New Zealand has a long history of involvement in peacemaking and peacekeeping activities. As a small state, it has a strong interest in a rules-based international order and in the peaceful resolution of disputes. It was a founding member of the United Nations (UN) and supported the organisation’s efforts to promote peacekeeping and peace making.
New Zealand has been continuously involved in UN peacekeeping activities since the 1950s. In 2011, 458 New Zealand Defence Force troops and more than 75 police officers were serving in 19 UN-led or UN-endorsed peacekeeping missions and peace support operations. In addition to providing personnel, New Zealand also helped pay for these operations, contributing $22.2 million to the UN peacekeeping budget in the 2010/11 year.
In 1945 the UN was created with a mandate ‘to save succeeding generations from the scourg–e of war’.1 In the UN context peacekeeping has involved the deployment of forces, sometimes unarmed, in order to prevent or contain hostilities and to keep adversaries apart. It is based on principles of consent, impartiality and of not using force except in self-defence. It is different from peace enforcement, which involves the use of coercive measures including military force to bring an end to hostilities, and peace making, which describes diplomatic actions designed to bring conflict to a negotiated end.
Peacekeeping missions are often led by the UN, but they have also taken place under the banner of regional organisations such as NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) or the African Union.
The New Zealand government often uses the broader term ‘peace support operations’, which includes not only UN peacekeeping missions, but also peace enforcement and some other military deployments based on alliance and other ties.
The largest deployment of New Zealand forces in the 2000s was in Afghanistan, as part of the international response to the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US. Although the mission was not a UN peacekeeping operation, foreign forces operated in Afghanistan on the basis of UN Security Council resolutions. In the early 2010s New Zealand had members of its SAS (Special Air Services) and a provincial reconstruction team (PRT) in Afghanistan.
The 140-strong PRT was based in Bamyan province, north-west of Kabul. Its mission was to patrol and provide security, train Afghan army and police personnel and provide assistance to the UN in Afghanistan. Ten New Zealand soldiers died while stationed in Afghanistan: eight in combat and two in non-combat situations. The PRT was withdrawn from Afghanistan in 2013.
From the New Zealand government’s perspective, engagement in Afghanistan served three purposes. It supported the UN, offered an opportunity to work more closely with NATO, and helped restore the bilateral security relationship with the US, which had been strained after New Zealand adopted nuclear-free policies in the 1980s.
While peacekeeping is often seen as a military activity, civilian police are often involved in post-conflict situations. New Zealand police personnel have been posted to Cyprus (1964–67), Namibia (1989–90), East Timor (1999–2001, 2006–12), Bougainville (2000), Solomon Islands (2003), Afghanistan (2005) and Tonga (following riots in 2006).
When police were dispatched on peace support operations, officers were ‘borrowed’ from district commanders around the country. Operations overseas became increasingly common in the 2000s, and it sometimes took as long as nine months for a replacement officer to be found.
The kind of work carried out during these missions has changed. Until the end of the 1990s, policing in international peace operations typically revolved around the SMART model (support, monitoring, advising, reporting and training). In the 2000s, key tasks for New Zealand police overseas typically involved the ‘Three R’s’– reforming, restructuring and rebuilding the local police force.
In 2012 police were deployed in Afghanistan, Bougainville, Solomon Islands, East Timor and Tonga. The danger faced by police deployed in areas of war, danger or emergency was recognised in 2012, when they became eligible for burial in New Zealand services cemeteries.
The deployment of troops and police to Solomon Islands, East Timor and Afghanistan in the 2000s put considerable strain on New Zealand’s limited resources. The government developed four criteria for determining whether to contribute to a peace support operation:
Within the United Nations (UN), the Security Council has responsibility for maintaining international peace and security. But the advent of the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union undermined the Security Council’s ability to use its powers. The US, the Soviet Union (now the Russian Federation), China, France and the UK, which have permanent seats on the Security Council, often vetoed resolutions that challenged them or one of their allies. ‘Peacekeeping’ was not mentioned in the UN charter – it was devised as a pragmatic way to get around the veto so the UN could help maintain peace.
New Zealand’s offer of troops in 1956 for the first armed UN peacekeeping mission was turned down. The mission was in Egypt following the 1956 Suez Crisis, a war in which Egypt was invaded by Britain, France and Israel. New Zealand‘s strong support for Britain meant it was not seen as impartial.
For most of the UN’s first 50 years, peacekeeping was primarily about keeping warring states apart. New Zealand first proposed taking part in a peacekeeping mission in 1951. Together with Australia, it offered troops as part of a Commonwealth force to help resolve conflict between newly independent India and Pakistan over the Kashmir region. Although the offer was not taken up, unarmed New Zealand officers served in the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP). New Zealand also contributed unarmed observers to the UN Truce Supervision Operation (UNTSO) created to monitor the fragile ceasefire in and around the new state of Israel.
New Zealand’s Sinai contingent included heavy-lift vehicle drivers operating in a unique and challenging environment. They travelled a total of more than 350,000 kilometres a year across the desert, in temperatures as high as 38 degrees.
In October 1981 New Zealand agreed to send forces to Sinai to take part in a Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) group. This was organised by the US to monitor the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt. In 2022 the MFO was still active, and remained an independent peacekeeping mission not under UN control. Rather than acting as a buffer between two adversaries, the MFO force worked closely with the two governments in order to support the peace agreement. In 2022 it was commanded by the third New Zealander to head the force, Major General Evan Williams.
As well as encouraging peace in the Middle East, New Zealand’s involvement in the MFO served other national interests. The Rome-based director-general of the MFO has always been a US citizen. During the breakdown of the ANZUS alliance in the 1980s, the New Zealand government valued the Sinai deployment as a way of maintaining a working defence relationship with the US.
In 2012 there were around 26 New Zealand Defence Force personnel in Sinai. The New Zealand contingent ran the transport section, including driver-training programmes, and filled a number of operational and liaison positions.
The end of the Cold War enabled the United Nations (UN) to make better use of its collective security provisions. As a result, the number of peacekeeping missions and similar interventions increased dramatically in the 1990s. Between 1989 and 1992 alone, New Zealand personnel took part in more than 20 peace support operations.
New Zealand Defence Force contributions included an army engineer who worked as part of the UN Mine Clearance Team in Afghanistan, an observer in the UN group overseeing the end of the Iran–Iraq War, and a small detachment of army engineers who served as part of an Australian contingent in the UN Transitional Assistance Group (UNTAG) in Namibia.
After the Cold War armed conflicts were increasingly within rather than between states. This required a change in the nature of UN peacekeeping. A 2000 UN report noted that peacekeeping had evolved rapidly ‘from a traditional, primarily military model of observing ceasefires and force separations after inter-State wars, to a complex model of many elements, military and civilian, working together to build peace in the dangerous aftermath of civil wars.’1
In 1992 New Zealand made its largest peacekeeping contribution yet, when 97 troops were sent to take part in the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC). As well as helping secure a fragile peace and oversee democratic elections, New Zealand strengthened its key bilateral defence relationship with Australia.
A medal was awarded to New Zealand troops who served under NATO in the former Yugoslavia between 1996 and 2002. It was one of a number of medals recognising service in peacekeeping missions, which from the 1990s became the standard overseas posting for New Zealand Defence Force personnel.
In 1992 the UN asked the New Zealand government to contribute troops to a peacekeeping mission in the former Yugoslavia. The UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR) was attempting to support the delivery of humanitarian assistance to civilians. New Zealand sent nine military observers in response to the UN’s initial request.
As the military and humanitarian situation on the ground worsened during 1993, the UN Security Council decided to send a larger force with more robust rules of engagement. New Zealand contributed a 250-strong infantry company (known as Kiwi Company) based at Vitez, north-west of Sarajevo. The deployment was New Zealand’s largest overseas mission since the end of the Vietnam War.
Most of the troops returned to New Zealand by 1996 following the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords in 1995. A small number of observers and other personnel remained attached to EU and NATO operations in the former Yugoslavia for more than a decade.
New Zealand sent peacekeeping troops to Somalia in 1992 to support the United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM), initiated when civil war broke out after the Somalian president was overthrown the previous year. Ongoing conflict prevented troops from succeeding in their mission to protect humanitarian relief activities and the United States-led United Task Force (UNITAF), which included New Zealand troops, took over the operation. In 1993 UNITAF was replaced by an expanded United Nations force (UNOSOM II). New Zealand troops remained in Somalia until 1994. The operation ended in 1995. In the 2010s the New Zealand military advisor in Kenya regularly visited Somalia.
Peacekeeping operations came closer to home when New Zealand Defence Force troops were sent to the island of Bougainville in 1997. Between 1989 and 1997, conflict between secessionist groups and the Papua New Guinea government left thousands of people dead and tens of thousands homeless on Bougainville.
New Zealand’s peacekeeping in the Pacific was marked by its mix of Māori and Pākehā customs. Māori protocol was used in negotiations, Māori and Pacific Island troops played an important role in the missions, and the haka proved to be an important tool for peacekeepers on Bougainville.
New Zealand engaged in numerous peacemaking attempts. After a number of failures, the Burnham Truce agreement was signed in October 1997. This called for the deployment of a Truce Monitoring Group (TMG), and a 250-person New Zealand-led force was deployed to Bougainville from December 1997 until April 1998,. The TMG was made up of New Zealand soldiers, as well as Australian, Fijian and ni-Vanuatu civilian and military personnel. The force was unarmed and its task was to patrol, monitor the truce and build confidence in the peace process.
In 1998 the TMG was replaced by the Australian-led Peace Monitoring Group, which oversaw the collection and containment of weapons used in the fighting and a referendum on the future of the island.
In September 1999 violence erupted in East Timor after an overwhelming majority of its people voted in favour of independence from Indonesia in a United Nations (UN) referendum. Pro-Indonesian militias wreaked havoc when the result became known, and more than a thousand people were killed.
The violence prompted an international outcry and the UN called for a multinational force to restore order and provide humanitarian assistance until a UN peacekeeping force could be organised. The resulting International Force East Timor (INTERFET) was led by Australia, with more than 5,000 Australian defence personnel involved. New Zealand was the second largest contributor, dispatching an infantry battalion, transport aircraft, helicopters and three navy ships. By October 1999 more than 1,100 New Zealanders were in East Timor, making it the country’s largest military deployment since the Korean War.
After initially being deployed to the capital, Dili, New Zealand forces were based at Suai and took responsibility for patrolling the dangerous southern part of the border with Indonesia. Patrols came into contact with pro-Indonesian militias a number of times and during one incident, in July 2000, a New Zealand soldier was shot and killed – New Zealand’s first combat fatality since the Vietnam War. In total, five New Zealand peacekeepers died in East Timor.
The final New Zealand Defence Force battalion was withdrawn in November 2002, although the situation in the country remained unstable. In 2006 Prime Minister Helen Clark sent troops and military aircraft back to East Timor after riots erupted in Dili. In 2011 the New Zealand Defence Force still had 79 troops in East Timor. These personnel were withdrawn in December 2012.
Between 1998 and 2003, Solomon Islands was wracked by violence between different communities. More than 100 people were killed and around 40,000 were driven from their homes.
The signing of the Townsville Peace Agreement in October 2000 promised to bring an end to the conflict. This called for the deployment of an unarmed 47-person International Peace Monitoring Team (IPMT) to observe the peace, monitor surrendered weapons locked in shipping containers, and work with the newly formed Peace Monitoring Council. The mission was Australian-led, with New Zealand providing the deputy commander and a number of Defence Force and civilian personnel.
In June 2002 the IPMT was withdrawn from the Solomon Islands. Violence had declined but few weapons had been surrendered and the underlying causes of the conflict had not been addressed.
The situation worsened again in 2003. The Solomon Islands government faced collapse and asked for help. In July, following discussions among Pacific leaders, the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) was sent to restore order.
Like the East Timor intervention, RAMSI was conducted with the consent of the host government. This mission did not have UN approval, but was nominally conducted under the auspices of the Pacific Islands Forum.
The initial RAMSI force was made up of some 2,200 military and police officers, primarily from Australia and New Zealand but with representation from several Pacific Island states. RAMSI had an immediate impact on the security situation. Law and order was restored, many violent offenders were arrested and by the end of 2003, more than 3,700 illegal weapons had been collected and destroyed.
The long-term goal of building a sustainable peace in the Solomon Islands was more challenging. In 2011, eight years after the initial RAMSI deployment, New Zealand maintained an infantry platoon and police officers in Solomon Islands. RAMSI's military task force departed in 2013 and its policing role ended in 2017.
Adams, Rebecca. Peace on Bougainville: Truce Monitoring Group. Wellington: Victoria University Press in association with the Centre for Strategic Studies, 2001.
Crawford, John, and Glyn Harper. Operation East Timor: the New Zealand Defence Force in East Timor, 1999–2001. Auckland: Reed, 2001.