159. Memorandum From Robert W. Komer of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Deputy Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Rostow)0


I confess to great puzzlement over State’s West New Guinea memo to the President.1 It now puts the issue clearly, but comes up with no commensurate solution. If the prime reason for a policy shift is to keep Indonesia from sliding away, we must come up with a solution which is broadly satisfactory to the Indonesians. If we do not, we merely let ourselves in for a peck of trouble without gaining the advantage which led us to move in the first place.

Unfortunately, State’s proposal is about the minimum movement we can make. It will incur all the disadvantages of outraging the Dutch, Australians, et al without satisfying the Indos. Why move at all in this case?

Of course, if we are proposing trusteeship not only as a graceful out for the Netherlands but as a cover operation for eventually giving WNG to the Indonesians, it might make sense. But if this is the case, why not tell the President? And why not spell but how the proposal (e.g. a plebiscite in three years) could be used to convince Sukarno that we are really moving in his direction.

The trouble with State is that it never thinks these problems through to the end. I’m sure we all agree that Indonesia will eventually get WNG, that we cannot afford to buck Sukarno on this issue while the Soviets back him, and that the Dutch will have to give. But we always enter these painful transitions with a little move that stirs up a ruckus and leads us from crisis to crisis before the issue is resolved in the way we knew it would be in the first place, but with all parties mad at us.

Incidentally, I still have yet to see State coming up with any policy alternatives in their papers, so President would at least know range of choices open to him. WNG would have been ideally suited to this approach.

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Was it prearranged that after earlier PG discussion and [the?] request for revision of S/P paper new version2 should go straight to JFK over Rusk’s signature? It seems to me this gives us only ex post facto reprise on whether such papers fill the bill.

Bob K
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, West New Guinea, 4/1/61–4/15/61. Secret. Copies were sent to McGeorge Bundy and Robert Johnson.
  2. Document 158.
  3. Komer apparently is referring to Tab A to Document 158, which was a revision of the S/P paper of October 12, 1960; see footnote 3 thereto.