Based in Toronto, Canada, Humilitatem is a student publishing group inspired by the conflicts of the 20th and 21st century. Through its Interdisciplinary approach, it seeks to offer an environment of (un)learning, whereby readers and content creators can exchange knowledge not bound to the imposed structure of European/American Academia. We hope that the contents of this blog will be used to shed light on the significance of resistance and encourage active participation in acts of resistance. 

The East Timor Civil War: An Untold Saga of Hope


                  There exists a considerable volume of literature in a variety of different academic disciplines that are dedicated to discussing the causes and consequences of civil wars. This body of literature has identified underlying structural variables that are shared by almost all states who have engaged in a civil conflict. These variables include: a history of colonialism, ethnic and religious identities, socio-political ideologies, foreign state intervention, geopolitical location in the global south and presence of natural resources. As such much of the discourse within this literature consists of a dialogue over the role of the variables mentioned above and the extent of their influence in perpetuating conflict. Interestingly there remains a substantially limited analysis of one particular conflict which shares many of these characteristics, the East Timor Civil War. The purpose of this essay is to consider the following three questions:

1.      What caused the Civil War in East Timor?

2.      Why did Indonesia invade East Timor?

3.      What accounts for the successful democratic transition post-invasion?

This essay will apply James Fearon’s Bargaining Theory of War and Rational Actor Model to argue that the two main parties involved in the civil war, the Timorese Democratic Union (UTD) and Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (Fretilin), engaged in hostilities because of a failure to achieve a compromise over their political differences given their domestic environment. Proceeding the essay will argue that the civil war and its destabilizing effects instigated an Indonesian military occupation because it provided an optimal opportunity for the incumbent Indonesian government to annex this resourceful territory. This second argument will showcase that a wave of Indonesian nationalism under President Muhammad Suharto created popular domestic support to annex East Timor as Indonesia’s 27th province. Finally, the essay will rely on Rowland Paris’s theory of institutionalization before liberalization, to demonstrate that the successful democratic transition of East Timor is a direct consequence of establishing necessary governmental institutions, before replicating the processes found in free-market democracies (Paris, pg.16). In justifying these claims, the essay hopes to invite further analysis of East Timor’s conflict and occupation because it can offer new insights into the study of civil wars.

            To justify the above, this essay will first define Civil Wars. Second, it will offer a historical overview of East Timor, reflecting on all relevant domestic events up till the early 2000s. Third, the essay will expand on the Bargaining Theory of War within the contexts of an intra-state conflicts, to exhibit that the UTD who instigated the conflict did so because they maximized their group utility. Fourth, the essay will inspect Indonesia’s relation with East-Timor and their expansionist ambitions, which acted as a basis for the military occupation. Finally, the essay will delve into the complicated process of peacebuilding, arguing that the successful democratic transition was a product of the UN Mission’s ability to maintain peace and stability through the construction of legitimate government institutions.

The language of civil war

            Within most academic disciplines language plays a crucial part in shaping our understanding of events and social process being described. Thus it is not surprising that there exist countless scholarly articles that delve into the specific nuances of the definition of Civil Wars. Though this language can at times act as a barrier, which explains the need to explore these definitions. In an effort to study the complex intricacies of civil wars, one prominent definition that has emerged refers to a civil war as any domestic conflict that results in more than 1000 conflict-related causalities (Frieden & Lake, pg.109). This definition is primarily used by scholars who seek to study the statistics of conflicts, or those who rely on technocratic and positivist methodology (Frieden & Lake, pg.110). Though it serves a variety of uses, this definition can, in fact, hinder our understanding of civil wars. The application of quantitative measurements limits our scope of analysis for several reasons. One reason is that it desensitizes audiences to violence and looks down on equally important conflicts that experienced less bloodshed. In fact, one of the reasons the East Timor civil war is not equally represented in the literature is because it was relatively less violent and shorter than most other civil conflicts. Moreover, a purely quantitative measure of civil wars can also be too broad to contextualize qualitative variables, such as the role of elements like culture, ideology, ethnicity and religion. Given the constraints and limits of this definition, the essay must look else were to define civil wars and identify the scope of analysis.

            Marry Kaldor’s concept of ‘new wars’ provides a resourceful definition that will be applied in this paper. In her argument, Kaldor (pg.72) presents a theory towards the changing nature of modern conflicts. New wars are described as asymmetrical armed conflicts, meaning that there is a disproportionate distribution of power between the actors involved. Unlike conflicts of the past, these wars do not consist of two state armies engage in legal military combat. Instead, it consists of armed rebel and guerrilla groups often fighting against a state. Furthermore, the actors in new wars are often much harder to identify. They include a host of organizations such as business lobbying groups, private military organizations, foreign states, civilians (Kaldor, pg.79). As a result, these wars tend to be much more violent and deadly because it is more difficult to distinguish the difference between civilians and military combatants. Additionally, new wars tend to be much longer because they perpetuate a cycle of instability and violence, with no real ability for either side to accomplish a military victory (Kaldor, pg.81). Thus, these conflicts can only be resolved through a peace agreement, which is difficult to achieve when there are existing creeds and clashing beliefs. This highlights another major component of news wars, namely the fact that they are often deal with elements of ethnic or religious identities. The characteristics of new wars are synonymous with those in civil wars, hence why most civil wars are considered to be new wars. However, this definition alone does not encompass the nuanced legal and security dimensions of civil wars. It also puts a lot of emphasis on the global system of governance as the primary structural force causing the changes of said wars. This is why the essay feels that briefly encompassing legal definitions set out by international law of armed conflict (also known as international humanitarian law) will further expand our understanding of civil wars.

            The language of international law refers to civil wars as non-international armed conflicts (Kolb and Hyde, pg.256). The distinction is highly important for legal scholars, diplomats and states because the compulsory international doctrines have different humanitarian regulations for each conflict (Kolb and Hyde, pg.257). Most of the treaties, doctrines and customary international laws that encompass civil wars do not go into the same details as international armed conflicts (Solis, pg.149). In fact, non-international armed conflicts consist of the bare minimum of humanitarian protections (Solis, pg.150). The reason being is that most states are very reluctant to reduce their sovereignty and right to use force within their territory. For example, within the context of international armed conflicts the status of combatants is not provided, which means that government opposition groups can be suppressed by any means permitted under the domestic laws (Solis, pg.150). Taking all of this into consideration exhibits the complicated nature of civil wars. Using these multiple references, this paper will consider civil wars as conflicts that meet the characteristics of “new wars” and legal criteria of non-international armed conflicts.

The history of a people betrayed

            Before delving into the convoluted history of East Timor, the paper seeks to acknowledge its hindsight biases and predominant use of Western historical accounts. Relying on this hindsight bias much of the reflected history of East Timor is considered to be pre-determined by structural factors. This undermines the agency of actors involved in shaping the countries unique history. Furthermore, the literature that is sourced are often accounts formed by scholars based in Western academic institutions, which has at times imposed neo-colonial dichotomies and overlooked the integrated interaction of social processes. Recognizing these limits enables a deeper understanding of how our perspective of civil conflicts is to some extent structurally bound and encourages the reader to consider these historical hierarchies with some suspicion.

            Since the early 18th century East Timor has been a direct colony of Portugal. Within the regional geography, the existence of a Portuguese colony was significant for two reasons. First, the Indonesian archipelago, the stretch of Islands located in the Pacific Ocean that includes the Island of Timor was dominated by the Dutch Empire and its colonies. Second, unlike the Dutch Empire that was predominantly concerned about the economic expansion of its East India Dutch Company, the highly religious Portuguese Empire had a strong emphasis on the exportation of their Catholic faith (Ramos, pg.xiii). This would explain the vast religious demographic differences between Indonesia, which has a majority Muslim population and East Timor, which has a majority Catholic population. These two factors would shape the different groups that would come to occupy Timor and its surrounding Islands.

            Unbeknownst to the conventional narrative of World War Two, East Timor played a part in the conflict that persisted in the Pacific Theater. In 1941, a military force consisting of British, Australian, Dutch and Timorese forces launched a pre-emptive strike of Timor to prevent a Japanese occupation (Wray, pg.2). Although East Timor was under Portuguese control, which had remained neutral throughout the war, the allies feared that Japanese forces would soon occupy the entire region. However, the poorly equipped allied troops in this region were not able to keep out the combined forces of the Japanese navy and air force. In 1941 Japan invaded the majority of the Dutch Indies, except the island of Timor. In the following year during the Battle of Timor, Japan took control over the remaining allied forced situated on Timor (Wray, pg.6). The occupation had devastating repercussions for the local population of Timor. Upon assuming control over the entire Island, the allied forces withdrew all remaining troops. However, the Timorese people who had participated in the defence against Japan, or who had offered any form of assistance to allied forces paid the severe consequences. During the Japanese occupation of Timor Island, the Dutch-Portuguese colonial divide was erased, and the entire Island was used to retreat natural resources. As a result of the occupation, countless Timorese civilians were killed, and development was hindered (Wray, pg.14). The few manufacturing facilities that existed were destroyed during the war and were never fixed. Unlike most other countries that received foreign loans and assistance, the small portion of East Timor did not benefit from the new world order that emerged after World War Two (Wray, pg. 206). In fact, considering this aspect of the history would explain why East Timor’s economy the latter half of the 20th century was predominantly focused on the extraction of natural resources.

            Following the war and the various negotiations that took place between countries of the Global North, control of East Timor was returned to Portugal and the Dutch Indies gained independence from the Netherlands, creating the newly independent United States of Indonesia. As the economic conditions in Portugal began to deteriorate under the authoritarian regime of António de Oliveira Salazar, the regime began a more coercive policy to rely on its colonies as a way to economically support itself (Dunn, pg.30). However, the growing dissatisfaction that emerged among the Portuguese people caused by relative deprivation in comparison to the prosperous growth of other European countries led to a coup d’état in 1974. The new democratic Portuguese government looked towards a policy of decolonization. Pursuing a gradual process of decolonization, the first act of the Portuguese government in East Timor was to legalize Timorese political parties and grant the fundamental rights of association and assembly. Two major parties emerged the UTD and Fretilin. The UTD consisted of Timorese who remained loyal to Portugal and wanted to pursue close relations with the European state (Kiernan, pg.55). The party leaders were the Timorese elites who maintained close relations with the colonial government. In contrast, the Fretilin was a Marxist oriented political party with an emphasis on dissociation with the former colony (Kiernan, pg.55). Portugal appointed a new Governor to oversee the democratic transition of East Timor. The next steps were the preparations for the election of members of a Constituent Assembly that would form the new government of East Timor plans. Though over a short span of time Portugal’s role in this process began to decrease rapidly, due to ongoing domestic issues. As a result, a power vacuum was created, instigating more rivalry between the newly emerging parties. At first, the parties had agreed to form a unity government, with a plan to formally announce East Timor’s independence in 1975. Though as the support for Fretilin grew the UTD became concerned of working as the opposition in majority controlled Fretilin assembly. Aware of this fragile setting, the Indonesian military intelligence began informing the UTD that several branches of the Fretilin were seeking to consolidate power, to establish a socialist regime (Chomsky). The accuracy of these reports are highly contested, most scholars agree that this information was not based on facts. Relying on the conditions created by lack of Portuguese oversight, the UTD launched a coup to prevent the formation of a socialist government. However, this act only increased support for the Fretilin party. The civil war that ensued was very short, only lasting a three-week duration. By the end of the three-weeks, it became evident that the Fretilin party was winning. The leadership of the UTD fled to West Timor, a province of the Indonesian government (Dunn, pg.32).

            After a series of closed-door meetings between the leadership of UTD and incumbent government of Indonesia, the UTD signed a petition demanding the incorporation of East Timor as Indonesia’s 27th province (Chomsky). Taking into consideration international legal doctrines, this act did not establish any legal precedence because the UTD was not the official representative of East Timor. Unlike the Fretilin, the UTD did not demonstrate effective control of the East Timor territory nor did they show the characteristics of an effective government. On the grounds of humanitarian intervention, in September of 1975, a special platoon of the Indonesian military launched a ground and air assault of East Timor. Due to the ongoing tensions on the international stage, which were caused by US-Soviet hostilities, this occupation was supported by most Western states who were wary of the Fretilin’s Marxist ideology (Chomsky). This reflects a sad, yet true reality that the political agenda of Global North countries often undermined the right of self-determination enshrined in the constitution of the United Nations. In fact, it is ironic to consider how countries like Australia and Canada, neutral powers and champions of democratic values provided military and financially support to Indonesian governments during this occupation, which lasted two decades (Ramos, pg.97). Only recently, have these countries acknowledged and apologized for their role in assisting the illegal annexation of East Timor. The invasion of Indonesia was a catalyst that only further prolonged this conflict. The Fretilin, who were asymmetrically weaker than the Asian state retreated into the jungles and mountains of East Timor, engaging in years of guerrilla fighting (Dunn,pg.178). These characteristics reflect many of the elements described in the definition of new wars. Also, during this period of occupation, various NGOs were alarmed by the violent atrocities that occurred. The persistence of the violation of humanitarian norms is only possible when applying legal definitions attributed to non-international conflict. Reports and transitional justice documents created years after the conflict found that approximately 18,600 individuals were killed by the regime (Van Klinken, pg.11). Another source claims that an estimated 84,000 Timorese civilians were killed as a result of hunger, illness and forced labour (Van Klinken, pg.12). In addition to the violent consequences of the occupation, there were several far-reaching social influences, most notably, the emergence of a new religious East Timorese identity. A study of religious demographic found that in 1975 only 20% of the population identified as Catholic, as opposed to in 1995 where 90% identified with the faith (Dunn, pg.49). The increasing role played by the church as a new social actor can observe. The are several accounts of the church offering protections to victims of violence from Indonesian troops (Dunn, pg. 52). The church was notably on the front-lines of leading a peaceful resistance for independence. Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo and José Ramos-Hort, two seniors of the church, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The sudden emergence of identity that separates East Timorese and West Timorese signified the creation of a new political cleavage and growing role of the church as an influential actor

            The occupation of East Timor is often characterized as a systematic effort to extract the region’s abundance of resources, without developing the means of production that would cultivate a healthy industry. Although the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution condemning the actions of Indonesia, no real changes were made. However, a small grass-roots solidarity movement emerged. Yet the atrocities that were occurring received very minimal coverage by any mainstream news sources. However, a single incident sparked a reassessment of the public perception of the events happening in East Timor. On November 12th, 1991, a group of Indonesian soldiers mascaraed roughly 250 Timorese demonstrators. This event which became known as the Dill Massacre portrayed the level of brutality that was occurring and showcased how Indonesia’s justifications of occupation were groundless. With a change in public sentiments, political leaders in Global North began denouncing the Indonesian government. For instance, footage of the incident shot by Portuguese journalist created public outcry and support for the leader of the protests Xanana Gusmão. The sudden public responses observed after the massacre sheds light on a paradox existing within the structure of humanitarianism, the paradox being that humanitarian support can only be marketed when an irreparable atrocity has occurred (Ramos, pg.198).

            In the midst of Indonesia’s occupation, support for President Suharto’s rule was decreasing due to emerging societal and economic issues. This led to a wave of demonstrations and riots throughout various parts of the country. As these conditions progressed. Suharto’s allies deserted him, cornering him into an extremely vulnerable position (Sanger). In 1998, Suharto resigned as the president of Indonesia, paving the wave for the emergence of a new democratic government. In light of recent events in East Timor, the newly established government of B. J. Habibie faced international pressure to allow the people of East Timor to democratically determine whether they wished to remain as an Indonesian province. The arrival of this news in East Timor was not received well by remaining Indonesian troops in the territory or those who supported the pro-Indonesian militia groups (Croissant, pg.651). A referendum was held August 30th 1999, with 78.5% of eligible voters voting to favor of independence (Croissant, pg.651).  In response, the militia groups upheld a campaign of terrorism and violent coercion, which created an immense refugee problem and caused the death of up to 1400 Timorese (Van Klinken, pg, 18). Following these events, the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed a resolution to deploy a peacekeeping force to oversee the democratic transition of an independent East Timor, while maintaining peace and stability (Goldstone, pg.83). This marked the first time an organ of the UN had acted to prevent the growing culture of impunity that had affected the region. This mission was named the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAE). Upon the arrival of the peacekeepers, civilian administers and advisors, all parties were required to hand over authority of governmental functions (Goldstone, pg.86). The peacekeepers were stationed on the border of West Timor and Indonesia , while the administrators and advisors helped manage the day-to-day responsibilities of government, simultaneously paving the road for democratic elections. During this transitional period the UN acted as a benevolent autocrat, and applied technocratic solutions to resolve the ongoing issues. This serves as a counterexample to the arguments proposed by scholars such as Easterly who suggest that all forms of technocratic and authoritarian based transitions are ill-suited. In 2001 an election was facilitated for a constituent assembly that would be responsible for the formation of East Timor’s constitution. East Timor became an independent state in the following year and was recognized as an official member state of the UN. The first President was also sworn in the same year.

            The above historical review demonstrates the complicated history of East Timor. It portrays the struggles of a people who have long sought the right of self-determination. From the start, one can observe the colonial legacy and its ability to bind the development of this nation structurally. The historical analysis also illustrates the shortcomings of the global humanitarian project, demonstrating how it can be used as a political tool to advocate the political agenda and interest of certain states.

Causes of the civil war

            The first argument of this paper asserts that the civil strife between the Fretilin and UTD was caused due to the fact that the rewards of engaging in war were much higher than the risks associated. This argument is based of James Fearon’s bargaining theory of war. In this theory there is an underlying assumption that needs to be highlighted. The theory presumes that all agents are rational, meaning they correctly take into account all information that they have available to predict the probability of events and produce a cost-benefit analysis (Lake, pg.9). This approach is based on the epistemology found in the rational school of thought in International Relations, and serves as the assumption for a host of theories characterized as rational theory (Lake, pg.10). Critics of this rational actor model argue that it is a one-size-fits-all solution (Stein, pg.195). Though this criticism misconstrues the model. Although the rational actor model can encompass a lot of different social processes, it recognizes that rational is subjective because every agent holds their own profit-maximizing preferences. Highlighting these assumptions enables a deeper conceptualization of James Fearon’s argument. In 1959 prominent IR scholar Kennet Waltz (pg.13) published the book Man, the State and War which asserted that the anarchical structures of international relations was the prominent cause of conflict. He further asserted that war is a circumstance of irrational decision making (pg.14). This notion became part of the mainstream narrative of literature focused on the causes of conflicts. Two decades later Fearon (pg.390) challenged this notion by claiming that war is most often a result of rational decision making. He demonstrated that agents would not engage in a destructive social process of war without considering its consequences. According to Fearon’s (pg.394) famous model each actor has a set desired outcome which contradicts the desired outcomes of another actor. Each actor also has a bargaining range in which they are willing to compromise to partly obtain their desired outcome and an independent value of war which predict the costs and benefits of going to war (Lake, pg.46). Fearon (pg.402) described that under most circumstances it more rational to obtain a bargain, however, there are times in which it would be more rational to engage in a war. He identifies three factors that prevent bargaining, thus increasing the utility of going to war. The first factor is the vocation of incoherent knowledge, which refers to the uncertainty that arises from presences of misinformation. This issue arises from an incentive by actors to keep their knowledge and information private, which can cause a security dilemma (Fearon, pg.411). For instance, one states increase of armaments for defensive purposes can be interpreted as an aggressive action depending on how the information is conveyed. The second factor is a commitment problem. Often in situations that cultivate tensions between different actors there is tendency to distrust because there are incentives to break committeemen’s made (Fearon, pg.411). An example would be the military advantage of striking during a ceasefire. As a result, the threat of a break in commitment may cause an actor to launch a pre-emptive strike. The final factor that may prevent bargaining is the existence of an indivisible good, which refers to a good that both parties believe cannot be divided (Fearon, pg.411). A common example is the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, a territory of immense cultural, political and religious values that neither side is willing to share control off (Frieden & Lake, pg.175). The presence of any of these factors is sufficient to decrease the utility of seeking a compromised bargain.

            Recalling the events leading up to the civil conflict in East Timor, one can identify all three factors mentioned above. The promise of a unity government between the Fretilin and UTD showed the potential of a successful bargain, however, changing circumstance led to the emergence of issues that hindered the development of a peaceful bargain. One of these issues was the incoherency of information being distributed amongst the parties. This problem was further facilitated by the intervention of Indonesian intelligent operatives that would further exacerbate the miscommunication between the groups. The prevalence of this incoherent knowledge caused uncertainty between parties and made it more difficult to maintain the existing unity coalition. As a result of this ongoing diffusion of misinformation, the issue of commitment also emerged. Both parties became wary of the viability of the commitments that were made under the unity agreement. Thus a security dilemma could be perpetuated, meaning that a situation enveloped were a group took a set of actions to increase its security, which caused another group to do the same, resulting in a dilemma in which both groups are less secure than before. Within the context of a security dilemma, a preemptive strike because highly rewarding because it elevates all security concerns. In light of this, the decision by UTD leaders to launch a failed coup based on misinformation was rationally motivated. Relying on their incoherent knowledge and information of Indonesian inelegancy agencies they orchestrated a strike with the calculated assumption that in doing so they are securing their interest and elevating the existing issues surrounding commitment. Though it is also worth recognizing that as tensions between the two parties were embroiling, the leadership began to identify a pseudo-indivisible good, which was how the new government of East Timor should be structured. The rise of more tense relations between the UTD and Fretilin portrayed their different ideological beliefs and conceptions of effective governing systems. Hence, among both parties there were no doubt some influential agents who believed that a peaceful coalition could not exist because one party must have controlled the system of government in its entirety.

            The analysis seeks above draws upon Fearon’s bargaining theory to exhibit that the civil war between the UTD and Fretilin was caused by a rational decision to engage in violence. This decision was based on the subjective interpretation of information being provided to group leaders and their preferred outcomes. Scholars such as Janice Stein have critiqued the usefulness of Fearon’s bargaining theory, claiming that rationality is not a universal feature, they perceive the rational actor model that is incorporated in the bargaining theory as highly Eurocentric notion that imposes western economic orthodox values to agents of different societies in the global south. Stein further states that these models neglect the way in which non-western states interact within their unique society. Thus the theory has an insufficient understanding of the elements causing conflicts in the global south. These remarks point out an important fact that in the analysis of any civil conflict, it is crucial to incorporate the unique local level structures. However, this criticism overlooks the possibility of restructuring pay-off structures of rational actor models to resemble the rational behaviour of actors in different cultures. These refutations also hold the incorrect assumptions that interaction in countries of the global south are so different that they could not be understood by metrics of western academics, but also that the people of the global south don’t participate in profit-maximizing behaviour.

Justifying an illegal invasion

            The second question analyzed by this paper seeks to understand why Indonesia launched an illegal invasion of East Timor. The essay proposes that the nationalistic government of Indonesia was incentivized to annex East Timor, a territory they had long sought after, by the ongoing civil unrest during democratic transition and decolonization process. At the time Indonesia subversively invoked an archaic practice in international affairs known as the right of conquest. According to this notion, a militarily more powerful state has the right to territories taken by force. This was traditionally a staple of international affairs, especially during the era of colonialism. However, after the creation of a new world order post WW2, the international community revoked this right by making it illegal. To engage in this behaviour is to engage in the crime known as the war of aggression. In the modern world, this can result in severe political, diplomatic and economic repercussions for the state. Hence the resort to war or aggression can is only permitted with the existence of a casus belli, a justification, such as self-defence or humanitarian intervention. The latter casus belli is what Indonesia relied on to justify its military occupation. They claimed that their intervention was motivated by their interest to protect the ongoing decolonization progress (Chomsky). This is one of many examples that validates the argument of Barnett (pg.43) who asserts that humanitarianism is entirely a political tool that is used at times to justify principals of international law. He rejects the romanticization of humanitarianism because it provides fuel to the dangerous political agenda of states. The illegal conduct of Indonesia was very apparent, yet most western states refrained from denouncing and or preventing the occupation. Why would invasion pursue such an act and why was it supported by several countries? Beyond the simple economic benefits that would be attained there are a few political reasons that incited this invasion. One such reason was that as a pseudo-authoritarian state that preached democratic values, Indonesia’s incumbent government sought to satisfy a growing domestic nationalistic movement. Another factor that provoked the invasion was Indonesia’s fears of having a communist neighbour (Chomsky). It was evident to the Indonesian government that the UTD was not capable of suppressing or defeating their Marxist opponents. As a founding member of the non-aligned movement Indonesia to a large extent benefited from not dealing with the problems associated with Cold War intervention. This prosperity was threatened by the potential emergence of a new socialist state, which could have sparked another US-Soviet proxy war in this corner of the world. Additionally, the secession of an ethnically and religiously different group could ignite other secessionist movements throughout the diverse provinces of Indonesia (Hoadley, pg.33). Therefore, relying on the West’s fear of Soviet expansionism Indonesia’s government garnered the necessary support to pursue its politically and economically motivated conquest, which was rooted in the illegal tradition of the right to conquest.

Transitional justice in post-conflict society

            Transitional justice is a unique discipline that considers the effective ways of pursuing justice and democratization in post-conflict countries. The discipline examines the difficult questions of how to provide justice to victims of atrocities while also maintaining post-conflict peace (De Mesquita, Bruce Bueno, pg.792). Among this literature Rowland Paris’s book War's End: Building Peace After Civil Conflict provides the most thorough examination of the peacebuilding process that took place in East Timor. The book analyzes the success of UNTAE’s mission in maintaining peace and offering a durable transition to democracy, in comparison to fourteen other UN missions. The central argument of the book holds the belief that rapid deployment of democratic processes such as elections and marketization in post-conflict societies actually acts a source that hinders democratic durability and economic development. Therefore, Paris (pg.13) emphasizes the need for the implementation of governing institutions that can facilitate the responsibilities of democratic governments and argues that this should be done step by step. His arguments tackle the core problems that can be identified with attempts at democratic transitions in many other global south countries. He claims that the marketization that is associated with democratization is the most destructive factor that provides incentives to prevent to liberalization because it creates economic competition in fragile states. Paris (pg.24-31) identifies 6 elements to his central argument: (1) hold election only when country is ready; (2) design a proportional election system that meets the unique needs of the country; (3) promote good civil societies; (4) control hate speech; (5) more proactive role of government in economy; (6) rebuild necessary institution. More broadly, Paris’s theory of institutionalization before liberalizations indicates the implications of peacebuilding as a function of stat building in countries seeking to establish a democracy post-conflict. Building off these ideas, the essay suggests that the facilitation of democratic processes such as elections is merely symbolic and perpetuates what Duffield (pg.60) calls a cycle of Global North supremacy under the guise of development. Examining the eruption of violence in East Timor, the negative effects of the attempts at an election can be observed in 1974. One can go as far to claim that if Portuguese oversight of the democratic transition was stricter, and the incumbent government did not promote elections as a means to avoid further dealing with concern regarding former colonies, the tragic events that occurred in East Timor might not have happened. The Indonesian invasion can also be understood through Duffield’s explanation of humanitarianism and development. In a way there exist prior ideas such as colonialism, mercantilism and missionaries, all of which had devastating impacts that sought to promote the same ideas as development. In the case of the Indonesian invasion, Duffield’s argument also showcase that countries only intervene in humanitarian crises when a political motive exists. Thus considering East Timor’s transition to justice and democracy, the validity of Paris and Duffield’s arguments are evident. Yet it is necessary to acknowledge that thought Paris’s argument might enable a successful transition to democratic regimes, it cannot prevent economic issues grounded in the structures imposed by occupation and colonialism. Considering the state of East Timor today, the country enjoys a highly democratic system of governance, however, it suffers from a low economic output.


The purpose of this essay was to consider the following three questions:

1.     What caused the Civil War in East Timor?

2.     Why did Indonesia invade East Timor?

3.     What accounts for the successful democratic transition post-invasion?

In considering the first questions, the essay used James Fearon’s bargaining theory of war and the rational actor model to showcase that the causes of the civil war can be attributed to the rational decision of the UTD and Fretilin to engage in violence. This decision was rational because certain elements prohibited the maintenance of a peaceful compromise. Hence war and its associated costs provided the most subjective utility to the actors involved. An examination of the second question portrayed that Indonesia’s invasion was motivated by a list of political and economic factors, though equally important it was the condition of opportunist decision making that took advantage of the instability created by the poorly oversaw decolonization. In answering this question, the essay also illustrated the illegal nature of Indonesia’s nature, the principle it was based on and the extent of western support. Addressing the last question, the essay found that Paris’s theory of institutionalization before liberalization offered the best explanation on what produced the success of East Timor’s post-conflict transition. Moreover, incorporating Duffield’s criticism of humanitarianism and development highlights the caution needed when delving into the complex task of providing transitional-justice.

            In justifying these arguments, the essay’s reliance on the interdisciplinary approaches of international relations, conflict and development studies, invited the reader to consider nuances found in the existing literature. The essay sheds light on the lack of coverage of the civil war in the global south. The essay provided a more-well-rounded definition of civil wars, one that incorporates the characteristics of Marry Kaldor’s new wars and the legal criteria of non-international armed conflicts. Furthermore, the analysis pointed out the problems of relying on primarily western historical accounts of conflicts in countries of the global south. It also conveyed the sentiments of scholars concerned with the role of humanitarianism in perpetuating conflict, given its use as a political tool and submission to the political agenda of powerful countries located in the global north. Through this discussion, the essay hopes to have supported further discourse on any aspects of the East Timorese conflict, for it can serve as a great learning point. The essay recognizes that the ideas proposed are not novel, but hopes that through the exchange of these ideas it and repetition of sentiments put forth by other scholars, it can participate in developing a critical-interdisciplinary approach to studying the causes and consequences of civil wars.

Works Cited

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Chomsky, Noam, and Edward S. Herman. The Washington connection and third world fascism. Vol. 1. South End Press, 1979.

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De Mesquita, Bruce Bueno, et al. "An institutional explanation of the democratic peace." American Political Science Review93.4 (1999): 791-807.

Duffield, Mark. Development, security and unending war: governing the world of peoples. Polity, 2007.

Dunn, James. Timor: A people betrayed. Milton, Qld.: Jacaranda Press, 1983.

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