91 Minute from Piper to Feakes

Canberra, 21 February 1975


Portuguese Timor-UN Action

An Indonesian invasion of Portuguese Timor would be contrary to Article 2(3) and (4) of the Charter which provides that international disputes shall be settled by peaceful means and obliges members to refrain from the threat or use of force, against the territorial integrity or political independence of another State.

Portugal could be expected to call for an urgent meeting of the Security Council to consider the action required on the basis that the invasion would constitute a threat to international peace and security. We could expect a generally favourable reaction to [a] call for an early meeting.

Initially we would expect the members of the Security Council ... to call for and seek to implement a ceasefire and the withdrawal of all foreign troops. Whether or not a ceasefire would be successful would depend largely on the military situation on the ground (whether or not the Indonesians had achieved a military position from which to bargain politically) and on the disposition of one or more of the major powers to become involved, either militarily or as a political sponsor of either side in the Security Council.

We doubt that any of the Great Powers will be inclined to get directly involved although the United States will be sensitive about Congressional criticism of Indonesia and can be expected to act accordingly. It may be that China, as well as being critical of Indonesia, may seek to exploit Russian and United States discomfiture arising from their inability to find a solution to the problem.

If Indonesia does not succeed in securing a complete military take-over the Security Council may seek to interpose a peace-keeping/observer force, with the task of facilitating a cease-fire negotiation, military withdrawal, and an act of self-determination based on a plebiscite. The example of West Irian has certain similarities but also illustrates that UN action resulted in what could be scarcely called a satisfactory international act of self-determination which, in the end, left the Territory with Indonesia. The Indonesians may seek the same result but may find the Timorese and the Portuguese less accommodating than were the West Irianese and Dutch. Perhaps a better parallel might be that of Goa, which India took over by force in 1961. Apart from expressions of regret the international community took no action.

Australia, in view of its strong and frequently expressed support for the principles of the UN Charter, in particular of non-use of force, and in view of its consistent support in the UN for the principle of self-determination, would need to strongly support UN action and condemn Indonesian military action directed to a forcible takeover.

Having regard to the situation in Portuguese Timor and with West Irian and Cyprus as a guide it would seem to us likely that Indonesia would achieve its objectives in the short term of establishing a presence and probably, having regard to the military factors, a quick take-over of the capital and main communications points. In the long term the response of the local populace (and to a lesser extent international reactions) would determine the extent and ease with which Indonesian control was maintained. Even though Indonesian action would fall into the category of outright aggression we would doubt whether the Security Council would achieve any practical effect in the face of a determined Indonesia. That is not to say that the Security Council would not pass, without opposition, resolutions condemning Indonesia's action in strong terms and calling for military cease-fire and withdrawal of forces. However it would seem to us unlikely that the Security Council would launch any Congo-type operation because the Communist countries would oppose any such direct intervention on principle and the USA (and others such as Australia) would be inhibited because of its support for the Suharto regime.

In the longer term the Security Council might seek to put greater pressure on the Indonesians by, for example, imposing economic sanctions (under Article 7 of the UN Charter) but again we think it unlikely that these would meet with much success. Such a call would put the Australian Government in an awkward position, and would highlight the impotence of the UN in a serious situation of this nature. We doubt that there would be much strong opposition to Indonesian action from the rest of the region although Japan which is a member of the Security Council might exert some pressure on Indonesia, at least to adopt face-saving devices. It is, however, unlikely to try any stronger tactics in the face of a determined and nationalist mood in Indonesia. Afro/Asian opinion in the UN is likely to be divided and irresolute.

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