75. Special National Intelligence Estimate1

SNIE 54/55–64


The Problem

To estimate Indonesian objectives in the Malaysia/Indonesia conflict and the likelihood of hostilities between Indonesia and the UK.


[Page 159]
Indonesian Objectives. Recent Indonesian paramilitary landings in Malaya are part of Sukarno’s long-range campaign to break up Malaysia and oust the British from their military bases there. The mission of the 150 or so infiltrators includes sabotage and terrorism, guerrilla recruitment and training, and the setting up of guerrilla redoubts in Malaya’s jungles and highlands. Such raids will almost certainly continue. In the long run, through repeated infiltrations of this sort, Sukarno hopes to build up a revolutionary potential sufficient to overthrow the moderate, pro-Western government of Tunku Abdul Rahman.
In the short run, the infiltrations are designed to heighten local insecurity, shake the faith of the Malaysian people in their government, weaken their determination to resist Indonesia, and thus to increase the pressures on the Tunku to negotiate the dispute on Indonesian terms. Sukarno hopes that by forcing the UK and its Commonwealth allies to spread their available forces ever more thinly he will wear down their ability and determination to carry on the struggle. He also seeks to undermine Malaysian confidence in the British will and ability to provide protection.
The British Response. Commonwealth forces have responded to the Indonesian moves defensively, attempting to round up the infiltrators; about one-half have been killed or captured to date. Both the UK and Australia are deploying additional army, navy, and air units to the general area. The Malaysians and British have also taken the issue to the UN Security Council, seeking condemnation of Indonesia, but it is unlikely that the UN will act so as to satisfy them or prevent further Indonesian infiltrations. The British are now planning retaliation against any further infiltrations by attacks on the bases from which they are launched. The British are concerned that failure to respond forcefully to the landings in Malaya will only encourage the Indonesians to expand their paramilitary activities. They see the alternatives as either a sharp retaliatory blow or a constantly rising insurgency and unrest in Malaya.
It is probable that further Indonesian infiltrations of Malaya or Singapore will precipitate a British retaliatory attack against nearby Indonesian guerrilla bases. The Indonesians would react to such an attack with vehement denunciations, seeking to establish justification for their position—perhaps even in the UN—that the “aggressive” British constitute the real threat to peace in the area. For a time, they would probably be somewhat more cautious in paramilitary operations in Malaya. They would want to show, however, that retaliation had not affected their confrontation policy, and they would not, in our opinion, slow down insurgency operations in Borneo or discontinue them entirely in Malaya. On balance, we believe, however, that they [Page 160] would probably avoid an overt military response in kind against Malaysia, for fear of triggering a war with the UK which they have long sought to avoid and in which they would suffer great damage. However, what Indonesia would do in this case depends upon the will of one man, Sukarno; we cannot be sure that he would not decide that, in the circumstances, raising the pitch of the war would be to his advantage.
Should there be an escalation of overt hostilities between Indonesia and UK/Malaysia, the Soviets and the Chinese Communists would of course support Indonesia with extensive propaganda and diplomatic activity. We think it virtually certain, however, that neither power would intervene with military force.
The Sunda Strait. The situation was complicated for a time by the passage of a British naval task force southward through the Sunda Strait (between Java and Sumatra) on 27 August without providing the type of prior notification which has long been requested by Indonesia with regard to movement of warships through waters it claims to be territorial. The UK, Australia, and the US normally comply with this procedure “as a courtesy.” The same British force—the aircraft carrier Victorious and two destroyers—was tentatively scheduled to retransit the Strait northbound, and the Indonesians threatened to oppose its movement with armed force. The Indonesians, however, informed the British that the Sunda Strait area would be closed from 10 September to 10 October for their own “naval maneuvers,” and they indicated they would not object if the British proceeded by the Lombok Strait (east of Java, between Bali and Lombok). This the British agreed to do and the threatened crisis subsided. The issue has not been settled, however, and it is almost certain to be revived, since the Indonesian objective clearly is to establish the principle of Indonesian control of all waters within and leading into the Indonesian archipelago.
  1. Source: Department of State, INR/EAP Files: Lot 90 D 165. Secret. Prepared by the Central Intelligence Agency and the intelligence organizations of the Departments of State and Defense, and the NSA. The U.S. Intelligence Board concurred on September 16 except the representatives of AEC and FBI who abstained on the grounds that the topic was outside their jurisdiction.
  2. For more detailed consideration, see: NIE 54/55–63: “The Malaysian-Indonesian Conflict,” dated 30 October 1963; and NIE 55/-64 “Prospects for Indonesia,” dated 22 July 1964. [Footnote in the source text. For text of NIE 55/64, see Document 56; and regarding NIE 54/55–63, see footnote 2 thereto.]