174 Minute from Miller to Feakes and Piper

Canberra, 20August 1975


Portuguese Timor and the United Nations

I am not sure there could not be a role for the UN in Timor, if the Portuguese and Indonesians could agree first, as the Dutch and Indonesians did re UNTEA. 1 (UNTEA involved the SG but not the Security Council, some UN military observers drawn from existing operations, and all costs were met by the Dutch and Indonesians; since then however I think the Russians may have had their doctrine of Security Council primacy in anything involved with/like peacekeeping more explicitly accepted.)2

  1. The main problems probably are political:
    1. while Portugal's 'free-form' decolonisation has come to grief in Angola Indonesia does not have the kind of government the present Portuguese regime would like to transfer even interim authority to.3
    2. Indonesia would not want to mortgage its national security interests in Timor to a shaky and leftist regime in Portugal.
  2. However, a UNTEA-type operation, with an eventual essentially fake 'act of choice' manipulated by Indonesia, could have some political advantages for our government, in comparison with Indonesian forces simply walking in and unilaterally asserting their right to maintain law and order in a neighbouring territory.
  3. But is this a correct assessment of Australian opinion? An UNTEA-type cloak might be fastened on by elements in Caucus but would it be welcomed by the public, or derided as a replay of the manipulated West Irian ascertainment.
  4. And how serious are the public opinion repercussions against the Government of an undisguised Indonesian take over of Timor likely to be? The Minister clearly thinks they could be serious, is worried, and wants cover. If he is correct, it might be worthwhile from the Government's point of view our trying to promote very discreetly, or at least investigate the possibility of, some kind of UN 'cloaking' operation. But if he is not, the balance of advantage seems clearly to be against getting into the complications and uncertainties it would necessarily involve.
  5. So, from the point of view of our advising the Government as to its policy options it seems to me a basic aspect i[s] our assessment of Australian public opinion on this question.

[NAA: Al838, 935/17/3, xvi]