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Name: Antony Loewenstein
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Friday, June 03, 2005

Stability rules

Despite rhetoric suggesting otherwise, Indonesian and Australian relations are generally solid and warm. East Timor and the Schapelle Corby case, while unquestionably placing strain on the relationship, are unlikely to cause any long-term damage. The Sydney Morning Herald's Peter Hartcher argues today that relations with our northern neighbour are too vital to be left to populism. He approvingly quotes former Prime Minister Paul Keating:

"The event of greatest positive strategic significance to Australia in the postwar years was the election of President Soeharto's new-order government. Had it not been for that cohesive event - if the archipelago was breaking up - we would not be spending 2 per cent of GDP on defence, we would be spending 6 or 7 per cent."

Therefore, writes Hartcher, stability is essential. Human rights abuses? Ignored. The reign of terror perpetrated by Soeharto? Forget about it. Hartcher's commentary fits into a dubious history of acquiescence with the actions of Indonesia. And these friendly relations allow Australia to spend less on defence, he glowingly assures us. This logic taken to its clear conclusion suggests that realpolitik should always take precedence in politics, and let's not let the small issue of massacres get in the way.

Hartcher needs reminding of history. When Soeharto stole power in the mid 1960s, he massacred up to 1 million people with the assistance of the CIA. The invasion of East Timor in 1975 caused untold misery to the East Timorese people. Perhaps this is the kind of stability imagined by a government apologist like Hartcher.

Scott Burchill, senior lecturer in international relations at Deakin University, understands the real agenda behind the Indonesian/Australian relationship:

"The Indonesian military (TNI) has always been seen by the [Australian] Jakarta lobby as the best guarantor of social and political control of the Indonesian population. Australia's de jure recognition of Indonesia's incorporation of Portuguese Timor in 1985, the Timor Gap Treaty in 1989, and the 1995 agreement on security signed by the Keating government and the Soeharto regime, were the high watermarks of the lobby's influence."

Burchill emphasises the disparity between the political elite in both countries and the general populace. The former is in favour of close ties while the latter is more suspicious and questioning. Hartcher's cards have been shown. He isn't the first apologist and nor will he be the last.


Anonymous Guy said...

To a certain extent I agree with your criticisms Antony, but I'm not sure what you would have had the Australian government do. Sever relations with Indonesia? Instruct the Indonesian government how to run their own country as if we are civilised folk and they are fools?

The United Nations is a more appropriate mechanism for airing and investigating human rights abuses. It is not up to Australia to enforce or attempt to enforce human rights in neighbouring countries. That's almost a Bush-ite way of doing things.

Australia really is small fry in this part of the world. We can diplomatically criticise but I don't think we are big enough or important enough to set the tempo as we would like it to be.

Friday, June 03, 2005 11:35:00 am  
Blogger Antony Loewenstein said...

I've never suggested we tell Indonesia what to do, nor any country for that matter.
But what does a country's government need to do before we hold our noses and at least take some kind of action, rather than simply operating like business as usual? And yes, bring in the UN.
Business interests were always the key reason behind Soeharto's support internationally, and when so-called commentators like Hartcher bang on about stability, it's really sickening.
A country's human rights should be key indicator of bi-lateral relations (though, yes, most countries commit abuses.) A serious re-thinking is in order...

Friday, June 03, 2005 11:49:00 am  
Anonymous Phil said...

What's been really fascinating is to see this Government come around to the Keating way of doing things on Indo.

Friday, June 03, 2005 12:33:00 pm  
Blogger Antony Loewenstein said...

So true. And we know how 'progressive' Keating was in relation to Indo and Soeharto. Keating called Soeharto 'Father' once, I seem to recall.

Friday, June 03, 2005 1:17:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ooooh, the UN....yes, i'm sure they're quaking in their boots. Why, if they're really naughty, they can be on the Human Rights Commission like Libya or Sudan or Saudi Arabia!!!

Friday, June 03, 2005 1:47:00 pm  
Blogger Antony Loewenstein said...

It ain't perfect, but it's only as strong as the nations within it.
Oh, I forgot, America should invade every country with whom it disagrees. But hang on, the CIA helped Soeharto find 'rebels' that led to the massacres.
Nice, little benign US...

Friday, June 03, 2005 2:23:00 pm  
Anonymous Fabian said...

Antony, a typo - East Timor invasion was in 1975, not '65.

Speaking of which, how does Malcolm Fraser sleep at night? As PM, averting his gaze whilst Indonesia summarily invaded and annexed a foreign territory, now in his guise as "elder statesman", lambasting everyone for not doing the right thing.

No wonder no one listens to him.

Friday, June 03, 2005 4:18:00 pm  
Blogger Antony Loewenstein said...

Thanks for the tip re East Timor. Unforgiveable typo. Sorted...
As for Fraser, sadly, most PMs since Whitlam are guilty of turning the other cheek....

Friday, June 03, 2005 5:01:00 pm  
Anonymous Phil said...

To those who criticise the UN and other similar multinational bodies, tell me your solution for global interaction and? There is no doubt that the UN and other bodies of a similar nature need to be reformed, and by that I don't mean reformed into boot licker status but into a genuine community of nations. In the end such a body would still have to exist.

Antony alluded to the kind of mechanisims needed to be adhered to in order to participate fully in global governance, that human rights for example should be a criteria for the level of participation. I note with wry amusement that the UN bashers have also unknowingly accepted tis notion by decrying certain members taking a seat at the UNHCR because they don't exactly live up to it's goals.

This kind of idea is the way forward for global institutions rather than the corrupt gerrymanders we see at bodies like the IMF or the misguided nonsense that goes on at the UN level.

Friday, June 03, 2005 5:53:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You make no sense, Lowy...the UN has always been a cover for brutal regimes to abuse their people, because in essence it's a trade association for dictators, always looking out for their own and each others' interest against those who might do something, i.e., the US. (Look at how NATO had to 'violate' the UN to stop ethnic cleansing in former Yugoslavia for example, though that was not under Big Bad Dubya, so I guess that's less offensvie).

But can you tell me anywhere where the UN is actually helping spread democracy, rather than get in the way? The US is actually doing it: even if you don't like the brand, millions of Iraqis are buying (so uncouth, they are, they'll probably acquire a taste for Big Macs next...sigh), and millions more would like the chance.

It's the same as with tsunami aid: the UN blew in in Range Rovers and luxury hotels and did nothing but issue reports; America and Australia went and actually did a helluva lot of good.

Friday, June 03, 2005 7:11:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous, have you ever heard of UNICEF?

Friday, June 03, 2005 9:41:00 pm  
Anonymous Bruce M Warrington said...

Sigh. Yet another assertion that the West must "do something" - i.e. use violence - to solve the world's problems. It seems to have escaped your notice that violence tends to make things worse for the people it's supposed to "help". Remember, the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo actually got worse after NATO started bombing.

The UN's principal purpose is "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war". War is the ultimate violation of human rights; and no people can fully exercise their right of self-determination, or their democratic freedoms, if they are threatened by powerful and violent outsiders.

The US did not invade Iraq to spread democracy. It did so to acquire control of a strategically vital area of the world, and to undermine further the concept of the rule of law in world affairs. As for democracy, the US seems somewhat unwilling to let Venezuelans exercise their democratic rights, it evicted Haiti's democratically elected government in favour of right-wing brutes and it backed the Contras' brutal war against the democratically elected Nicaraguan government in the 80s.

As for the tsunami aid; as far as I know, the US and Australia have only made promises of aid. Whether they fulfil them is another matter.

Friday, June 03, 2005 10:01:00 pm  
Anonymous Phil said...

Anon should get his head out of the Diplomad archives of ugly Americanism and THINK for a change. Once again I ask those like anon what do they propose? Unilateralism? Isn't that what brought us two great wars? Bruce is correct in his perspective on the UN's greater principal purpose. It should be noted that since the formation of the UN we may have had cold wars, proxy wars and lot's of localised mayhem but no great all encompassing conflagration.

Do we want a situation where unilateral and bilateral treaties cause tensions due to other cross agreements which can lead to war? Look at Australia's tightrope walk in signing on to the ASEN non-aggression pact and how it conflicts with ANZUS, to say we'd be in a pickle if a dangerous situation were to occur with China would be an understatement. In that event does he seriously believe that we'd pick a side.

Non-alingment, and support for a UN or globalised focus for settling disputes is needed now more than ever. Of course this is hard work, too hard for some, because they see it as an easier option to opt for war.

Friday, June 03, 2005 11:47:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The thing that has prevented huge World Wars over the past 60 years has not been the UN, but the possession of nuclear weapons by a few rational actors -- at least until recently. Though I know you all are perfectly in favour of Iran getting a few, just to balance things out (great idea! moral equivalence at its highest) in the mid-east.

To the guy who said that Australia did nothing but promise, post-tsunami, what about the nine who died in the Sea King helicopter crash in Aceh? Or the carrier groups that the US sent (huge money, you know)? To say nothing of the millions coughed up by ordinary Americans and Aussies. Read "Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures", a great book which details just how hopelessly useless -- indeed worse than useless -- the UN has been around the world.

(As an aside, what is it with you lot and Venezuela? Why is it that you lefties love a strongman as long as he says the right things about Bush?)

This non-aligned stuff you talk about is lovely...a bunch of dictators getting together at the UN and singing kumbaya while cracking down on their own population and dissidents. But then again, the left has only ever paid lip service to democracy -- individuals are too controlled by outside forces in your view to really make smart decisions, so best leave it up to their betters, i.e., y'all. Just witness the attempts to force the UN Constitution's like that lefty lassie in the Age said the other day...'democracy is wasted on the voters'.

You all make a big bowl of macrobiotic tofu salad and fight it out amongst yourself. I'm gonna go kick it large in the back yard with a bloody mary.

Saturday, June 04, 2005 3:07:00 pm  
Blogger Antony Loewenstein said...

Let's bash the UN. No, really, let's. It's so constructive and vital.
So, let me guess. People like you would be happy for the US to be the sole leader of world affairs, and the fact that lies may well be part of the equation, oh well, what the hell! At least it isn't the UN!
Talk some sense and then expect to be taken seriously...

Saturday, June 04, 2005 7:35:00 pm  
Anonymous Phil said...

Hey anon, how about a little history. this is a timely link to the FACTS, remember them?

Here is a pull quote for you to chew on.

The historical records show how Winston Churchill and Franklin D Roosevelt created the United Nations to win the war both militarily and politically, and to create the foundations for a lasting peace. Their first expression of Anglo-American policy was in the Atlantic Charter of 1941; this included freedom from want, social security, labour rights and disarmament as well as self-determination, free trade and freedom of religion. Churchill himself remarked during the height of the fighting in 1944 that the “United Nations is the only hope of the world”.

Those dammed socialists Roosevelt and Churchill were nothing but cheese eating surrender monkeys at heart.

Sunday, June 05, 2005 8:35:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And of course, Phil, FDR famously lied to many times the degrees Bush is alleged to have to get the US into WW2 ("FDR lied! Krauts died!"), presided over the firebombings of Dresden and Tokyo, among other things, but I guess because he's not a Bush he's not problematic.

That was when the UN was going to be made up of democracies and real countries, not dominated by a bunch of tin-horn dictatorships and rent-seeking aid organizations and NGOs.

Lies are always part of the equation in politics, left or right -- grow up, Loewenstein. You'd rather have anyone run the world rather than the US, which is pretty bizarre, considering that it is the best hope for spreading democracy, liberating women and men from the tyrnanny of Islamism, and bringing free markets to places being held down by socialism, primitivism and tribalism.

Sunday, June 05, 2005 10:03:00 am  

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