Unintended consequences: an examination of Australia's 'historic policy shift' on East Timor

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    The Howard government's foreign policy objectives concerning East Timor remain the subject of intense historical debate. Given that some Indonesians harbour suspicions about Australia's role in East Timor's independence, it is important to reflect on Australia's diplomacy throughout this period. This article draws on 15 interviews with former politicians and officials-including Prime Minister John Howard and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer-to argue that in 1998, Australia's foreign policy was focused on supporting Indonesia's democratisation process and maintaining the bilateral relationship. It was only when Indonesia moved towards a 'special status' of autonomy for East Timor that Australia reconsidered its own position. Although rarely acknowledged, Australia's policy shift actually precipitated outcomes that it had sought to avoid. As such, Habibie's decision to allow self-determination in East Timor can only be viewed as an unintended consequence of Australian diplomacy-independence was never the objective of Australian foreign policy.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)52-69
    JournalAustralian Journal of International Affairs
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2014


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