Quartermaster to tyranny in East Timor
In 1965 Michael Stewart, the Foreign Secretary in Harold
Wilson's Labour Government, surveyed the mass graves of Indonesia with
an air of satisfaction and expectation. Britain had facilitated the
murders of about one million Indonesians in the coup that brought pro-Western
General Suharto to power.
'A little shooting in Indonesia would be an essential preliminary
to effective change,' Sir Andrew Gilchrist, our Ambassador in Jakarta,
had told the Foreign Office earlier in the year. To ensure that one
of the great massacres of the century could be executed without the killers
being distracted by pressures from abroad, the British Army was pulled back
from a confrontation with Indonesian forces in the disputed colonial territory
< < Training
CONTENTS Translate Links
HOME Boycott >
> US condemned >
Stewart showed no remorse and the myth of British decency ensured
that few have demanded that the politicians and diplomats involved in Cold
War crime should be held to account since. 'It is only the economic
chaos of Indonesia which prevents that country from offering great potential
opportunities to British exporters,' he told Wilson. 'If there's going
to be a deal with Indonesia ... I think we ought to take an active part and
try to secure a slice of the cake ourselves.'
THE OBSERVER (London), Sunday September 5, 1999
"Labour: quartermaster to tyranny in East Timor"
The Michael Stewart of our days is Robin Cook and the cake
that New and Old Labour have both gobbled is bought with the profits of the
weapons trade. On the rare occasions when the national conversation
turns to arms, it usually degenerates into vacuity. One side tells
us we must defend our prosperity, even though the merchants of death have
been downsizing with enthusiasm and receive lavish subsidies. Their
opponents respond with a kind of simple-minded pacifism, which lays them
open to the great modern charge of living somewhere other than 'the real
What is missed is the scale of the enterprise. Britain
is the second largest dealer in the global arms market. For hundreds
of millions of people, British foreign policy is not the endless temporising
about Europe or Tony Blair's ambition for his Third Way witterings to inspire
the world, but our willingness to supply the instruments of coercion to their
No government likes to tell its citizens that a large part of the
human race has good reason to hate them, and last week Baroness Symons,
the Defence Procurement Minister, was sent to the studios to ooze counterfeit
reassurance. She was well suited for the task. Symons was the
leader of the senior civil servants union, who accepted a peerage and an
unelected Ministerial appointment after the 1997 election, thus making a
bit of a nonsense of Whitehall impartiality. Her husband, Phil,
works in Downing Street and churns out articles 'By Tony Blair' that persuade
naive newspaper readers that the PM is addressing them personally.
As she tried to dismiss British complicity with the slaughters in
East Timor, Her Ladyship adopted the Blairite tone of pleading and menace
-- like a teacher lecturing retarded children. Applications to arm
Indonesia were scrutinised 'very, very carefully' because 'we do not sell
arms that can be used for internal repression,' she said with an unwarranted
confidence, before developing a curious argument that Indonesia, a country
whose armed forces exist solely to repress its people, and which invaded
East Timor in 1975 in contravention of the UN charter (killing 200,000 or
so in the process), had a right under that same UN charter to buy weapons
The Observer is a polite newspaper which wouldn't wish to suggest
a politician was lying -- that would be ill mannered. Let us say Lady
Symons did not appear to be well briefed. The public would get more
from her if she, along with Blair and Cook who have propagated the same line,
were to read a report on Anglo-Indonesian relations, to be released this
week by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT).
Official secrecy and commercial confidentiality cover 'defence' sales
and, like so many enquirers before them, the peaceniks found they could learn
more about what their Government was doing in archives in New York and Washington
than London. They have assembled the facts that are on the record.
Even this inevitably incomplete account makes the official position
an insult to the dead of East Timor and the intelligence of the British.
Of course, our weapons are being used for internal repression -- why
else would Indonesia, a country without external enemies, want them? Hawk
aircraft made by British Aerospace have flown in East Timor, as the Government
was forced to admit last week.
In opposition, Cook ridiculed Conservative claims that Indonesia would
refrain from sending them on bombing runs over the island. In government,
he suddenly found merit in the Tory position and sanctioned their sale.
Lord Hollick, a BAe board member and owner of Express newspapers,
was, coincidentally, advising the Department of Trade and Industry when the
deal was done and Ken Jackson, the Labour loyalist who runs the
engineering union, lobbied the Government hard and successfully to let the
purchase go ahead.
Meanwhile, water cannon made by Tacita have been turned on students.
The Indonesian defence attache in Britain admitted that armoured cars
from Alvis were roaring round the mountain roads of East Timor, and so it
goes on. What strikes the reader is the evident expectation of Ministers
that they can deny the incontrovertible and get away with it.
As for the claim that applications for arms sales were scrutinised
'very, very carefully', an analysis of the deliveries that have been authorised
shows it to be, as the Campaign Against the Arms Trade says with understandable
True, Robin Cook did block a sale of sniper rifles in 1997.
A well-informed Financial Times correspondent reported that
Blair was furious. George Robertson, liberator of oppressed
Muslims of Kosovo, told Cook that he was offending General Prabowo,
an 'enlightened' military leader who deserved to have his demands treated
promptly and with courtesy by British politicians. Prabowo is the leader
of Indonesia's paramilitary death squads, who has authorised mass killings
and rapes. His fortune was made by marrying into the fantastically
corrupt Suharto family.
Since his moment of rebellion, the Foreign Secretary has been a good
Last year, New Labour rejected a mere 2.4 per cent of applications
to sell to Indonesia. It's no longer novel to say that the Tories had
a better record.
It is easy in the dog days of summer to watch the news and think that
we are hearing of a far-away island only because nothing else is happening
in the silly season. But the arms trade ensures that we retain a global
influence over slaughters in countries of which we know little.
The Timorese crisis would be seen as a British story if Ministers,
who are either deliberately mendacious or stunningly foolish, were unable
to pretend that they were following an ethical foreign policy. Until
that happy day, Britain's business and political leaders will continue to
defy received wisdom by having their cake -- and eating it too.
PS: A reader motivated by necessary contempt has sent us a copy
of an article by an ambitious and talented Labour MP, from the New
Statesman of 30 June 1978. 'How little we care with whom we do
business,' the perceptive young author wailed, somewhat inelegantly. 'The
nation of shopkeepers' had become a 'military bazaar' selling weapons to
'the world's least likeable governments'. 'Every war for the past two
decades has been fought by poor countries with weapons supplied by rich
countries.' Was it 'legitimate' for Labour to destroy the achievements
of aid workers by extracting vast sums from the Third World?
The more the angry Scot thought about the arguments used by his
elders, the more spurious they seemed. British companies were not simply
selling weapons but transferring military technology so that rival industries
could develop abroad -- to Egypt in the Seventies, to Turkey in the Nineties.
The taxpayer was being robbed by being forced to subsidise
'the historic costs of [military] research and development'.
What stuck in his craw was the 'particularly disturbing' sale of
'aircraft to Indonesia'. Labour Ministers were using the 'ingenious
excuse' that they didn't have 'a devastating potential'. All in all,
the arms industry was corrupt. It inflamed conflicts in the Middle
East and between India and Pakistan Britain had an interest in preventing
but was protected by a Government which ignored the squalid records of its
'Labour got Britain into this sordid trade ... It would help make
amends if Labour were to start us on the first few steps to getting out of
And with that flourish Robin Cook signed off. What
the hell happened to him? -- Nick Cohen, © The
Observer (London), "Labour: quartermaster to tyranny in East Timor,"
Sunday, September 5, 1999.
*** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material
is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest
in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.
The Observer internet link is (with The
The reversible Robin Cook is one of the Ministers
expected at the APEC meeting in New Zealand, due to start about
now as I write. It is said tody (8 September 1999) that Indonesia will
not be attending this time. Australian Foreign Minister Alex Downer,
at his press conference before leaving for NZ, said that he would be meeting
the various other foreign ministers there. He seemed hopeful that some
action about East Timor might arise from meeting these ministers
informally during breaks in the APEC meetings.
APEC is a trade body, so the advisers and ministers going there
will presumably be as concerned about the genocide going on in East Timor
as they have been about the world's several other genocides, performed often
with weapons the supposedly "civilised" countries have sold them, and mostly
paid for with loans or gifts from those rich countries.
THE ARMS TRADE: Useful Links found by MetaCrawler
of http://www.go2net.com/ 08 Sep
Australian Campaign Against the Arms Trade (ACAAT),
PO Box 1017, Aitkenvale, Qld, 4814, Australia. Contact: David Johnson,
phone: +61-77-891-664, fax: +61-77-891-664, e-mail:
Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT)
DISARMAMENT: End British Arms Trade To Indonesia, Say
NGOs, By Dipankar De Sarkar LONDON, Apr 8 (IPS) - Campaigners
caught short by recent setbacks in their court battles to stop Britain selling
arms to Indonesia are mulling other options, ...
British American Security Information Council
(BASIC) for big list of LINKS to groups
gathering information about the world's sales of light weapons, at
CAAT: UK arms trade protest April 28, Selected
postings from East-Timor (reg.easttimor)
Mets, Cards in arms trade
IBT War Machine - Directory of Organisations,
Arms Trade News - December 1997 / January 1998,
Indonesia: The People's Resistance in Indonesia
[CSVI], The Indonesian Page of People Movement for Justice
Arms Trade Bulletin #10 5 November 1998 To inform
Governments and NGOs,
Landmine Campaign - International Campaign,
Medical Association for the Prevention of War (MAPW), an Australian affiliate
of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW),
Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade (C.O.A.T.)
Catholics Ditch BAe. This was the headline
accompanying a piece in The Observer, Britain, on 18 December 1994.
The piece continued.... 'In a move against Britain's growing arms trade,
the Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster has sold a holding of 11,000 shares
in British Aerospace which it managed on behalf of more than 60 Catholic
trusts. This takes sales by Church-related charities of arms-related
companies to £350,000 in the past month.
Westminster's action follows a church investigation and reports in The
Observer of a massive sale of BAe aircraft to the Indonesian armed forces
illegally occupying East Timor....The Westminster action is part of what
campaigners see as a quickening trend towards 'ethical investment' and way
from shareholdings in the weapons industry. Ray Hemmings of the Clean
Investment Campaign, which is run by Campaign Against the Arms Trade, says
various Anglican dioceses are preparing motions for next year's General Synod
which would seek to outlaw investment in the weapons business'. --
from CEIG Newsletter No. 2
Project on Light Weapons: British American Security
Information Council (BASIC) Project on Light Weapons, Working Paper
#1 Internet Edition.
Quaker Council for European Affairs, The basis
of a Quaker concern for peace ...
Tear Fund's Arms Trade Resource. Information
about the world-wide arms trade, ...
Please copy or mirror materials from this Website, except items
which are subject to Copyright© or Registered® Trade Marks™. I
accept no responsibility for any damages allegedly arising from the use of
this Website or the Internet in general.
Tagged on 08 Sep 1999, (a few links missing 28Sep1999), last modified (21kb) 15 Aug 03
65 Top ^ ^
< < Training
Boycott > >
US condemned > >
To translate whole Webpages into Français, Deutsch, Italiano,
Português, Español, and others out of
English, or out of those languages into English, click:
For these and 11 other languages including
Esperanta and Latina, one word at a
Just World Campaign, 46 Cobine Way, Greenwood (a Perth suburb), WA,
6024, Australia. Tel [+61 8] (08) 9343 9532, Mobile 0408 054 319