Operation STABILISE in Timor revisited

Strength Through Diversity: The Combined Naval Role in Operation STABILISE. By David Stevens. RAN Sea Power Centre, Working Paper No. 20, Canberra, 2007.

Reviewed by Dr Gregory P. Gilbert

‘The management of the Coalition is the biggest issue.’ – Commodore J.R. Stapleton, RAN, p. 3.

SOMETIMES our thoughts go back to what feels like simpler times. In fact, however, when we re-examine the past we discover that it was often just as much complex and challenging as events today. After twenty years it is worth looking at the events surrounding the International Force East Timor (INTERFET) deployment from September 1999 to February 2000 – known at the time as Operation STABILISE. I had hoped to be able to review the Official History of INTERFET by this time but as with most histories of recent Australian conflicts the facts and figures have been difficult to gather together let alone assess. That said I am assured that the INTERFET volumes of the Official History are well on their way.

In the meantime the Australian Naval Institute community should view the relatively short but highly readable work released by David Stevens in 2007. 

‘Strength in Diversity: The Combined Naval Role in Operation STABILISE’ is a modern classic for those who wish to better understand the maritime side of joint and combined operations. Not only will this book reward those who have not yet read these 40 or so pages, our older readers will also find a re-read well worth the effort.

‘Strength in Diversity’ clearly sets out the successful INTERFET deployment which aimed was ‘to provide a peaceful and secure environment in which the UN could conduct humanitarian assistance and nation building’. For the Australian Defence Force it also marked the largest deployment of Australian military forces overseas under Australian command, since the Borneo operations in World War II. It was also the first Australian led UN-mandated peace enforcement operation. Although the general joint aspects of the East Timor operation are mentioned David Stevens concentrates upon the important, but little known, contribution of multi-national sea power during Operation STABILISE. Multi-national sea power underpinned the remainder of INTERFET by providing sustained logistic support, enabling the Joint, Combined forces to function on land, in the air and at sea.

Such experience is priceless. If nothing else you should spend a few hours to read ‘Strength through Diversity’ over the next week. Hopefully it will help us all better understand the versatility of navies in the modern world.

‘Strength through Diversity: The Combined Naval Role in Operation STABILISE’ is available to download at www.navy.gov.au/spc/publications/working-papers/no-20-strength-through-diversity

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