Good United States Decision-Making Regarding East Timor, 1999 Research Paper Example

Type of paper: Research Paper

Topic: United States, Politics, Policy, Belief, Humanitarian, Nation, United Nations, Security

Pages: 5

Words: 1375

Published: 2020/11/16

Each country or socio-political regional unit has a right to its own hegemonic control over its jurisdiction, and to conduct its governance in ways that benefit the people of their own society. East Timor is no different. Yet, security issues, clashes over powers of ruler ship, which are sometimes entwined with a scramble for natural resources can complicate national and global issues. War accelerates unpleasant and tragic outcomes, particularly when bloody deaths involve youth and families torn apart. According to Berlie (2010) East Timor is rich in oil and gas royalty resources, and is a “complex” society of around “14 ethno-linguistic groups,” but the youth are quite modern “and constitute a challenging question for East Timorese society,” with approximately one third of its age group between 15 and 29 years old (p. 950). Also, according to a United States Government FAS report entitled, ‘East Timor: Political Dynamics, Development, and International Involvement’ East Timor had a background of Portuguese colonial rule. According to the same article, approximately twenty years before the war troubles broke out in 1999, Indonesia’s seizure and annexation “of East Timor as its 27th province was not recognized by the United Nations” (“East Timor: Political Dynamics,” 2009, p. 7). As a result, a national referendum considered a decision in collaboration with the United Nations of whether East Timor would: (a) retain autonomy within, or under the auspices of Indonesia, or (b) claim its complete independence altogether. This research paper explores an analysis regarding United States’ decision-making regarding the situation in East Timor in 1999.
One prime question driving an understanding asks: Did the U.S. Government generally act in an ad hoc manner or did it develop effective strategies to integrate its national security resources? While it is true that political opinions may agree or disagree with methods, strategies, or intentions it is necessary at this point to review a few of the known facts pertaining to the state of affairs in East Timor at the time. As the tensions mounting, around the decision to stay autonomous under Indonesian rule or to go completely independent, elections occurred on August 30, 1999. The FAS (2009) report documents that “Seventy-eight percent of the 98.6% of registered voters who voted opted for independence. This led to widespread retaliation and destruction by prointegrationist militias backed by elements of the Indonesian military who were in favor of integration with Indonesia” (p. 7). Despite U.N. presence, in terms of supervision, the resulting destruction calculated well approximately 1,500 Timorese deaths and over a quarter million displaced in West, and nearly as many in East Timor. Around the same time frame United States’ involvement was on a path to deliver humanitarian aid to East Timor, and according to FAS (2009) U.S. Government report sought to assist in terms of economic and to aid political development in several ways. These efforts would contract to lend support of independent media, and strengthen areas of “electoral process,” political party organization, as well as a shoring up of “judicial institutions” (FAS, 2009, p.16). In order to move towards commentary about the level and nature of U.S. agency coordination and implementation of strategic involvement, an examination of foreign policy towards the region helps foster a deeper understanding.
As aforementioned in this research paper, not all political stakeholders or players will agree with national or global intentions regarding East Timor in 1999. Therefore, it is important to try and include various viewpoints. In terms of establishing a background portrait of U.S. foreign policy in the region, an East Timor ‘Question-and-Answers’ series by politico-economic philosophers and observers Noam Chomsky, and two colleagues lend their perceptions. According to Chomsky, et al. (1999) in trying to figure out or reckon what United States policy was towards East Timor, “In the aftermath of World War II, U.S. policy toward the Asian colonies of the European powers followed a simple rule: where the nationalists in a territory were leftist (as in Vietnam), Washington would support the re-imposition of European colonial rule” (“East Timor Questions,” 1999). The same source recognized an opinion and observation that the state of East Timor became involved with Indonesia. The idea reflects that while East Timor lay under the control of Portugal, then Indonesia would leave it alone and neglect any consideration of attack. But, Chomsky et al. (1999) report that “once Lisbon declared its intention to withdraw, the Suharto regime saw an opportunity to add to its territory and resources” because once Portugal had announced plans to retreat, Indonesian official forces deemed East Timor an “easy target” since the Indonesian population consisted of nearly 150 million – in light of the lesser populace of 700,000 East Timorese (“East Timor Questions,” 1999). If these considerations represent a semblance of factual accounts, in assessing U.S. political foreign policy towards Asian so-called ‘leftist’ leaning nations then any attitude or stance – regardless of what that was – will naturally shape and inform how U.S. agencies might work together to implement its ad hoc strategies.
Perhaps the argument rests upon whether the United States acted in an ad hoc manner for helping to deliver humanitarian aid to the East Timor, or for some other ‘ad hoc’ purpose in mind. When any consideration or thought tries to assess how well United States agencies and departments worked together to implement, or integrate strategies seems to have aspects that become clearer in hindsight of the situation. According to a CATO report by Leon Hadar (1999) there was both national (domestically driven) and “international pressure on Washington to use U.S. military power to resolve the crisis,” and the Clinton doctrinal Administration held that the United States – in terms of dealing with the “international community” – held a responsible obligatory duty “to violate the principle of state sovereignty to protect the rights of a persecuted minority” (p. 1). This stance led to expectations that the United States would prepare for some kind of engagement to help mitigate an unstable situation, and Hadar (1999) states “Australia expressed its readiness to lead a peacekeeping operation” requesting that the U.S. to commit to a contribution of troops on the ground (p. 2). Amidst all the intense pressure on the United States, a crossroads of which came from humanitarian groups, media organizations, and academic scholars the situation, under the Clinton administration deemed the occurrences of bloodshed and violence in East Timor as a “humanitarian disaster,” leading the U.S. Department of State to leverage the similar terminology “employed to characterize the conditions in Kosovo on the eve of the American-led intervention there” (Hadar, 1999, p. 4). The concept entailed that diplomatic, and obviously military might, would use an attempt to avert any ‘ethnic-cleansing’ type of situation happening in Indonesia.
United States agencies’ and departments’ coordinated efforts involved casting financial support to the UN mission-effort in East Timor. Congressional allocation officially provided, “assistance and election monitoring,” while “American police personnel” deployed to join an international liaison of “280 foreign police” members to “help provide security during the elections” there (Hadar, 1999, p. 4). At this point it is necessary to try and unravel some of the variables that explain the strengths and weaknesses of the United States’ response to get involved in the first place. In the course of any analysis or discussion about the invasion and bloody war between Indonesian nationalists against East Timor, between the mid-1970s and leading up until 1999, the notion and concept of the ‘Clinton Doctrine’ keeps surfacing. What is the Clinton Doctrine, and how might it relate to strengths or weaknesses in the response? According to one policy analysis article, the doctrine hints at only intervening “when there is no vital national security interest,” but in terms of global issues the humanitarian rights preventative measures can be viewed as a strength (“Policy Analysis Clinton Doctrine,” 1997). A weaknesses may derive from the fact surrounding the complex decisions to enter and intervene into another country’s sovereign national space, in the first place.
It can be extremely complicated to make these kinds of decisions, especially in the global context of the modern world. Questions obviously involve those of a political and economic nature, along with security issues and treaty – or international legal obligations – and these inputs only make assessments more difficult. To somewhat assess the diplomatic achievements resulting in success, an observation and comparison that the Clinton Doctrine accorded aid in the Kosovo to end crimes against humanity. A combination of diplomatic and financial achievements created successes in East Timor stabilization as a result of U.S. multi-agency sustained intervention. For example, the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) and USAID (United States Agency for International Development), in conjunction with the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance (DCHA) have provided food and relief in East Timor. In terms of costs, “the United States continues to draw on both OFDA and FFP (Food for Peace Program) in its humanitarian efforts,” while actually “funding a number of partners” to implement assistance along the way (FAS, 2009, p.17). These financials have been steered towards efforts to assist in coordinating information management tasks so correlated, improve hygiene and sanitation factors, and peacebuilding provisions of shelter with “psychosocial services to affected populations” (FAS, 2009, p. 17). The financial or diplomatic failures may include hesitancy to act quickly enough to save the lives that were lost in East Timor, or stretching an already over-burdened U.S. budgetary reality to continue to help.
Nevertheless, by the time of Fiscal Year 2008, OFDA had provided somewhere around $1.2 million. Adding these funds to those contributed by the FFP, Office of Conflict Management and Mitigation (CMM) and USAID – a total of slightly over $3.1 million to East Timor has alleviated some of the effects of the tragic war in 1999 and there were disagreements and discrepancies if the UN should withdraw its presence in 2005, deeming that East Timor was not quite ready, with State institutions still trembling on shaky ground. By 2006, a clear need for continued security measured were demonstrated, but final opinions are a mixed bag. It has been observed that United States’ relations with East Timor were complicated by U.S. ties to its former relationship with Indonesia, especially as pertains to Jakarta’s struggle to capture hegemony over East Timor. Currently both Indonesians and East Timorese work towards a better future, however the human rights-security concerns by the United States hover its policies over the factor of East Timor’s one-million population, in comparison to Indonesia’s 230 million. At the end of the day, time will tell about any long-term successes and failures.


Berlie, J.A. (2010). East Timor: A dependent state expert in mass communication. Asian
Federation of American Scientists – FAS. (2009). East Timor: Political dynamics, development,
and international involvement (CRS Congressional Research Report Publication No.
7-5700 RL33994). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
George Washington University Archive. (2005). A quarter century of U.S. support for
occupation – East Timor Truth Commission report uses declassified U.S. documents to
call for reparations from U.S. for its support of Indonesian invasion and occupation of
East Timor from 1975 until U.N. sponsored vote in 1999 [Data file]. Retrieve from
Hadar, L.T. (1999, December 20). East Timor and the ‘Slippery Slope’ Problem. Retrieved from
Shalom, S.R., Chomsky, N., & Albert, M. (1999, October). East Timor questions & answers
[Data file]. Retrieved from
U.N. (2002). East Timor – UNTAET background [Data file]. Retrieved from
The Washington Institute. (1997). Policy analysis – The Clinton Doctrine [Data file]. Retrieved

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