British settlement of Australia began as a penal colony governed by a captain of the Royal Navy. Until the 1850s, when local forces began to be recruited, British regular troops garrisoned the colonies with little local assistance.
In the early 1880s the British-backed Egyptian regime in the Sudan was threatened by an indigenous rebellion under the leadership of Muhammed Ahmed, known to his followers as the Mahdi. In 1883 the Egyptian government, with British acquiescence, sent an army south to crush the revolt. Instead of destroying the Mahdi's forces, the Egyptians were soundly defeated, leaving their government with the problem of extricating the survivors.
From soon after its acquisition by Britain during the Napoleonic wars, the southern tip of Africa had been shared between British colonies and independent republics of Dutch–Afrikaner settlers, known as Boers.
Throughout 1899 the I-ho-ch'uan and other militant societies combined in a campaign against westerners and westernised Chinese. Missionaries and other civilians were killed, women were raped, and European property was destroyed. By March 1900 the uprising spread beyond the secret societies and western powers decided to intervene, partly to protect their nationals but mainly to counter the threat to their territorial and trade ambitions.
The First World War began when Britain and Germany went to war in August 1914, and Prime Minister Andrew Fisher's government pledged full support for Britain. The outbreak of war was greeted in Australia, as in many other places, with great enthusiasm.
Australia's early involvement in the Great War included the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force landing at Rabaul on 11 September 1914 and taking possession of German New Guinea at Toma on 17 September 1914 and the neighbouring islands of the Bismarck Archipelago in October 1914. On 14 November 1914 the Royal Australian Navy made a significant contribution when HMAS Sydney destroyed the German raider SMS Emden.
On 3 September 1939 Prime Minister Robert Gordon Menzies announced the beginning of Australia's involvement in the Second World War on every national and commercial radio station in Australia.
Almost a million Australians, both men and women, served in the Second World War. They fought in campaigns against Germany and Italy in Europe, the Mediterranean and North Africa, as well as against Japan in south-east Asia and other parts of the Pacific. The Australian mainland came under direct attack for the first time, as Japanese aircraft bombed towns in north-west Australia and Japanese midget submarines attacked Sydney harbour.
Participation in the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF) marked the first time that Australians were involved in the military occupation of a sovereign nation which it had defeated in war. BCOF participation in the Allied occupation force was announced on 31 January 1946, though planning and negotiations had been in progress since the end of the war. The main body of Australian troops arrived in Japan on 21 February.
Only five years after the end of the Second World War, Australia became involved in the Korean War. Personnel from the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), and the Australian Regular Army (ARA) were committed soon after the war began and would serve for the next three years in the defence of South Korea.
The Malayan Emergency was declared on 18 June 1948, after three estate managers were murdered in Perak, northern Malaya. The men were murdered by guerrillas of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP), an outgrowth of the anti-Japanese guerrilla movement which had emerged during the Second World War. Despite never having had more than a few thousand members, the MCP was able to draw on the support of many disaffected Malayan Chinese, who were upset that British promises of an easier path to full Malayan citizenship had not been fulfilled. The harsh post-war economic and social conditions also contributed to the rise of anti-government activity.
Between 1962 and 1966 Indonesia and Malaysia fought a small, undeclared war which came to involve troops from Australia, New Zealand and Britain. The conflict resulted from a belief by Indonesia's President Sukarno that the creation of the Federation of Malaysia, which became official in September 1963, represented an attempt by Britain to maintain colonial rule behind the cloak of independence granted to its former colonial possessions in south-east Asia.
Australia's military involvement in the Vietnam War was the longest in duration of any war in Australia's history.
The arrival of the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV) in South Vietnam during July and August 1962 was the beginning of Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War. Australia's participation in the war was formally declared at an end when the Governor-General issued a proclamation on 11 January 1973. The only combat troops remaining in Vietnam were a platoon guarding the Australian embassy in Saigon, which was withdrawn in June 1973.
The Australian commitment consisted predominantly of army personnel, but significant numbers of air force and navy personnel and some civilians also took part.
On 2 August 1990 Iraq invaded its rival oil-exporting neighbour Kuwait. The invasion was widely condemned, and four days later the United Nations (UN) Security Council unanimously approved a trade embargo against Iraq. A blockade of Iraq’s access to the sea followed within weeks, as the United States assembled a large multinational task force in the Persian Gulf, while another was formed in Saudi Arabia.
From the early 1990s, the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the former hegemony of the Soviet Union led to the emergence of new independent states and shifts in the international strategic balance. Fundamentalist religious dogma and the resort to mass terrorism replaced Cold War ideologies as a driving force of conflict in the 21st century.
On 20 March 2003, a combined force of American, British and Australian troops under US leadership invaded Iraq in what was termed ‘the Second Gulf War’. Their object was to locate and destroy suspected ‘weapons of mass destruction’.
Small but highly effective Australian army, air force and navy elements assisted the operation. Within three weeks coalition forces had seized Baghdad and the corrupt and brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein was overthrown. However, no weapons of mass destruction were found.
With the end of the Second World War, the UN Security Council took responsibility for the collective defence of member states against aggression. However, with conflicts since 1945 being the result of Cold War tensions and internal civil wars, another more practical way was needed to ease conflict.
This desire to keep the peace led to the concept of employing a minimally armed force to monitor an emerging peace between two parties recently at war, either opposed nations or internal factions. In turn, this has led to more complex peace-enforcement operations, where force has been authorised to prevent further conflict, and also the need for humanitarian support in the face of man-made or natural disasters. The overriding goal for these operations has been the use of impartial, multi-national forces to bring peace, stability, and rebuilding to areas in crisis.