||This dissertation explores the interaction between Australian foreign policy and the Indonesian Revolution. Central is the point that Australian foreign policy was shaped by the Indonesian Revolution to an extent that few historians have recognized so far. After the Second World War, the Indonesian Revolution both posed a threat and was an opportunity for Australia. They wanted to create a stable region and were aware of how important it was to have Indonesia as a defensive ally, especially after the quick Allied defeat at the hand of the Japanese. They also saw a chance to build up a trade relationship with a country that was both rich in natural resources and had a lot of potential customers of Australian products. Before the Revolution, Australia had mainly counted on the British and their stronghold Singapore for their defence, and had been unable to conduct trade with the Netherlands East Indies on large scale, due to the protectionist policies of the Netherlands. Australia became aware that its own interests conflicted with those of the United Kingdom and the colonial system. It was because of this old colonial order that the Netherlands East Indies and Australia did not maintain extensive contacts with each other politically and diplomatically speaking, but were both still very much focussed on the countries that had colonized them. Even though those were on the other side of the globe, and Australia and the Netherlands East Indies were neighbours.
With the Indonesian Revolution this could all change, and Australia saw the opportunity. However, the United Kingdom had dominated Australian foreign policy for so long, that Australia was still unsure what its own opinions on the situation were. But these developed pretty quick, after Australia was dragged into the conflict. The result of the Borneo Campaign was that they had to assume responsibility over the eastern part of Indonesia after the war, until the Dutch would return. A polarizing, nationwide dockworkers’ strike in the meantime made sure that everyone in Australia itself knew what was going on in the Netherlands East Indies. While they initially tried to work together with the Dutch to find a
solution for the conflict, the Australians soon became fed up with their stubbornness and the relation soured after a couple of diplomatic incidents. The British consequently denied the Australians a place at the negotiating table, and though they accepted their position at first, their frustration grew with each failed British attempt to mediate an agreement between the revolutionary leaders of the Republic of Indonesia and the Dutch.
When the Dutch launched a military attack on the Republican areas in July 1947, the Australians decided that it was time to act. Breaking through all traditional boundaries that divided countries in political allegiances at the time, it referred the Indonesian dispute to the Security Council, directly defying requests from their closest ally the United Kingdom not to do precisely that, in support of a non-white, non-Western, and non-Christian country that did not even exist yet.
This was both a symbol of an emerging Southeast Asian – or Pacific – region, of maturing Australian independence, and of the unavoidable demise of the colonial system, but it was also a momentous development in the Indonesian struggle for independence. The Renville Agreement that was signed after the ensuing negotiations between the Netherlands, the Republic, Belgium, the United States, and Australia was itself not such a success for the Indonesians, but it would have far-reaching effects. For the first time since the outbreak of hostilities after the Second World War, the international community had committed itself to a peaceful ending to the Indonesian Revolution. And this support would turn out to be crucial in the subsequent episodes that would ultimately lead to Indonesian independence.
This thesis shows that studying the Indonesian Revolution and its impact through emerging power structures, instead of along the traditional lines, can provide surprising new insights, both in the significant role Australia has played in the Indonesian Revolution, and how that revolution would help bring about a more independent Australian foreign policy.