This week’s guest blogger is Quinton Devlin, Special Coordinator of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI)
Photo by http://www.ramsi.org/
Shortly after the first rays of dawn hit the tarmac of the Honiara international airport on 24 July 2003, Australian and New Zealand police, soldiers and civilians – along with forces from eventually 13 other Pacific Islands nations – began landing in Solomon Islands to help a neighbour ravaged by five years of ethnically-charged conflict. These men and women formed the first elements of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands, widely known as RAMSI.
Thirteen years on, RAMSI has completed its mission. Law and order has been restored, underwritten by the early arrests of hundreds of militia and the removal of thousands of weapons from communities. Guided by many Australian and New Zealand RAMSI advisers, the nation’s finances have been stabilised and public services are functioning once again.
A key to our success has been the regional composition of the Mission. It helped us to understand and work in partnership with the peoples and cultures of Solomon Islands, and to suggest Pacific solutions for Pacific challenges.
The coming together of 15 Pacific Islands nations to help a friend (helpem fren) also led to the development of important collegial networks and the strengthening of militaries and police services across the region. This was equally true across the Tasman.
One of the less recognised benefits of the RAMSI mission has been its role in bringing Australia and New Zealand even closer together in our shared support for the rest of the Pacific. The central roles in RAMSI of Australia (Special Coordinator, Participating Police Force and military commanders) and New Zealand (Deputy Special Coordinator, second largest contributor of police and troops) helped renew and cement an ANZAC-like instinct for partnership and interoperability among uniformed personnel and diplomats.
Today, I would argue, there is a ‘jointness’ that is evident in, for example, Australia and New Zealand’s responses to Pacific cyclones and their re-building efforts in Iraq that was re-created and re-imagined in the rescuing of Solomon Islands from near collapse.
I was in Wellington and Auckland in late June discussing with the New Zealand Government, parliamentarians, officials and academics RAMSI’s priorities during its final 12 months and the confidence the Solomon Islands Government and RAMSI share about the readiness of Solomon Islands for life without RAMSI, particularly once a limited number of carefully-selected specialist police officers are re-armed.
We agreed that Australia, New Zealand and other RAMSI contributing countries could be very proud of their contributions to stability in Solomon Islands. The significant gains achieved, not least by the now capable Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF), mean that it is now time for the 15-nation mission to conclude as planned in June 2017, for Solomon Islands to stand up and take full responsibility for its security, and for regional support to normalise.
Peace has returned to the ‘Happy Isles’.
Quinton Devlin RAMSI Special Coordinator