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


“First Principles” on West Irian

I fear, from reading the now voluminous State traffic on West Irian, that we are in danger of losing sight of the main purpose of the exercise.

A major crisis is brewing over West Irian. The Indos have gone too far to turn back. They are more than ever confident of victory. With Bloc aid and backing, they are preparing for a military show-down if necessary, though they prefer to use this threat to force a political solution.
However the issue comes up, Indonesia will sooner or later get West Irian. Whether there is a military show-down, the issue is precipitated into the UN beforehand, or there is a separate negotiation, Djakarta stands to win. To a UN majority, the issue will appear as one of anti-colonialism, and we will take a whacking defeat (with Soviets on winning side).
US strategic interests require that we move toward the Indo side. We not only can’t prevent Sukarno from winning; we have a positive interest in convincing him that our policy is not hostile. A pro-Indo policy will not solve our problems with Sukarno but is an indispensable holding operation to forestall his moving even closer to the Bloc. A forthcoming [Page 368] US attitude would also give us more leverage in insisting that Sukarno help the Dutch save face. And, clearly, the Dutch attitude is softening to the point where this is what they really want.

Only if the above basic assumptions are borne clearly in mind can sensible tactics be devised. If we let Sukarno leave Washington for Moscow without a clear impression that we are moving in his direction, we leave all the cards in Moscow’s hands. Then, when we are ultimately dragged reluctantly in Sukarno’s direction (as we will be), it will appear as a victory at our expense.

Thus, if we try to sell Sukarno some form of trusteeship ending in a plebiscite, we must get across that we regard it as a transitional facesaving device. Otherwise, we will find ourselves caught up in a series of moves and counter-moves eventually leading to the same result, but without our getting any credit for it.

Our overall pitch to Sukarno might be that we recognize and will support a transitional formula if he and the Dutch can devise a satisfactory one. If he attempts to take over unilaterally, he will force us to oppose him, to the benefit of neither of us. But if something can be worked out it will open a new chapter in US-Indonesian and, we hope, Dutch-Indonesian relations. In essence, we would attempt to put the bee on him.

Bob Komer
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, West New Guinea, Vol. I, 4 /16/61–4/30/61. Secret. A copy was sent to Bundy. Komer wrote the following note on the source text: “WaltBob Johnson and I are on quite the same frequency.”