223. Despatch From the Embassy in the Netherlands to the Department of State0

No. 173


  • Djakarta’s D–904 and D–905, May 26, 1959,1 and D–925, June 1, 1959;2 Canberra’s D–2, July 1, 1959;3 and Emb D–60, July 27, 19594


  • West New Guinea: Comments on Dutch Attitudes with Particular Reference to Embassy Djakarta’s Proposal re Settlement of West New Guinea Question

The proposals made in Embassy Djakarta’s reference despatches on this subject have been read here with particular interest. We, too, have long felt that some clarification of the U.S. position regarding West New Guinea would benefit U.S. efforts in dealing with the complex of U.S.-Dutch-Indo problems with which we have all been preoccupied during the last two years. The Ambassador has suggested on a number of occasions (e.g., Embtel 1157,5 rptd Djakarta 149, Canberra 74; and Embtel 1466,6 rptd Djakarta 225, Canberra 134, et seq.) that this problem be reexamined.

The following additional comments (a synthesis of information and views from the sections of the Embassy concerned and from the Consulates General) are now offered by the Embassy in the hope that they will be helpful when the Department undertakes a new study of the U.S. position regarding West New Guinea. The first section below summarizes the Dutch position on this subject; the second section contains comment [Page 429]on this position in relation to Embassy Djakarta’s analysis and suggestions; and the third section contains this Embassy’s conclusions regarding the further development of the Dutch position on West New Guinea and the possibilities of ultimately finding some constructive solution of it.

[Here follows a section summarizing the Dutch position on the West New Guinea dispute; see Supplement.]

Comments on Embassy Djakarta’s Suggestions

We fully understand and appreciate the difficulties, inhibitions and obstacles that the West New Guinea problem places in the path of our policy in Indonesia. We recognize also, as Embassy Djakarta has pointed out, that the emotional, political and other aspects of the Indonesian attitude on this subject, no matter how contrived or unrealistic they may be, are nevertheless facts of life which must be accepted and taken into account in determining our position on the New Guinea question in relation to U.S. interests. This same maxim applies, of course, in the case of the Dutch attitude.

After reviewing that attitude, we believe it is clear, first, that the proposal made by Embassy Djakarta would not be sufficiently attractive from the Dutch point of view to persuade them to change their position, and, second, that our initiative, as proposed by Embassy Djakarta, would have far more serious consequences—and not alone for U.S.-Dutch relations—than has been foreseen in the reference despatches.

In essence, Embassy Djakarta proposes that a UN trusteeship over West New Guinea be established for five years after which the area would go to Indonesia; meanwhile, an agreement would be negotiated between the Netherlands under which the Dutch would receive adequate compensation for the Dutch assets seized by the Indonesians and the progressive removal of discriminatory restrictions on Dutch enterprises in Indonesia. However, such an arrangement is not likely to be viewed by the Dutch as an adequate motive for reversing their position on West New Guinea. So far as they are concerned, their people have been expelled from Indonesia and Dutch investments and enterprises have been “stolen”. They feel strongly that they have a right to receive adequate compensation for their “stolen” assets without giving up anything more. Moreover, the Dutch have long since made it unmistakably clear that they believe that Indonesians, in attempting to join the question of compensation to their claim to West New Guinea, are engaging in nothing short of blackmail. Consequently, to make a settlement with the Indonesians under which they would simply receive what they would regard as doubtful promises of payment for “stolen property,” would hardly appear to the Dutch as a persuasive reason for agreeing to give [Page 430]up West New Guinea as well. After all, they were not prepared to give it up in the hope of saving the Dutch businesses in Indonesia which were taken over; and we see nothing to indicate that, now that this has occurred, there is any likelihood of their giving it up in the hope of ultimately salvaging something in the way of compensation to which they feel they are already legitimately entitled.

The Dutch stand in this respect constitutes, in our judgment, a classic case in which characteristic Dutch business shrewdness in protecting its own financial interests was obliged to give way to political and moral considerations which, in this “Calvinistic” country, have been considered of greater and more basic importance in shaping national policy. Being forced to make such a policy choice, however, has, if anything, intensified the emotional reaction of the Dutch—the sense of moral outrage—over the expulsion of Dutch nationals from Indonesia, Indonesian treatment of Dutch business interests in Indonesia and the continuing Indonesian campaign linking compensation with their claim to West New Guinea. In these circumstances, therefore, any attempt to persuade the Dutch to accept a settlement along the lines of Embassy Djakarta’s proposals would, in our opinion, be hotly rejected and Dutch protests against such attempts would doubtless find a sympathetic ear among some of our principal allies.

In presenting its suggestions for a settlement of the New Guinea question, Embassy Djakarta has anticipated that it “would probably lead to a degree of strain in Dutch-American relations.” We already possess, it seems to us, some standard of measurement by which we may judge just what this degree of strain might be. During the last two years we have enjoyed, in our opinion, the best possible opportunity to observe the strength of Dutch feeling on this subject—namely, their reaction to our military aid program in Indonesia. And this reaction related merely to the potential danger to West New Guinea which the Dutch fear our arms aid to Indonesia constitutes. But even this reaction brought us perilously close to full-blown and dangerous disagreement bilaterally and within NATO—a possibility that is still far from being dead. If we should decide to participate in promoting any settlement at this time which envisages turning over West New Guinea to Indonesia, we can only say that the Dutch reaction would be immediate, public, violent and not confined to bilateral channels. It is clear from the foregoing section and depth of feeling from which the Dutch position on West New Guinea springs. Any move on our part which would lead to their displacement in New Guinea would be bitterly and violently resented as an attack on those basic Dutch principles discussed above. Such a move would also rekindle all the latent Dutch bitterness against the U.S. (and presumably the UK) in connection with our policy at the time Indonesia obtained its independence. It is well to recall, in this connection, that the [Page 431]more senior positions in many government ministries here are held by “old Indonesia hands,” men who remember the good old days when they held top posts in the Dutch East Indies—and who remember also the days when they lost the jobs they had enjoyed so much. It is no exaggeration to suggest that we would be strongly attacked for trying to kick the Dutch out of West New Guinea as we helped to kick them out of Indonesia. After the treatment they have had at Indonesian hands, there would be little doubt in the Dutch mind that they were being abandoned by the U.S. and their interests sacrificed to Indonesian interests as the expedient price of U.S. policy in that area.

While such a move on our part would certainly have serious consequences for our bilateral relations with the Netherlands, one cannot ignore the repercussions it would also have elsewhere. While the Department is in a better position to judge this point, it seems to us that any U.S. action along the lines Embassy Djakarta suggests would certainly have great significance for the British, French, Belgian and Portuguese Governments which are also burdened with their own delicate colonial problems, Furthermore, all these countries are members of NATO and any action, as suggested in the case of one of our staunchest NATO allies, could not fail, we believe, to cause important repercussions within the Western alliance, which is, however one wishes to qualify it, still basic to our major foreign policy objectives.

One cannot ignore, either, the impact which the suggested course of action can be expected to have on Australia and on our relations with that country. Embassy Canberra’s reference despatch has already given indications of this probability. While the Australians have expressed their willingness to accept any disposition of West New Guinea mutually agreed by the Dutch and Indonesians, this appears here to have far more the ring of a platitude than it does of any modification, however slight, in their existing bipartisan policy on this subject. There is surely nothing known here to indicate that the Australians want or expect the Dutch to dispose of West New Guinea—to the Indonesians or anyone else except, perhaps, in due course the Papuans. On the contrary, there seems every reason to believe that the Australians fully expect and anxiously want the Dutch to retain sovereignty over West New Guinea. Their anxiety in this respect has now reached the point where it is sometimes difficult for us to determine which of these two is more ardently seeking the other’s support. As this Embassy has reported, Dutch-Australian cooperation in New Guinea has been increasing (Emb D–315, Sept. 26, 1958,7 and D–405, Oct. 31, 19588) and Prime Minister Menzies[Page 432]recent visit here on June 29 confirmed the fact that the Dutch and Australians are making every effort to expand their cooperation at all levels and in all areas involved in the administration and development of New Guinea as a whole. (Emb D–17, July 8, 1959)9 In his public statement at the time, Mr. Menzies said, “We agreed that, with the ultimate idea of bringing the indigenous populations to a state of self-government, we should each pursue active policies of improving education, health and communications and the exploration of national resources.” These endeavors, the Embassy understands from the Foreign Office, are to be carried out with increased cooperation between the Dutch and Australian administrators. From these and other indications it seems clear that, in principle and in practice, the policy interests of the Dutch and Australians in New Guinea are becoming so intertwined as to be inseparable in considering any settlement of the future status of West New Guinea.


Much as we may agree with Embassy Djakarta regarding the desirability of finding a solution for the West New Guinea question, we do not, in view of all the foregoing, see it as a problem of manageable proportions about which the U.S. can do anything constructive in the immediately foreseeable future. Passions have been aroused on both sides and it is as unrealistic, in our opinion, to expect the Dutch to turn over West Guinea to the Indonesians as to expect the Indonesians to restore Dutch properties in Indonesia to their Dutch owners. Consequently, unless we should find that our interests dictate that we should try to force a Dutch-Indonesian settlement of the New Guinea question, we see a period of quiet, during which passions may cool, as the minimum necessary prerequisite to any moves which might have a chance of success in leading to an ultimate settlement of this highly charged issue.

By this comment, however, we do not intend to suggest that the U.S. should do nothing. It is still our belief that the U.S. should make a clear determination of its own best interests in this matter and the position those interests dictate as regards future policy objectives.

For instance, it is our assumption that the U.S. recognizes Dutch sovereignty over Netherlands New Guinea; at least we are not aware that the U.S. has ever challenged it. But is this assumption correct and is it based on any legal finding? It seems to us that one possible course of action to explore, in this connection, is whether U.S. interests would be best served by trying to persuade the Indonesians to give up their opposition to placing the West New Guinea issue before the International Court of Justice or before the Permanent Court of Arbitration. If the Indonesians [Page 433]continue to feel that the Dutch are acting illegally in not turning West New Guinea over to them, and if the U.S. believes that a solution to the West New Guinea issue must be found, why, then, should we not urge that it be sought through these recognized and established organs of international law?

If, on the other hand, the U.S. accepts the Indonesian view that theirs is primarily a political and not a legal claim to West New Guinea, this would, we believe, require a different approach in assessing the U.S. position. In addition to a legal finding on the question of whether we recognize Dutch sovereignty over Netherlands New Guinea, another fundamental starting point, we think, would then be a U.S. determination of the strategic value in Southeast Asia of New Guinea as a whole and Netherlands New Guinea in particular. This determination would seem to be essential before any decision could be made on the political question of whether the U.S. wishes the Dutch to retain control over West New Guinea. Once this political question is decided, it seems to us that the U.S. would then be in a position to begin thinking in concrete terms about what action it should take in relation to the West New Guinea question. It is quite possible, of course, that even after a thorough-going review, the U.S. might decide to make no change in its present policy of trying to skate between the opposing views of the Dutch and Indonesians without becoming involved in the dispute at all. This is, after all, as much a policy as deciding to support the Dutch or the Indonesians.

Whatever the outcome, however, this Embassy still believes there are basic questions which require answers, even if, for the time being, they do not change our policy or actions. We are hopeful that the despatches under reference, as well as this one, will prompt a study to produce those answers.

Herbert P. Fales
Chargé d’Affaires ad interim
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 656.56D13/9–359. Secret.
  2. Documents 202 and 203.
  3. See the source note, Document 203.
  4. Entitled “Australian Policy Toward a Solution in West New Guinea.” (Department of State, Central Files, 656.56D13/7–159)
  5. Despatch 60 reported that it was important that the Department clarify U.S. policy toward the West New Guinea problem. (Ibid., 656.56D13/7–2759)
  6. See footnote 4, Document 171.
  7. In telegram 1466, March 10, Young reported that he continued to hope that “ways and means will be found” to help the Netherlands purchase equipment for the defense of West New Guinea. “So far as I know,” Young commented, “US and majority of its allies in NATO, SEATO, and UN have never contradicted Dutch view that these powers prefer that West New Guinea remain under Dutch control. This has merely added force to Dutch determination to hold on, for it is unlikely that without strong US pressure, Dutch would voluntarily abandon part of Dutch realm. If US believes Dutch retention West New Guinea is not desirable or necessary, I suggest that this ought to be made known soonest to all concerned.” (Department of State, Central Files, 756D.5–MSP/3–1059)
  8. Not printed. (Ibid., 656.56D13/9–2658)
  9. Not printed. (Ibid., 656.56D13/10–3158)
  10. Not printed. (Ibid., 033.4356/7–859)