155. Memorandum From the Deputy Director for Plans, Central Intelligence Agency (Bissell) to the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)0

I am sending you herewith a rather long-promised paper on Indonesia. Inevitably this is a mixture of an intelligence estimate and some analysis of the implications of this estimate for U.S. policy (this is not, of course, a formal national intelligence estimate). I would hope for an opportunity for some discussion of the issues raised in this paper on an appropriate occasion (either one of the Tuesday lunches or any other group that is reviewing policy toward Indonesia).

RMB jr1



  • Indonesian Perspectives
Indonesia’s growing vulnerability to communism stems from the distinctive bias of Sukarno’s global orientation, as well as from his domestic policies. The former propels that country toward the Soviet orbit. The latter sap the political foundation of any organized attempt to deny the Communist Party a mass base, strive to neutralize the Indonesian Army as a force opposing communism, and permit economic mal-administration to stifle all constructive impulses toward improving the lot of the Indonesian people. Dissident movements on Java and the outlying islands, which have a basically anti-Communist orientation, have been permitted to wither from lack of sustenance. They are now virtually [Page 329] on their last legs and no longer represent a viable force in being. In Attachment B to this paper, entitled “Countervailing Forces?”,3 we attempt to shed light upon the factors which render the Indonesian Army progressively more ineffectual in its containment of communism, and present an estimate of dissident strength upon which we base our conclusion that as a political power factor it no longer counts.
Economic factors are likely to play a decisive role in making Indonesia ripe for a Communist takeover. While it can be argued that the vast majority of the rural population of Indonesia are impervious to the hardships of life on a bare subsistence level, the urban proletariat, especially in Java, may be found less supine. An Eight-Year Plan has been launched, predicated on the availability of foreign loans on an unrealistic scale of magnitude. A growing budgetary load will have to be borne in order to fund Indonesia’s preparations for a showdown over West Irian. The expansion of Indonesia’s military establishment is bound to make heavy inroads into Indonesia’s financial resources. Consequently, a continuing and accelerated decline in the economic life of Indonesia is very probable. While economic atrophy may set the stage for a Communist uprising, we consider it more likely that (barring completely unforeseen developments) Sukarno’s “Guided Democracy” will be permitted by the PKI to run its natural course. This would enable the Communist Party to take over the leadership of Indonesia at a time when radical changes in the methods of administering Indonesian domestic affairs become the inescapable alternative to perpetual chaos. Even achievement of a modus vivendi between the United States and President Sukarno could not stave off such a development.
While many factors of the Indonesian situation remain objects of contention, it would be hard to deny Sukarno’s responsibility for the economic decline of Indonesia. That his dictatorship may possibly endure as long as he lives strikes us as the crux of the Indonesian problem. In Attachment A of this paper, entitled “President Sukarno—Key to the Indonesian Situation,”4 we are attempting to throw into more striking relief the many insoluble problems besetting Indonesia, which can directly be traced back to Sukarno’s personality and to the political philosophy that animates him. As we see it, Sukarno’s continued leadership of Indonesia—irrespective of his momentary friendships with the Bloc or the West—renders Indonesia increasingly more vulnerable to PKI [Page 330] strategy, which is to make its decisive bid for legal power under circumstances of economic and political chaos with all other political solutions evidently exhausted.
The forthcoming talks between Presidents Kennedy and Sukarno will take place in the shadow of a threat of war between Indonesia and the Netherlands over West Irian. The United States, having thus far observed “impartiality” regarding this issue, may be forced to abandon this stance, should the crisis deepen. With abandonment of “impartiality” connoting involvement, the United States Government will have no choice but to take a position regarding the validity of Indonesia’s claim to sovereignty over West Irian.
This paper does not intend to address itself to the legal merits of the respective claims advanced by Indonesia and the Netherlands. Both nations have made it abundantly clear that they do not consider the ownership issue as “sub judice” but as a bare contest of power, with Indonesia claiming that its national independence will necessarily remain incomplete and in permanent jeopardy as long as the Netherlands maintains its hold over West Irian. We realize that this may be considered a simplification of an issue which has become a highly sensitive internal political question in both countries, complicated by considerations of national pride and “face” and by the entire history of Dutch-Indonesian relations.
Without suggesting that other factors can be ignored in determining United States policy regarding West Irian, we believe that one important aspect has not as yet been given sufficient consideration—namely, how United States interests will be affected if Indonesia carries the day and ownership of West Irian is awarded to her. We believe that accession to Indonesia’s claim as long as Sukarno is in power would not serve the best interests of United States security in that part of the world. We consider it likely that Indonesia’s success in this particular instance will set in train the launching of further irredentist ventures already foreshadowed in lectures given by Professor Yamin, an avowed extremist who, however, is a member of the Indonesian cabinet close to President Sukarno. Success would be bound to cement relations between Indonesia and the USSR, which, in addition to throwing the full weight of its political support behind the West Irian campaign, is liberally providing Indonesia with military aid specifically designed to enable her to oust the Dutch from West Irian by force of arms. President Sukarno’s prestige and power in Indonesia and in Asia as a whole would grow immeasurably, since nothing succeeds like success. Even assuming that it were the weight of United States power and prestige which gained Indonesia a bloodless and prestigious victory, we would not gain that country’s respect, let alone affection. Indonesia’s leadership would see to it that the true record of events would be slanted to substantiate the boast that it [Page 331] was the threat of USSR intervention, the leadership of President Sukarno and the unflinching support given him by the Communist Party which combined in making this victory possible. Predictions that the Indonesian armed forces, once freed from their preoccupations with the Dutch threat, would be able to concentrate upon dislodging communism from positions of influence tend to ignore the demonstrated effectiveness of President Sukarno’s tactics of never allowing the army a sufficient breathing spell to consolidate and methodically deploy its political strength in combatting communism. There is nothing to encourage the belief that President Sukarno intends to abandon those tactics once West Irian has been annexed. In sum, by backing Indonesia’s claim to sovereignty over West Irian, we may inadvertently help to consolidate a regime which is innately antagonistic toward the United States.
The proposal of a United Nations trusteeship, which the Department of State appears to favor, would go a long way toward de-fusing the West Irian time bomb which President Sukarno himself has primed. It would present an at least temporary solution of the problem, permitting the United States to escape the opprobrium of having sided with the Netherlands on a “colonialist” issue. However, unless confronted with unmistakable manifestations of United States resolve not to permit a settlement of the West Irian issue by force of arms, and of our vigorous opposition to turning this area over to the Indonesians without any observance of self-determination procedures, the Sukarno regime would be unlikely to acquiesce in the imposition of such a trusteeship.
It has been argued (Djakarta Embassy Telegram No. 1861, dated December 28, 1960)5 that the new policy of the Soviet Union vis-à-vis Indonesia leaves us with only one practicable alternative, namely, “to continue a moderate program of economic and military assistance sufficient to bolster the political position of our friends within Indonesia and to enable those who are willing to stand on principle to do so without being submerged by the overwhelming temptation of and pressures engendered by Soviet offers.” The foregoing alternative would seem to epitomize policies that have been tried by the United States Government since Indonesia gained her independence and that have failed in the attainment of their set objectives to keep Indonesia out of Communist hands. We are disposed to argue that our national policy should be to treat Indonesia as a case in which appeasement, whether by word or by deed, will buy us nothing. Hence to propose stepped up aid as a blueprint, for future action simply begs the question whether Communist ascendancy in Indonesia can be curbed as long as Sukarno remains in power. We believe it cannot.
It would be gratifying to be able to propose an alternative course of action by the United States which would stand a good chance of turning the course of events in Indonesia in a constructive direction. Unfortunately, this is a situation in which the influence that the United States can exert, at least in the short run, is extremely limited, if (as must be assumed) crude and violent intervention is excluded. Any “carrot” in the form of economic or military aid or diplomatic support that is freely given will (for reasons set forth above) be used simply to consolidate an essentially unacceptable regime. Any “stick” the United States would be willing to use would be too feeble to destroy the regime and would simply accelerate the process of disorganization which (it is argued above) is the probable prelude to a constitutional Communist take-over. Under these difficult circumstances we believe that the least unsatisfactory policy for the United States is to apply pressures, but politely and without public recrimination, to offer favors, but only on tough conditions, and in these ways to create such inducements as we can for the Indonesian elite, both civilian and military, and for Sukarno himself, to behave in a more constructive fashion.
At the very minimum we should not now entertain any major increases in the scale of economic or military aid to Indonesia and we should lose no opportunity to make clear that the reason for our negative action is that the Indonesians are in no position to make effective use of such resources in pursuit of goals we can support. Perhaps this pressure can best be applied affirmatively by giving the impression that we would consider substantial economic aid if difficult but essentially technical conditions were met and that we would consider increased military aid if we had confidence that Indonesia would not resort to aggression against the Dutch and that their military services had not already become dangerously dependent on Communist Bloc support. Our attitude on these major matters, and on specific political issues as they arise, should be made known, using all available contacts, to the military establishment and the leading politicians as well as to Sukarno himself. Such a hardening in our posture, without overtones of hostility or anger, would serve to alert the conservative elements among Indonesia’s leadership to the ineluctable necessity of choosing between absorption by the Communist Bloc and association as an equal within the comity of free Western and Asian nations. To take the opposite position—to appease Sukarno on the West Irian and other questions, and to compete with the Bloc in economic and military aid in the vain hope of gaining time—would, we believe, finally destroy the resolve of conservative elements to oppose Sukarno’s policies and to act as a brake on the leftward and downward course of Indonesia.
The coming talks between the President and his Indonesian guest offer an important opportunity to convince Sukarno of the firmness [Page 333] of the United States position on an occasion when the treatment accorded him should be flattering and should itself convince him of the importance this government attaches to the future of his country. It is important that “red carpet” treatment and the circumstance of a Presidential meeting should not give him the impression that the United States is prepared to support him in the basically hostile and unconstructive course he currently pursues.
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Indonesia, Vol. I, 1/61–3/61. Secret. Also sent to Rostow, McGhee, Nitze, and Amory.
  2. Bissell’s initials appear in an unidentified hand, indicating Bissell signed the original.
  3. Secret.
  4. In Attachment B, not printed, the author discounted General Nasution as a potential counterweight to Sukarno. The estimate concluded that the “Sukarno/Nasution axis appears quite durable.” A bloodless victory over the Dutch in West Irian would make Sukarno even stronger among the more conservative Indonesian military. The author concluded that the armed dissident movements “will probably have to be counted out.” In sum, there were no countervailing elements to challenge Sukarno.
  5. Attached but not printed.
  6. For text, see Foreign Relations, 1958–1960, vol. XVII, pp. 586589.