38. Letter From Secretary of State Rusk to Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Butler 1

Dear Rab:

I appreciate your March 6 letter,2 succinctly setting forth the dilemma we all face in trying to ease the situation between Indonesia and Malaysia.

Prospects for a negotiated settlement certainly are not particularly bright at the moment, although I do feel there is still a chance that our continued efforts can eventually bridge the gap between them. The second Bangkok meeting was disappointing in many respects. It did, however, produce Lopez’ three-point formula which, if the Indonesians can be induced to accept it, may still serve to keep negotiations alive and to lead to the withdrawal of the Indonesian guerrillas. As you know, we have been pressing Sukarno hard to accept this formula. Although the results are still inconclusive, we believe—perhaps over-optimistically—that we can detect some slight movement in the hitherto intransigent Indonesian position. We will continue our efforts.

In this connection, I am happy to see that your efforts to dissuade the Tunku from declaring “general mobilization” have so far been successful. A gesture of this sort could only have exacerbated the situation to Malaysia’s disadvantage while adding little to Malaysia’s strength. Although the limited call up actually proclaimed by the Malaysians [Page 76]may evoke some noise from Djakarta, it should have considerably less impact than would a general mobilization call.

If our current efforts to make some use of the Lopez formula should fail, a fresh initiative of some sort may be possible to maintain the hope of a peaceful settlement. The precise form such initiative should take, however, will probably have to be determined pretty much on an ad hoc basis in the light of the precise positions of each side at the moment the failure becomes apparent.

It may be, however, that we will eventually be forced to the conclusion that further negotiations between the principals have no chance of success. This could come about if it became certain beyond doubt that Sukarno was unwilling to call off his military confrontation with- out concessions that would threaten Malaysia’s basic interests. I do not think we have come to that point yet, however, and I doubt that detailed contingency planning to meet it would be profitable at this stage.

Since the need for a fresh initiative may shortly arise, I have examined with interest the three specific possibilities you suggest.

As you know, we would be reluctant to see the dispute brought before the Security Council at the present moment. Our delegations in New York have examined this possibility and concluded that a referral to Security Council at this time would not be in Malaysia’s interest. We by no means preclude resort to the Security Council if all prospects for direct negotiations are foreclosed or if the Indonesians intensify the scale of their military activities, but we doubt that the time is yet ripe for this. I believe that the contingency planning carried out by our delegations in New York will permit us to move into the Security Council with minimum delay once the decision is taken.

As to your second suggestion, you know that we have been putting sustained direct pressure on Sukarno to modify his position. In the process, we have made clear to him that we have reached a watershed in our relations with Indonesia and that the future course of these relations depends on his actions in the dispute. Our aid has already been cut to the point at which it will soon consist of little more than training—actually more beneficial to us in terms of influencing the next generation than it is to Sukarno. He has been put on notice that even this aid may well be cut off unless the situation eases. Beyond this, we have made sure that he is fully aware of the ANZUS implications in the situation.

As you can see, we have in effect already warned Sukarno that the friendship of the United States and any prospect of future support from the United States will be lost to him unless he modifies his position. We will repeat this warning as often as seems useful, and if it fails to move him we will implement it.

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As to your third point, there may be merit in examining the possibility of bringing other Asian powers into the scene, either individually or jointly. On the other hand, two of the countries you mentioned—Thailand and the Philippines—are already in the thick of it, and we would not want to supersede their current efforts until they have run their course.

You can be sure that, from our side, we do not wish to see things drift in this dangerous situation. Our officials and yours are in close contact at a number of levels, and we will continue to explore, jointly, every opening we can detect.3

With warm regards,


Dean Rusk 4
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 32–1 INDON–MALAYSIA. Secret. No drafting information appears on the memorandum, but the covering memorandum from Hilsman to Rusk was drafted by Ingraham and cleared in draft with Willis Armstrong (EUR/BNA) and William Buffum (IO/UNP).
  2. Attached, but not printed. In this letter Butler put forward three possible actions: (1) a Malaysian request, backed by all the Western Powers, for an early meeting of the Security Council; (2) an unmistakable warning from the United States to Sukarno that failure to withdraw Indonesian guerrillas and resume negotiations would entail full U.S. support for Malaysia; or (3) joint representations by such Asian Powers as Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, and others to Indonesia.
  3. On March 19 Butler responded to this letter by expressing skepticism about Sukarno’s qualified acceptance of the Lopez formula. Butler wondered how the Tunku, who was facing an election, could accept a secret assurance in the face of public Indonesian statements that the cease-fire was over and intensified military operations were about to begin. Butler would not try to influence Malaysia against the formula, but he doubted much would happen until after the Malaysian elections. (Letter from Butler to Rusk, March 19; Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Malaysia, Vol. I, Memos, 11/63–3/64) For a summary of the Lopez formula, see Document 36. Rusk responded to Butler in a March 27 letter basically agreeing with him, but suggesting that Indonesia’s internal troubles were best exploited by “continuing to hold open to him the door through which he can beat a diplomatic retreat rather than by shutting it in his face.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 32–1 INDON–MALAYSIA)
  4. Printed from a copy that indicates Rusk signed the original.