US support for Indonesia
from the book
East Timor: Genocide in Paradise
by Matthew Jardine
America stands as it always has, against aggression, against
those who would use force to replace the rule of law.
US President George Bush, 1990, referring to the Iraqi invasion
When I think of Indonesia -- a country on the equator with 180
million people, a median age of 18, and a Muslim ban on alcohol
-- I feel like I know what heaven looks like.
Coca-Cola President Donald R. Keough, c. 1992
It's clear that the US knew about the upcoming invasion [of East
Timor by Indonesia in 1975] and avoided taking any action that
might have stopped it. In August 1975, Australia's ambassador
to Indonesia cabled the Department of Foreign Affairs in Canberra
(Australia's capital), as follows: The United States might have
some influence on Indonesia at the present as Indonesia really
wants and needs US assistance in its military re-equipment program....
But [US] Ambassador Newsom told me last night that he is under
instructions from [US Secretary of State Henry] Kissinger personally
not to involve himself in discussions on Timor with the Indonesians
on the ground that the US is involved in enough problems of greater
importance overseas at present....His present attitude is that
the US should keep out of the Portuguese Timor situation and allow
events to take their course.
US President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger
were in Jakarta visiting Indonesian President Suharto the two
days before the invasion. There's little doubt that Ford gave
Suharto the green light to invade. Kissinger told reporters in
Jakarta that "the US understands Indonesia's position on
the question" of East Timor, and Ford said that, given a
choice between East Timor and Indonesia, the US "had to be
on the side of Indonesia." (US support for the invasion was
important to Suharto because ABRI (the Indonesian military) relied
heavily on US weaponry, which US law states can only be used for
In early 1976, the US voiced its defacto recognition of Jakarta's
annexation of East Timor. An unnamed US State Department official
explained: "In terms of the bilateral relations between the
US and Indonesia, we are more or less condoning the incursion
into East Timor."
These US actions weren't surprising, given the history of business
relations between the two countries. By the end of World War I,
the US and Japan supplied almost a third of the Dutch East Indies'
imports. In turn, US-based corporations located there supplied
the US with tin, rubber and oil. By 1939, the Dutch East Indies
were supplying the US with over half of its needs for "no
less than fifteen distinct commodities."
W.W.II radically changed the map of the Pacific, with the US emerging
as the region's dominant power. US policymakers recognized that
the region held great promise:
These areas not only offer many markets for American products
but are substantial producers of raw materials useful to our economy....Our
merchant marine and commercial firms should be given the opportunity
to take over a large portion of that trade formerly handled by
the Japanese and their vessels.
George Kennan, Director of the Policy Planning Staff at the US
State Department, noted that the US had "about 50% of the
world's wealth but only 6.3 % of its population," and offered
this advice: Our real task in the coming period is to devise a
pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this
position of disparity without positive detriment to our national
security. We should make a careful study to see what parts of
the Pacific and Far Eastern world are absolutely vital to our
security, and we should concentrate our policy on seeing to it
that those areas remain in hands which we can control or rely
Indonesia, with its fertile soils, wealth of natural resources
and strategic location, is certainly an important area to "control
or rely on." In a 1965 speech in Asia, Richard Nixon argued
in favor of bombing North Vietnam to protect the "immense
mineral potential" of Indonesia, which he later referred
to as "by far the greatest prize in the southeast Asian area."
To protect its prizes, the US eventually killed over four million
people in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos between 1965 and 1975. In
South Vietnam alone, the war resulted in a million widows and
879,000 orphans. It destroyed 9000 out of 15,000 hamlets, almost
40,000 square miles of farmland and 18,750 square miles of forest.
Such carnage indicates what the US would be willing to support
in Indonesia and East Timor.
In the late 1940s, US government and corporate leaders decided
to support Indonesian independence over the continuing instability
of Dutch rule (as mentioned above). To their chagrin, however,
the new Indonesian government became highly nationalistic, anti-imperialist
and non- aligned. Worried that the area might move beyond its
control, Washington began (in the 1950s) to curry favor with the
Indonesian army, through military assistance and training programs.
The US soon reaped the benefits of this policy. In 1965, using
an alleged Communist plot to overthrow the government as an excuse,
pro-US General Suharto assumed control of the military and launched
"one of the great slaughters of our time." Hundreds
of thousands of Indonesians were killed, mostly landless peasants
and members of the Communist Party of Indonesia (many of whose
names had been supplied to the army by the US Embassy in Jakarta)
Suharto's government repealed the previous regime's "extremely
restrictive" investment laws and paved the way for large-scale
foreign investment. By the 1970s, the US was investing more in
Indonesia than in any other Southeast Asian country, even the
Philippines. Part of that trade was arms-the State Department
estimates that US companies supplied about 90% of the weapons
used during the invasion of East Timor.
The Suharto regime's support for US and Western political objectives,
its liberal investment climate and its repressive labor conditions-the
minimum wage is less than $2 a day-make it very attractive to
Western companies. Under Suharto, Indonesia has developed into
a major center for international business operations. Extensive
mining, logging and oil extraction takes place there, as does
manufacturing by a wide variety of US companies, including Nike
and Levi Strauss.
Support for Indonesia's actions in East Timor and elsewhere is
a small price to pay for the investment opportunities (and political
support) Indonesia offers. So the US not only refused to condemn
the invasion, but sharply increased aid to Indonesia since then.
In the year following the invasion, the Ford administration more
than doubled its military assistance to Indonesia (to $146 million).
In late 1977, when it looked as if Indonesia might run out of
military equipment, the Carter "human rights" administration
authorized $112 million in commercial arms sales to Jakarta, up
almost 2000% from the previous fiscal year. US military sales
peaked during the Reagan administration, exceeding $1 billion
from 1982 to 1984. Over 2600 Indonesian military officers have
received training in the US since the invasion of East Timor,
under the International Military Education and Training Act (IMET).
As a State Department official explained shortly after the invasion:
"The United States wants to keep its relations with Indonesia
close and friendly. [It's] a nation we do a lot of business with.
Because the corporate media tend to follow the lead of their governments,
people in the West learned almost nothing about Indonesia's brutal
invasion and the ensuing war. When political parties in East Timor
were working toward independence from Portugal (in 1975), a number
of US newspapers reported on the process. But after the invasion,
news of East Timor largely disappeared from the Western press.
The Los Angeles Times is a typical example. From August 1975 until
the invasion on December 7, it ran sixteen articles dealing with
East Timor. But from March 1976 to November 1979-during a time
when Indonesia's occupation was described (in a report to the
Australian parliament) as "indiscriminate killing on a scale
unprecedented in post-World War II history"-East Timor wasn't
mentioned once. This neglect by the US media continued throughout
from the book
East Timor: Genocide in Paradise
by Matthew Jardine
published by Odonian Press
Tucson, AZ 85751