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East Timor Escalation


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I'm curious to find out if anyone believes that the events in East Timor in 1999 could've escalated into a direct conflict between Indonesian and Australian forces.

If so, what could the cause(s) be? How would such a conflict unfold? How would it end? And what consequences would there be?

Also, are there any other points in recent history where Australia and Indonesia could've gone to war againt each other?

Cheers.

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I'm curious to find out if anyone believes that the events in East Timor in 1999 could've escalated into a direct conflict between Indonesian and Australian forces.

If so, what could the cause(s) be? How would such a conflict unfold? How would it end? And what consequences would there be?

Also, are there any other points in recent history where Australia and Indonesia could've gone to war againt each other?

Cheers.

Note that I am only viewing this from my perspective that I gained at the time.

Speaking from the perspective of someone who was there, yes it could have very nearly resulted in a conflict. It was a very tense situation during the opening days of the operation. Even got to the point that we, RAN personnel, went ashore and conducted armed patrols. I sudder to think what might have happened if we had a contact.

If a battle had broken out I think it would have been a close-run thing, that is to say that the Aussies would have been hard pressed as they would have been up against numerical superiority. Having said that, Indon garrison troops tend to be poorly trained, ill disiplined, short on mobility and equipment. Add militia / irregulars into the mix and we would have had to kill them at a ratio of about 6 - 1 to break even.

If so, why? It would have been a local push by the Indons, or an escalation of contacts that might have sparked a conflict locally. It would be very unlikely that it would last long, an example of this would be the border clash in the north-western region, as neither government wanted a full scale war. We were, and remain, trading partners. Money talks, you know the rest...

1966 we came close, they were firing the the F-111's for a bombing mission on Jakata.

Edited by Tiger-pie
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What an obscure but highly interesting topic!

I'd defer to people on the ground at that time and would not care to speculate on what might have happened in '99. Google search reveals the depth of depravity, injustice and stupidity--even Indonesian attacks on Australian diplomats and their consulate {though the Indonesian commander in Dili was replaced due to his views on that situation}. In gunboat diplomacy days that would have been enough!

However, based on visits to Dili in 2001, '02, and '06, Jakarta in '01, '03, and '06, & Australia in the same time frame, it appears clear that Indonesia's horrific human rights violations may have generated international disgust, and thus interest, to a higher level than even that raised by East Timor's enormous natural resource potential. With Australian regional involvement, concern for human rights and geographic nearness, it would appear likely that non-indigenous organized {armed or otherwise} opposition to Indonesia could have been based in the Land Down Under.

Indonesia and Australia may be the immediate regional rivals but in this situation Australia held the moral high ground and what little international media attention {unfortunate but true} & "spin" the affair generated, also buildlng and receiving support from the UN, Portugal, the US and UK. Australia may have skirted diplomatic and other protocols her dealings with East Timor independence leadership, and supplying various kinds of support to them. Given Indonesian performance, just about anything would have been tolerable. Don't forget disruptive effects of the internal Indonesian crises at the time and also the positive pull of Australian-Indonesian economic links.

During my last visit most UN-related activity, especially military, was fast drawing down with Aussies taking up some but not nearly all of that slack. Dili itself remained about 75% in ruins and about 50% abandoned. In the depopulated country-side, conditions were not quite as bad but subsistance farmers/hunters/fisherfolk don't need much.

East Timor's situation seems a bottomless pit until (?) its economy takes off and the Australians appear to have the sense not to get over involved militarily-- at present, there's no apparent real need for military other than policing, basic training and perhaps community building/civil support work. The Aussies are certainly focused on developing {and profiting from} East Timor's resources, a daunting task, and have a very active embassy and AID program.

Over the past couple of decades, there have been some other "interesting" Australia-Indonesia issues, including traffic in drugs and people, investment/development, "cross-border terroism", and fishing {sea-territorial waters} rights. Nowadays the countries seem to be playing well together.

Hopefully, few would wish ill to Indonesia due to political, economic, and regional consequences. Look at Australia's involvement in the post-Bali bombings and general assistance to "democratic" Indonesian leadership, for example.

Not surprisingly the Japanese, and possibly Chinese, appear to be expanding their East Timor presence. The former American ambassador was quite active as a Hill staffer in pushing East Timor independence and continued his efforts during his tenure in Dili.

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