15. Memorandum From the Special Assistant to the Joint Chiefs of Staff for National Security Council Affairs (Triebel) to the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Cutler)0


  • U.S. Policy on Indonesia (NSC 5518)1
Enclosure A, which was developed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in November 1957, is forwarded herewith for Planning Board consideration in connection with the scheduled review of NSC 5518.
Paragraph 5–d of Enclosure A recommends an immediate token military aid program for Indonesia. Subsequent to the development of Enclosure A and the recent unrest in Indonesia, the Joint Chiefs of Staff have stated that in view of the general political instability of Indonesia, recent developments affecting the interests of U.S. Allies, and the uncertainty as to the manner in which military assistance would be utilized, it now appears that political and other considerations may dictate whether or not token aid should be provided to Indonesia, and if so, when it should be delivered.
C.O. Triebel
Rear Admiral, USN
[Page 31]

Enclosure A


The Joint Chiefs of Staff have been increasingly concerned in recent months by political developments in Indonesia and with the probable effectiveness of U.S. policy and action to forestall or cope with the rising influence of Communism in that country. If this strategic area should be lost to the Communist Bloc, the position of the United States and its allies in the Far East would suffer irreparable and catastrophic damage. U.S. policy and concepts for its implementation must be directed toward avoidance of disaster if possible, in addition to dealing with disaster if and when it occurs.
NSC Action 17882 approved the Special Report on Indonesia3 with certain amendments and directed that the Special Report be used in a review of U.S. Policy toward Indonesia. This report, among other things, suggests three approaches toward achieving U.S. objectives in Indonesia:
  • “a. Employ all feasible covert means to strengthen the determination, will and cohesion of the anti-Communist forces in the outer islands, particularly in Sumatra and Sulawesi, in order through their strength to affect favorably the situation in Java, and to provide a rallying point if the Communists should take over Java.
  • “b. If the situation on Java continues to deteriorate, then move to more forthright means in pursuit of the course of action outlined in a.
  • “c. Utilize such leverage as is available and may be built up by the anti-Communist forces in the outer islands to continue our efforts to try to unify and stimulate into action, singly or in unison, non- and anti-Communist elements on Java against the Communists.”

    The conclusion is reached that the approach in subparagraph c above has the greatest promise of achieving U.S. objectives. As regards Indonesian military forces, the recommendation is made to:

    “Seek to prevent the growth of the military potential of the government military forces on Java, as these may ultimately fall under Communist influence and be used to reduce the anti-Communist forces in the outer islands. However, utilize and support the non- and anti-Communist elements in the military and paramilitary forces on Java and in the Central Government.”

Although U.S. policy as stated above provides, among other things, for strengthening anti-Communist elements in outlying islands [Page 32] as a means of influencing policies of the Central Government, it is essentially negative. It implies that Java may ultimately fall to Communist control. The Joint Chiefs of Staff are of the opinion that concepts for the implementation of U.S. policy in Indonesia must take cognizance of the following:
Java contains two-thirds of an estimated total Indonesian population of 85 million. Although the island itself possesses only a small proportion of the natural resources of the nation, its people are the more politically sophisticated, the best organized, and have traditionally exercised political and economic leadership. Essentially all Naval and Air Forces are based on Java, as are over 100,000 of the 180,000 Army troops. To lose Java and permit the influence of this concentration of military, economic, and political strength to be exploited by the Communists is virtually to lose Indonesia over the long term.
Nationalism is and will probably continue to be the strongest single force within Indonesia, and it overrides the many divisive elements which exist. Whatever government controls Java it will be able to speak with the voice of nationalism and will almost certainly be able to advance itself as the legitimate government of Indonesia before the world forum. It must be recognized that a Communist controlled nationalist government in Java would receive the immediate and complete overt support of the Communist Bloc, and ultimately the support of the Afro-Asian Bloc within the UN, to a degree which would make it substantially impossible for the West to rectify the situation. On the other hand, if the West were adequately prepared to give timely and effective support to, and if necessary to assist in the creation of, a non-Communist nationalist government on Java in time of crisis, it would have good prospects of being able to achieve long term success.
The principal obstacle facing the West in its attempt to influence Indonesian affairs is the heritage of anti-colonialism and continued Indonesian suspicion of Western motives. The Indonesians are quick to resent any real or fancied attempts to influence their internal affairs and can be expected to react sharply under all such circumstances. For this reason, covert activity must be extremely circumspect and by its nature must be limited in size and scope. It must be augmented by and coordinated with the efforts of other governmental agencies under an accepted concept for the implementation of national policy.
Achievement of U.S. objectives over the long term is unlikely unless a non-Communist nationalist government in some form continues to exist in Java. The United States must be able to immediately exploit favorable developments toward that end. We must plan for timely and adequate support of such a government and, if necessary, assist in its creation when the inevitable crisis in Indonesia comes to pass.
In time of crisis in Java, it is probable that Indonesian military forces particularly the Army, will be a decisive factor. Although it is known that the Communist apparatus has infiltrated the Indonesian Air Force and Army to a considerable degree, the latter continues to be the principal stabilizing force within the nation and the element which has the most promising capability of maintaining a national orientation favorable to the West. At this time, Indonesia, although preferring U.S. arms, is actively considering offers from Communist Bloc sources. Provision of a controlled military aid program to forestall direct Communist influence in military affairs is considered necessary as a calculated risk. A token military aid program for Indonesia should be initiated at an early date. No military aid should be provided which would enhance appreciably the mobility of central government forces with respect to the possible employment of Javanese troops in the outlying islands. Further study of the internal Indonesian situation governing the distribution of such arms, and observation of the results of token aid, would be the governing factors in a possible more extensive aid program. Such a military aid program is not regarded as contravening the provisions of paragraph 7. b. of the “Special Report on Indonesia.”
It is realized that U.S. actions in Indonesia will be subject to close scrutiny by our SEATO allies and other confirmed pro-Western governments in Southeast Asia. Any overt moves on our part should be associated with a program to explain our objectives and convince our allies of the strategic necessity of insuring a pro-Western orientation of the Indonesian Government.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff therefore recommend that the above views on the implementation of U.S. policy in Indonesia be brought to the early attention of the National Security Council, specifically to point out:
The loss of Indonesia to the Communist Bloc would do irreparable and catastrophic damage to the position of the U.S. and its allies in the Far East.
A Communist-controlled nationalist government, once established in Java, would receive the immediate and overt support of the Communist Bloc, and ultimately the support of the Afro-Asian Bloc in the UN, to a degree which would make it substantially impossible for the West to prevent consolidation of Communist control throughout the island chain over the long term.
To insure continued non-Communist control of Java in time of crisis, the United States must be adequately prepared to give timely and effective support to, and if necessary assist in the creation of, a non-Communist nationalist government when the inevitable crisis in Java comes to pass.
An immediate token military aid program, with particular reference to the Indonesian Army, is necessary to forestall direct Communist Bloc influence in Indonesian military affairs. Such an aid program should not enhance to a significant extent the mobility of forces under the control of the central government with respect to their possible employment in the outlying islands. The distribution and use of U.S. token aid to Indonesia should be carefully observed. Should the program matériel be distributed or used contrary to U.S. interests, the aid should be terminated. Should the program enhance U.S. interests, it might then provide a useful means of measuring a more extensive aid program for Indonesia.
Increasing influence of Communist elements on the Central Government of Indonesia must be countered by resolute implementation of a more positive concept for the achievement of U.S. objectives in Indonesia. The scope, nature and quality of the effort now being made to this end by cognizant departments and agencies of the U.S. Government should be re-examined on an urgent basis.4
  1. Source: Department of State, S/SNSC Files: Lot 62 D 1, Indonesia. Top Secret.
  2. NSC 5518, “U.S. Policy on Indonesia,” approved by the President on May 12, 1955, is printed in Foreign Relations, 1955–1957, vol. XXII, pp. 153157.
  3. For text of NSC Action No. 1788, see ibid., footnote 5, p. 452.
  4. The Special Report, September 3, 1957, is ibid., pp. 436440. See also the memorandum of NSC discussion of September 23, 1957, ibid., pp. 450453.
  5. In a February 12 memorandum to Triebel Cutler wrote “I am not clear to whom the Joint Chiefs were making this recommendation or why, if they thought the recommendation should be brought to the early attention of the National Security Council, it was not forwarded until some three months after its date and then to the Planning Board instead of to the Secretary of Defense for the Council.” (Eisenhower Library, Special Assistant for National Security Affairs Records)

    In a February 13 memorandum to Cutler Triebel explained that when he forwarded the JCS report under cover of his memorandum of February 12, a meeting of the Planning Board to discuss Indonesia had been scheduled for February 13. The JCS felt that their views should be considered by the Planning Board in connection with the over-all policy review and Triebel’s February 10 memorandum was prepared so that Planning Board members could have the JCS views prior to consideration of policy toward Indonesia. Planning Board consideration of Indonesia policy, However, had been postponed. (Department of State, S/SNSC Files: Lot 63 D 351, NSC 5518 Series)