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Sauce for the goose

February 26th, 2003

In today’s Oz Janet Albrechtsen attacks taxpayer-funded groups who support Australian intervention to secure independence for West Papua. Coincidentally or otherwise, there’s an almost identical piece in the Fin from Don D’Cruz of the Institute for Public Affairs. But what’s really striking about Albrechtsen’s piece is this observation

Maybe they miss the irony. They argue regime change in Iraq, a country enslaved by an oppressive dictator, will inflame hatred across the Muslim world, especially Indonesia. Yet their support for regime change in West Papua threatens to do exactly that. They demand we be sensitive to Indonesian concerns over Iraq yet they advocate a destruction of Indonesia’s sovereignty over West Papua.

I know irony isn’t Janet’s strong point, but I’m sure at least some readers will recognise the irony in an accusation of hypocrisy that works just as well in reverse. The arguments on regime change regarding West Papua are very similar to those on Iraq. If we choose to disregard both the principles of international law and the likelihood of adverse long-term consequences, and make optimistic military assumptions it’s possible to make a very strong case for an Australian invasion to throw the Indonesians out and institute a democratic government. Assuming that an invasion of Iraq succeeds, and that it is undertaken despite the opposition of the UNSC, considerations of international law will cease to be relevant, and arguments based on prudential concerns and military caution will be discredited to a significant extent. So why doesn’t Albrechtsen, along with other supporters of unilateral war, favour the liberation of West Papua?

Update Both Bargarz and Scott Wickstein have responded, suggesting I’ve mistakenly assumed they are opposed to the liberation of West Papua. Both give information on the evils of Indonesian rule and the dubious processes that led to its international recognition. I agree with all of this, as with the moral case against Saddam Hussein – as I said, “it’s possible to make a very strong case for an Australian invasion to throw the Indonesians out and institute a democratic government”.

But when I asked about support for “the liberation of West Papua”, I meant it literally. I’m asking why supporters of war with Iraq don’t advocate an effort by the Australian government, backed by the threat of military force, to secure independence for West Papua. As I read Scott and Bargarz, they back off at this point, for precisely the same kinds of reasons as millions of people who have nothing but contempt for Saddam Hussein back off from the idea of a war to overthrow him.

To offer my substantive views on West Papua and Aceh, I believe the best hope lies in a combination of some form of regional autonomy and the removal of the corrupt military elements that controlled both areas under Suharto and continue to have far too much power today. Good progress is being made in Aceh, and this is the most promising path for West Papua also.

Finally, I will pre-emptively withdraw the suggestion of inconsistency in relation to anyone who supports war with both Iraq and Indonesia.

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