Inhumanitarian Nonintervention in East Timor

Edward Herman


so soon after the NATO devastation of Yugoslavia in the alleged interest of

humanitarianism and protection of human rights, the performance of the NATO

powers in the East Timor crisis strikingly confirms the views of those who

questioned the moral basis of NATO’s intervention in Kosovo. In the Kosovo case,

NATO insisted on bombing although Yugoslavia had already agreed to a sizable

international presence in Kosovo–but not a NATO occupation of all of Yugoslavia

as was demanded in the Rambouillet ultimatum– and a "wide-ranging

autonomy" for Kosovo. There was good reason to believe that the already

strong international pressures on Yugoslavia might have resulted in a

non-military resolution of the crisis.


the case of the current renewed Indonesian violence against the East Timorese,

by contrast, although Indonesia has been occupying East Timor in violation of

standing UN rulings for 24 years and had already killed a larger fraction of the

East Timorese population than Pol Pot had done in Cambodia, the NATO powers that

had so eagerly bombed Yugoslavia have still not called upon the IMF to suspend

its line of credit to Indonesia, and the Blair government announced on September

7 that economic sanctions were not even on the agenda. They are allegedly

"ineffective." The Blair moral indignation at human rights violations,

so furious as regards Yugoslavia, is entirely absent in this case, and the

question of using force doesn’t even arise for Blair and Clinton. While Blair

and Clinton were the leaders in espousing the use of force in Kosovo, the press

reports today that they are both resisting Australia’s call for an international

interventionary force (even though Australia’s call is for its use only with

Indonesia’s approval). The Blair government (and Clinton’s as well) is relying

on our old friend "quiet diplomacy," which has always been a cover for

inaction in dealing with the murderous behavior of allied and client states.


the wake of the fall of Suharto in May 1998, the East Timorese and their

supporters had gotten a weakened Indonesian leadership to agree to a

UN-sponsored referendum for independence. The Indonesian regime quickly changed

course, however, and organized, armed, and protected militia groups that carried

out a reign of terror in East Timor which forced a postponement of the

referendum till August 30. The original UN agreement with Indonesia on the

preparation for the voting gave Indonesia full rights to police the referendum.

There was of course no more basis in a historical record of responsible behavior

by Indonesia justifying this assignment than there would be for giving Milosevic

charge of preparations for an independence vote in Kosovo.


even as Indonesia’s violations of its responsibilities became clearly evident

with escalating militia violence over the course of ten months prior to the

vote, the great powers made no moves to change the rules or to penalize or

threaten Indonesia. Now, in the aftermath of the referendum, as it has become

obvious that the Indonesian army and police are directly participating in the

killing, are destroying the country and shipping tens of thousands to

Indonesian- controlled West Timor, the Western powers are still unwilling to

take even mildly punitive action. UN head Kofi Annan continues to urge Indonesia

to do its duty, which it had failed to do previously and is now OPENLY failing

to do. His feebleness reflects the fact that the great powers continue to drag

their feet. By striking contrast, how aggressive they were in Kosovo, how

readily they found (illegal) avenues and rationales to act, and how eager they

were to use violence!


non-intervention in East Timor is obviously rooted in the same factors that

caused the U.S. and Britain (etc.) to support the Suharto dictatorship for three

decades, to give it aid and sell it arms, to train its military and police, and

to accept and even aid its invasion and occupation of East Timor in the first

place. A strongly anticommunist political ally, Indonesia under Suharto also

became an "investors paradise" loved by the oil, mining, and timber

companies and other transnationals. This regime has made East Timorese offshore

oil readily available to the oil companies. These benefits help explain the

Western willingness to overlook the undemocratic rule, the mass exterminations

during the military takeover of 1965-1966, along with the genocidal

invasion-occupation of East Timor from 1975 onward. And these benefits help us

to understand why, although the West has the power to pressure Indonesia to

comply with humanitarian principles even short of using force, it fails to use

that power.


media have avoided discussing these earlier genocides while reporting on the

ongoing East Timorese crisis. And while they are now a bit aroused at the onset

of what might be another Rwanda type slaughter–a second Indonesian genocide in

East Timor–they continue to fail to trace it to the root causes of support of

"our kind of guy" (as a senior Clinton official described Suharto in

1995), or to wax indignant over the failure of the West to react to monstrous

behavior, or to feature the comparison with Kosovo and the mindboggling

hypocrisy in the claim of a new era of western "humanitarian

intervention." _



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