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The disputed territory of West Papua

The Western New Guinea dispute (1950–1962), also known as the West Irian dispute, was a diplomatic and political conflict between the Netherlands and Indonesia over the territory of Netherlands New Guinea. While the Netherlands had ceded sovereignty to Indonesia on 27 December 1949 following a violent independence struggle, the Indonesian government had always claimed the Dutch-controlled half of New Guinea on the basis that it had belonged to the Netherlands East Indies and that the new Republic of Indonesia was the legitimate successor to the former Dutch colony.[1] During the first phase of the West Irian dispute (1950–1954), Indonesia pursued bilateral negotiations with the Netherlands. During the second phase (1954–1958), Indonesia attempted to raise support for its territorial claims in the United Nations General Assembly.[2]

During the third phase (1960–1962), Indonesia pursued a policy of Confrontation against the Netherlands which combined diplomatic, political, and economic pressure with limited military force.[2] The final stage of the Indonesian Confrontation also involved a planned military invasion of the territory. The Indonesians also secured military weapons and political support from the Soviet Union, which induced the United States to intervene in the conflict as a third-party mediator between Indonesia and the Netherlands.[3] Following the New York Agreement on 15 August 1952, the Netherlands, under American pressure, handed Western New Guinea over to a United Nations Temporary Executive Authority, which subsequently handed the territory over to Indonesia in 31 May 1963.[4] Following a controversial plebiscite in 1969, Western New Guinea was formally integrated into Indonesia.[5]

Historical Background

Prior to the arrival of the Dutch, two Indonesian principalities known as the Sultanate of Tidore and the Sultanate of Ternate claimed suzerainty over Western New Guinea. The island territory was viewed by these sultanates as a source of spices, bird of paradise feathers, resins, and Papuan slaves. In 1828, the Netherlands established a settlement in Western New Guinea and also proclaimed sovereignty over the part of the island lying west of 141 degrees longitude. Dutch activity in New Guinea was minimal until 1898 when the Dutch established an administrative centre, which was subsequently followed by missionaries and traders. Under Dutch rule, commercial links were developed between Western New Guinea and Eastern Indonesia. In 1883, New Guinea was divided between the Netherlands, Britain, and Germany; with Australia occupying the German territory in 1914. In 1901, the Netherlands formally purchased Western New Guinea from the Sultanate of Tidore, incorporating it into the Netherlands East Indies.[6][7] During World War Two, Western New Guinea was occupied by the Japanese but was later recaptured by the Allies, who restored Dutch rule over the territory.

Following the Indonesian National Revolution, the Netherlands formally transferred sovereignty to the United States of Indonesia, the successor state to the Netherlands East Indies, on 27 December 1949. However, the Dutch refused to include Netherlands New Guinea in the new Indonesian Republic and took steps to prepare it for independence as a separate country. Following the failure of the Dutch and Indonesians to resolve their differences over West New Guinea during the Dutch-Indonesian Round Table Conference in late 1949, it was decided that the present status quo of the territory would be maintained and then negotiated bilaterally one year after the date of the transfer of sovereignty. This decision was influenced by Horace Merle Cochran, the American moderator who later served as the United States' first Ambassador to Indonesia.[8] However, both sides were still unable to resolve their differences in 1950, which led the Indonesian President Sukarno to accuse the Dutch of reneging on their promises to negotiate the handover of the territory. On 17 August 1950, Sukarno dissolved the United States of Indonesia and proclaimed a unitary Republic of Indonesia.[9]

The Dutch argued that the territory did not belong to Indonesia because the Melanesian West Papuans were ethnically and geographically different from Indonesians, had always been administrated separately, did not participate in the Indonesian Revolution, and that the West Papuans did not want to be under Indonesian control.[10] Other underlying reasons included West New Guinea's lucrative economic resources, its strategic importance as a Dutch naval base, and its potential role for housing the Netherlands' surplus population including Eurasians who had become displaced by the Indonesian Revolution. The Dutch also wanted to maintain a regional presence and to secure their economic interests in Indonesia.[11]

Meanwhile, the Indonesians regarded Western New Guinea as an intrinsic part of Indonesia on the basis that Indonesia was the successor to the Netherlands East Indies. These sentiments were reflected in the popular Indonesian revolutionary slogan "Indonesia Free—from Sabang to Merauke.[12][13] Indonesian irredentist sentiments were also inflamed by the fact that several Indonesian political prisoners had been interned at a remote prison camp north of Merauke called Boven-Digoel prior to World War II.[14] Sukarno also contended that the continuing Dutch presence in Western New Guinea was an obstacle to the process of nation-building in Indonesia and that it would also encourage secessionist movements.[15]

The Failure of Diplomacy

Formal bilateral negotiations between the Netherlands and Indonesia regarding the status of West New Guinea took place at The Hague between December 1950 and January 1952. These negotiations failed to produce an agreement and the States General of the Netherlands voted to incorporate New Guinea into the realm of the Netherlands on 15 February 1952. After that, the Netherlands refused further discussion on the question of sovereignty and considered the issue to be closed.[16] In response, President Sukarno adopted a more forceful stance towards the Dutch. Initially, he unsuccessfully tried to force the Indonesian government to abrogate the Round Table agreements and to adopt economic sanctions but was rebuffed by the Natsir Cabinet Undeterred by this setback, Sukarno made recovering West Irian an important priority of his presidency and sought to harness popular support from the Indonesian public for this goal throughout many of his speeches between 1951 and 1952. In response to Sukarno's demand that diplomacy be backed by action, the government of Prime Minister Ali Sastroamidjojo began authorizing limited incursions into the territory from 1954.[17]

By 1953, the West Irian dispute had become the central issue in Indonesian domestic politics. All political parties across the Indonesian political spectrum, particularly the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), supported Sukarno's efforts to integrate West Irian into the Indonesian Republic. According to the historians Audrey and George McTurnan Kahin, the PKI's pro-integration stance helped the party to rebuild its political base and to further its credentials as a nationalist Communist Party that supported Sukarno.[16] In 1954, Indonesia decided to take the West New Guinea dispute to the United Nations and succeeded in having it placed on the agenda for the upcoming ninth session. In response, the Dutch Ambassador to the United Nations, Herman van Roijen, warned that the Netherlands would ignore any recommendations which might be made by the UN regarding the West Irian dispute.[18] Over the following years, Indonesia attempted to pass three resolutions on the West Irian issue in 1956, 1957, and 1961 but all of these failed to obtain the necessary two-thirds majority. During the Bandung Conference in 1955, Indonesia succeeded in securing a resolution supporting its claim to Western New Guinea from the Afro-Asian countries.[19] In addition, Indonesia was supported by the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies.[20]

Meanwhile, the Netherlands' stance on Western New Guinea was supported by the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. However, these countries were unwilling to commit to providing military support to the Netherlands in the event of a conflict with Indonesia. The Eisenhower Administration were open to non-violent territorial changes but rejected the use of any military means to resolve the West Irian dispute. While the United Kingdom was unwilling to provided military support to the Netherlands, the British government still warned Jakarta that it would assist the Netherlands through other means.[21][22]

The Australian Menzies Government welcomed the Dutch presence in Western New Guinea as an "essential link" in its national defence since it also administrated a trust territory in the eastern half of New Guinea. Unlike its Labor Party successor which had supported the Indonesian nationalists, the Menzies Government viewed Indonesia as a potential threat to its national security.[23][24] The New Zealand government accepted the Dutch argument that the West Papuans were culturally different from the Indonesians and thus supported maintaining Dutch sovereignty over the territory until the Papuans were ready for self-rule. Australia, New Zealand, and other Western governments also voted against resolutions in the United Nations favoring an Indonesian solution to the West Irian dispute.[25]

The Road to Confrontation

In February 1957, the United Nations General Assembly had turned down a proposal for a Good Offices Committee, similar to the one during the Indonesian Revolution, to facilitate negotiations between Indonesia and the Netherlands. Later, in November 1957, a United Nations motion calling on the two parties to negotiate a solution to the West Irian dispute failed to secure the necessary two-thirds majority. In response to these diplomatic setbacks, President Sukarno stepped up political, economic and military pressure on the Netherlands in 1957, which corresponded with a spike in anti-Dutch sentiment among the Indonesian public. Anti-Dutch hostility also escalated following a failed assassination attempt on Sukarno in Cikini. Following the defeat of the West Irian motion in November 1957, the Indonesian government embarked on a national campaign targeting Dutch economic interests in Indonesia; leading to the withdrawal of the Dutch flag carrier KLM's landing rights, mass demonstrations, and the seizure of the Dutch shipping line Koninklijke Paketvaart-Maatschappij (KPM), Dutch-owned banks, and other estates. By January 1958, ten thousand Dutch nationals had left Indonesia, many returning to the Netherlands. This spontaneous nationalization had adverse repercussions on the Indonesian economy, disrupting communications and affecting the production of exports.[26][27]

President Sukarno also abandoned efforts to raise the West New Guinea dispute at the 1958 United Nations General Assembly, claiming that reason and persuasion had failed.[27] Sukarno also developed closer relations with the Soviet Union, which shared Indonesia's anti-colonial outlook. In July 1959, the Indonesian government adopted a policy of confrontation against the Dutch and increased military incursions into West New Guinea.[28] Later that year, the Soviet government decided to supply the warships and other military hardware directly to the Indonesians. By 1965, the Indonesian Navy had grown to 103 combatants and other auxiliaries (including a cruiser, 12 submarines, and 16 destroyers/frigates). Due to Soviet military aid, the Indonesian Navy became the second most potent force in East Asia after China. Similarly, the Indonesian Air Force benefited from an infusion of Soviet military hardware and training, developing a long-range capability.[29]

Following a sustained period of harassment against Dutch diplomatic representatives in Jakarta, the Indonesian government formally severed relations with the Netherlands in August 1960.[30] In response to Indonesian aggression, the Netherlands government stepped up its efforts to prepare the Papuan people for self-determination in 1959. These efforts culminated in the establishment of a hospital in Hollandia (modern–day Jayapura), a shipyard in Manokwari, agricultural research sites, plantations and a military force known as the Papuan Volunteer Corps. By 1960, a legislative New Guinea Council had been established with a mixture of legislative, advisory and policy functions had been established. Half of its members were to be elected and elections for this council were held the following year.[31][32] Most importantly, the Dutch also sought to create a sense of West Papuan national identity and these efforts led to the creation of a national flag (the Morning Star flag), a national anthem, and a coat of arms. The Dutch had planned to transfer independence to West New Guinea in 1970.[33]

By 1960, other countries in the Asia-Pacific region had taken notice of the West Irian dispute and began proposing initiatives to end the dispute. During a visit to the Netherlands, the New Zealand Prime Minister Walter Nash suggested the idea of a united New Guinea state, consisting of both Dutch and Australian territories. This idea received little support from other Western governments. Later that year, the Malayan Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman proposed a three-step initiative, which involved West New Guinea coming under United Nations trusteeship. The joint administrators would be three non-aligned nations Ceylon, India, and Malaya, which supported Indonesia's position on West Irian. This solution involved the two belligerents, Indonesia and the Netherlands, re-establishing bilateral relations and the return of Dutch assets and investments to their owners. However, this initiative was scuttled in April 1961 due to opposition from the Indonesian Foreign Minister Subandrio, who publicly attacked the Tunku's proposal.[34]

Operation Trikora

On 19 December 1961, Indonesia's policy of confrontation over the West New Guinea dispute reached a climax when President Sukarno decreed the establishment of the People's Triple Command or Tri Komando Rakyat (Trikora) with the objective of forcibly annexing by 1 January 1963. Trikora's operational command was to be called the Mandala Command for the Liberation of West Irian (Komando Mandala Pembebasan Irian Barat) and was placed under the command of Major-General Suharto, the future President of Indonesia. In preparation for the planned invasion, the Mandala command began making land, air, and sea incursions into West Irian. General Suharto also planned to launch a full-scale amphibious operation invasion of West Irian known as Operation Jayawijaya (or Operation Djajawidjaja). To build up public support for the war effort, Sukarno embarked on a policy of "progressive mobilization" to prepare the nation to carry out his commands.[13][35][36] According to the political scientists Soedjati Djiwandono and Bilveer Singh, the substantial Soviet military assistance to Indonesia and Indonesia's military incursions into West Irian ultimately convinced the United States government of the credibility of Indonesia's threat to use force. This led the United States to intervene diplomatically to bring a peaceful solution to the dispute.[37][38]

In response to Indonesia aggression, the Netherlands increased its military presence and intelligence-gathering efforts in West New Guinea. Since 15 April 1954, the Royal Netherlands Navy had been responsible for the territorial defence of West New Guinea.[39] A signals intelligence agency known as Marid 6 Netherlands New Guinea (NNG) was also established in April 1955 to provide the Netherlands New Guinea authorities with intelligence on Indonesian intentions towards West Irian. One of Marid 6 NNG's successes was providing early warning of Indonesian plans to seize all KPM ships and facilities in December 1957. This enabled the Dutch authorities to evacuate 45 of these 83 ships. Later, Marid 6 NNG helped Dutch naval units to recapture the KPM ships.[40] In 1962, the Royal Netherlands Navy deployed a task group, which included the aircraft carrier HNLMS Karel Doorman, to West New Guinea.[41]

On 15 January 1962, the Indonesian Navy attempted to land a force of 150 marines near Vlakke Hoek, on West Irian's south coast. The Indonesians had intended to raise the Indonesian flag on Dutch territory in order to weaken the Netherland's position during the ongoing negotiations in New York. However, Marid 6 NNG managed to intercept Indonesian radio messages and learnt about the Indonesian plans. In response, the Dutch authorities deployed a Lockheed Neptune patrol aircraft and three naval destroyers to intercept the four Indonesian motor torpedo-boats. During the ensuing Vlakke Hoek incident, one of the boat was sunk while the remaining three boats were forced to retreat. This operation ended disastrously for the Indonesian side, with many crew members and embarked marines being killed and 55 survivors taken prisoner. Among the casualties was Commodore Yos Sudarso, the deputy chief of the Indonesian Navy Staff.[42]

On 24 June 1962, four Indonesian Air Force C-130 Hercules jets dropped 213 paratroopers near Merauke. Throughout the year, a total of 1,200 Indonesian paratroopers and 340 naval infiltrators landed in West New Guinea. By mid-1962, the Indonesian military had begun preparations to launch a full-scale invasion of Dutch New Guinea known as Operation Jayawijaya around August 1962. This operation was to be carried out in four phases and would have involved joint air and naval strikes against Dutch airfields, paratroop and amphibious landings at Biak and Sentani, and a ground assault on the territory's capital Hollandia. Unknown to the Indonesians, Marid 6 NNG had intercepted Indonesian transmissions and obtained intelligence on the Indonesian battle order and the timing of the attack. However, a ceasefire agreement between the Dutch and Indonesians, which facilitated the transfer of West New Guinea to Indonesia control by 1963, was signed on 15 August. As a result, the Indonesian military cancelled Operation Jayawijaya on 17 August 1962.[43]

The Road to Annexation

By 1961, the Netherlands government was struggling to find adequate international support for its policy to prepare West New Guinea for independent status under Dutch guidance. While the Netherlands' traditional Western allies—the United States, Great Britain, Australia, and New Zealand—were sympathetic to Dutch policy, they were unwilling to provide any military support in the event of conflict with Indonesia. The new Kennedy Administration feared an Indonesian drift towards Communism and wanted to court Sukarno away from the Soviet Bloc and Communist China.[44] The United States government also wanted to repair relations with Jakarta, which had deteriorated due to the Eisenhower Administration's covert support for the Permesta/PRRI regional uprisings in Sumatra and Sulawesi.[45] The Indonesian threat to invade West Irian, plus the substantial Soviet military assistance to the Indonesian military, convinced the Kennedy Administration to pressure the Dutch to seek a peaceful solution to the conflict.[38]

The New York Agreement was the result of negotiations that were spearheaded by the American diplomat Ellsworth Bunker. As a face-saving measure fore the Dutch, Bunker arranged for a Dutch-Indonesian ceasefire which would be followed by the handover of Western New Guinea on 1 October to a temporary United Nations Temporary Executive Authority (UNTEA). On 1 May 1963, Indonesia formally annexed Western New Guinea. As part of the New York Agreement, it was stipulated that a popular plebiscite would be held in 1969 to determine whether the West Papuans would chose to remain in Indonesia or seek self-determination.[46] However, American efforts to win over Sukarno proved futile and Indonesia turned its attention to the former British colony of Malaysia, resulting in the Indonesian-Malaysian Confrontation. Ultimately, President Sukarno was overthrown during the Indonesian coup d'état in 1965 and was replaced by the pro-Western Suharto.[13][47] In addition, the American mining company Freeport-McMoRan was interested in exploiting Western New Guinea's cooper and gold deposits.[48]

Following the Act of Free Choice plebiscite in 1969, West Papua was formally integrated into the Republic of Indonesia. Instead of a referendum of the 816,000 Papuans, only 1,022 Papuan tribal representatives were allowed to vote and all of these were coerced into voting in favor of integration. While several international observers including journalists and diplomats criticized the referendum as being rigged, the United States and Australia support Indonesia's efforts to secure acceptance in the United Nations for the pro-integration vote. 84 member states voted in favor for the United Nations to accept the result, with 30 others abstaining.[49] Due to the Netherlands' efforts to promote a West Papuan national identity, a significant number of West Papuans refused to accept the territory's integration into Indonesia. These formed the separatist Organisasi Papua Merdeka (Free Papua Movement) and have waged an insurgency against the Indonesian authorities, which still continues to this day.[50][51]

Further reading

Notes and references

  1. Bob Catley and Vinsensio Dugis, The Garuda and The Kangaroo, pp.20-21.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Soedjati Djiwandono, Konfrontasi Revisited, pp.1-2
  3. Soedjati Djiwandono, Konfrontasi Revisited, pp.122-35.
  4. Wies Platje, "Dutch SIGINT and the Conflict with Indonesia," pp. 302-08
  5. Ron Crocombe, Asia in the Pacific Islands, p.284.
  6. Ron Crocombe, Asia in the Pacific Islands, p. 281
  7. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities, p.176
  8. Audrey and George Kahin, Subversion as Foreign Policy, p.34
  9. Bob Catley and Vinsensio Dugis, The Kangaroo and the Garuda, p.20
  10. Ron Crocombe, Asia in the Pacific Islands, p. 282.
  11. Arend Lijphart, Trauma of Decolonization, pp. 25-35, 39-66
  12. Audrey and George McTurnan Kahin, Subversion as Foreign Policy, p. 45.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 "Operation Trikora - Indonesia's Takeover of West New Guinea". Air Power Development Centre. February 2011. pp. 1–2. Retrieved 19 September 2013. 
  14. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities, p. 176.
  15. Bob Catley and Vinsensio Dugis, The Garuda and The Kangaroo, pp. 20-21.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Audrey and George Kahin, Subversion as Foreign Policy, p.45
  17. John D. Legge, Sukarno: A Political Biography, pp.277-78.
  18. Soedjati Djiwandono, Konfrontasi Revisited, p.38.
  19. Jamie Mackie,Bandung 1955, pp.86-87
  20. Soedjati Djiwandono, Konfrontasi Revisited, p. 38
  21. Wies Platje, "Dutch SIGINT and the Conflict with Indonesia," pp. 297-98
  22. Audrey and George Kahin, Subversion as Foreign Policy, pp.77-79
  23. Bob Catley and Vinsension Dugis, The Garuda and The Kangaroo, pp. 16-21
  24. Ide Anak Agung Gde Agung, Twenty Years Indonesian foreign policy, pp. 196-201
  25. Michael Green, Uneasy Partners, pp. 154-55.
  26. John D. Legge, Sukarno: A Political Biography, pp.330-33
  27. 27.0 27.1 Michael Green, "Uneasy Relations", p.156
  28. Soedjati Djiwandono, Konfrontasi Revisited, p.125
  29. Alexey Muraviev and Colin Brown, "Strategic Realignment or Deja vu?", pp.4-5.
  30. John D. Legge, Sukarno: A Political Biography, pp.402-03
  31. Wies Platje, "Dutch SIGINT and the Conflict with Indonesia, p.298
  32. Michael Green, "Uneasy Partners", p.160
  33. Ron Crocombe, Asia in the Pacific Islands 286
  34. Michael Green, "Uneasy Partners", pp.159-60
  35. Bilveer Singh, West Irian and the Suharto Presidency, p.86
  36. Soedjati Djiwandono, p. 131
  37. Soedjati Djiwandono, p.133-35
  38. 38.0 38.1 Soedjati Djiwandono, Konfrontasi Revisited, p. 135.
  39. Wies Platje, "Dutch SIGINT and the Conflict with Indonesia", pp. 295, 306
  40. Wies Platje, "Duch SIGINT and the Conflict with Indonesia", pp. 295-97, 302-03
  41. Wies Platje, pp. 300-02.
  42. Wies Platje, p.304.
  43. Wies Platje, pp.305-07.
  44. Wies Platje, "Dutch SIGINT and the Conflict with Indonesia", pp. 298-99
  45. Audrey and George Kahin, Subversion as Foreign Policy, pp.217-21
  46. J.D. Legge, Sukarno: A Political Biography, pp. 403-404
  47. Wies Platje, "Dutch SIGINT and the Conflict with Indonesia", p.309
  48. Ron Crocombe, Asia in the Pacific Islands, p.285
  49. Ron Crocombe, 284
  50. Ron Crocombe, Asia in the Pacific Islands, pp. 286-91
  51. Bilveer Singh, West Irian and the Suharto Presidency. p.86

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