68. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the United Kingdom 1

1590. For Ambassador from Secretary. You will have seen another telegram about our reaction to Indonesian paratroop drop on Malaysia and our readiness to support Malaysia in the Security Council2 but it is my impression that if the Malaysians come in with a strong case and good evidence, including such things as interrogation results, it will be hard for Security Council members to accept Indonesian action.

I am somewhat concerned about nature of British discussion of retaliation in the event that Security Council action is unsatisfactory. I am not now referring to Mountbatten’s3 suggestion of a small commando-type raid to capture some prisoners but rather Duncan Sandys’ discussion of air strikes, etc. A cooling off period would make it more difficult to get support internationally for such retaliation. Further, Thorneycroft’s4 comment to Acheson5 that British will wish to avoid anything that might escalate would seem to impose very severe limitations upon the nature of any such retaliation.

There is one point you should be very clear about in your discussions of such matters with British Ministers. We cannot give them a blank check and pick up the tab for escalation by the use of US forces without the fullest and most precise understanding between Heads of Government. If this is what they have in mind, they must not take anything for granted in an area where we have our hands full and with a minimum of allied participation. I would suppose that if the British are contemplating overt retaliation involving such things as air strikes or the shelling of shore installation in Indonesia that would necessarily mean the movement of substantial additional British forces into the area. Even though the Gulf of Tonkin is not a parallel to this particular problem, I remind you for use with British Ministers that the US immediately sent powerful reinforcements to the Far East to [Page 150]deal with the consequences of any effort by Hanoi or Peiping to escalate. In other words, the US cannot accept the idea that the British handling of this problem is on the basis of a limited liability. They must back up their actions with a readiness on their part to meet the consequences. If they want us involved, they must find out whether that is possible and, again, take nothing for granted.6

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 32–1 INDON–MALAYSIA. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Drafted and approved by Rusk and cleared by Ball, William Bundy, and Cleveland.
  2. In telegram 200 to Kuala Lumpur, September 2, repeated to London, the Department suggested that, if the reports of Indonesia paratroopers landings in Johore and five sites on the west coast between Malacca and Singapore were confirmed, such action would meet the prerequisite of markedly stepped up hostilities necessary for a successful initiative by Malaysia with the UN Security Council. These actions were not the “ambiguous, desultory infiltrations in North Borneo” of the past. (Ibid.)
  3. Earl Mountbatten of Burma, Chief of the British Defense Staff.
  4. Peter Thorneycroft, British Minister of Defense.
  5. Dean Acheson, former Secretary of State, January 1949–January 1953.
  6. In telegram 1082 from London, September 3, Bruce reported that he talked to British Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs, Duncan Sandys, who appreciated U.S. support of Malaysia in the Security Council, did not expect a blank check from the United States, and was not thinking of retaliation unless there was another aggression by Indonesia. Sandys stated that even if there was retaliation, it would be limited. Sandys suggested that it was hardly necessary for the United States to warn him not to take the United States for granted since it always took Britain for granted. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 32–1 INDON–MALAYSIA)