Dutch Expansionism and Indonesian Liberation Movement

  October 20, 2021   Read time 4 min
Dutch Expansionism and Indonesian Liberation Movement
On 18 December 1948, direct talks between the Dutch Foreign Minister and Dr Hatta failed to resolve their differences. Now once more the Netherlands Government issued an ultimatum, demanding acceptance of its own proposals within eighteen hours.

In the words of the chairman of the Good Offices Committee, 'this in effect called for a surrender to the position' of the Hague 'on every material point'. It was physically almost impossible for an answer to be given within the time specified. The Dutch then launched their second police action. They quickly captured most of the Republic's leaders, including Sukarno, Hatta and Sjahrir, and placed then in exile outside Java. They conquered most of the towans of Java and Sumatra, expelling the republican forces into the countryside. The Good Offices Committee (including this time the Belgian representative) declared that no effective notice of termination of the truce agreement had been given and that the Dutch had initiated hostile military action at a time when the obligations of that agreement were still in operation. Its own facilities for negotiation 'had not been exhausted or effectively utilised' and there was no 'legitimate basis upon which a party could forsake the forum of negotiation for that of armed force'.

The strong-arm tactics employed by the Dutch had finally alienated almost all foreign opinion, including that, mainly in North America and Western Europe, which had previously been most indulgent to her. In the United States there were calls for economic sanctions. The Economic Co-operation Administration did in fact cut off aid to the Netherlands in Indonesia. Within the UN the United States, until this time the member most favourable to the Netherlands, now demanded strong action against her. Together with Australia she called the Security Council into action on 19 December.

When the Council met, the US delegate, Jessup, declared that the 'simple massive fact is that the Council's own order of 1 August 1947, has been contravened'. He submitted a resolution, supported by Colombia and Syria, calling for an immediate withdrawal of forces and asking for the Good Offices Committee to assess responsibility for the outbreak of hostilities. The Soviet Union wanted a still tougher resolution, condemning Dutch 'aggression', calling for the release of the republican leaders and again asking for a commission, representing the Council as a whole, to go to Indonesia. A compromise resolution was eventually agreed, which called for a ceasefire and demanded the release of the republican leaders. It did not, however, include any demand for withdrawal, owing to the inexplicable refusal of the Soviet Union and the Ukraine (together with France and Britain) to support it: another example of how the Soviet Union prevented the UN from acting effectively if it would not act in the way she herself demanded.

The Good Offices Committee transmitted the resolution to the parties. But it made clear to the Council that the resolution, by allowing one party to hold conquered territory, could scarcely be expected to encourage negotiation. On 27 December, therefore, the Council met again. The Soviet Union proposed a resolution calling for an immediate cessation of military operations within twenty-four hours. This failed, but the next day the Council passed two other resolutions. One, proposed by China, called for the release of the republican leaders within twenty-four hours. The other called for an urgent report on the situation from the Good Offices Committee. Still no demand for withdrawal was made. And by now the Dutch representative was able to inform the Council that the purposes of the police action had been achieved. All military action would cease on 31 December in most areas, and three days later in Java.

These meetings had taken place in Paris, where the Assembly was at that time meeting. On 7 January the Council met again in New York. The Netherlands Government then announced that hostilities had ceased a few days earlier in Java and Sumatra. The republican leaders had been released from house arrest, but were still confined to the island of Banki. The Dutch Prime Minister had travelled to Indonesia for consultations with Indonesians of all views. Later the Dutch announced plans to establish an interim government and, at a later stage, to hold elections. These arrangements were apparently to exclude the Republic and its representatives.

This was the final straw. The Dutch attempt to impose by force a solution in which the republican leaders, the main representatives of Indonesian nationalism, were to have no part was quite unacceptable to the majority in the Council. The Indonesian representative, Palar, pointed out that the failure of the Council to demand withdrawal had enabled the Dutch to obtain a position of military power in the towns; yet action by Indonesian guerrillas in the countryside would now be regarded as a violation of the ceasefire. The US delegate, briefed by Cochran, the US chairman of the Good Offices Committee, now came out still more strongly against the Dutch. He condemned the long history of Dutch non-cooperation with the Good Offices Committee, their 'unilateral attempt to establish governments, and to weaken the republic, and their current attempt to impose their own will by force'. He asserted that the Republic was an existing political force and the heart of Indonesian nationalism. Dates should be fixed for elections and a transfer of sovereignty, and Dutch troops should withdraw as soon as possible.