Londey argues that, although often ignored by peacekeeping historians, the Indonesian operation was the true inception of UN peacekeeping, and that it is a good example of how change often develops organically from the periphery rather than managerially from the centre.


The birth of UN Peacekeeping has sat at the back of my mind, for a long time. The insertion and development of UN observers were well suited to the conditions of the Dutch fighting Indonesian nationalists. One shouldn't allow the later failure of the UN's "lighter footprint" (my wording) in Bosina, to cloud their judgement on this topic.

I find the way events on the ground in the Indonesian War of Independence acted as the driver for the decisions undertaken by the Australian government. Before the arrival of UN observes, the astute observations of those on the ground, counted for more than existing Australian views. Their preexisting support for the Dutch Colonial order gave way to support for Indonesian independence.

In my view, the historical focus on conditions on the ground is the defining lesson from this topic — the debate surrounding where the first UN PeaceKeeping mission is, at best, a secondary subject. To explain the logic behind my reasoning, I will detour away from the contents of the podcast/seminar.

From 1945 onwards, American policy towards Indo China (present-day Vietnam) wasn't dictated by realistic assessments of the inevitable end of French colonial rule. Lieutenant Colonel A. Peter Dewey provided an accurate picture of then backwater. To the best of my knowledge, there is no historical evidence of President Truman receiving Dewy's analysis. At this point, the tide of history swamps all before it. The miscalculations of American policy makers from the Truman to the LBJ admins are well documented elsewhere. One can only ponder what might have happened in Indo China if Dewey's ghost was more than an undeserved historical footnote.

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