Skip to comments.Dig in to save Timor (incl. the value of the US alliance)
Posted on 05/27/2006 4:54:10 PM PDT by naturalman1975
THE tragedy of East Timor would make the angels weep. Just as it was the Timorese civil war that in 1975 precipitated Indonesian military intervention, with all of its dolorous consequences, so it is civil conflict today that has precipitated Australian military intervention.
The two interventions cannot be compared, of course. Hopefully, Australia's will be short and relatively non-violent. And no one in Australia wants to incorporate East Timor.
But it is time to speak bluntly. The situation in East Timor is much worse than even most analysts and commentators realise. The savage killings and lawlessness of the past few days, the fighting between soldiers and police, and between soldiers and soldiers, and police and police, represent a catastrophic failure of the East Timorese Government.
It could have been much worse. The sophistication of Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta and the continuing moral authority of President Xanana Gusmao are among the only positive features in a bleak, bleak picture. But Australians should know that Canberra is embarked on a giant and immensely complex project of nation building in East Timor. It is much more complex than it looks and involves most of the elements of national power and international diplomacy that Australia commands.
Two days ago UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan told Prime Minister John Howard "you're a good people" and praised the courage of Australians for their willingness to get involved immediately in East Timor's latest crisis.
Annan's comments reflect his own judgment, but also the emerging consensus on the UN Security Council. Those absurd analysts who continue to insist that there is a choice between Australia's Asian diplomacy and its US alliance should look at the UN politics of East Timor.
In a telephone conversation, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asked her Australian counterpart, Alexander Downer, a simple question: "What do you want us to do?"
When you are confronting a regional crisis, having the world's biggest power as your best friend is an immense advantage.
US assistance is evident in logistics support, but much more importantly in the politics of the UN Security Council. But there is also a critical Southeast Asian dimension to this. Australia must manage its East Timor actions with the ever-present consciousness of Indonesian opinion and reaction. East Timor is an intimate part of a triangular relationship between Canberra, Jakarta and Dili.
Here Ramos Horta's sophistication plays a critical part. Downer briefed his Indonesian counterpart, Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda, in detail on Australia's proposed operations in East Timor and won his general approval for the mission. Ramos Horta shrewdly asked for Malaysia to be part of the international assistance.
This was an astute move. The East Timorese have good memories of the Malaysian involvement with Interfet in 1999.
Malaysia readily agreed and may send as many as 500 soldiers to help. They will be of great use in themselves, but the presence of Malaysian soldiers - of the other big Muslim nation in Southeast Asia - is also a huge benefit in managing Indonesian public opinion.
It virtually guarantees support for Australia's actions from ASEAN more generally, too. And of course the Malaysian military has long experience of working with its Australian counterparts through the Five Power Defence Arrangements.
So the East Timor venture brings together every element of Australian diplomatic engagement: local, regional, multilateral and UN focused, and of course the critical relationship with Washington.
The Howard Government is prepared for a deployment in East Timor that will last months, if not years, though of course not at the level of the 1300 or more troops that should be reached by the end of the weekend.
The Australian operation will run along three main lines during the next few weeks.
First, and most important, will be the stabilisation phase produced by the Australian soldiers. This all depends on the credibility of our soldiers. This credibility in turn depends on the Australian army's firepower which, because it is so formidable, may not have to be used at all; the professionalism of the army; and the connections many Australian soldiers already have with East Timor.
Second, Downer is likely to lead an effort to substantially enhance the UN presence in East Timor. The UN's representative, Japanese diplomat Sukehiro Hasegawa, is ineffective. If the UN sends back its former representative, Ian Martin, this will give the UN a greater weight in East Timor and assist in the political management of Timorese affairs.
Moreover, while Australia will provide the bulk of any external resources to help East Timor, the UN badge has credibility with the East Timorese and offers a halo of sanctity for the operation in the region, especially within Indonesia. Although this is essentially an Australian show, the deep involvement of the UN can be useful, provided it is well led and works hand in glove with Canberra.
Third, Canberra will send in some police to work with the remnants of the East Timorese police force, to try to resurrect them into some kind of effective policing body. However, there is a body of opinion in Canberra that the expeditionary police model has not been wholly successful.
Australian police are good, and they are certainly brave and selfless. But there is no getting away from the fact they are not trained to the same level as our soldiers. Further, there are very few Australian policemen who speak Tetun.
This crisis reveals dreadful underlying problems in East Timor that cannot be solved quickly but that must be addressed.
Mari Alkatiri has been a disastrous Prime Minister. He leads the so-called Mozambique clique of Fretilin ideologues. The catastrophic decision to make Portuguese the national language of East Timor perfectly illustrates the dogmatism and unreality of Alkatiri's approach.
This decision disfranchised young East Timorese who speak Tetun, Indonesian or English. It entrenched the clique of ageing, dogmatic Marxist-Leninists within Fretilin and exacerbated every division within East Timorese society. And it does nothing to help East Timor earn a living in the international economy.
East Timor's security forces are far too big. It is crazy for the country to have an army of 1500 and a police force with paramilitary pretensions that acts as a counter to the army, with both institutions internally riven. Instead of providing for the nation's security, the East Timorese armed forces became the security problem.
Although Australian forces have entered Timor at the behest of the legitimate Government, Downer and Defence Minister Brendan Nelson, were at pains to talk of Australian neutrality, that Australia was on no one's side. This is because it is completely unrealistic to imagine that the 600 sacked soldiers at the heart of this dispute - and their sacking is conclusive evidence of Alkatiri's incompetence - could all be prosecuted and put in jail.
The armed forces will need to be drastically downsized and it is hard to imagine how forces that have been shooting at each other can now serve in the ranks beside each other.
But the disaffected soldiers must be reconciled and given some financial compensation and jobs. Otherwise they will constitute a well-trained force ready to revolt in perpetuity.
Finally, this huge and necessary operation must produce the deepest strategic considerations from Australia. Perhaps it would be better to station Australian soldiers permanently in some of the most troubled micro-nations of our region, rather than going in after death and destruction have inevitably set things back decades.
Does East Timor have large oil deposits?
"US assistance is evident in logistics support, but much more importantly in the politics of the UN Security Council."
PACOM C-17s to assist Australian Defence Forces
Hi-Resolution | Screen Resolution
HICKAM AIR FORCE BASE, Hawaii -- A C-17 prepares for takeoff bound for the Solomon Islands. U.S. Pacific Command is providing two C-17 aircrafts to assist in positioning Australian Defence Force personnel and equipment in support of their peace operations in East Timor. The C-17 will transport Australian Defence Forces from the Solomon Islands to Australia.
Broadcast-quality (B-roll): C-17 departs Hickam Air Force Base
(May 26, 2006, 4mb Windows Media format)
(Official DoD photo and video by Tech. Sgt. Chris Vadnais, Air Force News Agency)
Another Noam Chomsky political success story.
Thanks for that - I've been trying to find a decent report of what support the US is providing - the media seems to be ignoring that part of the story.
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