The Deputy Under Secretary of State (Rusk) to the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Foreign Military Affairs and Military Assistance (Burns)


My Dear General Burns: As you know, the Round Table Conference at The Hague which terminated successfully on November 2, 1949 provided that the status quo (Netherlands sovereignty) over Dutch New Guinea should be maintained, with the stipulation that New Guinea’s status be determined within a year by a direct negotiation between the United States of Indonesia and the Netherlands [Page 986]under the general observation of the United Nations Commission for Indonesia. The Netherlands-Indonesian Union will consider this important matter for the first time during the month of March.

The possible outcome of these negotiations includes at the one extreme the continuance of Netherlands sovereignty in its present form over Dutch New Guinea and at the other the incorporation of this territory into Indonesia.

It has been the view of the Department that the interests of the inhabitants of Dutch New Guinea would be best served by the continuation of Dutch control in some form. Furthermore, it is believed that Dutch control would provide better insurance against possible Communist infiltration into or military domination of Dutch New Guinea than would incorporation of the territory into Indonesia. This matter is of direct concern not only to the United States but also to the United Kingdom and to Australia. You should know that Australia has offered the Netherlands her assistance in maintaining Dutch control and has suggested as an alternative to Netherlands sovereignty, a merger of Dutch New Guinea with Australian New Guinea, which is being administered under the United Nations trusteeship system.

During the course of The Hague Conference the Netherlands Government was informally advised that the Department favored continuance of Netherlands control over Dutch New Guinea, and was disposed to regard a Netherlands trusteeship over the territory, as suggested by the Netherlands Government, as a reasonable compromise solution. Now as then, the Department believes that the best disposition of the problem would be for the Netherlands to undertake a United Nations trusteeship over the territory for a long term of years.

On the other hand, it is recognized that a settlement of the New Guinea question totally unsatisfactory to the United States of Indonesia might generate friction with the Netherlands, prejudicial to stability in the area and to the healthy development of the Netherlands-Indonesian Union. There have been indications in reports from our diplomatic representatives in Indonesia that some responsible Netherlands authorities may be prepared to recommend that the Netherlands, transfer its authority over Dutch New Guinea to Indonesia in order to prevent serious controversy and harmful deterioration of political relations between the Netherlands and Indonesia. This proposal is by no means an official Netherlands position, but the Department wishes to point out the possibility that the ultimate decision of the Netherlands may be to turn over Dutch New Guinea to Indonesia.

If an appropriate occasion is presented, the Department plans to indicate its views on Dutch New Guinea to both the Netherlands and Indonesia. At this time however, there is grave doubt as to the wisdom of this Government’s attempting to intervene energetically in these [Page 987]delicate negotiations, and in any event it would be uncertain that we could in fact influence the final agreement between the two parties primarily concerned. Were it to appear, however, that important strategic or security interests of the United States were involved in the negotiations, the Department would consider taking diplomatic steps to properly apprise the parties of these interests.

In the light of informal inquiries made of Admiral Davis,1 the Department of State understands that no major strategic interests of the United States are presently considered to be involved in the disposition of Dutch New Guinea. If it is so desired, however, the Department will keep the Department of Defense informed of this problem, thereby enabling that Department to make known any further views which it may have on the subject.2

Sincerely yours,

Dean Rusk
  1. A memorandum of Rusk’s discussion with Rear Adm. Arthur C. Davis, Director of the Joint Staff of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, dated February 28, not printed, is in file 756D.00/2–2850.
  2. On April 27 Major General Burns replied to this letter, reiterating the view of the Defense Department that no major strategic interests of the United States were involved in the disposition of Netherlands New Guinea, but asking to be kept informed of developments, (756D.00/4–2750)