Report by the Joint Planning Committee

Canberra, 27 May 1965



Strategic Significance of Portuguese Timor to Australia


  1. Indonesia with her aggressive anti-colonial policy is likely to tum her attentions towards Portuguese Timor some time in the future. This, allied with her abandonment of her non-alignment policy makes it necessary to review the strategic significance of Portuguese Timor to Australia.
  2. This paper therefore examines the strategic significance to Australia of Portuguese Timor in the present and immediate future and the likely trend of events in this area.

[matter omitted]1

Implications for Australia

  1. The only defence significance of Portuguese Timor to Australia is the potential of Baucau as a forward airfield. Such an airfield would extend our early warning and air defence in depth and extend the radius of action of our bomber force over Indonesian territory in limited war. In limited war, however any possible requirement to extend the radius of action of our bomber force from this direction would have to be related to the strategic concept of the war and the base would be difficult to maintain, until air and naval superiority were established and in any case the airfield would be difficult and costly to defend.
  2. In a covert situation, the only advantage to Australia in assisting the Portuguese, would be to show our determination to stop any further Indonesian aggression. As the United States and Britain would be unlikely to intervene, and the Portuguese unlikely to have the capacity to provide the build up required, Australia if she provided support, would be committed to a long campaign costly in manpower. Intervention by Australia on Portugal's behalf would have the serious political disadvantage of inviting criticism from the great majority of Afro-Asian powers who have repeatedly condemned Portugal's policy towards her colonies.


  3. Portuguese Timor is an undeveloped territory with no resources of strategic value to Australia. It has no military significance to Australia.
  4. An internal security problem, inspired and maintained by Indonesia is likely to arise in Portuguese Timor. Should Portugal seek Australia's assistance in such a situation, accession to this request might be taken to show our determination to stop further Indonesian aggression but would involve the serious political disadvantage of associating Australia with Portuguese colonial policies. The United States and Britain are unlikely to accede to a similar request and the bulk of operations would fall to Australia.2
  5. Acquisition of Portuguese Timor by Indonesia would give her political advantages in the eyes of Afro-Asian countries. It would also improve her air defence environment and would enable her to mount more effectively strikes against Australian targets.

[NAA: Al838, 696/5, ii]