228 Minute from Mcintyre to Rowland

Canberra, 12 September 1975


Portuguese Timor: Possible Action in United Nations

The following are some very provisional and speculative thoughts about possible situations Australia might be faced with if the Portuguese Timor question should be referred to the UN.

  1. Given the present very fluid and uncertain situation in the negotiations area and on the ground in Portuguese Timor itself it seems altogether undesirable that there should be any move to ask for action by the United Nations at this stage. It would be somewhat different if we could see a prospective scenario as envisaged by Harry, with Portugal and Indonesia generally agreed on a course of action that Australia and other neighbour countries could support and work for. Any such agreed proposal would in all likelihood be gratefully accepted anywhere in the UN. But so long as there is no such agreement a debate in any UN organ could well be confused, difficult to control and ultimately embarrassing for countries in the region, including Australia.
  2. An appeal to the UN, however unwelcome it might be to the organisation itself, could in due course become inevitable and necessary, but not until all other existing possibilities are exhausted. These possibilities include the current talks in Jakarta between Dr Santos and the Indonesian Government and the meeting that seems to be tentatively scheduled for 20 September, in Macao or elsewhere on Portuguese territory, between the Portuguese authorities (meaning presumably Santos) and representatives of the Timorese parties, with Indonesia somewhere in the wings. It seems desirable also that some impression of the views and attitudes of the new Portuguese Government should be got, however ill-informed and uninterested these may be. So we would hope that Portugal could be dissuaded from going to the UN at present.
  3. However, we need to be prepared in case the pending talks fail and contacts break down and Santos, out of pique or exasperation or with an ostensibly genuine cause for complaint, decides that Portugal has no alternative but to ask the UN to take the matter over. We do not know Portuguese intentions, and we may well have no opportunity to influence the manner and nature of any appeal to the UN. Portugal has various options open to it, and we should try to be prepared for whatever course it chooses.
  4. If there should be a desperation appeal, with Portugal simply throwing Timor into the lap of the Security Council, the Committee of 24, the General Assembly itself or the Secretary-General, we would presumably feel free to some extent to work discreetly but closely with Indonesia and not worry too much about Portugal's feelings. If on the other hand the Portuguese approach should be more purposefully and selectively directed and asked for a particular course of action-and particularly if Portugal wanted to embarrass Indonesia-we could well have to step more carefully and take more account of Portuguese wishes. The situation could become very awkward for us if it reached a stage where the Portuguese might decide to call upon the Security Council to condemn Indonesia for interference in or aggression against Portuguese territory.
  5. In any event the Minister and Harry would need, I believe, to be given as much flexibility and discretion as possible in consulting and working quietly towards the best or the least unpalatable course in the light of circumstances existing at the time.
  6. It has been suggested that the Security Council or the Committee of 24 might be asked to send some kind of mission of investigation or 'good offices' to Timor, or that the Security Council might authorise the Secretary-General to send out a special representative for the same purpose. But any such action would seem to have little meaning until there is reasonable evidence of an authority in control in Portuguese Timor to ensure the safety of a UN mission, which does not seem to be the case at present.
  7. Until such time as there can be an assurance of order and reasonable security, one possible first step-perhaps the only one-might be a resolution by the Security Council calling upon Portugal, as the legally recognised authority, to carry out its responsibilities under Resolution 15141 by making every effort to restore order and control and to bring about a ceasefire (perhaps in association with other regional governments) and by consulting with representatives of the local political parties. This would be a tricky operation, but it or something like it might come off as a purely holding operation, perhaps with the acquiescence of Indonesia and Portugal-depending again, of course, on circumstances at the time.
  8. A decision by the Security Council to send an emergency UN force to restore and maintain order in the territory would be another matter. The Council would almost certainly be very reluctant to involve itself in another UNEF operation, especially one bearing some resemblance to the unsatisfactory Congo venture.
  9. I do not think we ought to encourage the idea of an investigatory UN mission, although we could find ourselves in a situation, after security is ensured, where we would have to go along with it. (Even as part of a first step by the UN there could be pressure, though I think it is very doubtful, to constitute some kind of mission with a mandate to proceed to the territory as soon as conditions permit.) The New York Mission seem to think it unlikely that either the Security Council or the Committee of 24 would be keen to send out a mission of its own members, and I hope they are right, though one cannot be sure. The Committee of 24 finds it very hard to resist the temptation to travel. If there is to be any question of establishing a UN presence in the territory I believe the least unsatisfactory answer would be for the Council to authorise the Secretary-General to send out a special representative. One possible choice might be Osorio Tafall2 of Mexico, who spent some years as UN representative in Indonesia before doing well in the difficult Cyprus job, and who can probably speak some Portuguese.
  10. I have not mentioned the possibility of Portugal's asking to place the territory under trusteeship, on the lines set out in the Rogers paper.3 In terms of the Charter I still believe this would represent a neat, logical and entirely constitutional solution. But I have few illusions about its practicability. We must assume that the parties most directly concerned would not like it, and I cannot see much if any enthusiasm for it among the active UN decolonisers, who mostly regard the trusteeship system as a fusty and paternalistic remnant of the UN's early philosophies. Still, it is there if all else fails.
  11. The foregoing thoughts may be of course subject to radical revision within the next few days.4

[NAA: Al838, 3038/7/1, v]