281. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Parsons) to the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Merchant)0


  • Support for the Indonesian Army in the Event of a Showdown between Nasution and Sukarno or Nasution and the Communists

Minister of Defense and Chief of Staff, General Abdul Haris Nasution, will be in Washington September 28 and 29 and will see the Secretary of Defense and others in the Defense Department. We have requested an appointment for him with Secretary Herter. As you are aware, the Army is the strongest element in Indonesia opposed to the growth of Communist influence in the country. Army leaders have recently banned Communist activities in certain areas of Indonesia and have forced Sukarno to agree to placing a ban on all political activity until November 30. It is possible that this situation may result in a final confrontation between the Army and Sukarno on the Communist issue sometime during the coming months. Until now Nasution has followed a moderate course despite some pressure within the Army to take drastic action. We believe that before Nasution would act, he would want assurances from us that we would support him if he found himself in need of military or economic aid in a struggle to reduce the influence of the Communists in Indonesia and eliminate Sukarno as an effective force in the country.

I request that I be authorized to give the necessary assurances to Nasution along with the following line: I would inform General Nasution that we are aware of and heartened by recent actions which the Army has taken to curb Communist power. We are also aware of the fact that this is an internal Indonesian matter. We are heartened because we profoundly believe that Communist efforts to gain power in all countries are incompatible to the true independence of those countries. In contrast to the Communists, it is American policy in Indonesia and elsewhere to desire the true independence of the country. We know from our experience elsewhere that sometimes when there is strong opposition to a strong Communist party in a given country there can be a showdown. In such circumstances if there is a crisis and those who oppose the Communists and who work for the true independence of the country [Page 546] want to know where the United States stands, they can be sure that the United States stands with them. If American help is wanted in the form of military or economic assistance, the United States in such circumstances does its best to be helpful and quickly. It is not possible to foresee in advance what type of aid might be needed or could be provided. In any event, we would like General Nasution to feel that the United States would wish to be helpful to Indonesia too in such circumstances, and if there should be a request for help of the kind we have already provided, such as small arms and vehicles, or rice to meet a food emergency, he could be sure we would do our best to meet his request.

I would further tell General Nasution that we are not asking for any comment from him but merely wish to assure him that in the event of such a contingency we will back him up; but that if he does have any suggestions, we will take them into consideration in our planning for such a contingency.

If you agree with this approach,1 I will make copies of this memorandum available to the Secretary, the Secretary of Defense and others in the Pentagon who will be talking with General Nasution.2

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 798.00/9–2760. Secret. Drafted by Bell on September 26.
  2. Merchant initialed his approval of this recommendation on September 27. Another copy of this memorandum bears the following handwritten comment by Avery F. Peterson, dated September 28: “Jeff. As mentioned, Mr. Dillon wholly endorsed this, thought in fact it should be stronger, and that mention should be made of our concern over closure of last non-Sukarno newspaper. Said this was contingency planning.” (Ibid., FE Files: Lot 62 D 26, Indonesia 1960)
  3. Parsons telephoned Secretary of Defense Gates on September 28 and informed him that Merchant and Dillon had approved his talking with Nasution in order to reassure the Indonesian General that he could rely upon the United States “to give him quick and effective support if required.” A memorandum of this conversation by Parsons reads: “I said that inasmuch as this was a potential commitment of supplies and funds I thought we should touch base with him. Mr. Gates expressed full agreement with this line and asked if he should say anything. I said that it would be helpful if he could reflect a favorable attitude toward the General and his present requirements if reasonable from the military point of view. I cautioned him on the necessity of not embarrassing General Nasution with the political figures which may be around him.” (Ibid., WE Files: Lot 63 D 106, Indonesia)