362 Submission to Fraser

Canberra, [8 December 1975]1


Portuguese Timor: Proposal for a Peace-Keeping Force

You have asked for a draft press release incorporating proposals for the setting up of a peace­ keeping force in Portuguese Timor. Two alternative texts are attached. Both drafts would cover the possibility of a peace-keeping force being set up by the United Nations. But Draft B would make this a second alternative, with the main proposal being directed at the establishment of a regional peace-keeping body. Both proposals have considerable difficulties.

  1. To the extent that the proposal for a peace-keeping force is designed to meet a domestic need for the Government to be showing its concern, it does, of course, have merit. But the Government should be under no illusions that the initiative is likely to succeed or that, if something were to get under way, the going would be easy. The fundamental point is that Indonesia is (and has been throughout) absolutely resolved that Portuguese Timor should be incorporated into Indonesia. Any Australian initiative which did not have Indonesian acquiescence or lead to, or facilitate, an Indonesian takeover could cause great difficulties in Indonesian-Australian relations.
  2. A critical point therefore is that the proposal for a peace-keeping force has not been discussed with the Indonesians. We believe that they will not like it and that they will be very puzzled about our intentions. They may find the proposal hard to reconcile with your recent message to President Soeharto,2 and they may embarrass the Australian Government by revealing the fact of this message as well as the fact that they had kept us in close touch and acquainted us beforehand of their plans.

United Nations Involvement

  1. I understand that your preference would be for a peace-keeping body sent in under United Nations auspices.
  2. The proposal for a peace-keeping force in the United Nations would take us out of the General Assembly (where we are already engaged with our draft resolution) and into the Security Council. In effect Australia would be taking Indonesia to the Security Council-a very grave step. At worst it could lead to considerable costs in terms of our overall relationship, not only with Indonesia but with the ASEAN world generally.It could affect our future defence and strategic environment. It could spill over into other areas of potential difficulties with the Indonesians, including perhaps PNG-Indonesian relations.
  3. The press release in draft A3 has avoided specific reference to the Security Council. This is deliberate.We should still hope that were the Government determined on a Security Council approach, there would still be time for us to explore with the Indonesians how we might approach the Security Council in a way which the Indonesians would not regard as hostile to them.
  4. But the prospects would not be good. The prospects are rather that a Security Council debate would quickly polarise in the Council. It would also lead to a politicisation of the Timor issue in international terms to a far greater extent than such is the case at present. At present it is not a major international issue and there has been very little inclination on the part of the great powers or the international community in general to allow it to become one.
  5. Any proposal for a peace-keeping body (as opposed to the visiting mission idea which is floated in the resolution at present before the General Assembly) would also run into the normal maze of great-power manoeuvrings which are the feature of the Security Council. Australia could soon lose control of events. The composition of a peace-keeping body, for example, and its terms of reference, would be determined much more by great-power considerations than by any regional preferences.
  6. For all these reasons the Department has serious reservations about direct recourse to the Security Council. We understand from Lisbon, however, that the Portuguese Council of Ministers has now issued a statement foreshadowing an approach to the Security Council. That means that the matter could find its way into the Council on Portugal's initiative. But does the Australian Government wish to appear to be acting in concert with the Portuguese against Indonesia? It would be better in the Department's view to allow Portugal to make the initial running in the Security Council, and for the Government, in any public statement it may make about a peace-keeping body, to focus on the possibility of a regional body.

Regional Body

  1. Such an approach would in our view be better regarded regionally and should be equally acceptable in domestic terms in Australia. But, having said this, we should also have to say that we are not sanguine that a regional peace-keeping body could be easily established. ASEAN countries, like the Indonesians, may be puzzled by our initiative. Their initial reaction will almost certainly be cautious. While all but Singapore have agreed to co-sponsor the resolution currently before the Fourth Committee, they did so because of Indonesian pressure.If Indonesia decides it wants a peace-keeping force, the other ASEANs might well consider it. But they might not react on the basis of a unilateral Australian initiative.
  2. There has indeed never been much inclination on the part of the ASEAN countries to get involved in Portuguese Timor. The only exception has been Malaysia which tended to see any regional initiative only in terms of providing a cover for an Indonesian takeover (Malaysia was prepared to participate in the Joint Authority proposed by the Indonesians in early September and to provide a token contribution to what would have been a substantially Indonesian intervention force.)
  3. We appreciate that the foregoing appears negative. But it is our considered view that the difficulties in the way of a peace-keeping body, whether it be proposed that it be established by the United Nations or ASEAN, are considerable. Were the Government to take such an initiative, however, we would recommend the approach in press release draft B.4

Preferred Approach

  1. The Department's own preferred approach would be to build on what we have already been trying to do in the United Nations. We should like to see our delegation in New York instructed to do what it can to retrieve those parts of the present resolution which still have relevance-a cessation of the conflict, self-determination for the Timorese, and a UN fact­-finding mission. The mission proposal could also now be upgraded to a proposal for a UN observer-team perhaps to be established by the Secretary-General. The resolution could also be strengthened to provide for the team to be constituted 'forthwith' and for an act of self­-determination to be quickly and freely conducted under some form of UN supervision of participation.
  2. The suggested approach would be a positive position to adopt: it would have the advantage of being, at the same time, less potentially offensive to the Indonesians and more likely to succeed-and thus to help the Timorese. The approach lends itself equally well to a public statement in Australia. It is also an approach which we could immediately use in the Fourth Committee or, if the Portuguese move the debate to the Security Council, could be equally adopted there.
  3. A third draft release, incorporating the proposal for an observer team, is also attached.5 It is this course which we recommend to you.


[NAA: A1838, 935/17/3, xii]