55. Memorandum From Robert W. Komer of the National Security Council Staff to President Johnson 1

Malaysia-Indonesia Dispute. For your background prior to the Tunku’s visit next week, this pot is still simmering and could rapidly heat up.

So far we’ve managed (with help from Philippines and Thais) to keep it damped down by a series of time-buying maneuvers. But the long awaited Tokyo summit meeting in late June failed to bridge the gap. The Indos did pull out a few guerrillas from Malaysian Borneo, but they evaded full scale withdrawal. The one thing Tokyo did produce was acceptance—most reluctantly by the Malaysians—of Macapagal’s [Page 123]proposal for the creation of a four-nation Afro-Asian conciliation commission. The Foreign Ministers are to meet in due course to study this proposal and to work toward another summit. This is a thin reed to lean on, but we’re trying.

The Indos evidently anticipate a new Foreign Ministers’ meeting in August. They’ve also suggested that the Thais re-inject themselves as an intermediary in place of the Filipinos. But Indonesian guerrillas continue sporadically active in Borneo, and an incident any time could wreck the chances of a meeting.

At present both parties are seeking to line up international support—the Tunku at the Commonwealth Prime Minister’s Conference and next week in Washington, the Indonesians in Bangkok and Moscow. The Indos claim they’re getting a lot more Soviet arms, but we suspect these may just be a speeding up of previous orders.

The big uncertainty is Indonesia’s real intentions. Sukarno is heavily committed to “confrontation”, both by his words and by pressures from the Indo Communists and the Army. Yet there is evidence that the results of “confrontation” have disappointed him to date, and that he might step back from over-commitment for the time being if a face-saving device could be found.

The Afro-Asian Conciliation Commission may well serve this purpose. Through the process of negotiation leading up to such a commission, and the inevitably lengthy process of conciliation by the commission, we could hope that hostilities would be kept damped down.

To keep the parties talking rather than fighting, we’ll have to continue using the carrot and stick on both the Indonesians and the Malaysians (and their Commonwealth allies). This is no time to give the Indos many goodies, but we do want to keep dangling the prospect of renewed Western aid if Sukarno would only stop acting up.

It would be easy for us to join the UK in all-out support for Malaysia and to dare Sukarno to up the ante. This might scare off the Bung for now, but more likely just push him closer to Peking and Moscow and into more reliance on the Communists at home. Our aim is not just to turn off the jungle fighting in Borneo, but to do it in a way that doesn’t lose Indonesia to us. Rather a neutralist Sukarno than a Communist running the country. So it still makes sense for us to lean over backwards (without sacrificing Malaysia), so long as there’s even a reasonable chance that we can keep the lid from blowing off.

R.W. Komer
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Malaysia, Vol. II, Memos, 4/64–7/64. Attached to this memorandum was a July 17 note from Komer to McGeorge Bundy in which Komer wrote: “Here’s the Malaysia round-up I promised you, for weekend reading I presume. RWK.” There is no indication that the President saw it.