234. Letter From the Ambassador to Indonesia (Green) to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (Berger)1

Dear Sam:

Many thanks for your letter of March 312 which set down in helpful and stimulating style a series of formulations on the emerging Indonesian political scene. We seem to be on the same wave length but with enough tonal variations to stimulate further exchanges.

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In the interests of easy reference I have repeated each one of your lettered paragraphs together with my comments on that paragraph.


Suharto has shown an uncommon political wisdom and shrewdness, as well as remarkable sense of timing in handling Sukarno and other main problems of the last twenty months (confrontation, UN, the trials, etc.). He is the dominant personality on the Indonesian scene and we see no one of comparable stature who could lead Indonesia in the difficult months and years ahead.

Comment: Suharto had to be pushed by Malik on handling confrontation, returning to the UN, and other matters, although the handling of Sukarno was completely in accordance with Suharto’s guiding genius. I agree that Suharto has an inborn political sense which has made him the man for the job these past 18 months, and I see no one who is now capable of replacing him or who in fact aspires to do so.


His next effort must be to put together a more effective and honest government to deal with the economic mess and to lay the foundation for Indonesia’s political future.

Comment: I agree. However, we should not expect wholesale cabinet changes which would open up new problems of political party representation in the cabinet. It would be in Suharto’s style to avoid this until after elections, meanwhile making changes from time to time in cabinet and sub-cabinet positions to remove the more obvious corruptionists or incompetents. But I see no cleansing of the Augean stables on the heroic Herculean scale.


An early return to “normal politics”, i.e., to more or less the old political parties, to an election based on them, and to a government created from them, would solve no problems in Indonesia. It would not give Indonesia effective government, would only lead to disgust with the democratic process, produce more chaos, and probably end in a complete takeover by the military.

Comment: Concur. I am sure that elections will not be held until Indonesia’s rehabilitation is well under way and Suharto is certain that the outcome of the elections will not overthrow the “new order” or seriously challenge its progress. On the other hand I do not see Suharto removing the old parties. He may in fact seek a political solution that involves efforts to gain support of old parties or major elements thereof for his “New Order”.


For Malik to assume that he can build a new political party on a civilian base with any chance of success, is sheer romancing. He is not that strong politically, nor is he likely to become so in view of his enemies and opposition in religious, military, national and political circles.

Comment: This may underrate Malik’s potential and also contradicts to some extent the thrust of your paragraph h. Malik has [Page 500]been counted out before, only to bounce back to a position of prominence. He may be weak as an organizer but I can conceive of a number of circumstances under which he might rather quickly emerge as a prominent political force within a coalition of progressive elements.


For the military to withdraw from a major and active role in political life would be as disastrous for Indonesia as for the military to take over all power. However, it is not likely that the military will either want to give up power, or dare to give up power, even if they so desire. On the contrary, the greater danger is that the military will push for more and more power. The problems for Suharto are to keep a strong rein on power, enlist civilian cooperation, resist the pressures toward exclusive military power, and weld a military-civilian team to govern Indonesia.

Comment: I fully agree.


In short, the key to the future, to political stability, to effective government, to a successful transition to elected government, is in Suharto’s hands. If he can make a success of the next year or two his government becomes the embryo of the successor government, and he becomes the natural person to lead the subsequent government. Whether Suharto realizes it or not, it would seem that this would eventually require the creation of a new political party which only he can lead. (This was the experience of General Papagos in Greece in 1952, and General Pak in Korea in 1963.)

Comment: This is a possibility but there are others. Ed Masters, for example, has suggested that Suharto may feel he can find a civilian base for his government in a cleansed PNI. I rather suspect that Suharto has not yet made up his mind on how to organize political forces in order to insure perpetuation of his New Order. Most signs at present would tend in the direction of his trying to achieve this crucial goal through a combination of (a) guaranteed seats in the Parliament for his military and Action Fronts on whose support he can absolutely count, and (b) trying to gain the support of as many of the political parties or factions thereof as possible. The political party element is nevertheless likely to maintain a relative independence, being prepared to vote either for or against government bills in accordance with party interests.

As to your parenthetical comment about the Greek and Korean examples, I am not sure how relevant Suharto would consider them to be. Would he be willing to take the risk which Pak took in 1963 when Pak would have lost to a more united opposition? I doubt it.


A new political party must have military support and a civilian base. It must be able to draw in the new, young, eager, progressive civilian and military forces who want change. It must also draw on [Page 501]the younger and more progressive elements of the old nationalist and religious parties.

Comment: It would be ideal if the new party would attract the support of those groups you mentioned, but this is Indonesia where actual performance would likely fall far short of that ideal. Comments on paragraph f. above also relevant.


Malik is the natural leader of the young civilian progressive elements, but he cannot get very far without Suharto and military support. He must therefore aim at an alliance under Suharto. If Suharto begins to think of Malik as a competitor, or if Malik is unwilling to play a supporting role to Suharto, we see little possibility of a collective leadership emerging that combines the essential and most hopeful political elements, or one that offers promise of avoiding the dangers.

Comment: I agree. To all appearances Malik realizes he needs Suharto more than Suharto needs him. Yet Malik aspires to eventual greater power than he now has, and if he is frustrated in achieving such power there may be some question of whether he would be content to remain in harness with Suharto. At present relationships between Suharto and Malik are good and one would hope that the inevitable reactivation of politics will not destroy their remaining in harness together. One step that might be helpful in preserving such a relationship would be to name Malik as First Minister under Suharto, which would in effect make Malik Suharto’s Deputy for all affairs, including economic. (You will recall that Hassan mentioned this idea to me and that I said I thought the idea very sound.)


One question is whether Suharto sees the shape of the future and his role in it. We suspect that he already does. But if he does not, it seems from here that he must eventually come to see his role, and the course he must follow, because we see no alternatives that offer a better hope for Indonesia. The second question is whether Malik understands it and is prepared to play a subordinate role.

Comment: These are both key questions on which I can only grope for answers. In the economic field Suharto has acted as a pragmatist, being single-minded and determined in the field of stabilization, making no typical Javanese concessions or engaging in musjawara. In the political field, however, he seems quite typically Javanese in his approach, judging his position after allowing the various political groups to show their hands and then looking for the most comfortable point between extremes, provided that that point is not inconsistent with his own longer range goals. So far, Suharto’s political strategy has also involved: first, gaining the full united support of the Army; secondly, winning the support of the other three Armed Services, or at least neutralizing armed force elements like the KKO which were more loyal to Sukarno than to Suharto.

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As Suharto moves towards the promised elections, his tactics for insuring continuation of his new order will be clarified. Right now, he lays primary stress on improving the economic climate, but beyond that, he may not yet have formulated any definite ideas. Since he cannot afford to let the Sukarnoists back in, and since he has shown himself to be highly adept in political strategy this past year, I am reasonably certain he will come up with a plan of action best suited to gaining his goals of retaining power while also maintaining as much unity as possible amongst the highly diverse and squabbling political groups and elements that for so long have plagued Indonesia. It seems to me that Suharto’s style will continue to be marked by efforts to minimize abrasions and divisiveness, but I do not think he will carry compromise so far as to endanger continuation of basic New Order policies and programs. The penalty would be too great.

Just one or two additional points:

Suharto seems increasingly relaxed and to be enjoying his new role as Acting President. I regard this as an additional reason why he may want to stay on in power. He has some weaknesses (e.g. keeping on too many second-rate military cronies; lack of adequate direction on the Chinese resident issue) but he has strengths that are peculiarly relevant to leadership of a united Indonesia in the post-Sukarno era.
You mention the complicated relationship between Suharto and Nasution. I believe that Nasution will be content to play second fiddle to Suharto, and he seems to have little potential for effective organization including those from the most extreme nationalist and religious groups. If this analysis is wrong and Nasution should make a bid for power, I fully share your views about where we should stand.
With further reference to paragraph h., I do not rule out the possibility that Malik might lead a party which supported Suharto’s New Order and in that capacity Malik might continue on in Suharto’s post-election government as a principal deputy.

The above amplifies Djakarta 50273 on Suharto’s performance as Acting President, a telegram that was in part inspired by your much appreciated letter.

Sincerely yours,

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 15–1 INDON. Secret; Official-Informal.
  2. Berger’s letter has not been found, but the substantive points he made are repeated by Green.
  3. Dated April 22. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 15–1 INDON)