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Papuan self-determination - Historical roots IX

It's really pleasing to witness Webdiary developing a strength in regional affairs. Arie Brand was a United Nations operative in Irian Jaya when it was tranferred from Dutch to Indonesian rule. His excellent background history of Irian Jaya/West Papua is exclusive to Webdiary. Contents to date:

Part I Economically "worthless"?
Part II Papua as Indo-European 'homeland'
Part III Strategic Considerations
Part IV The Linggajati Agreement
Part V The Round Table Conference
Part VI 1950 -The first year test
Part VII Dutch-Indonesian relations - From bad to worse

A poorly briefed US Ambassador
by Arie Brand

The main factor that changed the international equation as far as Papua was concerned was that the Kennedy administration had come to power. It was briefed on the issue by, inter alia, its ambassador in Jakarta, Howard Palfrey Jones. This diplomat, who was supposed to have excellent personal relations with Sukarno, counseled the Kennedy government on the increasing danger that Sukarno might give up his nominally neutral position and make Indonesia slide into the communist camp. He reported that Sukarno brought up the Papua issue at virtually every conversation he had with him and that he had frankly mentioned the 'price' for US support. Jones wrote:

As the new American Ambassador to Indonesia, I inherited the West Irian impasse. It was not long before Sukarno was addressing me with the same words he had put to John Allison and Hugh Cumming before me. "If the United States Government will change its position on West Irian and support our claim, I will abandon neutrality between the two blocs and take sides with America - like that!" snapping his fingers (Jones H.P. 1971, Indonesia : The possible dream, New York p179).

Sukarno didn't seem to realise that he gave a rather clear indication of the nature of his government by suggesting that his country would completely change its foreign policy with a snap of his fingers. But that didn't seem to bother Jones overmuch. He just continued the line taken by his predecessor, John Allison, 'who had gone to Indonesia in the spring of 1957 … (and who was) bombarding the Department of State with telegrams to the effect that if we were to exercise any influence in Indonesia, we must come to terms with Sukarno on this question' (Jones op cit p178).

Jones did not just plead for US political support but also for the expansion of military aid - in competition with the Soviets who were supplying the Indonesian air force and navy with military hardware. Jones regarded the top brass of the Indonesian army as the most effective bulwark against the increasing influence of the Indonesian communist party, the PKI, and keeping them on side would thus tie in with the US's political goals. Bryan Evans writes:

Both the Indonesian government and the American Embassy in Jakarta saw the entry of the Kennedy administration as promising new opportunities for the expansion of military aid. Ambassador Jones was quick to grasp this opportunity, and wasted no time in sending a cable to Washington suggesting a complete reassessment of United States policy and courses of action in Indonesia. He followed this in March with a current assessment of the US military aid policy to Indonesia, and a proposal for a full scale MAP not tied to a military security pact. He asserted that, since the fundamental purpose in providing this aid was political, ie strengthening the anti-Communist leadership, the US had to recognise that decisions on equipment "must be based on Indonesia's own concepts of roles and missions, which are not confined to internal security" (Evans B 1989, The influence of the United States Army on the development of the Indonesian Army (1954 - 1964), Indonesia 47 p33).

If the Dutch had been able to see this telegram at the time these last words of Jones would have given them much to worry about.

In accordance with his intense preoccupation, during his time in Indonesia, with the issue of Papua, Ambassador Jones devoted a few chapters of his book to it. Remarkably enough he managed to do so without referring once to what the Dutch regarded as the main issue here, the matter of self-determination. Instead he made it appear that during the RTC-negotiations leading to the transfer of sovereignty, Dutch concern was merely with Indonesia's as yet insufficient capacity to adequately administer the area. Jones wrote:

During the discussions leading to the transfer of sovereignty, the Dutch argued successfully that the new Indonesian nation did not possess the civil service organization that would be required to take over, administer, and keep pacified this large undeveloped territory filled with warring tribes. They reasoned that the new Republic would have its hands full establishing authority over the vast territory of Indonesia (op cit p175).

Since Jones obviously agreed with what was according to him Indonesia's counter argument, namely that any such administrative inadequacy would only be temporary, the question where Papua should go was for him a 'legal-historical issue' where, in his view, the Indonesian position seemed to be stronger than that of the Dutch. The Netherlands, thought Jones, had transferred complete sovereignty over Indonesia to the Republic of the 'United States of Indonesia' and 'West New Guinea was unquestionably part of the territory known as Indonesia' (op cit p175) This claim of course begs the question.

It doesn't appear that Ambassador Jones was aware of the fact that Indonesia had refused a Dutch offer to take the matter to the International Court of Justice (the place for adjudicating on the legal side of this issue) but had knocked this back with the argument that this wasn't a legal but a political issue.

The reason why Ambassador Jones didn't spend a word on the issue of self-determination probably had, beside his apparent ignorance about the history of the conflict, also to do with his very strange notion of Papua as it was before the take-over by the Indonesians. He mentioned for instance talking to people in Dobo, an Indonesian island near Papua:

These people were not Papuans, they were Indonesians. Many, over the centuries, had settled on West Irian's coasts, leaving the interior's forbidding jungles to the savage tribes they had found there. These Papuan tribes had no common language, but the people on the coast used the same language as was spoken throughout the islands of Indonesia. The Deputy Chief of Mission of the American Embassy in Djakarta in 1962 through 1965, Francis J Galbraith, first learned to speak the Indonesian language when he was with Macarthur's forces in World War II in West New Guinea (op cit p180)

This shows remarkable ignorance. If Jones had, before the Indonesian take-over, taken the trouble to visit Papua (which to my knowledge he never did) he would have noticed that these people on the coast speaking Indonesian with outsiders were... Papuans and that the preciously few Indonesians who were around back then included the Ambonese and Keiese village teachers from whom they had learned the language (that the language of instruction in the village schools was Indonesian was government policy - it had in fact very little choice in the matter).

Jones' suggestion that the Papuans consisted of 'savage tribes' living in 'the interior's forbidding jungle' whereas the coast of Papua was allegedly settled by Indonesians is, to any one who knew the territory from before the take over, simply risible.

One cannot help but be amazed by the fact that an American ambassador who encountered the problem of Papua as the main issue between his country and Indonesia apparently made no effort to brief himself otherwise than through talks with Indonesian politicians.

Even in 1971, when his book appeared, the only halfway scholarly publication he referred to was Robert Bone's minor thesis (The Dynamics of the West New Guinea (Irian Barat) problem, Cornell Interim Report Series 1962) which Jones called 'one of the few scholarly analyses that have been made on the roots of the dispute' and 'an excellent discussion of the entire issue' (op cit p176).

I wouldn't have devoted so much space to Jones' lightweight book were it not that it came from the pen of a man who presumably had considerable influence on the US changing course on the issue.

The image of the Papuans as a bunch of savage, stone age and illiterate tribes persisted in American ambassadorial reporting from Indonesia right up to the so-called 'act of free choice' in 1969 and helped to gloss over the fact that this so-called plebiscite was an obvious fraud. Jim Lobe wrote:

...US officials were always doubtful whether even a free plebiscite would make any sense in any case. One 1968 telegram from US Ambassador Marshall Green in Jakarta stresses that "we are dealing here essentially with stone age illiterate tribal groups" and that "free elections among groups such as this would be more of a farce than any rigged mechanism Indonesia could devise." At another point, Green expresses concern that UN special Representative for West Irian, Ortiz Sanz, may not be sufficiently aware of these "political realities" and should be "made aware" of them. (Oneworld.net, 12th July 2004)

I believe it to be characteristic of the ignorance and the disdain at the basis of these American ambassadorial reports that Green obviously didn't know that the Dutch had organized successful elections for the New Guinea Council almost ten years earlier. Admittedly they hadn't managed to get the whole of the population to vote - but yet it was a genuine consultation of the people, which the Indonesian exercise in 1969 was designed not to be.

To be continued

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