Fire and the Full Moon

Article excerpt

FIRE AND THE FULL MOON Canada and Indonesia in a Decolonizing World David Webster Vancouver University of British Columbia Press, 2009. 272PP, $32.95 paper ISBN 9780774816847

In standard texts on post-Second World War Canadian foreign policy, Indonesia is scarcely noted, and it receives only a rare mention in studies of Canadian overseas development assistance. It was only after the 1991 Dili massacre in East Timoi (which Indonesia invaded in 1975 and which achieved independence in 2002) that Canadian-Indonesian relations began to receive more attention. The focus, however, was primarily on East Timor and the coverage did not really touch on events before the 1970s. With Fire and the Full Moon, David Webster confronts these gaps in the literature, situating more recent developments within a larger historical trajectory of alliance-driven Canadian foreign policy, and tracing the influence of relations with Indonesia on Canada's self-perception as a helpful mediator in world affairs.

Indonesia, Webster reveals, has been a relatively marginal but recurrent concern for Canadian decision-makers since the Second World War. A great strength of this book is the detail it offers on relations between the two countries, especially during the first two decades after the war. As a work of history, it provides the first account of Canada's involvement in decolonization in and around Indonesia, with chapters devoted to the active part Canada played in the negotiations that led to Indonesian independence (1945-49), me minimal connections Canada forged with Indonesia through the Colombo plan (1950-63), the limited role Canada defined for itself during the international crises over the future of West New Guinea (1957-63) and British-administered territories in northern Borneo (1963-66), and the shift in emphasis from the promotion of Canadian economic interests to the pursuit of a political solution for East Timor (1968-99). In developing this historical narrative, which draws on extensive primary (especially archival) research, Webster recalls little-known aspects of Canadian-Indonesian relations, for instance that Canada supplied a Dutch division that fought in postwar Indonesia, opened its first southeast Asian embassy in Indonesia, and first sent military aid to the region in the 1960s in response to Indonesia's confrontational approach to northern Borneo. Moreover, aside from reconstructing these events in Canadian diplomatic history, Webster employs the Indonesian case to develop two core claims about the nature of Canadian foreign policy.

The first is that "Canadian government policies [towards Indonesia] on decolonization flowed from alliance-driven thinking" (4). Although others (such as Robert Bothwell) have made similar arguments, Webster reveals how the alliance mentality affected the margins (a decolonizing country) rather than the centre (western countries) of Canadian foreign policy. For example, in facilitating Indonesian independence, Canada sought an orderly process that would prevent splits within the Commonwealth and divisions with Holland and United States in the North Atlantic community. …