Australian government rationale for RAMSI

Australian government rationale for RAMSI


In January 2003, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer stated that Australia should not send troops and police to intervene in the Solomon Islands crisis:

Sending in Australia troops to occupy the Solomon Islands would be folly in the extreme. It would be difficult to justify to Australian taxpayers. And for how many years would such an occupation have to continue? And what would be the exit strategy? And the real show-stopper, however, is that it would not work… Foreigners do not have the answers for the deep-seated problems affecting the Solomon Islands” (Neighbours cannot be recolonised,  The Australian, 8 January 2003, p.11).

Within months however, following Australia’s participation in the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Australian government was more supportive of co-operative intervention in the affairs of sovereign states.



From July 2003, government ministers issued a series of statements justifying the deployment of troops and police to Solomon Islands. At various times, Ministers and officials have highlighted the security threat to Australia from having a “failed state” next door; the economic benefits of trade with Solomon Islands; or “to help free the people from intimidation by militants and rule by the gun”. Initially, RAMSI was described as a “nation building exercise” – by 2005, the more limited term “state building” was used.

Government statements




Address to the Sydney Institute, Prime Minister John Howard, Sydney, 1 July 2003.



“We know that a failed state in our region, on our doorstep, will jeopardise our own security. The best thing we can do is to take remedial action and take it now…We are forging new arrangements to meet the challenges posed by the potential failure of nation states in the Pacific… We recognise that such an action represents a very significant change in the way we address our regional responsibilities and relationships. But our friends and neighbours in the Pacific are looking to us for leadership and we will not fail them.”

Solomon Islands Visit, Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer, Media Release FA98, 1 August 2003



“During my visit, I reinforced the message that regardless of the duration of the police/military deployment, Australia’s broad commitment to assist Solomon Islands will be sustained and long-term.  We are determined to help free the people from intimidation by militants and rule by the gun. My announcement yesterday of increased aid of up to $25 million to Australia’s existing law and justice strengthening program, including the completion of the Central Prison in Honiara in the next few months, underlines our determination to bolster these critical areas. 

“A $6 million boost to the Community Peace and Restoration Fund will enable more Solomon Islanders affected by the conflict, particularly youth and women, to return to a normal life. The $1 million contribution to the National Peace Council will help it continue to promote reconciliation and support those villages that have handed in weapons. Our assistance is across the board.  An Australian adviser has started work in the Ministry of Finance and additional financial advisers are expected to join the Ministry shortly.  Their task will be to stabilise the country’s economy and financial position.”


Regional terrorism, global security and the defence of Australia, Minister for Defence Robert Hill, speech to RUSI Triennial International Seminar, Canberra, 9 October 2003



We obviously must work to prevent future terrorist incidents…the intervention of Pacific Island Forum countries in the Solomon Islands is contributing to the same objective. It is in part about reducing the danger that vulnerable Pacific island states will become havens for transnational crime, including terrorism.”

Speech to the Commonwealth Round Table, Prime Minister John Howard, 27 November 2003.



“The Commonwealth has played an important role in supporting and nurturing the institutions that underpin democracy – helping to build the skills and infrastructure necessary for good governance. Australia sees this as one of the principal functions of the modem Commonwealth. Effective state administration is necessary for the provision of public services, effective public expenditure management, efficient judiciaries and a determined effort against corruption – for what we might term the essential building blocks of development.

“Australia and the other nations of the Pacific recognised this when, at the request of its government, we provided an assistance mission to the Solomon Islands. Like many other Pacific nations, the Solomon Islands faces many obstacles to its development. It is small and geographically isolated. Given the long-standing strong ties between our nations and our peoples, it is no surprise that the Solomon Islands should turn to Australia for assistance. Australia has provided support and aid to the Solomon Islands over many years. Like so many Pacific nations, Australia and the Solomon Islands are members of the Commonwealth. We therefore share an understanding of the benefits of democracy and the rule of law.


“Australia takes its responsibilities for development assistance in our region very seriously. We know that aid plays a significant role in restoring stability. But aid can only ever be a part of the solution. So like other members of the Commonwealth, we are looking to use our aid programme to encourage and strengthen the framework for good governance in the Pacific. Developing nations must strive for the highest standards of governance. The future of their peoples depends upon their willingness and their ability to do so.”




The Challenge of Conflict, International Law Responds, Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer, Speech to the International Law Conference, Adelaide, 27 February 2004



 “The Government’s approach to international law mirrors our pragmatic approach to foreign and trade policy. International law is a means to an end; not an end in itself. We look to international law to achieve outcomes and serve both national and global interests. And this is also the challenge to you –to make international law relevant in the face of collapsing states, terrorist groups that work outside any international norms, the proliferation of WMD and the threat posed by rogue nations.

“When we think of conflict and international law, our mind immediately turns to the UN. The UN was, after all, set up to ‘save succeeding generations from the scourge of war’and to ‘maintain international peace and security’. Australia has been active in our region in addressing situations of conflict and humanitarian crisis. In doing so, we have had to be innovative and flexible in how we view and employ international law, tailoring our approach to the circumstances of the case. In some instances the UN system has functioned well to provide the international legal framework for responding to situations of conflict and crisis….

“East Timor was a UN, and Australian, success story. In other instances the UN system has shown itself unwilling or unable to address the challenges presented by regional conflicts. In Solomon Islands in 2003, despite our best efforts since the coup of 2000 to support the fledgling peace process, national decline had accelerated. Lawlessness was rife; government institutions had ceased to function; corruption was widespread; the treasury’s coffers were bare. A humanitarian crisis was imminent. The prospect of a failed state on Australia’s doorstep, and our obligations as a neighbour and friend, compelled us to act. We did so following a formal request from the Solomon Islands government, an endorsement by Foreign Ministers of Pacific Islands Forum countries, a multilateral treaty between Solomon Islands and contributing nations, including Australia, and domestic enabling legislation passed by the Solomon Islands parliament. The legal basis for our action was clear.

“Given Solomon Islands’ diplomatic recognition of Taiwan, however, a UN Security Council Resolution authorizing the operation was never in prospect. This is a situation where the UN was not going to take the lead in responding to a threat to regional peace and security. But rather than sitting by, ignoring the calls of distress from a neighbour, we instead employed other means to provide the legal authorization for our action.

“Our approach to resolving these three conflicts in the region has been unique in each instance, and our use of international legal frameworks has been flexible accordingly. Our own experience demonstrates that regional responses to regional problems, underpinned by appropriate legal arrangements, can often work best. It is clear that in responding to international conflict and humanitarian crisis, the UN legal framework can play an important role. But equally it is clear that the UN does not have all the answers and we can not always look to the UN to provide solutions to conflict. As a collective organization representing 191 nation states it is often unwilling or unable to do all that is asked of it.

“Australia’s own experiences demonstrate the inadequacies of the UN system in responding to situations of conflict, crisis or security threats. I am sure states will continue to be faced with the choice of whether to act in coalition rather than wait for the entire international system to move.”

Operation Helpem Fren: Rebuilding the Nation of Solomon Islands, Speech to National Security Conference by Nick Warner, RAMSI Special Coordinator, 23 March 2004

The focus of RAMSI in 2004 has moved onto longer-term nation-building issues…. The nation-building component of RAMSI now consists of about 80 civilian personnel, many of them drawn from ten Australian Government Departments and agencies.  Their role is to repair the damage done to the essential machinery of government over recent years.  Advisers have been placed throughout the justice system to strengthen the country’s ability to deal with the large number of arrests going through the court and prison systems.

“There are also advisers in the Ministry of Finance, helping Government regain control of expenditure and improve tax collection.  Initially many of these advisers have stepped into in-line positions to get the bureaucracy functioning again.  But over time they will be training up their counterparts to take on these functions to ensure the change in practices is sustained and sustainable.


Crucial to the future of the Solomon Islands is bringing about much needed economic reform. Resuscitating the economy will require foreign and local investment if economic growth and jobs are to return to the country.  This in turn requires regulatory reform, taxation reform, restructuring of state-owned enterprises and reform of the financial sector to ensure stability and credit to business and consumers.”


Minister for Defence Robert Hill, Doorstop interview, Lavarack Barracks, Townsville, Tuesday, 6 April 2004


“…in this, the 21st Century, securing our country also means our region. We’re in East Timor and the Solomon Islands not only because we want to prevent an evolving humanitarian disaster, but because we cannot afford to have failing states on our borders.  They become havens for trans-national crime and also for terrorism.”

Solomon Islands, Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer, Speech, 20 July 2004



“The Solomon Islands Government and RAMSI have worked hard to begin the process of economic recovery and it is gratifying to report that much has been achieved in a relatively short time. RAMSI has brought stability back to the government’s finances and helped deliver a credible 2004 Budget, and Government revenue has increased significantly, with the Government beginning the long process of repaying its debts. The Governor of the Central Bank of Solomon Islands, Rick Hou, estimated that the economy grew, in real terms, by around 5.8 per cent in 2003. This is a remarkable achievement given the severe decline prior to 2003. But the difficult process of tackling the long-term development and economic challenges in Solomon Islands is just beginning. Many further reforms are needed if the positive results of the first year are to be built into long-term sustainable growth and Australia, through RAMSI, is well placed to continue to assist Solomon Islands with its reform agenda.”


“Australia’s engagement with Asia – a new paradigm?”, Prime Minister John Howard, Speech to Asialink / ANU National Forum, 13 August 2004



I am also very proud of Australia’s recent participation in the assistance mission to the Solomon Islands. The RAMSI intervention, to which so many countries in the Pacific contributed has been a remarkable success, and we are particularly pleased by the fact that it was not a solo Australian effort. It was an effort to which many countries in the Pacific contributed very generously. It worked precisely because the intervention was large enough to be taken seriously, both in the Solomons and in the broader Pacific community. I believe Australia does have a special responsibility as a wealthy nation to help.

The Solomons intervention and the Enhanced Cooperation Program in Papua New Guinea reflect a decisive change in both the tone and direction of Australian government policy in the Pacific. We now see ourselves as more active, more engaged, more willing to help, but reasonably seeking reforms and better governance as conditions of that assistance.”



“Australia in the world”, Prime Minister John Howard, Speech to Lowy Institute Forum, 31 March 2005



“When I am asked about our ‘exit strategy’ for Iraq or for the Solomons or for our other missions, I repeat: we will leave when the job we undertook is done. We will not stay a moment longer than is necessary; and we will not leave a moment sooner than is sufficient.”

The Role of RAMSI in Solomon Islands: Rebuilding the State, Supporting Peace, Paper delivered by RAMSI Special Coordinator James Batley at the Peace, Justice and Reconciliation conference Brisbane, 31 March-3 April 2005



“At its core, RAMSI is a state-building exercise. At the most simplistic level, the reason for that is because that is the role that RAMSI’s mandate prescribes for it, the mandate having been negotiated and agreed between the Solomon Islands and Australian Governments in mid-2003 prior to the arrival of RAMSI in country. As a state-building exercise, RAMSI’s focus is less on the size of the public sector in Solomon Islands, than on its effectiveness and its capacity. RAMSI’s work springs from a view that, whatever the size of a country, there is an irreducible minimum of functions that a state should provide, and some irreducible minimum standards that governments should observe.”

Australian Outlook: Australian Policy Priorities for the Asia-Pacific, Prime Minister John Howard, Speech to Asia Society, New York, 12 September 2005



“Australia’s intervention in the Solomon Islands was based on a formal request from its government. And given that government’s diplomatic recognition of Taiwan, there was virtually no prospect of a United Nations Security Council Resolution authorising the operation. What mattered however, and the true test of our engagement, was not the formal process but the outcome. This was a regional response to a fragile state and it was our responsibility as a Pacific power to take the lead.”

Speech to the United Nations High Level Plenary Meeting, Prime Minister John Howard, 16 September 2005



“We must also recognise the high cost of ignoring fragile states. Responding to their challenges requires new ways of acting which recognise the links between security and economic development. Our leadership of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands speaks for our experience in this area, which we look forward to sharing. In this context, Australia welcomes the establishment of the Peacebuilding Commission, and I am pleased to announce a contribution of $3 million over 3 years to its new standing fund.”

International Law: Developments and Challenges, Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer, Speech to the Law Institute of Victoria, Melbourne, 23 November 2005



“The thawing of the Cold War saw US-lead forces oust Iraq from Kuwait under Chapter VII authority during the first Gulf War, but this was a coalition of national forces, led by the US, rather than a ‘UN force’ as the framers of the Charter had envisaged. Since that time we’ve had numerous ‘coalitions of the willing’ acting to restore stability and address threats to international security, under a variety of different mandates…In Solomon Islands the Australian-led, multinational RAMSI was an initiative sought by the Solomon Islands Government and agreed to unanimously by Pacific Islands Forum countries. RAMSI – or the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands – operates under no Security Council mandate…

“I make these points to illustrate a fact that would be well-known to you: international law is not written on tablets of stone, and state practice forms an inseparable part of its development and interpretation. And the value of international law – to the publics of the world – will always be judged not by its intrinsic righteousness, however great that may be, but by its effectiveness in promoting international stability and dealing with international crises.”


Meet The Press, Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer, Interview 15 October 2006



“RAMSI – obviously it’s dominated by Australia and financially supported fundamentally by Australia – but it is a Pacific Islands Forum initiative.”

Interview, Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer, ABC AM Interview with Louise Yaxley, 21 September 2006



“RAMSI is an integrated package, and we’re not going to have RAMSI salami-sliced or neutered in any way in delicate areas like improvement in the operation of public finances in the Solomon Islands. That has to be understood, it’s an integrated package.”



“Constructing a regional security community”, Minister for Defence Brendan Nelson, Address to the CEDA State of the nation conference 2007.



“…when we went into the Solomon Islands, invited by the Solomon Islands government, in 1999 for example Australia’s trade with the Solomon Islands was $99 million. After the unrest, it was down to $55 million. So if you want to look at it from something other than a humanitarian perspective, there’s obviously an economic self interest in it as far as Australia is concerned.”