229. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The Vice President
  • Marshall Green, U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia
  • John Rielly, Assistant to the Vice President

Ambassador Green reviewed the situation in Indonesia that led up to the revolution of 1965. He pointed out that American experts like Guy Pauker (Rand Corporation) had concluded by 1965 that Indonesia was definitely going Communist. Sukarno had announced in 1965 that Indonesia was going to form a Djakarta-Peking Axis. The Indonesian Communist Party (the PKI) launched its coup at the time it did in 1965 because although it was steadily increasing its influence in Indonesia, it feared the death of Sukarno, who was long rumored to be seriously ill. At that time it was estimated that the PKI had 3 million members and approximately 25 million supporters in various front groups throughout Indonesia.

In the coup the PKI aimed to eliminate seven top generals in the army. They ultimately succeeded in killing five of these, but two—the most important, Nasution and Suharto—escaped. The Communists [Page 484]had by 1965 penetrated the Air Force, Navy and some of the police. The Marines were also sympathetic. The Army was the staunch bulwark against the PKI, although certain parts of the Army had also been penetrated. Given this pattern of infiltration, the situation in Indonesia in 1965 was fragile and precarious. Had there been an external threat to Indonesia from the North, and had the United States not taken a strong position in Southeast Asia by that time, the PKI would have been strengthened. The generals who ultimately triumphed would have been gravely weakened in the estimate of Ambassador Green.

The reaction to the coup launched by the PKI was indeed a bloody one and most reliable estimates indicate that 300 to 400 thousand Indonesians were slain. The manner in which the generals of the Army were slain inflamed the peasants and the people. A special corps of PKI women had been trained to slash the generals to death—which they did. When photographs of the slain generals were circulated around the Island, the reaction against the local Communists was intense. They were already unpopular because of their harassment of religious groups such as the Moslems, and because they had taken over much of the power in local areas. The result was a blood bath in which many of the Communists were killed.

By November and December of 1965 the Army consolidated its position. But it decided to let Sukarno stay around. Sukarno made a counter-bid for power in January, February and March of 1966. It was at that time that the students went into the streets to demonstrate against Sukarno. During this period of demonstration the United States Embassy was attacked on March 8, 1966. At this time Suharto made a very shrewd move in the opinion of Ambassador Green. He informed Sukarno in March that his life was in danger because the students were marching on the Palace. He, Suharto, could not protect Sukarno’s life unless Suharto was given full powers. Only then did Suharto get full powers. But he nevertheless did not remove Sukarno at that time in part because he feared a reaction in Java where Sukarno had a strong following. Also Sukarno provided a common enemy which welded all groups together.

By early 1967, however, Suharto and his colleagues had decided that it was time to get rid of Sukarno. They will try to remove him soon, but hopefully he will resign voluntarily before the meeting of the top leadership now scheduled for March 8th. Sukarno will fight back and of course will allege that many of those against him are implicated in a CIA plot. That is his standard routine. In the view of Ambassador Green, Sukarno is not likely to survive this time.

Viewing the members of the present Government, Ambassador Green commented that the Sultan of Djakarta is a nice man, but not too powerful. Suharto is astute and clever and works hard at governing [Page 485]Indonesia. Malik is one of the cleverest men he had ever met. He is particularly clever in tactics. Malik single-handedly brought an end to the confrontation on Malaysia and brought Indonesia back into the United Nations. However, he has no independent political base. He has a good relationship with Suharto, but he is nevertheless fearful of too great a military influence in the Government. This is a problem for him as Foreign Minister because too many of the Ambassadorships are going to military men, which weakened his own position in the Foreign Ministry.

There is an important problem of keeping the military happy in Indonesia. Because assistance was discontinued by most external powers, the Indonesian Navy has had to mothball the fleet. Many other installations have been cut back. The consequence is that there are many military men available who have to get jobs. Suharto knows that he has to modify the military set-up, but he doesn’t want the military to absorb too much power itself. He is purging the Air Force slowly and is moving gradually to make certain of the loyalty of the Army. He wants to have an absolutely sure base in the Army first before moving to “purify” the rest of the armed forces. He also realizes the need at some point to form a political party, but he wants to develop a stable base in the Army first.

Suharto is intent on setting up civic action programs to divert the energies of the military in solving the problems of his own country. On May 26th Suharto asked Ambassador Green for assistance to do a long list of things in the civic action field. Ambassador Green suggested that foreign enterprise could do many of the things that Suharto suggested his own military do. He stated that some military assistance however is desirable, perhaps $6 million plus another $2 million for spare parts. In his view, as he reported it to Suharto, the Indonesian military should concentrate on the food problem. The military have grandiose ideas of what is needed. Nevertheless, although we cannot respond to their full request, we can give some assistance. In dispensing aid, timing is extremely important. He sensed that the Indonesian military are becoming impatient because we have not responded to their recent requests.

Responding to the Vice President’s question, Ambassador Green said he talked to President Johnson about Indonesia in September of 1966. The Vice President described his contacts with the Indonesians going back to 1949. Malik was one of those who had visited the United States at that time. The Vice President had managed to keep in touch with Malik and some of his friends over a long period of time. The Vice President had talked to Prime Minister Sato of Japan about Indonesia when he visited Japan in January of 1966. He stated that he hoped Japan could be ready to help if needed, because the United States [Page 486]would not be able to move in there for political reasons. The Vice President said he had had further discussions about Indonesia when he went to Thailand in February of 1966, where members of his party had contacts with representatives of Suharto.

The Vice President said he understood perfectly well why a man like Suharto must keep the military happy. We must understand this fact and he was sure that the President was sensitive to it. He knew that the President had a very high regard for Ambassador Green and great admiration for the role he has played there in the last year and a half. He noted the great timidity in the United States Government on the question of Indonesia and a lack of interest in some circles. There had been a National Security Council meeting in the summer of 1966 on this subject, the meeting called chiefly at the request of Walt Rostow and the Vice President.

The Vice President said that he readily agreed with the Ambassador that the timing of our action is important just as the timing of inaction is important. He appreciates the “low posture” which the Ambassador and the United States Mission has taken in Djakarta in the past year and a half. If the Ambassador believes that further action is now needed, he must really press his case here in Washington. In the Vice President’s view, he should make the case directly to the President. The President is very much interested in Indonesia, both for itself and also as a dividend of the stand that the United States is taking in Vietnam.

The Ambassador pointed out that United States influence is apparent in Indonesia and that our AID programs have borne fruit. For example, General Suharto regularly consults five economists in preparing for major economic decisions. All of these economists were trained in United States universities, three at Berkeley, one at Harvard and one at MIT. Similarly, our military training program has proved to be a great success and many of the people who both launched the coup and are in key positions of power today, were trained in the United States.

Ambassador Green stated that Indonesia must first deal with the resolution of its debt problem. Then we can focus on the foreign aid problem. There is a question of how much Indonesia can absorb at this time.

The Vice President agreed that the economic and social development program needs careful appraisal. We must not rush into a bilateral program before we have explored the possibilities of channelling aid multilaterally, before the consortium of nations has made its appraisal. Nevertheless, we must not lose sight of the fact that Suharto must take care of the Army. We must have a civic action program to put them to work and keep them busy. For this modest amount of goods and [Page 487]money is needed, and can do a lot of good in helping Suharto at this time.

Ambassador Green stated that Secretary McNamara had resisted this previously but was now prepared to change his mind. McNamara had sent out a team which would be bringing back an evaluation shortly.

The Vice President said he hoped the Pentagon would do better in regard to Indonesia than it did on Laos. It had taken an unconscionable amount of time to get aid in Laos and he hoped that this would not be true of Indonesia. Ambassador Green noted that nothing had been delivered yet in the civic action field although he expected something would be. As of this date, they are waiting for the report of the Pentagon team. He added that in his view the State Department had never fully understood the need for civic action assistance, such as quartermasters’ supplies, and spare parts.

Discussing the AID program there the Ambassador stated that what is most important is not only how much we give but the way we give it. When we have a large AID staff and a large USIA staff this results in a huge presence which breathes down the neck of Indonesians. They feel they are being treated like a client. The Ambassador’s policy has been to reduce the United States presence generally, not only with AID but with USIA and other agencies. He advocates having no libraries under USIA auspices. Given the situation there and the staff presence that would be necessary, this would be counter-productive. He would rather spend the money on the books and place them in Indonesian libraries leaving them with the responsibility.

In general, he would place more responsibility on the Indonesian Government. We have ways of checking up on them in the end. He said that Administrator Bill Gaud and his Deputy-designate Rud Poats agree. But the lower echelons of AID have other habits acquired over a long period of time. The question of style, of how one does this is so important. It is not just a question of policy. He believes that the success that the United States has had in Indonesia is due to the fact that we cut down on our profile. Also there were very few if any statements here by United States public officials about Indonesia. During the past year and a half he has tried to have his Embassy be just one more Embassy in Djakarta.

We are now starting again with a new slate. In his view we should have some aid but we want to begin right. He has four AID officials now and he hoped to go up to not more than 13. He definitely wants to hold it down.

The Vice President stated that this certainly coincided with his approach and that of the President of trying to emphasize a multilateral approach to foreign aid, trying to get others to help share the burden. [Page 488]Ambassador Green concurred, stating that our overwhelming presence in countries like Indonesia invariably creates resentment. Another reason why they have been successful in the past year and a half is because Indonesia has been spared the usual influx of visitors from the United States and other countries.

Ambassador Green stated that he was aware of the desire in February of 1966 of some officials in Washington (the Vice President included himself in this) to begin assistance to Indonesia then. The Ambassador stated that he was inclined to favor it at this time, but he was counseled by Malik “not yet.” He checked it out and found that Nasution and Suharto concurred in that recommendation at that time. In May Malik informed him that the time was right and that they wanted aid. Ambassador Green reported that they were able to put together an emergency package and they got it out there on time. It made a terrific impact because it was on time.

The Vice President repeated that he hoped that the Ambassador would have a chance to talk to the President before he departed for Djakarta. He said he would contact Walt Rostow in this regard and if he had an opportunity would talk to the President about it himself.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Indonesia, Vol. VII, Memos, 5/66–6/67, [2 of 2]. No classification marking. The meeting was held in Humphrey’s office in the U.S. Capitol building. Humphrey sent this memorandum to Rostow under cover of an attached March 9 memorandum. Humphrey asked, “for reasons that will be apparent in the memo,” that the record of his discussion not be circulated. Humphrey hoped that Green would be able to meet with the President on his next trip to Washington.