Timor Leste Is an International Intervention Success Story

    John Watts

    Politics, Asia

    Supporters of presidential candidate Francisco Guterres of the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (FRETILIN) party cheer at a campaign rally ahead of next week's elections, in Tasi Tolu, Dili, East Timor

    If the West truly believes in the power of democracy, it must commit to intervening where necessary and providing sufficient ongoing support to see success achieved. 

    As Western appetite for international intervention is eroded by growing nationalist and isolationist sentiment, Timor Leste presents a timely reminder of the value of defending the freedoms of the oppressed. It is one of Southeast Asia’s smallest, poorest and newest nations. But it is also its most democratic and, despite being mired in a month’s long political stalemate, the only regional country trending towards greater democracy. Counterintuitively, the current political crisis it faces actually highlights the Timorese commitment to democratic ideals. Meanwhile, its leadership on several globally relevant issues demonstrates how empowering and supporting like-minded fragile nations strengthens the rules-based international order. As such, it provides a timely reminder to the West of the importance of recommitting to the pursuit of foreign policy centered on the promotion of shared pro-democratic values.

    It has been nearly twenty years since a multinational peacekeeping force deployed to East Timor (as it was then known) to stop the violence and bloodshed resulting from the country’s vote for independence from Indonesia. This is a good amount of time to look back on the intervention with some historical context and to evaluate its relative success. In doing so, however, it is important to bear several things in mind. Firstly, the Timorese are free and democratic today because the international community valued their freedom and acted to empower their democracy. There were no ulterior motives of preventing terrorism or securing strategic resources. It even occurred before the concept of Responsibility to Protect was fully developed, a concept that has almost eroded to extinction.

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