308. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • General Sumitro, Indonesian Army
  • Brigadier General Latif, Indonesian Army
  • Colonel Soekeng, Indonesian Army
  • Dr. Kissinger
  • Mr. Holdridge


  • U.S. Military Assistance to Indonesia

Dr. Kissinger expressed his regrets in his delay in seeing General Sumitro; the problem was that he had to be with the President so as to help prepare the President for the meet-the-press session that evening. He was pleased to see General Sumitro whom he remembered from the Djakarta visit last year. He also recalled the conversation which he had had with General Sumitro. Had General Sumitro engaged in talks with anyone else in Washington? General Sumitro replied that he had wanted to see Dr. Kissinger first. He would, though, want to call on Admiral Moorer. He also wanted to convey President Suharto’s greetings to the President.

Continuing, General Sumitro explained that President Suharto had called a meeting of senior Indonesian Armed Forces officers just after returning from the U.S., and had gone over his conversation with the President. He had then ordered General Sumitro to come to the U.S. to follow up his, Suharto’s, talks with the President. General Sumitro added that this visit, which was something of a surprise to him, was made on the basis of his having become, in effect, Dr. Kissinger’s counterpart in Indonesia. Dr. Kissinger asked if General Sumitro had any special representative in Washington, and upon hearing that none presently existed, ascertained that any communications by the President and Suharto would be through Sumitro in Djakarta. The special channel would be used.

[Page 664]

General Sumitro then brought up Indonesia’s strategic thinking, noting that before Suharto had left for the U.S. he had directed that an analysis be prepared of the current situation in Southeast Asia and the Indonesian role. (There had been some changes since Dr. Kissinger had been in Djakarta.) This study took into consideration the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the Far East over a period of time, which the Indonesians hoped would not be earlier than 1973. They also hoped that this would be a scheduled process. Looking at the situation very realistically, they had come to the conclusion that there should be no vacuum. At the same time, Indonesia was not yet a real power, and not yet able to take over the responsibility for security in Southeast Asia.

They had then addressed the problem of the future role of Japan, on the assumption that there were no other major powers with which they could undertake cooperation. (They had noted that the U.S. was moving in this direction also.) India could not be relied upon, although its industry was growing, because of its internal political unstability. While Japan had its troubles, too, its people seemed to be generally of the same opinion, namely, that the major threat to Japan would come first from Red China and secondly from the USSR. In 1968, when there first had been regional discussions, the fact of Japanese development had been recognized but also the dangers which came from that direction. The Indonesians maintained the hope that the U.S. would play a role in making Japan strong, and causing it to be a power able to give a sense of security to Asia.

On Japan, the Indonesian position was that they did not object to seeing Japan come into the region, but still had some doubts about the part which Japan would play as a political and military power. Japan was unpredictable, and while it had industry, logistical support, and manpower, and could develop strong armed forces, there might be yet some tendencies in Japan to accommodate. Two years ago, Sumitro had been told by the South Koreans that the Japanese might reach an understanding with the Chinese to divide up the responsibilities in the Far East between the two of them, with the Chinese dominating the Asian mainland, and the offshore centers coming under Japanese control. General Sumitro felt that this might be true, and that there were forces in Japan which wanted to work with the Chinese.

General Sumitro said that the Indonesian Government, President Suharto, and the principal officers of the Armed Forces had originally not intended to build up the Armed Forces before 1973 because they had decided in 1965 that the first need was to upgrade the Indonesian standard of living, and thus had sacrificed security for the sake of the national reconstruction effort. However, this situation had changed. There was the fact of the U.S. withdrawal from the Far East, and the knowledge that Japan was still a questionable friend even though it [Page 665] might become a political and military power. The Indonesians were also afraid that Asian centers such as Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines, and Malaysia, because of the lack of military power in the region would be pressed by domestic forces to make policy shifts. In this connection, General Sumitro referred to the intensity of Soviet diplomacy, and expressed apprehension that the Asian governments he had mentioned might lean to the Soviet side. Although the Soviets were committed in the Middle East, they had influence in the region, and the Asian nations might turn to the USSR to counter the danger of Chinese infiltration. Speaking frankly, Indonesia had to consider then becoming active in this situation.

General Sumitro noted that between 1960 and 1965 Indonesia had possessed strong Armed Forces, although the policies of the old regime in this period had been bad. He added that Sukarno, who had just died, could now be forgiven, but his policies would not be followed. Indonesia again needed to develop strong armed forces. He and his colleagues were not worried about internal disturbances, since they had been able to roll up the strong Communist organization. The problem was external, and what Indonesia could do if asked by others for assistance. Indonesia could send its men, but the means available to them were so poor that they could not do too much. Indonesia’s “strategic material” was originally from the Soviets, but would be all used up by 1971. What was on hand was in bad condition and could not be used in a war against the Communists. Indonesia was willing to dispose of these materials. Dr. Kissinger mentioned, and General Sumitro confirmed, that the Indonesians have problems with spare parts for their Communist matériel.

According to General Sumitro, the Indonesians were now hoping to obtain military supplies from Western Europe and from the U.S. in order to rebuild their Armed Forces. They had been encouraged by the talks between the President and President Suharto, but when Admiral Sudumo had talked with Admiral Moorer on the Indonesian proposals, Moorer had said that everything had depended on Dr. Kissinger’s views. This was the reason why Suharto had asked him to give the background of the Indonesian thinking. In speeding up the rebuilding of the Indonesian Armed Forces, Indonesia needed time to develop since its training facilities were limited and its management very bad. There was an additional principle: military development should not interfere with the Indonesian five-year plan. Not one penny could be expected from this plan, or it would fail.

General Sumitro remarked that the Indonesians had been extremely pleased at the boldness of the President’s decision on Cambodia, and over the fact that he had not allowed public opinion to deter him. On the basis of the President’s appreciation of the facts and the [Page 666] support which he enjoys with the silent majority, President Suharto had wanted him, Sumitro, to present a full conception of the Indonesian military requirements. These he had with him, which would be gone into in detail later by General Umar and the special group which would accompany him. Another factor which the Indonesians had taken into consideration was the possibility that if the U.S. demobilized or reduced its military strength, there would be surplus material which could be used by the Indonesians. Indonesia wouldn’t ask for what was still required, but only for what would no longer be needed after demobilization. He would make the list of Indonesian requirements available to Dr. Kissinger.

Dr. Kissinger asked if General Sumitro had the list with him, and was told that such was the case.2 Dr. Kissinger said that he had no idea as to how this matter could be implemented, but wanted to say a number of things. We had a tough legislative problem, and there were also some divisions in the Government on the issue of military aid to Indonesia along the same departmental lines as existed in Indonesia. We had learned of Indonesian divisions from various sources. All these things posed a difficult problem, although he felt that we both understood the problems which existed in our respective Capitals.

Dr. Kissinger said that he wanted to make one point plain—the strategic picture which we had in mind was not of withdrawal, but of a reduction. The President agreed with the Indonesian position, and had expressed this to President Suharto, whose visit he had very much welcomed. Anything which required legislation or money needed to wait until after the November elections. If these went badly there might be difficulties. General Sumitro expressed the hope that the elections would go very well. He observed, too, that he had convinced the Indonesian Ambassador in Washington on the need for what Indonesia was doing.

Dr. Kissinger asked how long General Sumitro had been in Washington. He was worried about the time factor. If this was no problem, he would suggest that the best procedure would be for him to study the Indonesian paper, and for General Sumitro to see Admiral Moorer, in whom he had full confidence. He would speak to Admiral Moorer beforehand. Because the President was so preoccupied with Cambodia, not much could be done that day, but he would be back in Washington on Monday. He would study the plan, would talk about it with the President, and meet again with General Sumitro on Monday or Tuesday. No one but Admiral Moorer and Mr. Holdridge would know of this matter. Possibly something could be worked out in principle, [Page 667] and he was sympathetic to the idea of providing surplus matériel. There was a problem, though, that if our help became too obvious, then Congressional restrictions might be imposed. The Congress would zero in if the program were too obvious. As for the elections, we didn’t need to defeat all the Senators, but if three or four were defeated the others would get the message. Meanwhile, we could use the time between now and the Fall to do what could be done in developing a program. The Indonesian theory was fully consistent with the Nixon Doctrine. We would need to study the paper and transfer it into specifics. He would want to talk with General Sumitro again, and with the President in some detail so that proper guidance could be provided. An immediate way to be helpful might be on the matter of the Indonesian offer to send rifles to Cambodia. If these were replaced with some U.S. rifles, the program of re-equipping the Indonesian Armed Forces would already be beginning.

On the matter of the rifles for Cambodia, General Sumitro felt that it would be better to wait for the visit of General Umar to work out the technical details. President Suharto had told him not to get into details. Dr. Kissinger assured him that we would think the whole thing over. He could only say that the President had been very pleased over his conversation with President Suharto, and believed he had reached an understanding with him. He wanted to do what he could to help Indonesia develop. The problem was one of finding measures to do so which would be within our political capability. As to the visit by General Umar, it might be a good idea to hold this matter in abeyance and to talk about it further next week. General Sumitro indicated that General Umar would not leave until after his own return to Djakarta, so that holding off for a while would be no problem.

General Sumitro asked if Dr. Kissinger had any questions concerning Indonesian strategic thinking. Dr. Kissinger wondered about the magnitude of the development program, the size of the Indonesian Armed Forces, and the scale of re-equipment. He would get a better feel of this from the paper. On the Indonesian strategic appreciation, he recapitulated this as: first, accepting the importance of having the Asian centers play a larger role if the U.S. presence was reduced (we didn’t like to talk about “withdrawals”); second, having Japan play a larger role but with its forces coming in only if a threat developed and not before; third, regarding Indonesia as another component in the strategic situation in which Malaysia, the Philippines, etc., tended to look to the largest country for security; fourth, seeing India as not being in a position to fulfill this responsibility; and finally, reasoning that the Indonesian Armed Forces needed to be re-equipped to some extent to fit into our reduction, using equipment of common origin. This meant replacement of matériel from Western Europe and U.S. sources. The Indonesians also were aware of the U.S. legislative restrictions, [Page 668] and were thinking of surplus equipment after U.S. forces were drawn down.

Dr. Kissinger stated that he would ask Admiral Moorer to translate the Indonesian request into dollars, and would try to keep this matter as restricted as possible. We would need some idea as to what was really involved. At the same time, the President had the warmest attitude toward Indonesia, appreciated its constructive attitude, and regarded the Indonesians as friends. Could he assume that General Sumitro spoke for President Suharto? General Sumitro replied that his position had been mentioned during the meeting of the two Presidents and reiterated before the Indonesian military leaders. General Latif, who had been in both meetings, could verify this. Dr. Kissinger observed that we would communicate with General Sumitro via our man in Djakarta. If we received confusing reports, we would check with him, and it would be helpful to receive information as to what President Suharto thought. Similarly, if they received confusing reports from our Ambassador, they should check with us. He would provide exact information. Was there any other matter which General Sumitro wanted to discuss? He did not object to the Indonesian list, but did not want it to become an official proposal. It was agreed that one copy would be provided to the NSC staff and one to Admiral Moorer. The NSC copy would be examined by Dr. Lynn.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 101, Backchannel Messages 1970, Indonesia, HAK/Sumitro 1970 [1 of 2]. Kissinger under a July 6 covering memorandum. The meeting was held at the Century Palace Hotel.
  2. Not attached and not found.