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After East Timor where will we make peace next?


After F16s, after East Timor where will we make peace next?

Let’s be real careful about feeling good about east Timor.

Where do we go from here is where the pain lies.

We have done very well in East Timor and Bougainville and have won a few brownie points with our neighbours in getting involved, but let’s not rush into assuming that we should duplicate this effort elsewhere. In Bougainville we were peace brokers and keepers, in East Timor we are peacemakers and there in lies the vital difference.

The crisis in East Timor happened because of the disintegration of the Indonesian state as president Suharto aged and the economy crashed, along with the other Asian tigers. Australia was not slow in moving on its immediate strategic interest of the gas-fields in the Timor Sea. In the few months prior to the APEC conference in Auckland there was a massive military exercise called Crocodile ’99 going on in northern Australia, so it was not at all surprising that there was such an effective military operation that New Zealand participated in to secure East Timor.

Now, when we are contemplating what sort of military equipment our armed forces need, we should be careful not to in effect participate in the burgeoning Asian arms race, as seen between China and Taiwan and between Japan and North Korea. If we decide to convert our military to a US marines style force so as to replicate our success in East Timor, we must ask ourselves where possibly would we be deploying them after East Timor.

We did not need a US marine-style force in Bougainville, indeed such a force would have been counter-productive. Should Fiji or The Solomons or Samoa become “unstable” would we contemplate sending in our marines? Most certainly not. A Bougainville-style response would be advisable and more appropriate to our past relations with those countries.

So where would our marines be useful? Perhaps in the other Indonesian hotspots such as Aceh, Riau, Irian Jaya. This scenario is vastly different to Bougainville and raises the question, would we even want to increase our engagement in what would be the further disintegration of Indonesia? In whose interest would be we sending our marines further into the Indonesian archipelago?

Choosing between F16s, attack-helicopters, C-130s, APCs options is so much more that picking the best possible military hardware. We must be very clear where we are heading when we start tip-toeing through those particular tulips.

Phil Doherty


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