Toward a New Foreign Policy

By Abrash, Abigail | Foreign Policy in Focus, October 11, 2000 | Go to article overview
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Toward a New Foreign Policy

Abrash, Abigail, Foreign Policy in Focus

Key Recommendations

* The U.S. should recognize Papuans'
legitimate aspirations for self-determination
and offer concrete U.S.
support for efforts to resolve the
Papuan conflict peacefully.

* Washington should call for the
immediate cessation of Indonesia's
military build-up in Papua and for the
withdrawal of all Special Forces and
other troops.

* Through its foreign assistance and
subsidies to corporations, the U.S.
should ensure full respect for U.S.
and international standards
concerning human rights and
environmental protection.

Indonesia's current political transition offers unprecedented possibilities for achieving a lasting solution to the decades-old conflict in Papua. The Indonesian government has, for the first time, publicly acknowledged the human rights atrocities and inequitable social and economic dynamics that have strengthened Papuan independence aspirations. Government officials have moved to hold Freeport accountable for its environmental impact and have promised human rights investigations. They have also suggested that Papuans draft their own terms for autonomy, including special recognition of customary land rights and a far-greater share of the financial proceeds from resource exploitation.

These measures are important first steps, but they are inadequate: too little and too late to address Papuans' long-suppressed concerns regarding governance, land rights, natural resource use and management, and human rights. Such ad hoc measures are also destined to fail, because they lack an overall framework of bilateral and inclusive dialogue that does not presuppose outcomes.

The window of opportunity for peaceful conflict resolution is rapidly closing. The Wahid government's energies are dissipated amongst the myriad challenges of addressing the Suharto regime's legacies: endemic corruption, weak civilian law enforcement structures, a powerful and rights-abusing military, a failed economy, and interethnic and religious conflict. Meanwhile, Papuan leaders have toughened their stand for independence in the wake of renewed violence by Indonesian security forces in Papua.

The experience of the past four decades shows that Indonesia's use of military force will not achieve a lasting solution to the conflict. Simply reiterating U.S. support for the territorial integrity of Indonesia is an inadequate policy response. Instead, Washington should pursue a nuanced policy of officially recognizing the Papuans' legitimate aspirations for self-determination and explicitly stating U.S. readiness to support efforts to resolve the Papuan conflict peacefully, preferably through dialogue between Papuans and the Indonesian government or, if necessary, via a proper and valid self-determination exercise.

U.S. policy should use four guiding objectives: 1) demilitarization of--and an end to human rights violations in--Papua; 2) support for the consolidation of civilian-led democracy in Indonesia as a means of enhancing conditions for a nonviolent resolution of the conflict in Papua; 3) ensuring that U.S. foreign aid and export and investment assistance programs only strengthen Papuans' efforts for community-based and sustainable development; and 4) mobilizing international support for a nonviolent resolution of the conflict.

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