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Namibia: Contribution to united national peacekeeping force

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23 August 1978

Page 318




Ministerial Statement

SENATOR DURACK (Western Australia - Attorney-General)

(5.28) - by leave - I wish to make a statement to

inform the Senate of recent developments regarding

Namibia, Honourable senators will be aware of Press

reports that Australia has been asked to provide a

contribution to the proposed United Nations

peacekeeping ■force in Namibia. The precise size and

structure of the peacekeeping force - to be known as

the United Nations Transition Assistance Group, which

has been given the inevitable abbreviation of UNTAG -

has yet to be decided by the United Nations. However,

informal soundings have been made as to whether

Australia might be able to contribute to the force.

Similar approaches have also been made to other

countries. I would like to make it quite clear that so

far no formal approach has been made to Australia. Nor,

contrary to some Press reports, has Australia made any

offer of a contribution to the United Nations. I

I am not seeking today to make a definitive

statement on all the issues involved in this important

question. My statement today should be seen as a

preamble to the Government's detailed consideration of

it. I see it as most important that the Parliament and

the public have the fullest possible comprehension of

this matter, and it is with this in mind that I now

wish to examine the consideration on both sides of the



It is unlikely that Australia will be asked

to provide combatant forces, but we could be asked to

supply military personnel as part of an integrated

logistics element involving a transport and supply

unit, a communications unit, and some ancillary staff

which would help backup the main United Nations

contingent. These items have been mentioned to us as

possibly coming from Australia. But I would stress 1

again that there has been no formal request. As is

normally the case with United Nations peacekeeping

operations, a force for Namibia would be set up

pursuant to a resolution of the United Nations Security

Council, which would provide it with a specific mandate

spelling out its role and charter of operations. The

force would be under a commander appointed by and

responsible to the United Nations Secretary-General.

It is expected that the Security Council will

meet towards the end of this month or the beginning of

September to consider a report from the

Secretary-General on the proposed operation of the

force and to decide on its . establishment. The

Secretary-General's report will be heavily influenced

by the findings of his Special Representative, Mr

Ahtisaari of Finland, who is currently in Namibia to

assess the political situation on the ground and the

prospects for an orderly transition to independence. As 1

part of his investigation Mr Ahtisaari will investigate

in detail aspects of the establishment and practical

operations of the proposed peacekeeping force. It will

not be until this investigation is concluded and its

recommendations adopted by the Security Council that

more will be known of the tasks the force will have to

perform, the extent and type of units likely to be

required, the command arrangements and the difficulties

likely to be met in carrying out the UN mandate.


- 94 -

By way of background I should explain that

the adoption by the Security Council of the proposals

of the five West er n members of the Council for a

peaceful settlement in Nami bi a represents the first

m ajor success for Western diplomacy in southern Africa.

A greement in principle has been reached with South

A f r i c a and the m ajor Namibian nationalist group, the

South West A fr i c a peoples Organisation - SWAPO - on the

b ro ad basis of settlement proposals for Namibia,

although there remain differences in interpretation.

This follows some 15 months of painstaking

negotiations. The future of the South A fr ician enclave

of W alvis Bay, not specifically addressed in the

p r o p o s a l s , remains an important obstacle to an

i nt ernationally acceptable settlement.

In the proposals of the 'five', the central

task of the UN force would be to ensure that conditions

are established to allow an impartial electoral process

leading to free and fair elections and independence.

During the interim period both South Af ri ca and SWAPO

forces will be required progressively to w it hdraw to

camps under UN supervision. The existing South African

police will retain primary responsibility for

m ai n ta ining law and order in accordance with

arrangements to be agreed with and supervised by the UN

Special Representative. The UN force will be required

to assist the police in this role and to 1 guarantee

against the possibility of intimidation and

interference wit h the electoral process from w ha tever

q u a r t e r 1 . The UN force would also assume the task of

the South A f r i c a n military forces in mainta in in g border

surveillance to prevent infiltration. A civilian

component of UNTAG is expected to assist with the

ad mi ni stration of the elections. Under the agreed


proposals a ceasefire is to be in effect prior to the

arrival of the peacekeeping force. It is not intended

that the United Nations would be expected to impose a

ceasefire or a settlement but its position could be

difficult if the ceasefire initially established were

to break down after its arrival.

Over the years, the United Nations work in

international peacekeeping has become one of the best

known and most successful of its activities. There are

at present United nations peacekeeping forces operating

in three regions: The Middle East, Cyprus and Kashmir,

and Australians are involved in all three. There is

thus already a substantial contribution by Australia to

United Nations peacekeeping operations. This has

demonstx'ated our continuing support for the aims and

objectives of the United Nations Charter; most

importantly, the maintenance of international peace and

security. Successive Australian governments have been

firmly committed to these aims. .

Namibia is a country about the size of New

South Wales and with a population of just under one

million people. It is rich in minerals, including

uranium. It was for many years administered by South

Africa under a mandate granted by the League of

Nations, which was changed to a trusteeship when the

United Nations superseded the League. South Africa,

however, refused to continue the trusteeship mandate,

claiming that the territory had been fully integrated

with South Africa. In 1966 the United Nations resolved

that South Africa's continuing administration was

illegal, a decision upheld by the International Court

of Justice. In recent years a continuous but low level

guerrilla campaign has been carried on by the Namibian

nationalists, led by the South West Africa Peoples

Organisation, against the military forces of the South


Africian Administration, numbering some 13,000, and the

supporters of South Africa in the territory. This

campaign has involved sporadic acts of terrorism, minor

sabotage and some border incidents. The level of

guerrilla activity has been on a very much lower scale

than is currently the case in Rhodesia.

In the light of this developing conflict, the

five Western members of the Security Council last year

instituted talks with all interested parties, including

South Africa and SWAPO. These talks were aimed at

achieving an early and peaceful transition from

colonial status to majority rule and independence,

through free elections under UN supervision.

We in Australia have not been used to

thinking of Africa as an area of particular concern to

us. The primary focus of Australian defence planning

is, of necessity, Australia's own region, although we

have wider strategic interests elsewhere. The question

therefore arises whether Namibia is an appropriate

place for Australia to contemplate a significant

military involvement. On the other hand, in an

increasingly interdependent world the problems of

southern Africa are important and we have consistently

supported the need to find peaceful and negotiated

solutions to them. Basic questions of human rights and

majority rule are involved. Continuing instability

resulting from conflicts which stem from racial

inequality creates the very conditions in which

extremist influences can thrive. The only beneficiary

of such instability can be forces hostile to the West.

It is in the West's interests for there to be a

peaceful settlement in Namibia, the consequence of

which would extend far beyond Namibia's borders. It

would not of itself resolve the other problems of

southern Africa but it would help to arrest the growing

trend towards military solutions.

97 -

In Namibia, through an initiative inspired

and carried through by the West er n powers, and

su bs tantially assisted by the P residents of the so

c al le d front line states - Angola, Zambia, Tanzania.

Mozambique and B o t s w a n a - the s ituation has reached the

stage where there is n ow a real o pportunity to reach a

satisfactory and internationally acceptable transition

to independence and m ajority rule. It could well be

that as a result of elections under Un it ed nations

auspices, SWAPO gains power in Namibia, SWAPO, as I

have already noted, is the m ajor Namib ia n nationalist

g r o u p . It espouses a socialist philosophy and much of

its rhetoric is based on Marxism, but its program calls

for a Western-style parliamentary system, guarantees of

civil liberty and an equitable d is tr ibution of wealth.

It h as a maximum of some 4,000 guerrillas at all stages

of training and p r o f i c i e n c y , of whom some 200 are based

in Namibia, with 'the remainder across the border in

A ng ol a and Zambia. SWAPO, like most similar nationalist

movements, is divided, there are differences between

its internal and external w ings and between moderates

and those who take a harder line. It is possible that

if SWAPO were to split on ideological grounds or, if it

seemed likely that it might not win the elections,

there could be an upsurge in guerrilla activity.

There can be little doubt that the proposed

U ni te d nations ope ra ti on will be an extremely difficult

and delicate one. The Western proposals contain a

n um b e r of ambiguities and i m p r e c i s i o n s , which could

become the subject of contention between the parties

t hemselves or one or other of them and the United

N at io ns Special Representative. The physical

difficulties attendant upon the introduction and

establishment of the UN force will be considerable.

E ve n w h e n the force is in place there will remain the

risk of a b reakdown of the agreement and of disorder


and violence. However, the situation the UN force

would, face in Namibia is one where it would be in the

interests of all the parties that the settlement

succeed and disorder be avoided. Nevertheless, the

possibility of attached on and casualties for a UN

force in such a highly charged political situation

cannot be ruled out. An Australian logistic force could

be vulnerable to such attacks.

There is also a potential for differences of

opinion within the mixed UN force in the highly

volatile political environment in which it will be

placed. These could adversely affect its operation,

especially in any combat situation, and have

implications for its security. The Secretary-General 1s

Special Representative's visit to Namibia will no doubt

shed additional light on these matters and assist us

towards judgments on the sort of role, if any,

Australia might be able to play. The effect of an

Australian contribution would also need to be

considered in the light of our own defence capabilities

and the consequences for our military effectiveness if

our limited military resources were to be depleted by a

decision to contribute a key if limited element to a

force in Namibia.

The whole question of contributing to a

peacekeeping force for Namibia will require the closer

examination by the Government. We shall have to

consider the value of an Australian contribution to the

United Nations effort, and how our own national and

foreign policy interests would be served thereby. There

could be substantial costs, at a time when our fiscal

policies require tight budgetary restraint on defence

as well as other areas of government expenditure. There

is also the basic question of whether, having regard to

the fact that Australia is already contributing to


United Nations peacekeeping forces in three other

areas, Australia should wish or feel obliged to

contribute in Namibia as well. In considering these

questions, the Government will of course be in close

consultation with the United Nations and other

potential contributors. Until further information is

available, detailed consideration of all the relevant

issues is not possible. For example before the

Government could make a decision it would require

further information on such matters as what other

countries are likely to contribute, what will be the

size and capabilities of their contingents and what

would be the likely dangers to the force should one of

the parties repudiate the agreement, which includes a

ceasefire. SWAPO has said that it will not observe a

ceasefire until South African troops are confined to

base. South Africa maintains that it will not confine

its troops to base until a ceasefire is in operation.

Some elements within the South African Government are

not reconciled to the settlement proposals.

As well we would need to be assured that an

Australian contribution would not be open ended, and

that the task given to the Australian contingent would

be within its capabilities. Should there be delay in

the electoral program or a deterioration in the general

security situation, the - UN force may well be required

to stay on. While it is always theoretically open to a

country to withdraw from a UN force, it is in practice

difficult to do so. This could raise very serious

practical difficulties for us. We shall need to examine

carefully what other possible options are open to us.

For all these reasons, the Government is not

in a position to respond to the informal UN soundings

at this stage. The Government will, however, keep the


matter under the closest review in order to be able to

make an early decision should a definite request be

received from the United Nations. I shall keep the

Senate informed. I move:


13 September 1978

Page 587 .


SENATOR DURACK (Western Australia - Attorney-General)

(11.56) - A number of honourable senators have spoken

tonight in the Adjournment Debate. The only matter

raised which comes within my responsibility is the

matter raised by Senator Mulvihill. Indeed, so far as I

am aware, all the other matters raised do not affect

any Ministers' responsibilities but seem to affect your

responsibilities, Mr President. Senator Mulvihill has

drawn the attention of the Senate to an article in the

Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday, 9 September. He was

good enough to draw my attention to it earlier today.

As a matter of fact, I had read the article and noted

the particular section which caused Senator Mulvihill

some concern. There is a reference - it is hot

perfectly clear whether it is by the author of the book

or by the reviewer - to an Australian Security

Intelligence Organisation spy who infiltrated the

Communist Party of Australia in South Australia in

1961. The article goes on to indicate what she reported

on, which is not part of the matter complained of.

I must say I did not read that reference in

the article as having the same meaning put on it by

Senator Mulvihill, namely, that there had been any

briefing or disclosure by ASIO of the activities of