162. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • West New Guinea


  • United States
    • The President
    • George W. Ball, Under Secretary for Economic Affairs
    • Foy D. Kohler, Assistant Secretary for European Affairs
    • John S. Rice, Ambassador-designate to the Netherlands.
  • The Netherlands
    • Foreign Minister Luns
    • Dr. J. H. van Roijen, Ambassador of the Netherlands

After initial greetings, picture taking and exchange of Navy service reminiscences, the President opened the talks by raising the question of West New Guinea. He referred to his recent conversation with Australian Prime Minister Menzies on the subject1 and to the upcoming visit to Washington of Indonesian President Sukarno and said he would welcome an expression of Mr. Luns’ judgment as to where this matter stands and what developments are foreseeable.

Mr. Luns replied that Netherlands relations with Indonesia had deteriorated in direct ratio to the growth of power of Sukarno over the past ten years. The Dutch from the beginning had warned their Western allies that Sukarno was a dangerous opportunist. Suddenly two years after the Round Table settlement Sukarno had proclaimed that West New Guinea belonged to Indonesia and that he was no longer willing to discuss the question with the Dutch. Sukarno had persistently refused, as proposed by the Dutch, that his claim be submitted to the International [Page 346]Court of Justice. Meanwhile the Indonesians had proceeded to confiscate Dutch property and oust Dutch nationals. Even at the time of the conference of 1949, in which Ambassador van Roijen participated, the Dutch had refused to turn over West New Guinea to the Indonesians for two reasons. First, West New Guinea was an entirely different country with entirely different people than the Indonesians. Secondly, the Papuans were not yet prepared and able to express their wishes.

The President asked whether there had not been an agreement to talk about the status of West New Guinea within a year of the Round Table agreements. Mr. Luns replied that they had talked with the Indonesians and had offered to incorporate West New Guinea in the then foreseen Dutch commonwealth. However the whole deal had been repudiated by the Indonesians and had become a dead letter. The Netherlands had invested over one billion guilders in educating and preparing the Papuans for self-determination. He then referred to the sense of disappointment and shock with which the Government and people of the Netherlands had received the United States withdrawal of its previous acceptance of the invitation to participate in the inauguration of the local self-government councils in West New Guinea.

The President said that he had carefully considered this matter and had felt that there were two main reasons making U.S. participation inadvisable. We were on the brink of a possible intervention in Laos and did not want to have an incident to the south when we were so heavily engaged in other parts of the area. Secondly, he feared that participation at this time might create difficulties in the way of our accomplishing anything positive during the forthcoming visit of Sukarno. Mr. Luns replied that he understood the reasons but with all respect to the President he felt that the withdrawal of our acceptance was not a wise action. He felt, first, that this action was contrary to what the United States stands for in the world; and secondly, that the decision made the United States appear opportunistic in its handling of such matters. He had discussed the question even with African ambassadors who had agreed with these reactions. The President said he did not want to seem critical of ambassadors particularly in the presence of such a distinguished ambassador as Mr. van Roijen but that he thought ambassadors were frequently likely to say what they thought their interlocutor would find agreeable. He dared say that the State Department could cite many cases of ambassadors who had expressed contrary views to us on this question. Mr. Luns resumed, saying that he had had a talk with Indian Prime Minister Nehru in London three weeks ago and discussed the question with him. He said that Nehru had agreed that he could see no alterative to the policy that the Dutch were presently following in Indonesia. He said that he had spoken to Secretary General Hammarskjold as long ago as 1958 and a number of times since about the Dutch willingness to have the UN scrutinize Dutch [Page 347]policies and conditions in West New Guinea, but that the Secretary General had not felt that he could take on this burden. Mr. Luns had also made clear that they were prepared to have a suitable United Nations trusteeship for West New Guinea. However even in 1958 Hammarskjold had said that the Dutch would not get a two-thirds vote for a bona fide trusteeship. He thought it possible that this was still the case and that a trusteeship arrangement would not be approved unless it were in fact not bona fide. The Dutch could not turn West New Guinea over to the Indonesians and break all their promises to the Papuans. Moreover even if they did so, this crisis might disappear but new crises would follow as the Indonesians moved against the Australian portion of New Guinea or against the Portuguese in the island of Timor. He said that the Dutch situation vis-à-vis the Indonesians was like that of the United States vis-à-vis Castro. The President quickly questioned the Foreign Minister’s equation of the two cases and considerable inconclusive discussion then ensued on this point. Ambassador van Roijen terminated this discussion by saying there was at least one difference between the two cases, namely that the United States still has its interests in Cuba protected by the Swiss whereas the Indonesians had deprived the Dutch of any representation of their interests there. He then went on to say that in his discussion with Mr. Bowles the latter had cited as a further reason for the U.S. decision the fact that the United States has been making plans which it hoped might provide for a means of settlement of the West New Guinea issue.

The President replied that of course we do not have any idea that we can settle this question but that we had been giving thought to possible ways to solve it. It was particularly in relation to this that he had wanted to get the views of the Foreign Minister.

Mr. Luns then referred to the conversations that he had had with former Secretary of State Acheson and his successors and to the effectiveness of the “political deterrent” which they had exercised against possible Indonesian aggression by warning the Indonesians that the use of force to achieve their objectives with respect to West New Guinea would not be allowed. This of course was in accordance with standing policy voiced by the United States. In 1958 he had approached Mr. Dulles with the evidence of aggressive Indonesian intentions, and the vigorous diplomatic action which the latter had taken with Sukarno had been sufficient to frustrate Indonesian plans. Mr. Luns felt that “in a couple of years” the Dutch might be able to leave West New Guinea without leaving a “Congo” situation behind them. The basic structure of local self-government was being created which would make it possible for the Papuans to express a free choice as to their own destiny, whether that be independence or union with the Australian part of the island or whatever they wanted. The Dutch had reinforced their defense posture as they were duty bound to do. However, they would be most reluctant to [Page 348]wage a war alone in the Pacific. They had already suffered two defeats in the area and a third would be too much. Mr. Luns said he was very concerned as regards the effect which the United States position might have on Dutch-American relations in NATO and elsewhere. He had been delighted to learn of the actions the President was taking to strengthen NATO. However, if the United States should for opportunistic reasons abandon its principles, this would create difficulties and differences. He wanted to assure the President that the Dutch were willing to explore with the United States any and all formulae which might promote a solution. Ambassador van Roijen added that if the Dutch were left alone in the Far East, Dutch public opinion would feel that they had been “left in the lurch” by their allies.

The President said he had difficulty in understanding why the Dutch were so concerned about this faraway island which was really a great burden for them and asked how long the Dutch contemplated remaining there. Mr. Luns replied that they hoped to be able to bring the Papuans along toward self-government and self-determination in 5 to 10 years. The President then inquired about the strength of the Dutch forces in West New Guinea. Mr. Luns said they had: 3 destroyers; 8 patrol boats; 10 landing craft; 1 squadron of jet planes; 1 squadron of conventional planes; some helicopters; 1 battalion of infantry; 1 battalion of marines; and a 400-man anti-aircraft artillery unit. In addition there were about 200 troops in the West New Guinea constabulary.

The President then inquired about Indonesian strength. Mr. Luns replied that the Dutch thought the Indonesians could mount an invading force of some 2 to 3,000. However, any incursion involving more than 100 to 150 men the Dutch would know about. At present the Indonesians would have to start from Fak (phonetic?) but soon would have facilities in Amboina. However the Dutch do a daily sweep in the West New Guinea waters and the Papuans have an effective though primitive signal system so there would be no invasion without advance warning. The President then asked what the Australians would do and Mr. Luns replied that this would depend entirely on what the United States did.

The President then referred to the burden of $20 million per annum falling on the Dutch (which Mr. Luns interjected to correct to $35 million) and said he still could not understand why they wanted to continue. Mr. Luns replied that apart from “idealism” there was some importance of the territory to the KLM airline operation and to Dutch shipping since the Dutch had been completely ousted from Indonesia. Ambassador van Roijen supplemented this by saying that the Dutch had toward West New Guinea “a sense of task, of mission”. This was universally and very sincerely felt by the Parliament and the people. The President said that he accepted the Ambassador’s explanation as a fact since there was certainly no other explanation. Mr. Luns discounted the importance of the [Page 349]financial burden on the Dutch. He said that he thought the Netherlands carried perhaps the highest rate in the world of contributions of aid to the underdeveloped countries. They felt they had “a duty to do something” and that through the Common Market alone they were contributing about $70 million for this purpose.

The President said he thought we should understand clearly what we were talking about. It appeared that the question was one of engaging us in possible hostilities on the political and maybe even on the military level over a very costly, primitive area of no strategic significance. He said this was a very heavy burden to assume for such an area which was clearly non-essential to the defense of the Netherlands. He recognized that the Dutch were outstanding as allies in NATO, that we have a very favorable trade balance with them, and that we receive constant support from them. He assured the Foreign Minister that we want to keep it that way.

Ambassador van Roijen repeated that he could assure the President that the Dutch people had a unanimous feeling of mission to assure the Papuans of their right to self-determination. Mr. Luns added that there was a further consideration. If the Dutch should yield, difficulties in the area would simply increase for the Australians and for the Portuguese in Timor. At present, because the Indonesians were concentrating on West New Guinea, these other questions were dormant. He cited the parallel of the surrender of Sudetenland to Hitler when people had thought they could relax. The world had seen the United States take a clear stand on colonial issues with respect to Portugal; now it saw the opposite stand with respect to West New Guinea. The source of the trouble in West New Guinea was Sukarno personally. If Sukarno should disappear then all problems could be solved. He reiterated that Sukarno had so far been restrained only by the United States political deterrent. The question at issue was not that of $35 million annual expenditure. There were 18,000 Dutchmen in West New Guinea; they had built more than 1,000 schools. Progress was being made. In reply to a question from the President, Mr. Luns said there were between 700,000 and one million Papuans in West New Guinea and approximately 1.5 million in the Australian side of the island. He went on to point out that in the United Nations there were 70 member countries with a smaller population than the Netherlands and 88 countries with a smaller national income. Ambassador van Roijen said it would be most helpful if the President would deliver a warning to Sukarno when he visits here since the new Administration had not yet done so.

The President said that the Secretary of State would talk with Mr. Luns in detail as to some of the thinking we had been doing regarding this problem. He personally had wanted to get the Foreign Minister’s own views for his background. He repeated that we were very heavily [Page 350]engaged in Southeast Asia, in Laos and in Viet-Nam and without great support from our allies. We were not unmindful of Dutch views on this matter. However, we wanted to be sure that what we do is in accordance with the common interest. When the United States shoots across Sukarno’s bow, increased Soviet influence and efforts would be an inevitable result.

Foreign Minister Luns replied that in his view the United States had a responsibility in this matter on three scores. First of all, the United States was and is President of the United Nations Commission on Indonesia. It was the United States in this capacity which had refused discussion in the Commission of Dutch complaints and criticisms and had allowed the work of the Commission to die. Secondly, the United States had made heavy weapons deliveries to the Indonesians contrary to his advice. It had been argued that the delivery of United States weapons would keep the Indonesians from turning to the Soviets, to which he had replied that United States deliveries would simply encourage the Soviets to underbid and outbid us. He was now proven right by the Indonesians’ big deal with the Soviets for arms. Thirdly, the United States must not give the Indonesians the impression that there was a changed or different U.S. attitude toward the use of force. This would only lead Sukarno to reckless action which the Soviets and Chinese Communists would back. He could assure the President that many Indonesians did not want such backing. He had spoken very frankly but he considered it his duty to express his views.

The President commented with a smile that the Foreign Minister had expressed his views with great vigor. In reply to a question from the Ambassador as to whether he saw any relationship between West New Guinea and Berlin, the President pointed out that we were standing against the Russians and against the Chinese Communists in Viet Minh, Laos and Viet-Nam; then there was the question of the offshore islands and of South Korea against North Korea, not to mention the difficulties in the Congo. The Dutch could understand that we want to be sure of our ground in those situations.

Mr. Luns asserted that in the case of West New Guinea the use of the political deterrent would in fact spare us the trouble of having to face up to real hostilities. He reiterated that the Acheson and Dulles warnings to Sukarno had been effective. In 1958, he said, Secretary Dulles and Under Secretary Herter had promised logistical support to the Dutch in case of Indonesian attack while pointing out that the commitment of troops would depend on Congressional action. The President commented that the problem was how the case could be put on the most favorable basis from the point of view of all concerned. Mr. Luns again repeated the importance in their view of a political warning to Sukarno on the occasion of his forthcoming visit to the United States.

[Page 351]

The President then said that his commitment to open the baseball season—an engagement which seemed to have a certain importance in the United States—was about upon him. However, before the Foreign Minister left he wished to mention a couple of other matters. The first of these was the question of the Dutch request for landing rights for KLM on the West Coast. His Administration had reviewed this matter and was desirous of trying to do what it could. Under Secretary of State Ball would talk with the Foreign Minister about this at the Department later in the day. The second was the question of the Sixes and Sevens in Europe. The President wanted to stress our continuing support of the Common Market which also would be discussed between the Foreign Minister and the State Department. Mr. Luns expressed his appreciation and indicated that he would be glad to pursue the detailed discussion with the State Department. With reference to the Common Market, he pointed out that the Rome treaties contemplated both economic and political integration in the Six. The economic process was developing very satisfactorily but President de Gaulle was attempting to put political cooperation on the basis of simply a loose and old-fashioned coalition. He had opposed this firmly but feared he had not had much effect on de Gaulle, who had only commented that he greatly admired the tenacity of his (Mr. Luns’) views. The Netherlands Government had not made a final decision what its policy would be at the May 19 meeting of Heads of Government of the Six. They might feel it was necessary to be negative as regards the establishment of political integration machinery based on Paris. The Germans tended to be ambivalent. The Dutch believed in Franco-German integration but not in a way and to an extent to make de Gaulle spokesman for Europe.

The President referred to his talks with British Prime Minister Macmillan and expressed the view that as the UK became more and more involved with the continent the Common Market would be strengthened. Mr. Luns agreed that UK participation in the continent would take away many of the Dutch fears and objections whether the UK should join simply in political discussions or as full members of EEC. However, the Dutch did not anticipate such development. Ambassador van Roijen added that the Dutch thought that de Gaulle would veto full membership for the UK.

The President then referred to a talk he had heard by Professor Geyl at Harvard sometime ago and remarked that the Professor was not an integrationist. Mr. Luns replied that he was not a follower of Professor Geyl. He was for the Rome Treaty.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 656.9813/4–1061. Secret. Drafted by Kohler and approved in Bon April 19 and the White House on April 22. The time of the meeting is from the President’s Appointment Book. (Kennedy Library)
  2. Prime Minister Menzies met with Kennedy on February 24 for luncheon and then privately from 2:52 to 3:05 p.m. (Ibid.) At the lunch meeting, Menzies outlined Australia’s position on West New Guinea, stressing its close ties with Australia and its importance to Australia’s national security. Menzies believed Australians would react adversely to West New Guinea falling into the hands of “Communist dominated Indonesia,” whose claim was political rather than legal. Menzies stated Indonesia’s position represented “substitution of brown colonialism for white colonialism.” He recommended continued Netherlands administration under trusteeship but realized it would be politically difficult. He feared that U.N. trusteeship would be a mechanism for turning the territory over to Indonesia. (Memorandum of conversation, February 24; Department of State, Central Files, 033.4311/3–261)