118. Memorandum From the Under Secretary of State (Ball) to President Johnson1


  • Proposed Mission for Ellsworth Bunker to Indonesia

Our relations with Indonesia are on the verge of falling apart. Sukarno is turning more and more toward the Communist PKI. The Army, which has been the traditional countervailing force, has its own problems of internal cohesion.

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Within the past few days the situation has grown increasingly more ominous. Not only has the management of the American rubber plants been taken over, but there are dangers of an imminent seizure of the American oil companies.

Under these circumstances, Secretary Rusk and I feel it essential to get a clear, objective reading of the situation.

Ambassador Jones has been in Djakarta for seven years. He is tired and worried. He has done everything possible to advance American interests through his close personal relations with Sukarno. But that line seems pretty well played out.

Before we recommend to you some of the hard decisions that may be required over the next few weeks we think it would be valuable to have Ellsworth Bunker make a fresh and objective reading of the situation.2 After he had reported his conclusions we would be in a better position to advise whether

You should send Bunker to Djakarta as Ambassador;
You should send someone less prestigious; or
The post should be left vacant as an expression of our dissatisfaction pending an improvement in relations.

We recommend, therefore, that Ambassador Bunker be asked to pay a brief visit to Djakarta. He is prepared to leave next Wednesday. His mission would have the following objectives:

He could carry a letter from you to Sukarno. Because of Sukarno’s respect for you this might be the means of temporarily stabilizing the situation.
He could make use of his own prestige with the Indonesians (you will recall he was the man who negotiated the West New Guinea settlement) to try to get a commitment from Sukarno to take a more moderate course.
He would be able to recommend the decisions we may be forced to make regarding the further evacuation of personnel; the handling of the problem of the oil companies, etc.

If you think well of this idea, we will prepare a draft letter from you to Sukarno which Ambassador Bunker could deliver. Meanwhile, the mere fact that Sukarno knew that Ambassador Bunker was proposing to visit Djakarta on your behalf could have a stabilizing effect.

George W. Ball
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Indonesia, Vol. IV, Memos, 3/65–9/65. Secret. A note on the source text indicates that the President saw it. According to a Department of State copy of this memorandum it was drafted by Ball. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Ball Files: Lot 74 D 272, Southeast Asia) On March 16 Ball initially drafted this memorandum; a copy is ibid., Central Files 1964–66, POL 1 INDON–US. According to a memorandum of conversation between Ball and McGeorge Bundy, Ball agreed to rewrite it in light of the changed situation in Indonesia. They also agreed along with Rusk that it would be a good idea to send Bunker to “take a quick look” and give them his “sound judgment.” (Memorandum of telephone conversation, March 17, 10:15 a.m.; Johnson Library, Ball Papers, Telephone Conversations, Indonesia, [4/12/64–11/10/65])
  2. On March 18 at 11:10 a.m., Ball telephoned Bunker and asked “how he would feel about making a quick trip out, leaving the question as to permanent representation based on the recommendation Bunker would make about the type and quality of Ambassador we want out there.” Ball told Bunker that “an independent view by someone who would be objective and tough-minded would help the President make some of the hard decisions we will have to be making out there.” Bunker agreed. (Memorandum of telephone conversation; ibid.)