Beware of Those Bearing Gifts


Despite being a continent of its own, Australia is just as much a part of Asia as any other country in the region. Economically and politically, the giant "down under" has a huge stake in the future of Asia. It is therefore no surprise that Australia has pushed to lead U.N. peace-keeping troops into the troubled Indonesian province of East Timor. But beware of Greeks -- or in the case, maybe Australians -- bearing gifts.

As the United States has shown over the past 10 years, peacekeeping is as much a game of covert gerrymandering as it is a mission of peace and relief. By mixing the altruistic with the self-serving, the United States has effectively positioned itself to mold and shape the future of key regions of the world. Australia could very well be taking a chapter out the United States' book on foreign relations.

Indonesia therefore has every right to be concerned with Australia and other countries such as China, the United States and Portugal, who have expressed interest in donating troops to a U.N. force in East Timor.

While recent reports have stressed the very real humanitarian crisis in East Timor, they have also been quick to emphasize the economic importance of Indonesia in the 21st century. And it is not unrealistic to believe that were it not for the archipelago's vast oil and natural gas reserves, peacekeeping would be a much lower international priority.

Unfortunately Indonesia is ill-positioned to resolve its internal conflict. B.J. Habibie is living an ultra-lameduck, no-confidence existence, Indonesia's economy is still bottom feeding and Jakarta is either unable or unwilling to put the reigns on various militia and military elements in East Timor. Given these circumstances and Indonesia's strategic importance, it was but a matter of time before foreign forces weaseled their way onto Indonesian soil.

But by failing to keep its house in order, Indonesia will find that the gift of peace being offered by the United Nation will ensnare the island nation with an overwhelming number of strings attached to the proposition.

Ali Asadullah is the Editor of iviews.com


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