NEW GUINEA: Letting Down the Dutch

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Lying north of Australia, New Guinea, an island the size of Scandinavia, is populated by an unknown number of fuzzy-haired tribesmen who have no idea of government. The eastern half of New Guinea is ruled by Australia; who should rule the western half was in grave dispute last week. West New Guinea, a strategic prize, may also become economically important when oil and mineral discoveries are properly developed.

For more than a century West New Guinea has been part of the Dutch colonial empire. After World War II, when the rest of the rich Netherlands East Indies got their independence and became Indonesia, the two nations agreed to negotiate the future status of West New Guinea. But Indonesia this year broke all its ties with the old mother country, and the Dutch considered the agreement no longer binding. Immediately, Indonesia submitted to the U.N. its claim to ad minister West New Guinea all by itself. Indonesia's case was woefully weak: it has never had control of the land; its people are of different stock and have shown no desire to join Indonesia. Besides, the Indonesian government is unable to control its own rebellion-plagued 80 millions. At least two of its Cabinet members, one of them the Minister of Defense, are Communists or fellow travelers; the administration is rotting from within. To give it control of West New Guinea, said New York Times Military Expert Hanson Baldwin, would be "strategic madness."

Last week, before the U.N. General Assembly Political Committee, Indonesia asked the U.N. to order the Dutch out of West New Guinea, and raised the bogus cry of colonialism—although Indonesian control would be just as colonial. Nevertheless, the cry had great effect. The Arab-Asian bloc sided with Indonesia; so did the Soviet bloc. By a vote of 34 to 14, the U.N. committee urged both parties to "pursue their endeavors" to solve the dispute, thus repudiating the Dutch contention that Indonesia has no claim on West New Guinea.

Caught between loyalty to a European ally and fear of being accused of favoring "colonialism" in Asia, the U.S. abstained from voting, winning favor with neither side and letting down the Dutch, whose case the U.S. privately conceded to be right.