13. Memorandum From the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Read) to the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)1


  • Memorandum for the Attorney General’s Meeting with Sukarno of Indonesia

There is enclosed a memorandum for the Attorney General’s meeting with President Sukarno. This memorandum will be discussed at a meeting in the White House on January 14.2

Benjamin H. Read 3



The President has instructed the Attorney General to meet Sukarno in Tokyo. The purpose of the trip is two-fold. The first purpose is to make completely clear the consequences for United States-Indonesian relationships4 if Sukarno continues his present policies toward Malaysia. The second is to further the over-all United States objective of getting the Indonesians, Malaysians and Filipinos to sit down together for talks looking toward an “Asian solution” of the dispute. Depending on the progress made with Sukarno, the Attorney General may be asked to continue on to Manila, Kuala Lumpur and London—the latter being particularly important if Sukarno is at all forthcoming.

[Page 30]

There are a number of ways in which a satisfactory solution might come about, and it is unnecessary—perhaps even useless—to try at this stage to be precise about how events might move toward such a solution. However, for purposes of illustration, it might be helpful to set down the following as one way in which a satisfactory solution might eventuate:

Since it is unreasonable to expect Tunku to negotiate with a pistol at his head, Sukarno agrees to call off all military “confrontation” entirely. If this cannot be done he agrees to at least a cease-fire during which talks can begin.
In exchange for Sukarno’s abandoning military “confrontation”, the Tunku agrees to talks without pre-conditions—i.e. the Tunku drops his present condition that talks shall constitute recognition of Malaysia.
The British agree to the above and also to some lessening of their military “presence” on the Borneo border.
It is highly desirable that the solution coming out of the tripartite talks be one that the participants themselves develop. But one form that this might take but which we should not mention to any of the participants is for the Malaysians to guarantee to do in North Borneo exactly what the Indonesians do in fulfillment of their UN pledge for a “plebiscite” in West New Guinea—but only if there is no subversive or guerrilla warfare in the intervening five years.

The Situation

Sukarno has refused to accept the existence of Malaysia. Although he had given us assurance he will not engage in open attack, he has mounted guerrilla action and a political and economic campaign to destroy the state or alter its nature. His precise objectives are unclear to us—and probably to him as well,—but they probably are to: 1) as a maximum, detach the Borneo states from Malaysia and establish a more sympathetic regime in Kuala Lumpur; 2) as a minimum, implement a formula that would allow the Borneo states to remain within Malaysia but permit Sukarno to claim a public victory over his opponents and give him an opening for future attempts to assert domination over Malaysia; 3) eliminate British influence in the area; and 4) prevent possible Chinese take-over on Indonesia’s borders.

Whatever his actual purpose, Sukarno’s campaign of confrontation has led to an increasingly serious threat to the peace of the region. The British: 1) have assumed responsibility for Malaysia’s defense against Indonesia; 2) are suffering losses from Sukarno’s guerrillas; 3) are being forced to move in more military resources than is convenient; 4) have consistently been trying to get us involved in order to share the burden with them; and 5) are fast losing both patience and objectivity. The Australians, also committed to defend Malaysia, are holding back, as they do not want to come into direct conflict with their large and close neighbor. They hope that some sort of modus vivendi can be worked out with the Indonesians. Under growing British pressure to commit [Page 31]troops to Borneo, however, they will find it increasingly hard to stay out if the guerrilla attacks continue.

The implications for us are two-fold. In terms of our general interests, the outbreak of open hostilities between Britain and Indonesia would have a potentially disastrous effect on the security of the area, on relations between the West and the neutralist Afro-Asians, and on the future orientation of Indonesia. In terms of our specific commitments, hostilities between Australian and Indonesian forces in Borneo would enable the Australians to invoke the ANZUS pact and call upon us for direct intervention against Indonesia.

Purpose of the Meeting

The danger in the situation has primarily arisen from Indonesian military guerrilla action, although mishandling, blunders, inflexibility and cupidity on part of various of the other parties—the British, Malaysians and Filipinos—have contributed substantially. If the dangerous deterioration is to be reversed, Sukarno must be induced to take the first step. That step must be the cessation of military activity against Malaysia. This by itself would leave the dispute far from resolved, but it would create an atmosphere in which further initiative could eventually bring about a tolerable solution.

The task of inducing Sukarno to abandon military confrontation will be difficult, since it will require him to give up not only his most potent weapon against Malaysia but also by implication, his maximum objectives toward it. Abandoning military confrontation will also force him to reverse a policy to which he has publicly pledged himself, which will be excruciatingly difficult for one with Sukarno’s ego. There are, however, factors already pushing him toward an easing of tensions. Indonesia’s economy is under severe strain and worse is in sight. The foreign aid on which Indonesia has relied for a decade is drying up, largely because of “confrontation”, and no major injections from either East or West are in the offing. Aside from lukewarm Philippine support and the propaganda backing of the Bloc, Sukarno has attracted no outside support for his campaign and a great deal of international censure. With a few exceptions (confiscation of British property in Indonesia, severance of relations with the UK), he has already committed virtually all the weapons at his disposal without bringing down Malaysia, and seems to be at somewhat of a loss as to his next move. Although willing to run very high risks, he knows that the British-Australians are far too strong for him and that he cannot deliberately provoke an open conflict.

Our basic leverage with Sukarno is the fact that, however cavalier he is with American sensibilities, he is demonstrably anxious to retain [Page 32]United States friendship. He wants and needs our aid; he relishes the prestige of dealing with us as an “equal”; and he certainly senses the manifold disadvantages to Indonesia of a serious breach with the world’s most powerful nation. But if given no alternative other than a humiliating public defeat, he would probably be willing to break with us. Our leverage thus is substantial but limited.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, ORG 7 JUS. Secret. Drafted by Cuthell, cleared with Bell, Hilsman, and in draft with Harriman.
  2. The President met with Robert Kennedy, Rusk, McNamara, Harriman, McCone, and Bundy on January 14 from 10:30 to 10:50 a.m. (Johnson Library, President’s Daily Diary) See Document 15.
  3. Printed from a copy that indicates John A. McKesson signed for Read.
  4. A copy of this memorandum was sent to McNamara. At this point McNamara added the following handwritten note: “What consequences should he [illegible—hit?] to—inevitably Aus[tralian?] forces and we will have a serious prob under ANZUS treaty; UN will be drawn in [,] aid must stop—we would be forced to support anti-Indo forces [illegible—North?]” McNamara also put the following comment at the top of the memorandum: “lack bite[,] stick and carrot.” (Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 69 A 7425, Indonesia)