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


  • The Question of Military Support for the Dutch in the Event of a Military Attack on West New Guinea

Since our discussion at the staff meeting yesterday1 I have been able to find out something more of the background of Secretary Rusk’s discussion with Van Roijen2 of the questions Van Roijen raised as to (a) whether we would provide logistic support to the Dutch in the event of an Indonesian attack on West New Guinea; and (b) whether we would be prepared to move the Seventh Fleet at an appropriate time as a deterrent.

You will recall that the Secretary’s response was quite equivocal. He said we could not give bilateral assistance but that help in the context of the UN “was another matter.” He indicated that there would be no question about our attitude in the Security Council. Finally he indicated that we would have to give further consideration to the question before giving a specific answer. Whether our support in the UN would be only political support and whether we were in effect suggesting that any U.S. action would be subject to a Soviet veto in the UN is not clear from the text of the telegram reporting the conversation.

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I have obtained two pieces of information that are relevant. However:

In the view of at least one of the participants (I presume, Governor Harriman), the Dutch were quite clearly told by the Secretary that we would not provide military support. There was no other FE representative present and the telegram reporting the conversation was drafted in IO.
This aspect of the West New Guinea question is said to have been the subject of conversation between the Secretary and the President at Bermuda and the President is said to have indicated that we should respond negatively to Dutch requests for such military support.3

Meanwhile, I understand, State has just received a message from Canberra in which the Australians ask us point blank for our attitude toward support of the Dutch in the event of military action.4 The Indonesian Desk Officer plans to use the reply to this message as the vehicle for attempting to get a firm, unequivocal answer to the question. He has promised to keep me informed as to his progress.

This is obviously an important issue which could affect the whole course of negotiations. The embassy in The Hague regularly tells us that the Dutch would not put up a real defense in the absence of outside support. As Ambassador Rice in The Netherlands has pointed out, a U.S. guarantee of support would reduce Dutch flexibility in negotiations. Contrariwise, as Bob Komer argued, a clear indication that our military support would not be forthcoming should increase flexibility.

I will attempt to follow the current effort to clarify our intentions. However, the above does suggest to me the desirability, if it would be possible, of getting down on paper any Presidential decisions that may have been made in Florida or Bermuda on West New Guinea. The issue under immediate discussion is one on which clarification would be desirable. But it would also be useful to record any Presidential judgment that may have been made on such questions as (a) whether we must look to and work for a solution that will provide clear assurance of transfer [Page 504]of WNG to Indonesia, and (b) how we play our relationship with the Dutch. The FE Office Director concerned, Jim Bell, has not been informed of any general Presidential decisions. Possibly there was nothing that could be called a decision and possibly even the information mentioned above with respect to U.S. use of force is inaccurate. I believe that clarification would be desirable and, if appropriate, an NSC Action memo issued.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, West New Guinea, 1/1/62–1/7/62. Secret. Also sent to Kaysen and a copy was sent to Komer. Komer wrote the following note to Kaysen on the source text: “Carl, FYI in case you hadn’t heard.” McGeorge Bundy wrote: “Harriman tells me he has left the Dutch in no doubt on this point.” Kaysen wrote: “Hold for talk with President.”
  2. Not further identified.
  3. The discussion, which took place on December 27, 1961, was summarized in telegram 555 to The Hague, December 27:

    “In closing, Van Roijen, after recalling Dulles promise to Luns of US logistic support, asked what Dutch could expect from us in event Indonesian aggression against WNG. Secretary said we could not give bilateral assurance; however, UN context was another matter. There is no question as to what our attitude would be in SC in case of aggression. WNG is different militarily from Goa and Dutch position at UN on WNG much stronger than Portuguese. Van Roijen said tactical move of 7th fleet at appropriate time in event of Indonesian move would be real deterrent. Secretary doubted utility such move. Secretary concluded by saying he would wish consider further question of what US would do in event Indonesian aggression before giving specific answer to Van Roijen questions.” (Department of State, Central Files, 656.9813/12–2761)

  4. No RuskKennedy discussion at Bermuda on West New Guinea has been found. In a meeting with Macmillan on December 22 at Bermuda, the President, Rusk, and Lord Home discussed the issue as follows:

    “The President said the Dutch would be made aware of the fact that they could not count on US or UK military support, and that we should find out what the Australians intend. It was agreed that the Secretary should speak to the Australian Ambassador on the latter point. The Secretary added that the Australians felt they had assurances from the Indonesians, prior to the Indian take-over of Goa, that they would not attack West New Guinea. Mr. Bohlen commented that the Filipinos were greatly concerned at the prospect of Indonesia going communist. The Secretary said that any notion that the entire island of New Guinea might constitute a Papuan State was pretty remote. Lord Home said that the UK had already sent a telegram asking for the views of Menzies on this whole problem.” (Memorandum of conversation, December 22; ibid., Conference Files: Lot 65 D 366, CF 2021)

  5. Not further identified.