Cablegram to Washington

Canberra, 24 November 1964

0.30115/SAVING 292 SECRET

Portuguese Timor

[matter omitted]1

There is evidence to suggest that Indonesia may be intending to take some form of action against Portuguese Timor in the near future.

2. Three main courses of action are open to the Indonesian Govemment:-

  1. It may simply sever diplomatic relations with Portugal without mounting any direct operations against Portuguese Timor. This would be in accordance with a recommendation of the Cairo Conference of Non-Aligned Powers calling on participating States to break relations with Portugal. Malaysia has sought to score-off Indonesia by referring to Indonesia's maintenance of diplomatic links with Portugal;
  2. Indonesia may be intending only covert operations, the framework for which has already been established;
  3. Indonesia may be intending an overt attack in response to a trumped-up plea for help. This, Indonesia would assess, would produce a swift and dramatic victory akin to that of India against Goa and which she may think could be won with a naval squadron and a limited number of troops without significantly disturbing present deployments. Indonesia might not annex Portuguese Timor, but merely install a puppet government under Indonesian control.

[matter omitted]2

10. The political environment has changed markedly since 1963. At that time Indonesian 'confrontation' of Malaysia had not taken on the character of a military campaign. Since that time, also, the Australian Government has decided to undertake a substantial programme of defence expansion with Indonesian behaviour being a principal motivating factor. In today's circumstances, Indonesian military pressure against Timor-the second of Indonesia's three land frontiers-would produce a very strong public reaction in Australia and present the Government with very difficult problems.

11. It is difficult to suggest an effective policy. The ingredients of policy, in the event of identifiable Indonesian aggression, might include the following:-

  1. to agree to Portuguese request for reinforcements to transit Australian territory and to assist with the handling of refugees; and arrange air lifts and so on;
  2. to express the view that, though unsympathetic to the professed objectives of the Portuguese Government in Timor, we condemn attempts to change the status quo by forcible interference from outside;
  3. to support action through the Security Council. It is recognised that this is unlikely to be more successful than it was in the case of Goa; but this would help convert the issue into one of the responsibility of the international community as a whole. (It is not clear at this stage just who would bring the matter before the Security Council);
  4. possibly to make public the Prime Minister's exchanges with the Portuguese Prime Minister in order to indicate the Government's awareness of the dangers and policy efforts to avert them. Publication of these exchanges would show, also, that we were not to be identified with Portugal as a reactionary colonial power;
  5. to intervene diplomatically in Djakarta. The Ambassador in Djakarta has standing instructions to speak in sharp terms in the event of a likely Indonesian attack.

[NAA: A1838, 696/5, ii]