276. Memorandum Prepared for President Eisenhower0


History of the Dispute

The dispute between the Netherlands and Indonesia over West New Guinea began in 1946 during the inconclusive negotiations which preceded the first major outbreak of hostilities between Holland and its rebellious colony. At that time the Dutch, over Indonesian protest, excluded the Residency of New Guinea from the discussions, and when the Dutch and Indonesians sat down at The Hague in 1949 to conclude an agreement granting Indonesia its independence, sovereignty over the area emerged as one of the principal points of difference.

To avoid a breakdown of negotiations, both parties agreed to a temporizing treaty provision which noted that the two powers had been unable to reconcile their views on the status of New Guinea and provided that the status quo, i.e., Netherlands control, should be maintained until the differences were resolved, and stipulated that within a year from the signing of the treaty the “political status” of Western New Guinea should be decided by negotiation.

During the negotiations which took place in 1950 and 1951, it became apparent that these views could not be reconciled and early in 1952, by a constitutional amendment, the Netherlands Government designated West New Guinea as a part of the Netherlands Realm, and from that time took the position that Dutch sovereignty over the area was no longer subject to negotiation. The Indonesian Government has refused to accept this action and has attempted unsuccessfully, both by direct approaches and through resolutions in the General Assembly in the United Nations, to persuade the Netherlands to re-open the subject.

The problem has become an emotion-charged issue both in the Netherlands and in Indonesia. Both governments have taken positions from which they cannot retreat without severe loss of prestige. In Indonesia [Page 534] the issue has taken the proportions of a national crusade and has been intensively exploited by extremist elements especially the powerful Communist Party seeking to worsen relations between Indonesia and the Free World.

A variety of arguments are brought forth by each side. The Dutch maintain that they have a moral responsibility to civilize the stone-age Papuan tribes and to give them at some time the right of self determination. They hold that there are no ties, ethnic, cultural or religious between the Malay Javanese and the Melanesian Papuan, and that to turn over New Guinea to Indonesia would only be substituting one form of colonialism for another.

The Indonesians maintain that they are the legitimate heirs of the entire area of the former Dutch East Indies, and that the Netherlands is clinging to a portion of its former Far Eastern empire for out-moded colonialist motives. They point out that many ethnic groups are represented in Indonesia, that there is a strong Melanesian strain in Indonesians from the eastern islands, and that the Papuans have unquestionably more in common with them than they have with the Dutch.

The Australians, while earnestly striving to maintain close and friendly relations with the Indonesians, have strongly supported the Dutch position since they feel that a West New Guinea in Asian hands would threaten the military security of their country. The Japanese invasion of New Guinea during World War II is still fresh in Australian minds.

West New Guinea itself would appear hardly worth the bitter emotions raised on its account. While extensive in area, it is made up of dense jungle, snow-capped mountains, and impenetrable mangrove swamps. Except for petroleum in minor quantities, raw materials in exploitable quantities have not been found. The colony is an economic liability to the Mother country and is likely to continue so for the indefinite future. The approximately 700,000 natives of the area are among the most primitive on the face of the earth, less than half having been brought under nominal Dutch jurisdiction.

United States Position

From the outset, the United States has maintained an impartial position in this dispute between two countries with which we have friendly relations. The United States is, however, opposed to any resort to the use of force to settle the West New Guinea issue and has recently reiterated this view to both parties. Indonesia as well as the Netherlands has pledged not to use force. The United States position on this question is set forth within the current statement of United States policy on Indonesia, [Page 535] NSC 5901 dated January 16, 1959,1 adopted by the National Security Council on January 29, 1959 and approved by the President on February 3, 1959. Paragraph 36 of NSC 5901 provides the following Major Policy Guidance on this question: “While for the present maintaining neutrality in the West New Guinea dispute in our relations with other governments, explore within the U.S. Government solutions to this problem compatible with over-all U.S. objectives, for possible discussion with other interested governments.”

For the past several weeks the Policy Planning Staff of the Department of State has been engaged in an intensive study of the West New Guinea problem and the United States policy in this respect. The results of this study will be available in the very near future.2

  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, DullesHerter Series. Secret. Drafted by Underhill and Wenzel and cleared with Emmons, Parsons, Kohler (in draft), Wilcox, Hare, and Bromley Smith. Transmitted to the White House on September 9, under cover of a memorandum from Stoessel to Goodpaster. Stoessel’s covering memorandum reads as follows: “During Indonesian Ambassador Mukarto’s farewell call on the President August 24, the President said he would ask the Department for a briefing on U.S. policy regarding the West New Guinea dispute between the Netherlands and Indonesia. In transmitting the memorandum of that conversation for your approval on August 25, we indicated we would send you such a briefing. It is enclosed. It has been approved by the Secretary.”
  2. Document 177.
  3. See Document 289.