East Timor: Diplomacy on a Shoestring

Diplomacy played a critical role in securing East Timor’s independence. From the time of the Indonesian invasion in December 1975 to the arrival of the Australian-led International Force for East Timor nearly five years ago, Dr José Ramos Horta led the diplomatic struggle abroad. Now foreign minister, he is facing a new challenge – building a professional foreign service and foreign policy which will embed East Timor in a web of international alliances and regional groupings so that it will never again face the threat of foreign invasion.

The World Today
5 minute READ

Peter Carey

Laithwaite Fellow and Tutor in Modern History, Trinity College, Oxford

For a small state with a population approaching a million to have its own foreign service might seem an absurd luxury. Yet the briefest acquaintance with East Timor’s recent history and its precarious geographical position wedged between two giant neighbours – Indonesia and Australia – both of whom have involved it in armed conflict, underscores the importance of effective diplomacy in guaranteeing long-term security.

There is no way the state’s tiny armed forces – 1,500 front-line infantry and a similar number of reservists, plus an embryonic naval capacity, all of which are still in the process of formation – would have the strength to repel a determined invader. The most that could be expected is that they would be able to hold out long enough for help to arrive from outside.

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