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


Where Next on WNG?

With both sides engaging in brinkmanship, WNG crisis has moved into new phase of escalation.1 At least a chance, however, that this will make both nervous enough to want to resume negotiations.

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But, as Jones puts it, we face chicken or egg proposition in getting talks restarted.2 Indos say Dutch have shown no willingness to negotiate transfer of administration; until Dutch make this clear Indos won’t come back. Dutch on other hand say in effect we can’t make such promises until we see more clearly what Indos have in mind.

Thus once again next step is up to US. We are already so involved as middleman, and risk to US strategic interests so great, that we can’t afford not to apply whatever pressures are necessary to bring parties back together (and keep them there until this painful issue resolved).

The two immediate essentials are to get Indos to express willingness to talk again (this may be tough in light Dutch reinforcements), and then get some sign of give from Dutch which we can use to get Indos back to table. I really see no alternative to engaging President at this stage (unless we could use AG again):

  • (1) State sending over JFK letter they propose Jones give Sukarno Friday (McGhee sent it back last night as too bland) in effort prevent Sukarno from going off deep end. I’ve told them speed it up.3
  • (2) State drafting JFK letter to Dutch asking in effect where latter expect all this to end, and I hope suggesting agenda formula.4 Van Roijen wouldn’t even transmit last US formula to Hague, so this letter must tell Dutch to fish or cut bait!
  • (3)We need a follow-through to above; I’ve suggested JFK letter tell De Quay we sending Bunker to Hague in order settle on formula, which he’ll then go and try sell to Indos. If mountain won’t come to Mahomet, let’s try reverse.
  • (4) As kicker we tell both parties that if they won’t buy our formula, we’ll have no choice but to withdraw and let them fight.
Bob K .
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda Series, Staff Memos, Komer, 3/62. Secret.
  2. Indonesian air forces and Dutch naval forces clashed in waters around West New Guinea in the vicinity of the island of Gag on March 25. Earlier there was sporadic fighting between the two sides. (Telegram 707 from The Hague, March 26; Department of State, Central Files, 656.9813/3–2662) In telegram 1075 to Djakarta, March 25, Ball asked Jones to urge restraint upon Sukarno. Sukarno should realize that infiltration, attacks, and threats only strengthened the hands of those in the Netherlands Government who wanted to take a hard line. (Ibid., 656.9813/3–2562)
  3. Jones made this observation in telegram 1726 from Djakarta, March 27. He saw “the chicken or egg conundrum” as follows: “Indos will not talk about substantive matters until they have clear indication that Dutch are willing to think seriously in terms of territory ultimately going to Indo and to help bring about this result. Dutch, on other hand, want to know the details before they agree to the end-result.” (Ibid., 656.9813/3–2762)
  4. The letter was revised by McGeorge Bundy and sent in telegram 1086 to Djakarta, March 28. In it, the President encouraged Sukarno to renew the talks and to give a proposal from Bunker serious consideration. (Draft letter, March 28; Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, West New Guinea, 3/26/62–3/29/63, and Department of State, Central Files, 656.9813/3–2862) Bunker also sent Sukarno a letter with similar exhortations. (Telegram 1079 to Djakarta, March 27; ibid., 656.9813/3–3762) The Bunker-proposed formula is in Document 254.
  5. Two letters were sent to the Netherlands: one from the President to Prime Minister de Quay and one from Rusk to Luns. The letter to Luns, sent in telegram 856 to The Hague, March 31, alerted Luns to Bunker’s formula and to the Kennedy letter to de Quay. (Department of State, Central Files, 656.9813/3–3162) In Kennedy’s letter to de Quay, sent in telegram 857, March 31, the President warned of dire consequences of a Netherlands-Indonesia war in the Pacific that neither the Netherlands nor the West could win. Kennedy’s letter also described Bunker’s formula. (Ibid.)