Subject: Anthony Lewis: Kissinger's ghost haunts East Timor
Date: Sat, 11 Sep 1999 11:21:46 EDT

The Age [Melbourne] Sunday, September 12, 1999

Kissinger's ghost


THE savagery taking place in East Timor is something besides a human disaster. It carries a profound lesson for international affairs: the price that can be paid for Kissingerian ``realism''.

Henry Kissinger, then United States Secretary of State, and President Gerald Ford visited the tyrant ruler of Indonesia, President Suharto, in December 1975. Kissinger knew Suharto planned to invade East Timor. He made no objection, on the ground that it would be unrealistic to offend Indonesia.

The day after he and Ford left, the Indonesians invaded. They used arms obtained from US aid: a violation of American law. That was pointed out to Kissinger in a cable from his State Department aides, but he angrily rejected the point.

``I know what the law is,'' he told a staff meeting when he got back to Washington, ``but how can it be in the US national interest for us to ... kick the Indonesians in the teeth?''

That was Kissingerian realism: the view that the US should overlook brutalities by friendly authoritarian regimes because they provided ``stability''. Thus Kissinger supported Augusto Pinochet in Chile and the Shah in Iran.

The people of East Timor have paid a heavy price for that realism. In the invasion and subsequent occupation, a third of the population of 600,000 died. The Indonesian military carried out, over many years, what the Financial Times of London called ``unspeakable atrocities''. Now, after voting overwhelmingly for independence, thousands have been driven out of their country by militiamen armed by Indonesia.

Indonesia has also paid heavily for its seizure of East Timor, and it is going to pay a lot more. The stubborn East Timorese insistence on independence has inspired other remote areas of the archipelago state to rebellion. And what foreign company will want to invest in a country that, apart from human concerns, cannot control its own military? The United Nations and the entire international community have been badly hurt by the debacle in East Timor. Having led the way to the referendum, they relied on Indonesian promises to maintain security because - once again - they did not want to offend the Government.

Now UN employees have been killed and UN offices sacked by the militia forces. The international community has been made to look hapless against a ragtag challenge. And the only response by the UN Security Council so far has been to send a mission: not to East Timor but to Jakarta.

The international community has been so silent about all that has happened in East Timor over the past 24 years, and so feeble, that it has a responsibility to act firmly now. Many responses are available.

The US should immediately end all programs involving the Indonesian military: training, sharing of intelligence, military aid. Indonesia's military is either covertly supporting the militiamen or has failed to oppose their rampage, violating many assurances.

The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are heavily involved in keeping the Indonesian economy afloat. The country has asked for $US71 billion ($A110 billion) in funding this year from the two institutions. Further tranches should be withheld until legitimate order is restored in East Timor. If those measures do not bring the Indonesian Government and military leaders to their senses, it will be necessary - quickly - to send in an international peacekeeping force.

American political leaders, especially, should reflect on the larger lesson. Ignoring human realities may not, after all, be ``realistic''. The Shah did not bring stability to Iran; his policies opened the way to a virulently anti-American regime. Pinochet awaits justice in the British courts.

Using American troops abroad is always, rightly, a delicate decision. But it is not so hard to speak out, and the voice of American leaders carries weight. In Bosnia America learned the price of failing to speak out promptly against aggression. The price of silence on East Timor remains to be calculated.

Anthony Lewis, twice winner of the Pulitzer Prize, writes on international affairs for The New York Times, where this first appeared.

Henry Kissinger and East Timor

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