UNTEA served the important function of buffer between contending forces and in general accomplished a remarkably smooth transfer. In this regard the United Nations operation was a major success. The smooth transfer was achieved, however, at the cost of rights specifically guaranteed in the agreement—the rights of free speech and assembly. Furthermore, the United Nations preparatory task and responsibility in the future “act of self-determination” was minimized.
It may be argued that UNTEA policy in West Irian merely reflects the weakness of the United Nations in a nation-state world. Lack of UNTEA power certainly was an important aspect. The explanation, however, is more complex. It is significant to recall that the United Nations assumed its task under severe handicaps: It was given no time for adequate recruitment and preparation; from the start it was confronted with the legitimized presence of Indonesian troops; the status of the “Papuan flag” was never mentioned in the agreement; and general Papuan primitivity along with political naïveté and schisms among the small and newly created Papuan élite influenced UNTEA's approach.
UNTEA also met continuous Indonesian pressure aimed at shortening the period of its administration and weakening its authority in general. Statements by Indonesian officials cast doubt on Indonesia's willingness to adhere to the wording of the agreement. In trying to interpret Indonesian feelings it might be conceded that most Dutch-Indonesian agreements have imposed conditions which could be considered obnoxious to Indonesia. The rights of self-determination for the Papuan inhabitants—stipulated in the August 15 agreement—fall into this category.