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Inhumanitarian Nonintervention in East Timor
Edward S. Herman

Coming so soon after the NATO devastation of Yugoslavia in the alleged
interest of humanitarianism and protection of human rights, the performance
of the NATO powers in the East Timor crisis strikingly confirms the views of
those who questioned the moral basis of NATO's intervention in Kosovo. In
the Kosovo case, NATO insisted on bombing although Yugoslavia had already
agreed to a sizable international presence in Kosovo--but not a NATO
occupation of all of Yugoslavia as was demanded in the Rambouillet
ultimatum-- and a "wide-ranging autonomy" for Kosovo. There was good reason
to believe that the already strong international pressures on Yugoslavia
might have resulted in a non-military resolution of the crisis.

In the case of the current renewed Indonesian violence against the East
Timorese, by contrast, although Indonesia has been occupying East Timor in
violation of standing UN rulings for 24 years and had already killed a
larger fraction of the East Timorese population than Pol Pot had done in
Cambodia, the NATO powers that had so eagerly bombed Yugoslavia have still
not called upon the IMF to suspend its line of credit to Indonesia, and the
Blair government announced on September 7 that economic sanctions were not
even on the agenda. They are allegedly "ineffective." The Blair moral
indignation at human rights violations, so furious as regards Yugoslavia, is
entirely absent in this case, and the question of using force doesn't even
arise for Blair and Clinton. The Blair government (and Clinton's as well) is
relying on our old friend "quiet diplomacy," which has always been a cover
for inaction in dealing with the murderous behavior of allied and client

In the wake of the fall of Suharto in May 1988, the East Timorese and their
supporters had gotten a weakened Indonesian leadership to agree to a
UN-sponsored referendum for independence. The Indonesian regime quickly
changed course, however, and organized, armed, and protected militia groups
that carried out a reign of terror in East Timor which forced a postponement
of the referendum till August 30. The original UN agreement with Indonesia
on the preparation for the voting gave Indonesia full rights to police the
referendum. There was of course no more basis in a historical record of
responsible behavior by Indonesia justifying this assignment than there
would be for giving Milosevic charge of preparations for an independence
vote in Kosovo.

But even as Indonesia's violations of its responsibilities became clearly
evident with escalating militia violence over the course of ten months prior
to the vote, the great powers made no moves to change the rules or to
penalize or threaten Indonesia. Now, in the aftermath of the referendum, as
it has become obvious that the Indonesian army and police are directly
participating in the killing, the Western powers are still unwilling to take
any strong action. UN head Kofi Annan continues to urge Indonesia to do its
duty, which it had failed to do previously and is now OPENLY failing to do.
His feebleness reflects the fact that the great powers continue to drag
their feet. By striking contrast, how aggressive they were in Kosovo, how
readily they found (illegal) avenues and rationales to act, and how eager
they were to use violence!

Western non-intervention in East Timor is obviously rooted in the same
factors that caused the U.S. and Britain (etc.) to support the Suharto
dictatorship for three decades, to give it aid and sell it arms, to train
its military and police, and to accept and even aid its invasion and
occupation of East Timor in the first place. A strongly anticommunist
political ally, Indonesia under Suharto also became an "investors paradise"
loved by the oil, mining, and timber companies and other transnationals.
This regime has made East Timorese offshore oil readily available to the oil
companies. These benefits help explain the Western willingness to overlook
the undemocratic rule, the mass exterminations during the military takeover
of 1965-1966, along with the genocidal invasion-occupation of East Timor
from 1975 onward. And these benefits help us to understand why, although the
West has the power to pressure Indonesia to comply with humanitarian
principles even short of using force, it fails to use that power.

The media have avoided discussing these earlier genocides while reporting on
the ongoing East Timorese crisis. And while they are now a bit aroused at
the onset of what might be another Rwanda type slaughter--a second
Indonesian genocide in East Timor--they continue to fail to trace it to the
root causes of support of "our kind of guy" (as a senior Clinton official
described Suharto in 1995), or to wax indignant over the failure of the West
to react to monstrous behavior, or to feature the comparison with Kosovo and
the mindboggling hypocrisy in the claim of a new era of western
"humanitarian intervention."