East Timor and Australia's Security Role: Issues and Scenarios

Current Issues Brief 3 1999-2000

Dr Adam Cobb
Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Group
21 September 1999



Major Issues
UN Security Council Resolution 1264
International Contribution to INTERFET
US involvement
ADF Preparations
Overstretch of the ADF
Security Risk Spectrum and Possible Roles of the INTERFET Force

Three Scenarios:
Low Risk
Medium Risk
High Risk

INTERFET's Involvement and Australia-Indonesia Relations
Annex 1: Suggested Criteria To Be Considered Before The Use Of Force
Annex 2: Resolution 1264 (1999)



Australian Defence Force


Armoured Personnel Carriers


Australian Service Light Armoured Vehicle


Chief of the Defence Force


US-Australian military exercise scheduled to be conducted in late September in Queensland


International Force for East Timor


Indonesian Special Forces


Royal Australian Navy


Royal Australian Air Force


Tentara Nasional Indonesia-the Indonesian Armed Forces


UN Mission in East Timor

Indonesia Map

Source: United States Central Intelligence Agency Map No. (R02495) 5-98.

Map of East Timor pre 1975

Source: James Dunn, Timor: A People Betrayed, Milton, 1983.

Major Issues

The information in this paper is current as at noon 20 September 1999.

The UN Security Council Resolution 1264, issued on Wednesday 15 September 1999, unequivocally 'authorises the States participating in the multinational force to take all necessary measures' (emphasis added) to restore security in the crisis-ravaged territory of East Timor. Australia has agreed to lead the multinational force for East Timor, to be known as INTERFET (International Force for East Timor).

It is clear that any international presence in East Timor will be making peace.(1) In many estimates it will involve almost every element of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) for many months and probably several years at an estimated cost of up to $1 billion per year.(2) ADF casualties are to be expected in what has already become the greatest single challenge to Australian foreign and defence policies in a generation.

What is not clear is the degree of force that will be necessary to salvage what little is left of the territory and its long suffering people. That question hangs on the scale, disposition, and command and control of the TNI (Tentara Nasional Indonesia-the Indonesian Armed Forces). What is also not clear is the availability of additional assistance should the worst case scenario eventuates.

Other Relevant Information and Research Papers:

Australia's Trade with Indonesia

Research Note No. 5 1999-2000, 21 September 1999

Gerard Newman and Andrew Kopras, Statistics Group

Military Threats Versus Security Problems: Australia's Emerging Strategic Environment

Research Paper No. 1 1999-2000, 24 August 1999

Gary Brown, Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Group

Indonesian Armed Forces (Tentara Nasional Indonesia-TNI)

Research Paper No. 23 1998-99, 29 June 1999

Bob Lowry, Consultant, Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Group

The Future of East Timor: Major Current Issues

Research Paper No. 21 1998-99, 24 May 1999

Dr Frank Frost and Dr Adam Cobb, Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Group

Indonesia's Dangerous Transition: The Politics of Recovery and Democratisation

Research Paper No. 18 1998-1999, 28 April 1999

Dr Stephen Sherlock, Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Group

B. J. Habibie: Indonesia's Interim President

Research Note No. 45 1997-1998, 26 May 1998

Dr Stephen Sherlock, Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Group

Indonesia in Crisis: Economy, Society and Politics

Current Issues Brief No. 13 1997-1998, 6 April 1998

Dr Stephen Sherlock, Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Group

The Politics of Change in Indonesia: Challenges for Australia

Current Issues Brief No. 3 1996-1997, 19 August 1996

Dr Stephen Sherlock, Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Group

The Australia-Indonesia Security Agreement: Issues and Implications

Research Paper No. 25 1995-1996, 8 May 1996

Gary Brown, Dr Frank Frost, and Dr Stephen Sherlock, Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Group

'A Pebble in Indonesia's Shoe': Recent Developments in East Timor

Research Paper No. 8 1995-1996, 26 September 1995

Dr Stephen Sherlock, Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Group


This paper surveys the proposed ADF contribution to INTERFET. It will examine constraints on ADF deployment and examine the operational tasks and challenges before the ADF. The paper presents a security risk spectrum and three different possible outcomes concerning the immediate deployment of the ADF into the territory. The paper finishes with a caution that Indonesia may not necessarily react the way Australia believes it must react to the crisis in East Timor. Indonesia is a country under intense pressure. In a very short period of time it has endured a calamitous economic collapse that sparked dramatic and ongoing political change. In that volatile environment the international community, with Australia in the lead, is demanding that the sovereign state of Indonesia relinquish control of a section of territory claimed since 1976.

UN Security Council Resolution 1264

On 15 September 1999, in a unanimous vote, the Security Council resolved that a multinational force be created to undertake the following mission:

  1. to restore peace and security in East Timor

  2. to protect and support UNAMET in carrying out its tasks (and within force capabilities)

  3. to facilitate humanitarian assistance operations

The force, to be known as INTERFET was authorised by the Security Council 'to take all necessary measures to fulfil [its] mandate'. That is the limit of the mission according to the resolution. The transfer of governing authority from Indonesia to the East Timorese is not directly within INTERFET's mission although the resolution requests that the international force 'assist and support' the arrangements to be decided between the UN, Portugal and Indonesia regarding the transition of sovereignty process (subject to the ratification of the Indonesian Parliament). The resolution stresses that the multinational force should be deployed 'collectively' and 'replaced as soon as possible by a UN peacekeeping operation'. The resolution also 'demands that those responsible for [crimes against humanity] be brought to justice'. This latter provision adds another dimension to the way the TNI and militia might respond to the coming days.

However, the resolution acknowledges the 'continuing responsibility' of the TNI within the May 5 Agreements 'to maintain peace and security in East Timor' which it has clearly failed to do until now-with the two important exceptions-the day of the independence ballot and the day the UN Security Council delegation visited the territory. Thus the resolution reiterates what may be seen as the key flaw of the earlier agreement and provides a basis for the TNI to remain in the territory. The Indonesian Foreign Minister stated on the day the resolution was agreed that 'the Indonesian army [will] probably [be] ... advising or liaising with [INTERFET]. But no active combat role any more,' he said.(4) Recent experience suggests that the declared policy of both the TNI and the Indonesian Government and the situation on the ground infrequently mirror one another. This could be a consequence of a failure in the Indonesian chain of command or an unauthorised policy of the TNI. Therefore caution should be exercised in taking TNI assurances at face value.

Nevertheless, both the ADF and a range of other forces are currently preparing to enter the territory to undertake operations to meet the UN mandate. The ADF is in contact with the TNI High Command in an attempt to ensure that the arrival of thousands of multinational ground troops and associated naval and air forces proceeds without incident.

International Contribution to INTERFET

To date (20 September 1999) aside from the Australian contingent the multinational force will comprise:

  • an army company with Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs), engineers, helicopters and a C130 from New Zealand.
  • The ANZAC-class frigate HMNZS TE KAHA has already joined the flotilla in Darwin and will soon be joined by the tanker HMNZS ENDEAVOUR.
  • The type 42 Destroyer HMS GLASGOW recently supplemented the British contribution of 270 Ghurkhas temporarily based in Townsville.
  • Canada has committed 250 combat troops, 2 C130s and the supply ship HMCS PROTECTOR.
  • The French frigate VENDEMIAIRE has been dispatched to near-by waters and may yet be joined by part of the 3000 combat troops stationed throughout French Polynesia.
  • Thailand-Major-General Songkitti Chakkrabhat is the mission's deputy commander, and Thailand is the biggest Asian contributor. Thailand plans ultimately to deploy more than 1000 personnel, including combat troops, engineers, medics and technicians.
  • The Philippine Government has committed a battalion of 1000 troops and an advance team of 240, mainly engineers, medical and dental units, and offered up to another 1200 non-combat personnel.
  • South Korea will send up to 500 ground troops and Singapore is sending much needed medics and logistics experts and two landing ships.(5)
  • Malaysia decided against sending what was at one point planned to be the largest contingent and is now only sending about 30 personnel. The Malaysian Government has noted that they would now be interested in a large commitment to a UN peacekeeping force. INTERFET is a multinational force that is mandated to pave the way for a UN peacekeeping force.
  • Argentina-50 troops.
  • Brazil-30 to 50 military police.
  • European Union-Has offered eight million euros in aid.
  • Fiji-Will send about 180 soldiers.
  • Finland-Donating $1 million to the operation.
  • Italy-600 military personnel, including a tactical group of 200 paratroops, transport aircraft and an amphibious naval unit on a vessel with hospital facilities, on-board helicopters and transport aircraft.
  • Japan-For the first time in post-war history Japan may send combat troops abroad to assist in the operation, although no official statement has yet been issued to that effect. Currently Japan has pledged $2 million in emergency humanitarian aid. Has pledged unspecified funds to help finance the force's operations.
  • Norway-Five officers.
  • Pakistan-Offered troops.
  • Sweden-10 civilian police officers and $1.2 million in aid.
  • Other possible contributors include Bangladesh and Portugal.

US involvement

The extent of US involvement has not yet been made public beyond statements that air and sea lift, as well as intelligence, communications and other logistical support will be provided. However the US is about to engage in a major amphibious exercise with Australia, Crocodile99, and it is expected that up to 6500 US Marines will be involved. Currently the Aegis-class cruiser USS MOBILE BAY and destroyer USS O'BRIEN are in Darwin awaiting participation in Crocodile99. The supply ship USNS KILEAU is en route to the near region. Currently there is no information to indicate that any US amphibious assault ships that carry Marine Expeditionary Forces are in the area. It is worth noting however, that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Henry Shelton, together with US Pacific Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Dennis Blair, were instrumental in convincing Indonesian Defence Minister General Wiranto, to agree to a UN presence in East Timor.(6) US political, economic and military persuasion as well as involvement in the INTERFET mission will be critical to the success of the mission.

A large-scale US military deployment would most likely greatly enhance security on the ground. While the Indonesian Government is angry with Australia (to the extent that on 16  September 1999 they abrogated the 1995 Security treaty between the two countries) and while some elements may seek revenge, militarily and politically they would be very unlikely to attack US forces. The TNI and the Indonesian Government would have too much to lose. Both President Habibie and the TNI would fear: large numbers of casualties, loss of IMF and other monies, rising international opprobrium would only intensify further undermining Indonesia's image, and most important of all, the loss of face involved in a military reversal on their own soil. Indeed by not deploying now it can be argued that it is possible that the US may face having to enter hostile territory later in order to save a multinational force under serious attack.(7) Under such circumstances, if the US did not intervene, the already strained security alliance with Australia could come under intense pressure.

ADF Preparations

Following the Indonesian Government's announcement that it would permit an international force in East Timor, Prime Minister Howard announced on 15 September 1999 that Australia would be involved in the multinational force. If national security is the first duty of government, then the hardest decisions of all concern the use of force in international affairs. Finely balanced judgements need to be made from often conflicting considerations. This paper presents a range of generic considerations (at Annex 1) to assist Senators and Members reflect upon Australia's decision to become involved in INTERFET.

The ADF has been aware of the potential for it to be engaged in a major regional security crisis since the Minister for Defence, John Moore MP, announced on 11 March that a second brigade based in Darwin would be brought to 28 days operational readiness. In the period immediately preceding the Security Council Resolution authorising intervention in East Timor, Darwin had become the focus of a major build-up of ADF forces. Exact numbers are being withheld for operational security reasons. However the following details can be surmised from press and other reports. The RAAF have been operating C-130 transport aircraft between Dili and Darwin during the evacuation of UN and some refugee elements over the past two weeks. Currently up to 24 C-130s are in either Darwin or RAAF Base Tindal and are ready to move as part of the INTERFET operation due to begin within the next seven days. The F-18 squadrons based at Tindal have been issued with contingency plans to maintain air superiority in the event that the situation deteriorates. Temporarily grounded due to a mechanical problem last month, the F-111 fleet has been given a clean bill of health and is ready to undertake missions that might be tasked to the long range bombers.

Darwin harbour is currently home to the guided missile frigates HMAS ADELAIDE and HMAS DARWIN, the frigate HMAS ANZAC, the newly commissioned fast catamaran HMAS JERVIS BAY, the supply and replenishment ship HMAS SUCCESS, the heavy sea lift amphibious transport HMAS TOBRUK, and at least 5 patrol boats.

ADF readiness planning was not limited to ensuring that a second brigade was brought to operational readiness. In 1996 the RAN delayed the scheduled de-commissioning of HMAS TOBRUK and in 1999 acquired on lease the fast catamaran HMAS JERVIS BAY in an attempt to supplement the RAN's sea lift capability over the short term while HMA Ships MANOORA and KANIMBLA continue their refurbishment following acquisition from the United States Navy.

HMAS TOBRUK is capable of carrying up to 18 Leopard tanks on its deck, 22 light armoured vehicles in its hold, and a helicopter. The ship is equipped with a roll-off roll-on hull and a strengthened deck extending the full length of the ship between the bow and stern ramps. An extending bow ramp was fitted behind the bow doors which can be hydraulically lowered onto a beach or harbour quay. A dual purpose stern/door ramp is provided aft to allow ramp-to-ramp operations with landing craft, as well as the more conventional roll-on roll-off operations.

HMAS JERVIS BAY is a 380 tonne, 86 metres, 43kt aluminium catamaran built in Tasmania by INCAT for fast-car ferry civilian use. The same type is in service across the English Channel. The civilian version can carry 900 people and 200 cars (or a combination of cars and up to 4 busses) while maintaining loaded service speeds of 43 knots. Commissioned into the RAN in June 1999 the military variant HMAS JERVIS BAY can carry more than 500 fully equipped combat troops and a considerable number of vehicles up to the size and weight of an ASLAV (Australian Light Armoured Vehicle) and is able to reach Dili in 10 hours.(8) However due to its weight-sensitive civilian design and aluminium construction it could be quite vulnerable to attack.

The Australian Army Air Corps has up to 33 specially equipped long-range Blackhawk helicopters as well as an assortment of Iroquois (4) and Kiowa (8) helicopters. There are over two hundred APCs in the NT although their deployment in the INTERFET force has not yet been mooted. The APCs would be too heavy to be lifted by HMAS JERVIS BAY and would have to be shipped in TOBRUK or on board a US heavy lift ship were one to be deployed by the 7th Fleet. However it is clear that the 4500 combat troops to be deployed to East Timor in phases will be supported by almost the entire Army fleet of light armoured vehicles or ASLAVs (totalling 111 in different configurations). The ASLAVs are amphibious, have a range of 600km with a top speed on tarmac of 100km/h, and can be armed with a 25mm cannon and/or 7.62 machine guns. Their armour can stop small arms and shell fragments and carry around 8 troops with 2 crew.

The Army is expected to initially land 2000 troops with up to 4500 in troops in total for Australia's contribution to the mission. Aside from the combat elements, those personnel in exceptionally high demand will include doctors and nurses, medics, engineers, and communications specialists.

Overstretch of the ADF

If the operation is opposed, 8000 troops and associated support elements could well be judged insufficient for the task. Irrespective of the level of security in East Timor, with the entire RAN heavy sea-lift fleet and almost all of the RAAF's C-130 transport fleet involved, ADF sea, air and land transport capabilities will be stretched to the absolute limit by the INTERFET operation. There would be no additional resources available for other contingencies. At that point the government and the international community may face some difficult decisions about the future direction of the INTERFET force. At 4500 combat troops, Australia would be unable to contribute any further soldiers should the situation demand reinforcements. Extant Australian maritime and air transport assets would alone be unable to meet even limited increases in demand or operational tempo.

The last time Australia had two or more brigades at operational readiness was during the Vietnam war where one brigade-equivalent in the field was supported by a further two at home. As the Chief of the Defence Force, Admiral Barrie, has recently noted 'to maintain that capability conscripts were used extensively'.(9) Consequently, if, as expected, the deployment lasts beyond the New Year, the Australian people should expect that, at a minimum, specialist ADF Reservists will be called out. Indeed, the ADF concedes that it would have to call-up all reservist doctors and nurses for active duty.

Given the volatile nature of the strategic situation in the region, as demonstrated by the rapidity of the emergence of the East Timor crisis itself, it could be argued that commitment to East Timor would only be prudent if further forces were brought up to operational readiness. These would include the fast tracking of the refits of the RAN heavy sea lift capability-which would be an enormously expensive and time-consuming activity if it could be done (which is not currently assured) and issuing a call-up of the Army reserve. The ADF commitment to East Timor will have to be balanced with competing operational demands including, inter alia, the on-going peacekeeping operation in Bougainville,(10) Olympic preparations, a reaction to a possible breakdown of either Indonesia proper or Papua New Guinea,(11) disaster relief within Australia, and the maintenance of a reserve ADF capability for other regional security contingencies and necessary recovery and refresher training.

It is highly unlikely given the scale of the ADF commitment to INTERFET that anything other than a very minor operation could be mounted in addition to the East Timor operation. It is true that a smaller-scale Crocodile99 exercise will continue in Queensland as planned, however the nature of that exercise has changed to accommodate the capabilities in use for INTERFET. Consequently, the focus on Crocodile99 has shifted, inter alia, to air power which is currently a low priority in the East Timor plan, although that could change depending on the situation.

Security Risk Spectrum and Possible Roles of the INTERFET Force

There is a wide spectrum of possibilities regarding the security situation in the territory. To a very great degree the security of the operation will depend on the size, composition, location, and most importantly the intent of the TNI and to a lesser degree the militia.(12)

It is estimated that TNI has approximately 15 000 troops in East Timor-including 2000 Kopassus (Indonesian special forces)-in addition to 8000 police. Estimates of the militia force vary widely. Due to the history of the province, public support and sympathy do not lie with the militia in any large numbers. This augurs against a protracted guerilla war in the absence of TNI support. In the early 1990s Indonesia initiated a very modest militia program throughout the archipelago to supplement stretched police forces. They were a small unarmed special constabulary led by the foremen in charge of TNI businesses in the territory. President Habibie's surprise announcement in January that Indonesia would agree to a referendum on East Timor's political future, prompted elements within the TNI to attempt to rapidly expand the local militia. So desperate was this belated and unpopular initiative that widespread bribery and coercion was used to boost numbers in an attempt to support the claim that the militia enjoyed majority popular support.(13) However, interviews with recruits at militia parades demonstrated that they frequently did not know what the banners they were holding read and that they did not have any grasp of militia aims and objectives. Given these factors, the numbers of well trained and committed militia are likely to be lower than is suggested by the media. They probably number between 2000-5000 and without TNI support do not present a major military threat to the multinational force. Thus if the TNI are withdrawn in large numbers from the whole island-as opposed to East Timor-there will be a very good chance that the INTERFET force will be able to restore order quite quickly. Indeed, if the TNI do withdraw the chances are that a majority of the militia will leave with the last of the Indonesian forces.

Three Scenarios:

To assist discussion of the role of INTERFET, the paper presents the following scenarios. Note: this discussion necessarily includes some speculative comment.

Low Risk

At the low-risk end of the spectrum, the operation will be essentially straightforward and well within the capabilities of the INTERFET force as currently composed. As noted above, the TNI are authorised by the resolution to remain in the territory and requested to maintain security. Whether or not the landing is opposed is critically important to the success of the operation. If unopposed, INTERFET will be able to rapidly secure the port, airfield and the town of Dili. This will facilitate the rapid deployment of follow-on forces and provide a safe entry point for those who will conduct relief efforts. Assuming order is restored fairly quickly and both sides are willing to work with the UN presence, the following military and humanitarian tasks would need to be performed:

  • keeping opposing sides separate
  • identifying numbers, possession, concentration, and location of arms
  • disarming combatants
  • monitoring the borders to, inter alia, curtail any further movement of arms or disruptive forces
  • verifying cease-fire agreements and weapon disposal operations
  • initiating a major humanitarian relief effort and in time starting an elementary reconstruction effort.

It may well be that the much criticised relations between the TNI and the ADF established over years of cooperation become a key factor in ensuring a smooth UN intervention in the territory.(14)

Medium Risk

A mid-spectrum risk environment might include low-level opposition to the landing of the INTERFET force involving a number of casualties. With an aluminium superstructure, HMAS JERVIS BAY, for example, is vulnerable to small arms fire and larger calibre weapons. With a high concentration of troops in one place, the catamaran would prove a lucrative target for militiamen bent on upsetting Australian public opinion. Similarly, the ADF is understood to be concerned about the possibility that hand-held surface-to-air missiles have been infiltrated into the territory thereby posing a considerable threat to the RAAF's already stretched C-130 fleet. Deployed in small units around the mountain camps where refugees are awaiting food drops, militia or rogue TNI troops equipped with such missiles would be very hard if not impossible to detect.

In this and higher-risk scenarios, there is a real chance that the TNI and/or militia will conduct low-level terrorist and guerilla attacks against INTERFET from bases in West Timor. In a medium threat environment, the 8000 troops in the multinational force will be fully engaged in securing vital access points like the port and airfield and maintaining security in Dili and perhaps one or two other centres. Given the limits of international law and the prerogatives of sovereignty, there is neither the UN mandate nor, on current force projections, the military capability to enter West Timor to conduct either humanitarian or counter-insurgency operations. These limitations may prove to undermine the UN operation by giving safe-haven to anti-UN forces.

High Risk

There are very considerable concerns for the INTERFET force at the high-risk end of the security spectrum. TNI/militia backed anti-UN resistance could be used in an attempt to back earlier TNI claims that it was unable to maintain security in the territory. Reports differ widely on the strategy the TNI and militia are likely to adopt. General Wiranto has stated that 'there is a plan to draw [TNI] units back. But it will depend on the deployment of multinational units in East Timor, so the withdrawal will not be one-sided. We will coordinate it,'.(15) Militia leaders have taken a different line. Militia leader, Eurico Guterres, has said that he would refuse the multinational force access to 8 of the 13 districts in the territory.(16) Another militia leader, PPI vice chairman, Cancio Carvalho threatened that 'if the UN force is later proved to be unfair, then even more terrible violence, surpassing that of the 1974-75 civil war, will occur'.(17) While by themselves and compared to the TNI the militia present a marginal military threat (see above), they could create a very difficult situation on the ground if they are supported by rogue elements of the TNI. Given past experience, there is a significant chance that rogue elements of the TNI and militia could join forces to oppose the entry of the multinational force into the territory. Given the growing and apparently deeply held anti-Australian climate in Indonesia and the current strengths and dispositions of both forces, a direct confrontation between the TNI and an ADF-led INTERFET could quickly escalate.

If such a worst case scenario were to eventuate the consequences could initially include booby traps, land mines, snipers, maritime mines in or around the harbour, low-level skirmishes, ambush, mortars, and attacks launched from shoulder launched surface-to-air missiles. INTERFET could face terrorist attack, for example, a truck-bomb driven into a INTERFET compound or hand grenades thrown into a town market. If the TNI directly confronted the ADF and the situation escalated, the ADF would probably seek close air support which would include attacks on the TNI from helicopter gunships. The TNI in turn could seek air support and Indonesian F-16s could confront ADF F-18s over the skies of the territory. An escalation of this kind is highly unlikely, not least because the TNI does not possess strengths in these military capabilities. Rather the TNI and the militia are well trained and prepared for a long, protracted guerilla war.

INTERFET's Involvement and Australia-Indonesia Relations

The East Timor crisis has shaken an already unstable Indonesian political elite and deeply soured relations with Australia. Notwithstanding some Indonesian voices in support of the UN intervention in the territory, such as the editorial in the Jakarta Post of 17 September 1999 entitled 'Spare us the indignity',(18) Indonesia-Australia relations have reached an all time low. On 16 September 1999, Indonesia formally abrogated the 1995 Security Treaty with Australia. While the one-page treaty was largely symbolic, its rejection by the symbol-conscious Indonesians demonstrates how dangerous and volatile relations have become. Moreover, abrogation of the treaty may be interpreted as a licence by the TNI.

The deterioration of relations between the two countries has been in gestation for some time. Long term ally of Australia, former Indonesian Ambassador to Australia and current chair of the Indonesia-Australia Business Council, Mr Sabam Siagian, has warned that:

the popular view in Indonesia is that while we are cornered by the economic crisis and undergoing a period of political fluidity, Australia is taking the opportunity to ... push an independent East Timor. This could become serious, given that we have the possibility of a government led by Megawati Sukarnoputri, assuming her overall position is ... [neo]-nationalistic.(19)

Ambassador Siagian and other senior respected opinion-makers who until recently have been committed to the growing ties between the two neighbours, deeply resent Australia's role in the whole affair. 'My interpretation is it is Australia's position to establish a beachhead in archipelagic South East Asia'.(20) Whether this is Mr Siagian's genuinely held view or not is not the point. The fact is that he was issuing a very blunt warning that others in the Indonesian elite genuinely hold that view. This is extremely dangerous given the possibility of mis-interpretation of Australian motivations and intent by the Indonesian government and especially the TNI. In the eyes of many Indonesians, the landing of the Australian-led INTERFET force will be the first time that foreign forces have been on Indonesian soil since independence in 1945.

It must be remembered that prior to the East Timor issue Indonesia was, according to a 1998 World Bank report, 'in a deep crisis. A country that achieved decades of rapid growth, stability and poverty reduction, is now near economic collapse ... No country in recent history, let alone one the size of Indonesia, has ever suffered such a dramatic reversal of fortune' (emphasis added).(21) Indonesia is also in the middle of a political transition and is concerned about the demonstration effect ceding territory will have on other long-standing separatist movements in Aceh and Irian Jaya. As has happened in recent weeks, there is likely to be a continuing struggle between the President and the TNI over East Timor policy. Consequently, it is by no means certain that undertakings given to the UN now will be fulfilled or that the chain of command will respect decisions imposed from outside. Constant unrelenting economic, political, and strategic crises and growing resentment and suspicion of Australia will undoubtedly influence how Indonesia responds to the unfolding crisis on the ground. The result may not be what Australia hopes for.


Many critically important events have yet to occur that will condition the future of East Timor and Australian-Indonesian relations. Will the TNI resist INTERFET either during the landing or later from secure bases in West Timor? Will the TNI withdraw peacefully taking the militia with them? Will the INTERFET coalition be able to sustain casualties and/or a prolonged presence in the territory? Will the 8000 strong INTERFET force be numerically insufficient to achieve the mission? Will Australia need to resort to a general call-up of ADF reserve forces or, in a worst case scenario, conscription to maintain its contribution to INTERFET? Will the Indonesian Parliament convene in November and will it ratify or abrogate the independence ballot? What could the international community do if the Indonesian Government rejected the outcome of the ballot? How will the next President of Indonesia react to these events?

In an interview on ABC Radio on 18 September, General John Sanderson (United Nations Force Commander in Cambodia, 1991-1993) emphasised the strategic and political complexity of the East Timor involvement and the challenges involved. General Sanderson said in relation to the Commander of the Australian-led force that:

He knows that the underlying principle of these operation is the principle of minimum necessary force. In other words, use whatever force is necessary, but ... minimise it. The objective is to establish the rule of law In East Timor.

The INTERFET force:

is going to East Timor to establish a process by which first of all humanitarian relief can be given to the East Timorese, but in a way which salvages the process of reconciliation both within Timor and between Timor and Indonesia, and between Australia and Indonesia.

It would be inadvisable to underestimate the very great challenges that lie ahead for the INTERFET force. The next days and months will test both the ADF and the Australian polity. The success of the mission and the approach to the issue adopted by the new Indonesian Parliament, and ultimately the new Indonesian President, will be critical in determining the future of East Timor and Australia-Indonesia relations.

Annex 1: Suggested Criteria To Be Considered Before The Use Of Force (22)

  1. Is there a real threat to international peace and security?

  2. Are vital national interests threatened?

  3. Will UN involvement advance Australia's interests?

  4. Does the intervention have precisely defined political and military objectives?

  5. Does the proposed peace-keeping mission have clear objectives, and can its scope be clearly defined?

  6. Would military intervention jeopardise the ability of the ADF to meet more important security commitments?

  7. Are the financial and personnel resources needed to accomplish the mission available?

  8. If the operation is a peacekeeping-as opposed to peace enforcement-mission, is a cease-fire in place, and have the parties to the conflict agreed to a UN presence?

  9. If the operation is in fact a peace enforcement mission are the participants willing to take casualties and is the force adequately equipped for the task?

  10. Can an end point to Australian/UN participation be identified?

  11. Is there reasonable assurance that intervention will be supported by the Australian people and Parliament?

  12. What happens if Australia does not act?

  13. The armed forces must be allowed to create the conditions for success.

  14. Military intervention should strive to achieve military goals that are clearly defined, decisive, attainable, and sustainable.

  15. The commitment of Australian forces and their objectives should be reassessed constantly and adjusted as necessary

  16. Is there a clearly defined exit strategy?

Annex 2: Resolution 1264 (1999)

Adopted by the Security Council at its 4045th meeting on 15 September 1999

The Security Council,

Recalling its previous resolutions and the statements of its President on the situation in East Timor,

Recalling also the Agreement between Indonesia and Portugal on the question of East Timor of 5 May 1999 and the Agreements between the United Nations and the Governments of Indonesia and Portugal of the same date regarding the modalities for the popular consultation of the East Timorese through a direct ballot and security arrangements (S/1999/513, Annexes I to III),

Reiterating its welcome for the successful conduct of the popular consultation of the East Timorese people of 30 August 1999 and taking note of its outcome, which it regards as an accurate reflection of the views of the East Timorese people,

Deeply concerned by the deterioration in the security situation in East Timor, and in particular by the continuing violence against and large-scale displacement and relocation of East Timorese civilians,

Deeply concerned also at the attacks on the staff and premises of the United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET), on other officials and on international and national humanitarian personnel,

Recalling the relevant principles contained in the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel adopted on 9 December 1994,

Appalled by the worsening humanitarian situation in East Timor, particularly as it affects women, children and other vulnerable groups,

Reaffirming the right of refugees and displaced persons to return in safety and security to their homes,

Endorsing the report of the Security Council Mission to Jakarta and Dili (S/1999/976),

Welcoming the statement by the President of Indonesia on 12 September 1999 in which he expressed the readiness of Indonesia to accept an international peacekeeping force through the United Nations in East Timor,

Welcoming the letter from the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Australia to the Secretary-General of 14 September 1999 (S/1999/975),

Reaffirming respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Indonesia,

Expressing its concern at reports indicating that systematic, widespread and flagrant violations of international humanitarian and human rights law have been committed in East Timor, and stressing that persons committing such violations bear individual responsibility,

Determining that the present situation in East Timor constitutes a threat to peace and security,

Acting under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations,

1. Condemns all acts of violence in East Timor, calls for their immediate end and demands that those responsible for such acts be brought to justice;

2. Emphasises the urgent need for coordinated humanitarian assistance and the importance of allowing full, safe and unimpeded access by humanitarian organisations and calls upon all parties to cooperate with such organisations so as to ensure the protection of civilians at risk, the safe return of refugees and displaced persons and the effective delivery of humanitarian aid;

3. Authorises the establishment of a multinational force under a unified command structure, pursuant to the request of the Government of Indonesia conveyed to the Secretary-General on 12 September 1999, with the following tasks: to restore peace and security in East Timor, to protect and support UNAMET in carrying out its tasks and, within force capabilities, to facilitate humanitarian assistance operations, and authorises the States participating in the multinational force to take all necessary measures to fulfil this mandate;

4. Welcomes the expressed commitment of the Government of Indonesia to cooperate with the multinational force in all aspects of the implementation of its mandate and looks forward to close coordination between the multinational force and the Government of Indonesia;

5. Underlines the Government of Indonesia's continuing responsibility under the Agreements of 5 May 1999, taking into account the mandate of the multinational force set out in paragraph 3 above, to maintain peace and security in East Timor in the interim phase between the conclusion of the popular consultation and the start of the implementation of its result and to guarantee the security of the personnel and premises of UNAMET;

6. Welcomes the offers by Member States to organise, lead and contribute to the multinational force in East Timor, calls on Member States to make further contributions of personnel, equipment and other resources and invites Member States in a position to contribute to inform the leadership of the multinational force and the Secretary-General;

7. Stresses that it is the responsibility of the Indonesian authorities to take immediate and effective measures to ensure the safe return of refugees to East Timor;

8. Notes that Article 6 of the Agreement of 5 May 1999 states that the Governments of Indonesia and Portugal and the Secretary-General shall agree on arrangements for a peaceful and orderly transfer of authority in East Timor to the United Nations, and requests the leadership of the multinational force to cooperate closely with the United Nations to assist and support those arrangements;

9. Stresses that the expenses for the force will be borne by the participating Member States concerned and requests the Secretary-General to establish a trust fund through which contributions could be channelled to the States or operations concerned;

10. Agrees that the multinational force should collectively be deployed in East Timor until replaced as soon as possible by a United Nations peacekeeping operation, and invites the Secretary-General to make prompt recommendations on a peacekeeping operation to the Security Council;

11. Invites the Secretary-General to plan and prepare for a United Nations transitional administration in East Timor, incorporating a United Nations peacekeeping operation, to be deployed in the implementation phase of the popular consultation (phase III) and to make recommendations as soon as possible to the Security Council;

12. Requests the leadership of the multinational force to provide periodic reports on progress towards the implementation of its mandate through the Secretary-General to the Council, the first such report to be made within 14 days of the adoption of this resolution;

13. Decides to remain actively seized of the matter.


  1. This is a widely held view. Lt Gen John Sanderson (Rtd) has been the most recent exponent, see ABC TV Lateline 14 September 1999.

  2. P. Dibb, formerly head of Defence Intelligence, 'Crunch time for defence', Australian Financial Review, 16 September 1999.

  3. See the full text at Annex 2.

  4. Ali Alatas, 15 September 1999, Reuters.

  5. Australian Financial Review, 16 September 1999.

  6. See E. Becker, 'US to Jakarta Messenger: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs', in the New York Times, 14 September 1999. See also http://www.stratfor.com/services/giu/091699.ASP.

  7. See http://www.stratfor.com/services/giu/091699.ASP.

  8. See http://www.incat.com.au/home_page.nsf/mastv/Yard045b.

  9. CDF, Navy News, 12 July 1999, p. 5.

  10. Currently 250 ADF personnel are involved in Bougainville. Due to Australia's leadership of that peacekeeping mission, named Operation Bel Isi, it is worth noting in this context that the ADF already devotes considerable sea and air lift resources to that operation.

  11. See Dr B. Standish, 'Papua New Guinea 1999: Crises of Governance', Information and Research Services Research Paper No. 4 1999-2000, Department of the Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 1999.

  12. This is because as a general observation the vast majority of the militia are not a significant force in military terms.

  13. See Dr F. Frost, and Dr A. C. Cobb, 'The Future of East Timor: Major Current Issues', Information and Research Services Research Paper No. 21, 1998-99, Department of the Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 1999. See http://www.aph.gov.au/library/pubs/rp/1998-99/99rp21.htm
  14. For example the extensive senior-officer contacts made possible by exchanges and training programs in Australia. See also Bob Lowry, 'Indonesian Armed Forces (Tentara Nasional Indonesia-TNI)', Information and Research Services Research Paper 23 1998-99, Department of the Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 1999. http://www.aph.gov.au/library/pubs/rp/1998-99/99rp23.htm

  15. General Wiranto, AFP, 16 September 1999.

  16. L. Wright, 'Militia threatens to bar troops from districts', The Canberra Times, 17 September 1999, p. 1.

  17. Asia Pulse, 15 September 1999.

  18. 'Spare us the indignity', The Jakarta Post, 17 September 1999.

  19. D. Jenkins, 'The Bully Next Door', Sydney Morning Herald, 27 August 1999, p. 11.

  20. Ibid.

  21. World Bank, Annual Report 1998, Washington DC, 1998.

  22. List complied by author.