Subject: E Timor military blueprint unrealistic: Downer

Also ABC The World Today - East Timor plans for military boost

The Australian

E Timor military blueprint unrealistic: Downer

Mark Dodd

June 08, 2007

AN ambitious East Timor defence blueprint calling for the establishment of a 3000-strong military supported by missile-equipped warships has been branded "completely unrealistic" by Foreign Minister Alexander Downer.

The 141-page defence plan called Force 2020, a copy of which was obtained by The Australian, calls for the establishment of an army, navy and air force for the troubled state, Southeast Asia's poorest country.

The report's recommendations are controversial because its authors deliberately snubbed any input by Australia and the US, East Timor's biggest defence backers.

Both countries, along with the UN, believe East Timor's defence needs are much more modest, focusing on the development of a small professional light infantry force.

East Timor's spending priorities should be focused on more important areas than defence, Mr Downer said yesterday.

I think the Force 2020 report is completely unrealistic. Number one, East Timor cannot afford to build a defence force with 3000 soldiers and a missile-armed navy. And number two, East Timor should focus its resources on developing its economy, education and health services for its people."

Australian aid to East Timor, valued at $72 million this year, would be spent on priority areas of health, water, sanitation and education, in addition to support for law and justice programs, an AusAid spokeswoman said yesterday.

East Timor, which gained independence from Indonesia in 2002 after a 1999 referendum, does not have an encouraging record of self-managing defence and security. Its embryonic police and army were at war with each other last year after 600 protesting soldiers were sacked by former Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri. The violence brought the country to the brink of civil war.

The country's coffers are benefiting from record levels of tax revenue from the oil and gas-rich Timor Sea, worth $230 million last month. The cash flows have led to a quadrupling of defence expenditure to $26 million over the past 3 years.

The report, more than two years in the making, was completed last year but has not been presented to East Timor's parliament and has been seen by a only handful of senior leaders and diplomats.

The recommendations of the Force 2020 report made disturbing reading and were proof of Australia's waning diplomatic influence in the region, according to federal Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Robert McClelland.

This is a source of major embarrassment for Mr Downer and only further underlines the fact that he has presided over a decade of decline of our international reputation and reduction in our regional influence."


ABC Online

The World Today - East Timor plans for military boost

[This is the print version of story]

The World Today - Friday, 8 June , 2007 12:27:00

Reporter: Anne Barker

ELEANOR HALL: Closer to home, East Timor has produced an ambitious plan to boost its military capability.

The plan, which has been put together with no apparent input from major allies like Australia, would fund a 3000 strong defence force, and a navy that would be equipped with missiles.

It is understood the plan would divert millions of dollars from East Timor's oil and gas revenue.

But already there is criticism from international observers who say the money would be better spent reducing poverty and building national infrastructure.

Anne Barker has our report.

ANNE BARKER: For a tiny nation of just one million people, East Timor's military ambitions as outlined in the report Force 2020, are grandiose and some analysts say quite unrealistic.

This is the nation that almost imploded a year ago because of serious divisions in its armed forces that eventually led to the sacking of 600 soldiers, fully one third of the army.

That in turn led to armed fighting between different factions of the military and police, the ramifications of which are still being dealt with today.

So the idea that East Timor could even afford, let alone manage, a defence force two or three times that size, complete with a missile-equipped navy and armed helicopters, has shocked strategic thinkers in Australia.

Among them is Professor Hugh White.

HUGH WHITE: Obviously to be realistic, East Timor's resources are extremely limited, and its capacity to develop armed forces which can effectively defend it against conventionally threats from other states would be very low. I guess it's most obvious potential military threat would be from Indonesia and East Timor simply doesn't have the capacity to develop armed forces that could defend it against those sorts of circumstances, so, it's at risk that it spends quite a lot of money building forces which are bigger than it needs for the kinds of tasks that it will have to do, for things like piracy and smuggling, and that sort of thing, and not big enough to make any real contribution to its basic long term security.

ANNE BARKER: Professor White says the ambitious plan would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, money that might best be spent addressing more urgent issues like poverty reduction and the need for infrastructure.

He says Australia has always maintained East Timor's security needs are better met with a smaller defence force, and more police.

HUGH WHITE: I think the chances of East Timor being able to build armed forces that would be able to defend it from a conventional attack are very low indeed, and that the best thing for East Timor to do is to rely on its larger neighbours, Australia and Indonesia. I think the secret for East Timor is to manage its relations with those two countries very carefully.

ANNE BARKER: What does it say about East Timor's trust of Australia that Australian military advisers had no input at all into this report?

HUGH WHITE: I think it says two things. The first is that the politics of these issues including I would expect the bureaucratic politics in Dili in East Timor are probably pretty complicated and there might be lots of reasons why they might seek to lock Australians out of the process.

But I think it also shows that there's a deeper level of distrust of Australia in East Timor. This comes as a surprise I think to many Australians, in view of the role we played in supporting East Timor's passage to independence, but when you're a small country like East Timor, very complicated history, and with such a big neighbour as Australia sitting right on your doorstep, plus all the issues that arose over distribution of oil and gas reserves in the Timor Gap and so on, I think all of that has probably added to an environment in which there is quite a deep reservoir of distrust to Australia.

ANNE BARKER: So how should Australia react then?

HUGH WHITE: I think we should be careful not to overreact. I would expect this will be scaled back within the East Timorese process. If East Timor does set out to try and develop these kinds of capabilities, then I think it will be important for Australia to make clear that we wouldn't be funding their ongoing support, and try and inject a sense of realism about what the long term consequences would be.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Hugh White, Professor of Strategic Studies at the ANU speaking to Anne Barker.

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