198. Telegram From the Embassy in Indonesia to the Department of State 1

2469. 1. Following is Embassy analysis of present political situation and future prospects insofar as these can be determined in highly fluid situation.

2. Tactics of major participants in political struggle have emerged more clearly during past week. According present indications they are as follows:

Students. Students appear to realize that they themselves cannot bring down present Indonesian Government and that only army can do so. However, they feel strongly that army has waited too long and that they must goad it into moving despite itself. Student demonstrations and other activities are thus designed to force army to act.
Army. According some [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] reports army, for its part, hopes use students and other groups to heat up atmosphere and then move against Subandrio and other leftists in high places using excuse of need to restore security. Sukarno is not direct target of this strategy but some within army reportedly realize he would probably resist any action against Subandrio and that army must therefore be prepared meet him head on if necessary. (Note: [Page 412]Strategies of army and students fit neatly together if army does, in fact, move before student campaign loses steam.)
Sukarno. Sukarno apparently believes that strong stand will divide and weaken his opponents. During past week he has returned number of radical leftists to positions of power, banned Student Action Command, prohibited demonstrations and closed university. He is apparently aware that many within army are reluctant to confront him directly and believes that policy of firmness will further intimidate military, as it has in past, and lessen chances that army and civilians can unite against him in effective action.

3. Thus far old Sukarno magic is not working as usual. Student activities have continued unabated despite clear evidence of his displeasure. Yesterday’s activities were most open attack to date on Subandrio, and Sukarno himself has come in for some criticism. As campaign progresses students seem to be developing greater self- confidence and sense participation in significant historical turning point. Their determination is increased by numerous indications that majority of people of Djakarta are with them.

4. There is still no firm indications that army will act although some knowledgeable Indonesians during past few days have become more optimistic. General Sukendro, in contrast to his earlier pessimistic moods, told New Zealand Charge March 2 that generals may soon decide to become “patriots instead of soldiers.” However, exact nature and timing of any army move against Subandrio or others in top positions remain uncertain and it seems likely that army itself has not firmly decided on these crucial questions.

5. Despite uncertainties in present situation there are number of elements which make present situation more encouraging than it has ever been in past:

Students and other civilian activists now seem to realize more than ever before that they must lead army rather than simply wait for it to act.
Younger officers within military are also dissatisfied with lack of action by their superiors. This is additional element which could at some point tip balance in favor of military action.
Army tactic of soliciting petitions from lower ranks could also increase role of activist elements in determining army policy. Suharto, who has reportedly asked for such petitions to strengthen his hand with Sukarno, could actually get more than he has bargained for.
Increased student activity places greater pressures on palace for countermeasures. Escalation in present campaign could be dangerous for palace since it might eventually lead to more open army intervention on side of students.

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6. Balanced against these favorable elements is not inconsiderable ability of Sukarno to manipulate forces, as he recently did with NU and Muhammadiyah. Army’s position itself has a number of built-in vulnerabilities. Its tactics are overly complex and lack clear focus, particularly in continued unwillingness to face up to fact that Sukarno himself is the real problem. Army does not really need excuse of deteriorating security situation to act if it really has will to do so. Moreover, by continuing to reign students in from key targets army is actually hindering creation of “unrest” which it hopes to exploit. There is also possibility that Sukarno-Subandrio might be able to unify elements now against them through dramatic move on international level. Possible new summit on Malaysia, stepped up confrontation, troubles with Philippines, contrived crisis in relations with US or other issue might be used for this purpose, particularly if Sukarno and his supporters become desperate as result of increased pressures against them.

7. In short run, and balancing factors, we believe chances for firm army action to topple Sukarno directly are slim. Action to eliminate Subandrio and other left-wingers and thus break Sukarno’s power in two stage process is considerably more likely but odds are probably not much better than 50–50. Nonetheless this is significant improvement over earlier situation.

8. Even if army does not act in short run, longer range prospects are now far more favorable as result student campaign which has ushered in new political atmosphere.

Students’ enthusiasm and heroism have galvanized heretofore disparate and passive opposition to Sukarno’s regime. Several western-oriented Indonesian intellectuals, for example, who had retired completely from political scene, suddenly appeared on streets with students and we have many reports of organized middle-class housewife network for feeding and clothing students and even of spontaneous provision of free food by street merchants and other lower class elements.
Students have also torn hole in political doctrine which identified Sukarno with state and which has allowed President to beat off clearly superior forces. Students have shown many of their elders that one can be patriotic without being pro-Sukarno or pro-government. They have done this by adopting causes popular with broad segment of population (lowering of prices and elimination of ineffective managers) and by conducting their campaign in surprisingly orderly fashion which smacks neither of anarchy nor rebellion.

9. In summary, we believe political struggle will be protracted. Student demonstrations are likely to continue for some time despite Sukarno’s efforts to suppress them. They will not bring about change [Page 414]in regime in near future unless army joins in openly, and we see only about 50–50 chance for this. Viewed in longer range, however, student demonstrations have begun healthy reorientation of Indo political thinking which will work against Sukarno and can eventually lead to downfall of his regime.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 23–9 INDON. Secret; Priority. Repeated to Bangkok, CINCPAC for POLAD, Hong Kong for Ambassador Green, Kuala Lumpur, London, Manila, Medan, Singapore, Surabaya, and Tokyo.