by Kennedy Graham
The UN has been effective in Timor Leste. There is doubtless scope for improvement, as with any organisation, and not least the global body that combines differences of culture and professional style into one pea-soup of international engagement, literally from the ashes of internal conflict. But when the UN succeeds in that elusive goal, it needs to be acknowledged, with due credit.
Timor Leste is as good a model of the UN’s conceptual framework for peace as any. It involves, seriatim, civil administration, peacemaking, peacekeeping and peace-building. Two steps forward, one step back, all the way through. But there is also the vexed issue of international security engagement, effectively just beyond the UN’s reach.
Civil Administration: referendum: June-August ‘99
Following Indonesia’s post-Suharto change of heart, the UN Security established, mid-June, UNAMET to hold a national referendum on autonomy or independence. When the people opted for the latter on 30 August, pro-independence militia created havoc.
Multinational Force Stabilisation: Sept. ’99 to Feb. ’00
Following pressure from the international community, Indonesia accepted the proposal of an international military presence. Mid-September, the Security Council called for a multinational force until a UN peacekeeping force could be sent. Within 5 days, Australia plus 21 other countries had sent INTERFET which fought with the militia.
UN Administration: governing: Oct ’99 to May ‘02
Mid-October ’99, the Council established UNTAET, mandated with full ‘chapter VII’ powers to use force – i.e. ‘peacemaking’. A multinational contingent of 8, 950 troops and 200 military observers would maintain security. Some 1,640 police would maintain internal law and order. A UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative would exercise full legislative powers. A humanitarian delivery system would operate. Indonesia accepted the referendum results. In February, INTERFET handed over to UNTAET, which effectively ran the territory till independence in May ’02.
UN Peacekeeping: May ’02 to April ‘05
On Independence and the commencement of Timorese self-government, UNTAET terminated and was replaced by UNMISET, a support mission with a peacekeeping mandate to underpin the Timorese army and police. The mission’s mandate included a Serious Crime Unit to investigate the 1999 unrest.
UN Peace-building: May ’05 to August ‘06
With things truly stabilising, the Council replaced UNTAET with UNOTIL, a political mission designed to engage in institutional capacity-building for Timor Leste.
Multinational Force Stabilisation (version 2): May ’06 to Dec. ‘12
In less than 12 months, by April ‘06, things had turned to custard again with a rebellion inside the army against army and police elements. The Government appealed for international troops on 25 May. Within 24 hours, they had arrived. The International Stabilisation Force (ISF), comprised of Australian and NZ forces, have been present in the country for the past six years.
UN Peacemaking: August ’06 to Dec. ‘12
Three months later, the Timor Government sent letters to the UN Secretary-General (4, 9, 11 August). On the 25th, the Security Council expressed appreciation to the ‘international security forces’ which had acted in response to the Timorese request. It established UNMIT, with civilian, police and military advisers, to support the Government ‘in consolidating security’. It called on the Secretary-General to review the arrangements between UNMIT and ISF and ensure compatibility. It called on all parties to cooperate fully in the deployment and operation of UNMIT.
International Nation-building: 2013?
With successful presidential (May) and parliamentary (July) elections out of the way and apparent stability established, it is expected that both UNMIT and ISF will be terminated. But UNMIT will be terminated by the Security Council. The ISF will be terminated by a decision made in Canberra, New Zealand having already made it clear its withdrawal will be a component part of Australia’s.
Timor Leste will continue to be supported, in its nation-building, by UN and World Bank agencies, by bilateral aid agencies and through bilateral police and military assistance programmes. No doubt ‘international security forces’ will remain rapidly deployable, as before, in response to any request from Dili.
Is this a success story? In today’s prototype world, almost certainly yes.
Can things improve? Conceptually, yes. What might be done? Two things, perhaps.
Transparency of force deployment:
1. Bilateral deployment of force in a foreign country is a sensitive issue. Effectively, the UN is retroactively ‘authorising’ the entry of Australian and NZ armed forces in response to a bilateral request from the government of a country. The integrity of that governmental request may, or may not, be unblemished. The opposition may have views. There is a need for global transparency of such arrangements. In neither country is the bilateral request or the ensuing SOFA (status-of-forces agreement) tabled in Parliament. Nor are they publicly available through UN channels. They should be, along with an authorising Security Council resolution (or lack thereof). Down here in our innocent corner of a turbulent world, we tend to think the UN should and will trust us. Elsewhere, they may have different ideas, about us. So might we, of them, elsewhere. A global transparency rule that is uniformly applied for the deployment of forces bilaterally, anywhere, needs to be developed.
A standing UN police unit:
2. Because nation-states watch one another like hawks, we all, and especially the major powers, tend to constrain the strengthening of the UN’s capacity to be effective. In the early ‘90s, a UN Secretary-General proposed a UN peacemaking force. The turbulence of the mid-90s killed the idea. Denmark tried to get a common rapid deployment capacity, of national contingents, available to the UN. It is not getting much traction. But perhaps a standing police unit is a more feasible step. It could be composed of experienced police personnel, directly trained and recruited at a central UN location, stationed back home, deployable as an integrated unit, within 48 hours, as individuals, without national Member State involvement. They would wear the UN badge, only. No national badge.
We need to think proactively, about the future.