342. Memorandum From the Department of State to President Kennedy0


  • Malaysia Dispute

The following paper is divided into four parts. Part I deals with recommended steps to prevent a further deterioration of the situation. Part II describes steps contemplated if these efforts to halt deterioration fail. Part III is an analysis of our obligations under ANZUS. Part IV contains suggested guidelines for the up-coming consultations with the Australians. A separate Department of Defense paper, attached as an annex, is concerned with possible United States military actions in case of overt attack by Indonesia on Malaysia.

I. To prevent a further deterioration of the situation, we intend to take the following immediate steps:

Urge Thanat Khoman to intensify his efforts to bring ministerial level representatives of the three countries together in Bangkok. We will [Page 744] also suggest that he make brief personal visits to each of the three capitals to promote an early meeting. Instructions have already been sent to USUN to approach Thanat along these, lines (Tab A)1
Inform the Tunku of our dismay at the belligerent anti-Indonesian tone of his recent statements and make it clear to him that he must stop these irresponsible broadsides if he is to count on our continued support. We are also suggesting that Ambassador Jones (scheduled to visit Singapore briefly around October 10) meet privately with the Tunku to counteract his wishful thinking about the internal situation in Indonesia. (Tab B)
Warn Subandrio in clear terms that if Indonesia undertakes either overt or intense covert hostilities against Malaysia, the United States may well become directly involved through the ANZUS Pact and through our obligations under the United Nations Charter. We believe a warning to Subandrio, which he could convey to Sukarno in his own way, would be more effective than a direct warning to Sukarno in his present truculent mood. A draft cable conveying these instructions is attached. (Tab C)
Make another attempt to detach the Philippines from Indonesia by emphasizing to Macapagal the grave risk to Philippine security that would result from continued association with a nation committed to the elimination of U.S. and UK bases and, increasingly, to armed aggression against Malaysia, its Commonwealth partner and (through ANZUS) perhaps even the United States.
Enlist the support of the UK and Australia for our efforts to move Malaysia and Indonesia back from the brink by restoring direct Malaysia-Indonesia-Philippine contacts. Both the UK and Australia are cool to these efforts, and are counseling the Tunku to hold out for concessions before permitting these contacts to begin. (Draft telegram, Tab D)

II. If the foregoing efforts fail to halt deterioration and bring about a resumption of contacts, we suggest the following steps:

Suggest to the Secretary General that he name a representative to mediate the dispute through personal diplomacy in the respective capitals.
Explore the possibility of other UN involvement, including the feasibility of a UN peace-keeping mission to head off armed clashes.
Use our remaining leverage in Indonesia (primarily our continuing aid programs and Ambassador Jones’ special relationship with Sukarno) to exert maximum pressure on the Indonesians, making clear to them the impending severance of all ties with the Free World unless they reverse their course toward aggression. Measures to exert this leverage [Page 745] would include the progressive cancellation of aid programs (including PL 480), the withdrawal of American dependents and surplus personnel and the recall of Ambassador Jones for consultation.

III. Obligations and actions under ANZUS:

The ANZUS Treaty in Articles IV and V, provides that in the event of an armed attack in the Pacific area on any of the parties, including on their armed forces, each party would “act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional processes.”

All of the parties understand that this commitment relates only to overt attack and not to subversion, guerrilla warfare or indirect aggression. What constitutes “armed” or “overt” attack is a matter for joint determination under the treaty and cannot be unilaterally decided by any of the parties to invoke the treaty obligations. The question of when subversion, guerrilla warfare or indirect aggression matures into an armed or overt attack so as to invoke the treaty is especially difficult. For this reason alone continuing consultation under the treaty would seem to be desirable and even essential.

In the context of Malaysia, it should be noted that an attack on Malaysia per se would not trigger the treaty. It is only in the event of an armed attack on the armed forces, public vessels or aircraft of Australia or New Zealand that the United States would be under an obligation to act under the treaty While the stationing of Australian forces in Malaysia was not contemplated at the time the ANZUS Treaty was concluded, the treaty clearly envisages such possibility anywhere in the Pacific area. The treaty does not, however, give any party a carte blanche to engage in activities which might involve the other parties under the treaty. The treaty provides for consultations among the parties and is based on the assumption that such activities would be undertaken only after there had been appropriate consultations.

The treaty does not define the kind of action the parties must take in the event of an armed attack. There is a whole range of measures which might be appropriate depending upon the circumstances. They could involve anything from a diplomatic protest to an appeal to the United Nations to the use of armed force. Here again is a subject which seems suitable for periodic consultations under the treaty.

In addition the treaty requires the parties to act “in accordance with their constitutional processes.” In the case of the United States, this may involve either the President acting alone or the President with the Congress whether formally or otherwise, depending on legal and policy considerations.

[Page 746]

A more detailed statement of the legal aspects of the ANZUS problem is contained in the annex to the Acting Secretary’s memorandum for the President on ANZUS dated August 8, 1963.2

IV. Suggested guidelines for consultations with Australians

Primary responsibility for the defense of Malaysia rests with the British and the Commonwealth.
We wish to continue to encourage Australia to assume a greater role in the defense of Malaysia. We must insist that the Government of Australia consult with us before Australia makes further military commitments in the Pacific area outside Malaysia.
We should encourage Australia (and the UK) to refrain from any action or statement which would tend to provoke Sukarno to more belligerent action. They should at the same time use their influence with the Tunku to the same end. The Government of Malaysia must be made to understand that this is a time that calls for statesmanship and that any further provocative statements such as those made by the Tunku on October 5 must be stopped. We cannot put ourselves in the position of being dragged into the military defense of Malaysia if our diplomatic efforts are undermined by others.
We should insist that Australia and New Zealand consult in advance with us on the nature and timing of any statement which they feel obliged to make re U.S. assurances of support of their involvement in Malaysia.
In our view guerrilla warfare and subversion in which there are involved only indigenous personnel from Sarawak, North Borneo or Brunei, even though trained by the Indonesians, would not constitute overt aggression within the meaning of the ANZUS Treaty and would be a problem for Malaysia and her Commonwealth partners. If substantial numbers of Indonesian troops were committed, the Treaty would come into force.
If the situation deteriorates further short of overt aggression, we anticipate the matter might go to the United Nations with an effort to seek agreement on a peace-keeping operation by the UN. The U.S. would support a UN peace-keeping mission.
In the case of an overt attack against Australian forces in Malaysia, the U.S. would meet its obligations under the ANZUS Treaty. The kind of action which the U.S. might take would depend upon the particular circumstances and on the need for assistance from us. We would not become involved in the military sense until our ANZUS partners, Malaysia and the UK, were fully committed. The form of action we would take would have to be a matter for consultation at the time the contingency [Page 747] arose. In any case, we would limit our help to logistic, air and naval support.
In the case of subversion, guerrilla warfare or indirect aggression, no obligation under the Treaty would arise for the United States. While we consider the problem of subversion, guerrilla warfare or indirect aggression in Malaysia to be a British and Commonwealth responsibility, we would, of course bring U.S. influence and pressure to bear on Indonesia. (See Sections I and II above.)
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Malaysia, 10/63. Top Secret. There is no drafting information on the source text, but another copy of the memorandum has Harriman’s extensive handwritten revisions. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Kennedy-Johnson Administrations, Subject Files, Malaysia) A Department of Defense paper listing possible U.S. military actions in the case of an overt attack by Indonesia on Malaysia was attached but is not printed.

    On the covering memorandum to Bundy, Read noted that this memorandum and the Defense paper, in the form of a single one-page paper, served as the basis of discussion for a meeting with the President by representatives of the Departments of State and Defense and CIA on October 9. At that meeting, the President approved the policy outlined in the combined paper. According to the President’s Appointment Book, the meeting on October 9, described as “off-the-record,” lasted from 11 to 11:55 a.m. (Kennedy Library) No other record of it has been found.

  2. None of the tabs was attached and they are not further identified.
  3. See footnote 4, Document 337.