Konfrontasi and Australia's Aid to Indonesia during the 1960s

By van der Eng, Pierre | The Australian Journal of Politics and History, March 2009 | Go to article overview

Konfrontasi and Australia's Aid to Indonesia during the 1960s


van der Eng, Pierre, The Australian Journal of Politics and History


Introduction

Recent studies have explored the diplomatic and security aspects of the "confrontation" (konfrontasi) which occurred in 1963-65 between Indonesia and Malaysia--the latter supported by a coalition of the UK, Australia and New Zealand. (1) Some studies focus on Australia's involvement in konfrontasi, its impact on Australia's foreign policy more generally, on Australian military operations in Malaysia, and the political repercussions of Australia's involvement in the conflict. (2) Others examine Australia's foreign aid program during the 1950s and 1960s and a few focus upon Indonesia. (3)

None discuss the implications of konfrontasi for Australia's budding foreign aid program, and none explain in any detail why the Australian government continued its aid to Indonesia, despite hostilities between Australian and Indonesian forces in Malaysia during 1964-65. Only Gary Woodard offers a brief explanation where he considers Australia's handling of konfrontasi as "a case-study of best practice in crisis management": (4) aid to Indonesia served a humanitarian purpose and had to continue, because part of Australia's strategy was to keep the lines of communication with Indonesia open, while using international diplomacy to avert a military escalation of the conflict. This is plausible, but it ignores the fact that Australia's largest aid project in the 1960s, the Aeronautical Fixed Telecommunication Network (AFTN) project, did not directly serve a humanitarian purpose.

Australia's Aid Program in Indonesia in the 1950s and 1960s

One of the pillars of Australian post-war foreign policy was the development of friendly and cooperative relations with Asian countries. Foreign aid was part of that effort, particularly bilateral aid under the Colombo Plan. Australian governments gave foreign aid for a mix of reasons including altruism, a concern to combat communism and diplomatic manoeuvring. But they publicly emphasised altruism which both secured bipartisan political support in Australia and forestalled the need to otherwise justify aid policies. (5) Projects and programs were selected on a case-by-case basis, depending on initiatives taken by Australian diplomatic missions to initiate projects that seemed to meet current needs and Australia's capacity to support and capability to supply. Until 1973, the Commonwealth Department of External Affairs (DEA)--in particular the Directorate of Colombo Plan Supplies (1952-63) and the Directorate of External Aid Procurement (1963-74)--acted as a repository of experience and a source of advice and encouragement, while the Department of Education administered student exchange programs. The Treasury and the Cabinet set the upper limits on expenditure. (6) The opportunity cost of aid resources was not considered, and the efficiency and effectiveness of the delivery mechanisms were seldom reviewed.

During the 1950s and 1960s Australia supported a modest program of aid to Indonesia. Despite geographical proximity, Australia's pre-war relations with Indonesia had been limited. However the 1942-45 Japanese occupation of Indonesia made Australia acutely aware of its northern neighbour. It supported Indonesia's independence in 1949. During the 1950s, Australian foreign ministers and diplomats successfully built goodwill in Indonesia towards Australia until the bilateral relationship became strained during the West New Guinea dispute (see below). Australian food aid to Indonesia was distributed through agencies of the United Nations (UN) and remained piecemeal until Indonesia joined the Colombo Plan in 1953. Thereafter Australian aid increased, but remained modest compared to aid provided by others, particularly the USA and, later, the USSR. (7) Figure 1 shows that Indonesia received 2 to 3 per cent of Australia's total aid during the 1950s. Australia's aid reached Indonesia in two ways: either via multilateral channels such as the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Bank or via projects under the Colombo Plan. …

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