Indonesian soldiers marching in uniform

Australia's role in Indonesian independence - liberal internationalism in action, or the realpolitik of regional security?

Wednesday 20th January 2016; 2.00 - 4.00pm; Room 9.05, Tower 2 (TW2)
Speaker: Bruce Watson; Chair: Dr Kirsten Schulze

On 17 August 1945 two Indonesian nationalists, Mohammed Hatta and Sukarno declared that the territory within the boundaries of the Netherlands East Indies was henceforth a republic and no longer part of the Dutch colonial system.  The next four years would see military action by the Netherlands in attempts to keep this furthermost part of a 350 year empire intact and intense international political manoeuvring as the US sought to facilitate post-war European reconstruction in part using Indonesia’s abundant natural resources. Australia played a key role in pressing for Indonesian independence, often in conflict with its traditional European allies.  70 years on from the independence declaration, Australia continues to promote its role in championing the nationalists against their Dutch colonists.

This paper will argue that Australia’s motivation in supporting Indonesian independence was not founded on liberal internationalism or distaste for colonialism. Rather, the quest for security saw Australia take the nationalist side the better to placate its hugely populous neighbour when it became clear that the European powers would not provide a defensive shield to Australia’s north and the nationalist victory seemed inevitable.

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Bruce Watson is a doctoral candidate in the History Department of the University of Sydney. He has had a long career in law and investment banking, and has been extensively involved in business in Indonesia and first visited the country in 1973.



Kirsten Schulze is Deputy Director of the Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre and Associate Professor in International History at LSE.