166. Memorandum From Robert H. Johnson of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Deputy Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Rostow)0


  • West New Guinea

This follows up on our conversation this morning.1 There is attached basic information bearing upon problems of any transition from Dutch rule in West New Guinea.2 This memo discusses your concept of the proper approach to Sukarno.

The recent Subandrio speech on West New Guinea suggests that the Indos are quite confident that the forces of national and international politics are moving their way and that they can hope to obtain control of WNG in the near future. It is quite evident from the speech, as from other indications, that whereas the Indos might have been willing to make significant compromises in 1950, they are not prepared to do so now. They are prepared to accept some sort of transitional arrangement which [Page 365]would help the Dutch save face and which would minimize direct contact between the Dutch and the Indos during the transition. They apparently believe that such contact could lead to further difficulties.

I assume that our principal objective is to improve the outlook for a non-Communist Indonesia and only secondarily to satisfy Dutch emotional needs. If that is the case, our approach must be quite clearly directed toward an Indonesian takeover of WNG at a reasonably early date. While we need a formula that will save face for the Dutch by making a bow in the direction of self-determination, we should not in the process delude ourselves or confuse the Indonesians as to our real objective.

The simplest and most straightforward position would be to announce our support for Indonesian control of WNG during Sukarno’s visit. This approach has a good deal of attraction to me. Though it would flaunt the principle of self-determination, it could be based upon acceptance of the Indonesian principle that WNG was an original part of the Dutch East Indies and should go to the successor state. Another problem of course is that we still hope that somehow a mutually agreed upon solution can be found. We don’t want to have to reach it by a route which starts by breaking what is left of the crockery and then going back later and trying to pick up the pieces. Finally, we are presently caught up in a web of commitments of our own devising which requires us to talk with the Dutch, the Australians and the British about any new approach. Such considerations probably make this approach infeasible now.

The real intent of State’s last trusteeship proposal seems to me to have been to provide a facade behind which transfer to the Indos could take place. From the Indonesian point of view the virtue of having a Malayan as administrator would be that he would be quite susceptible to pressures from them and would be unlikely to bar their access to the population. (While a trusteeship plan may have to include, as Mr. Acheson suggests, a group of guarantor nations who would seek to assure against an Indonesian takeover during the period of trusteeship, such a group should not be designed to keep the Indos out of WNG politically.)

It must be in this kind of context that we do any talking with Sukarno about the “problems of the transition” in WNG. If we talk about such problems in a way which indicates that we really expect the area to go to Indonesia and we want Indonesia to begin thinking about the problems of how it is going to handle the problems of administration; if we talk about them in order to suggest that one must talk about them to let the Dutch feel that the interests of the Papuans are receiving due recognition, that is one thing. But if we talk about them in a way that suggests that we have doubts about the Indonesian ability to administer the territory, that we really believe that self-determination is a significant principle in this backward area, that we believe that the period of transition [Page 366]must be a very long one, we will gain no capital with the Indos and we shall only be deluding ourselves.

The problem of West New Guinea, when seen from the perspective of Indonesian takeover rather than from a perspective of self-determination leading to self-government, is not in any way comparable to that of, say, the Congo. It isn’t a matter of raising the level of education, or producing a class of politicans and administrators and an effective military force. The Indonesians are, I am sure, quite confident of their ability to administer the area with Indonesian administrators. While we may be more skeptical and may believe that problems of dissidence could become troublesome, we must view the problem as being quite different in kind from that of the Congo.

In short, I believe that there are real dangers in an approach to Sukarno which would emphasize problems of the transition unless we make it quite clear that the transition we envisage is one to Indonesian rule in a quite short period of time: Otherwise we will seem to him to be espousing the Dutch line.

To conclude on a positive note, let me recapitulate my belief that as an approach to an ultimate solution we ought to stick with the last State trusteeship proposal or some variant of it (including a definite early terminal date). Perhaps the much more vague Indonesian suggestion of a three-nation group to arbitrate the dispute and/or temporarily administer the territory is a variant of this general approach that would be worth exploring as well. My paper of yesterday was directed more toward immediate tactics. In the immediate future I believe we should put all possible pressure on the Dutch and make it clear to Sukarno that we are doing so.

Though eventually we may have to help the Dutch and Indonesians work out a plan for orderly withdrawal of Dutch officials, etc., it seems to me that to prepare such a plan now, before we have decided upon the basic pattern of the trusteeship or other arrangement, would be quite premature. It is just not the key problem. So far as the other aspects of Mr. Acheson’s proposal are concerned, they are either covered or could be covered in the State trusteeship plan as follows:

  • a. A trustee of suitable neutrality—Malaya is, of course, State’s candidate.
  • b. A plan for a plebiscite—The State proposal called for self-determination which would presumably be accomplished through a plebiscite. As I have indicated on several occasions, I consider the question of how soon the plebiscite will be held to be the key matter to be first decided. Detailed plans for a plebiscite should be developed following initial agreement on a general proposal. Presumably it would be run by the U.N. Five years seems to me the outside maximum of what might be acceptable to the Indos as the length of the trusteeship. This will hardly be a long enough period to prepare the Papuans for self-government. If you were really preparing for that eventuality, you would have to accept [Page 367]the Dutch view that ten years or more would be required. Finally, the accession of WNG to Indonesia could not be a sort of residual possibility in such a plebiscite, as Mr. Acheson seems to imply. It would have to be one of the principal alternative choices offered.
  • c. A group of guarantor nations—The proposed consortium in the State plan could be the international guarantors of the trusteeship.
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, West New Guinea, Vol. I, 4/16/61–4/30/61. Secret.
  2. No record of the conversation has been found.
  3. Attached but not printed.