Friday, June 09, 2006

More on East Timor and Nation Building

Highly recommended Doug Bandow's For America, a Nation-Building Disaster Avoided in which he notes:
One disaster avoided by both the Clinton and Bush administrations is East Timor (or, as it now styles itself, the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste). Once a model of foreign nation-building, this fledgling nation has again become an international ward. But, miraculously, no American troops are involved.

Bandow recalls that after the Indonesians decided to get out of East Timor, following a pro-independence vote by its people, there was a lot of pressure on Washington to "do something," that is, to send U.S. troops and engage in some Nation Building:
After the usual international huffing and puffing, Jakarta agreed to dump the problem into the hands of the United Nations. The Java Empire could ill afford to ignore an overwhelming secessionist vote that it had called. Attempting to stuff the independence genie back into the bottle would have been even more costly than before. On Sept. 20, 1999, Operation Warden began, with Australia in the lead.
This surprised many who expected America to head the latest nation-building parade. After Washington's grand "victory," in the company of the world's greatest military alliance, over the isolated and impoverished rump state of Yugoslavia, President Bill Clinton visited Kosovo and essentially promised to destroy anyone on earth who was mean to anyone else.
When things got ugly in East Timor, however, National Security Adviser Sandy Berger said: "Just because we bombed in Kosovo doesn't mean we should bomb Dili" in East Timor. He explained that the situation was like his college-age daughter's dorm room – there was no duty for the rest of us to clean it up. Alas for East Timor, there were neither white Europeans living there nor known prodigious pools of oil underneath the land.
The Australians were sore, since they expected Washington to do the heavy lifting. Since it was impossible to argue seriously that American security was at risk in East Timor, Australian policymakers emphasized humanitarian concerns.

I was doing a lot of research and writing on the issue both for the Singapore Business Times and the Cato Institute at that time and published two policy analyses East Timor and the "Slippery Slope" Problem and Averting a "New Kosovo" in Indonesia: Opportunities and Pitfalls for the United States in which I suggested, among other things that:
Domestic and international pressure on Washington to use U.S. military power to resolve the recent crisis in East Timor points to the dangers involved in adopting the Clinton Doctrine as a guide for U.S. foreign policy. The Clinton Doctrine holds that the United States and the "international community" have an obligation to violate the principle of state sovereignty to protect the rights of a persecuted minority. Expectations that the United States would be ready to "do something," including applying its military might, to help bring an end to ethnic strife in East Timor encouraged Australia to lobby for an international intervention. Canberra assumed that Washington would be willing to pay the costs of resolving the East Timor crisis, and thus produce a rerun of the U.S.-led interventions in the Balkans.
Fortunately, the United States resisted that pressure and, as a result, created incentives for Australia and other regional players to assume the main burden of restoring order on the island and maintaining stability in the Southeast Asian neighborhood. Yet even the limited support role the United States has undertaken in the peacekeeping operation in East Timor could gradually lead to wider and more dangerous American military and diplomatic commitments. Already, the number of U.S. military personnel involved is more than twice the original estimate. The United States could also find itself becoming the "stabilizer of last resort" on the Indonesian archipelago at a time when an unstable central government in Jakarta is trying to contain secessionist rebellions in other provinces.

I remember being interviewed by Australian radio and television stations and their angry reporters who demanded to know why the U.S. was not deploying troops to help "resolve" the 1999 East Timor crisis.
According to theEconomist Australia is indeed trying to "resolve" the most recent crisis in East Timor as well as in other trouble spots in the region and no one is urging the U.S. to "do something" which would have happened if the Americans had intervened there in 1999.


Anonymous said...

"Just because we bombed in Kosovo doesn't mean we should bomb Dili"
-Sandy Berger

Future Bartlett's Quote to be used on the top of any future Berger monument.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad someone realized there is no sense in deploying peacekeeping troops where there is no peace to be kept.

Edward Luttwak is right; even "humanitarian" aid sans troops has the effect of just letting civil war drag on and on, instead of burning itself out. Televised scenes of refugees and carnage may cause a hue and cry to "do something!", but looking good and doing good are not the same things.