24. Memorandum From Robert H. Johnson of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Cutler)0


  • Are We Running out of Policy to Deal with the Indonesian Situation?

My only justification for writing still another memo on Indonesia is the rapid development of the situation there—the apparent hardening of positions on both sides over the weekend—along with a continuing concern that we are running out of Presidentially approved policy to [Page 47] deal with the situation. Would it be desirable to have the NSC briefed on Thursday on (a) what we are doing and what we plan to do, and (b) our current estimate of what is likely to happen (including our estimate of the rebels’ prospects and the will and determination on both sides)? The NSC should be entitled to an oral progress report.

The ultimate question by which we may be faced in the civil war situation now developing is our response in the event of a rebel request for direct U.S. military intervention. Para 12 of NSC 5518 and para 4 of the Special Report1 provide for the possibility of such direct U.S. intervention in the event of a threat of Communist takeover of Java or the outer islands. They do not indicate what action we should take if such aid is requested but the Communists continue to lie low and do not take over the government of Java.2 We had, I believe, expected to face a cleaner Communist- anti-Communist split than we now face and had not expected, short of a Communist effort to take over, that the lines of both sides would harden to the extent that they have now apparently done. When Mr. Lay raised in the PB discussion of the Special Report the question of whether the U.S. would intervene in a civil war which did not involve a Communist takeover of Java, Ambassador Cumming, according to my notes, stated that the U.S. should not intervene in such a situation.

The question of what we are prepared to do in the event of a request for military intervention is not an academic question [3 lines of source text not declassified]. The worst thing that could happen would be for the U.S. to become publicly committed to the rebel side without being willing to follow through with direct military help if it were to be requested. It is possible, I believe, to interpret paras 1–b and 4 of the Special Report to justify overt provision of military assistance to the rebels now on the grounds that there has been a further “deterioration” of the situation on Java (para 1-b), though not of precisely the sort we anticipated; and on the grounds that the political situation is less “fluid” (para 4). However, I believe we are approaching the margins of the situation that the policy was designed to cover and that therefore some sort of NSC review is justified.

  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Project Clean Up, Indonesia. Top Secret; Special Handling.
  2. For text of NSC 5518, approved by the President on May 12, 1955, see Foreign Relations, 1955–1957, vol. XXII, pp. 153157. The Special Report, September 3, 1957, is printed ibid., pp. 436440.
  3. Admittedly, para 12 of NSC 5518 is so broad as to be capable of being interpreted to justify almost any possible U.S. action under almost any contingency. [Footnote in the source text.]