U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
95/03/06 Foreign Relations, 1961-63, Vol XXIII, Southeast Asia
Office of the Historian
Office of the Historian
Bureau of Public Affairs
United States Department of State
March 6, 1995
While the growing insurgencies in Laos and South Vietnam dominated the Kennedy administration's policy toward Southeast Asia, there were significant issues in the rest of the region. Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, volume XXIII, Southeast Asia, released today, documents U.S. policy deliberations and decisions concerning Southeast Asia beyond Vietnam and Laos. The volume contains a regional compilation of documents that focus on the role of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization and bilateral compilations on U.S. relations with Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand.
The wars in South Vietnam and Laos encouraged Thailand's government to seek additional security commitments from the United States. The most public confirmation of these assurances was the joint communique of Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Foreign Minister Thanat Khoman of March 1962. There were also private assurances, and, in mid-1962, the United States dispatched troops to Thailand both as a signal to the North Vietnamese and their allies in Laos and as an overt assurance to Thailand. The inability of SEATO to respond effectively to the challenges in Laos and South Vietnam weakened the organization and allowed friction among its membership. The conflict in South Vietnam caused friction between Prince Sihanouk of Cambodia and the United States. Relations reached their nadir in December 1963. U.S. relations with Burma were not as directly tied to the conflicts in Laos and South Vietnam as was U.S. policy toward the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO).
Elsewhere in the area, the Kennedy administration was attempting to win over Sukarno's Indonesia by facilitating its claim to West Irian, then the Netherlands colony of West New Guinea. Determined not to lose Indonesia to Communist influence, White Houses officials overcame Secretary of State Rusk's skepticism of Sukarno and Rusk's attachment to the Netherlands, a NATO ally. They shifted U.S. policy from neutrality in the dispute toward pressure on the Netherlands to relinquish West New Guinea to Indonesia. The Netherlands had initially insisted on a long-term UN trusteeship and UN-supervised self-determination for the inhabitants. The final agreed plan included only a minimal UN role in the transfer procedures; it was a virtual handover from Netherlands to Indonesian control. President Kennedy and his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, played a major role in this process. During the final stages, the President intervened to insist that Indonesia accept the Netherlands' last best offer and not escalate its guerrilla war against Netherlands forces in West New Guinea.
Opposition by both the Philippines and Indonesia to the creation of the Federation of Malaysia complicated the furtherance of U.S. objectives in Southeast Asia. The Philippines' opposition took the form of a diplomatic campaign based on a prior claim to part of Malaysia. Sukarno opposed the federation with the policy of confrontation which it had initially used in West Irian. U.S. relations with Australia were greatly influenced by Indonesia. The Australians opposed transfer of West New Guinea to Indonesia because Australia held the other half of the island in trust. The Australians were equally concerned about the Indonesian threat to the Federation of Malaysia since they had troops stationed there. Australia sought a special understanding that should its troops in Malaysia be attacked overtly by Indonesian forces, the United States and Australia would consult under the terms of the ANZUS treaty.
This volume presents the official record of U.S. policy drawn from documents originating in the Departments of State and Defense, the White House, the Central Intelligence Agency, and from papers of key participants. The Office of the Historian has prepared a summary of the volume. For additional information, contact Edward C. Keefer, Chief of the Asia and Americas Division, at (202) 6631131.
Volume XXIII (Department of State Publication No. 10174; GPO Stock No 044-000-02389-0; ISBN 0-16-042054-7) may be purchased from the U.S. Government Printing Office for $46.00 (postpaid; $57.50 for foreign orders). Please use the order form below.
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Foreign Relations of the United States
1961-1963, Volume XXIII
(This is not an official statement of policy by the Department of State; it is intended only as a guide to the contents of this volume.)
Since 1861, the Department of State's documentary series Foreign Relations of the United States has constituted the official record of the foreign policy and diplomacy of the United States. Historians in the Office of the Historian collect, arrange, and annotate the principal documents comprising the record of American foreign policy. The standards for the preparation of the series and the general deadlines for its publication are established by the Foreign Relations of the United States statute of October 28, 1991 (22 USC 4351, et seq.). U.S. policies during the administration of President John F. Kennedy are the subject of 25 print volumes and 6 microfiche supplements. Volumes in the Foreign Relations series are published when all necessary editing, declassification, and printing steps have been completed.
The documents in this volume are drawn from the centralized indexed files of the Department of State, the decentralized lot files of the Department's Executive Secretariat, and Bureau, Office, and Division lot files. In addition, the editors made extensive use of the Presidential and other papers at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, Massachusetts. Most of the documents were originally classified. The Historical Documents Review Division of the Department of State in concert with the appropriate offices in other agencies and foreign governments carried out their declassification.
The coverage in the Foreign Relations series of U.S. foreign policy in Southeast Asia for 1961-1963 is weighted toward Vietnam and Laos (volumes I-IV and XXIV, already published). This volume, which presents a selection of documents on the rest of Southeast Asia, has two principal themes: 1) the impact of pro-Communist insurgencies in South Vietnam and Laos on the rest of Southeast Asia, especially Thailand, Cambodia, and the members of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization and 2) the challenge posed by Indonesian irredentism in Southeast Asia.
The following is a summary of the important issues covered in the volume. Parenthetical citations are to numbered documents in the text. For additional copies of this summary or more information on the volume, contact Edward C. Keefer at (202) 663-1131 (fax: (202) 663-1289).
Southeast Asia Region
The regional compilation emphasizes U.S. policy toward the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), whose viability was threatened by insurgencies in Laos and South Vietnam. The composition of the organization prevented the member nations from proceeding against acts of aggression rapidly and effectively and the interests of SEATO members were often in conflict. The United States and most of the Asian members sought an active military role in the region, while the United Kingdom was reluctant to commit troops, and France was opposed to any level of military intervention in Southeast Asia. (1, 4, 5, 7, 26)
SEATO's internal contradictions and its inability to respond to threats in Laos and Vietnam led to a reappraisal of the organization. (4, 7, 10, 12, 14) The most drastic remedies sought to dismantle SEATO, but they were rejected on the grounds that the dissolution would "constitute an unacceptable defeat for U.S. policy." (10) Moreover, SEATO played a valuable role in sanctioning and providing a constitutional basis for U.S. actions in the region. (17, 36, 37)
Instead, modifications in the operation of SEATO were considered at the urging of Thailand, the sole SEATO member from the Southeast Asian mainland and the nation most threatened by the crisis in Laos. Thai officials tirelessly pressed to change the unanimous voting procedures which allowed a single member to veto any proposed action. (8, 9) Thailand urged a procedure whereby an affirmative vote by a majority or by three-fourths of the membership could sanction an action.
The United States saw no need to change voting practices, since the SEATO treaty already enabled its members to act individually or collectively in response to events in the region. In addition, little or no support existed among the other members for the three-fourths majority vote advocated by Thailand. As a result, the United States recommended leaving the established procedures intact, but allowing members to abstain from voting rather than casting a negative vote, thus vetoing an action. As long as a designated number of members voted affirmatively and no negative votes were cast, an action would be approved. Members choosing to abstain from voting were not required to participate in any action or operation adopted by the other members. To ensure speedy resolution of issues, votes on any action would take place within an agreed-upon period of time. (27, 35, 38) The compromise was accepted at the SEATO Council Meeting held in Paris April 8-10, 1963. (39, 40)
Burma was not as influenced by the insurgencies in Laos and South Vietnam as the rest of mainland Southeast Asia was. Instead, it suffered from a legacy of the Chinese civil war: the presence of Chinese Nationalist Party/Kuomintang (KMT) irregulars, supplied with U.S.-made weapons by Taiwan, who formed a virtually autonomous and hostile state within Burma. At Burmese Premier U Nu's urging, Secretary of State Rusk urged Chinese Nationalist President Chiang Kai-shek to demobilize and resettle these irregulars in Taiwan. (41, 42, 44, 45) In Burma, charges of U.S. support of the KMT irregulars sparked anti-American riots. (45) President Kennedy assured U Nu that the Republic of China had promised the United States that irregulars responsive to its influence would be withdrawn. (46) The Burmese, however, had received such assurances before. In September 1963, the Burmese Foreign Minister told Secretary Rusk that KMT irregulars were no longer a problem.
The threat of the KMT was not the only problem for Burma. On March 2, 1962, General Ne Win overthrew U Nu's government. (49) The new military regime declared its neutrality and looked inward, concentrating on the problem of ethnic minorities. There was a strong suspicion in some Burmese Army circles that the United States had and continued to support ethnic separatist movements in Burma, but the Central Intelligence Agency reported that U.S. personnel were encouraging Shan or Karen minorities. (50,51) As Burma retreated into an indigenous form of Communism, the "Burmese Road to Socialism," and excluded Western influences, little scope remained for the United States to influence Burma. The immediate future of U.S.-Burmese relations looked very limited. (55, 56, 63-65)
The Khmer-American Friendship Bridge, linking Phnom Penh with the port of Sihanoukville, opened in July 1959. It was a physical and symbolic manifestation of merger of American technology and Cambodian development hopes. Within a few years it had unexpectedly and rapidly deteriorated to the point of disintegration and required extensive repairs, which were still not completed by the end of 1963. (134, 136) The story of the Khmer-American Friendship Bridge, its hopeful beginning followed by its rapid decline, symbolizes the history of relations between the United States and Cambodia during the 1961-1963 period.
Soon after taking office, President Kennedy cultivated a personal relationship with Cambodia's leader, Prince Norodom Sihanouk. This personal tie was reinforced by U.S. military and economic assistance intended to keep Cambodia neutral, independent, under the influence of the Western powers, and suspicious of the Communist bloc. (72) The success of U.S. relations with Cambodia depended heavily on the mercurial, sometimes volatile, personality of Prince Sihanouk, whose foreign policy decisions were usually unpredictable and often ill-conceived from the Western point of view. (75, 76) Sihanouk was, however, a genuinely popular leader, one who attempted to steer a course between East and West that would preserve Cambodia's independence, national identity, and sovereignty. (80)
Like other countries in Southeast Asia, Cambodia was intensely concerned about security. Although fearful of the spread of Communism into Cambodia, Sihanouk believed that a Communist victory in the region was "an inevitable wave of the future." With an eye on the future, he attempted to accommodate the Communist powers, while simultaneously continuing to maintain ties to the West. (82, 83) It was a balancing act that Sihanouk was not always able to perform successfully. (75, 76)
Sihanouk believed the most serious dangers to Cambodia's survival came from Thailand and South Vietnam, rather than from Communist China, the Soviet Union, or even North Vietnam. With the memory of recent plots against him hatched by Cambodian opponents in Thailand and by members of the South Vietnam Government, Sihanouk constantly suspected that his enemies in Bangkok and Saigon were planning his overthrow or his assassination. Because both Thailand and South Vietnam were firmly allied with the United States, Sihanouk believed that those states acted with the full knowledge, support, and approval of their patron. There was little the United States could do to disabuse Sihanouk of this view. (77)
Fear of his immediate neighbors spurred Sihanouk in mid-1962 to seek an international agreement guaranteeing Cambodia's neutrality and territorial integrity. Sihanouk threatened that Cambodia would accept Chinese and Soviet protection should his plan not be accepted. (89, 90) The United States balked at granting guarantees on the grounds that they would seriously impact U.S. military and economic aid to Cambodia, require American military advisers to withdraw from the country, and negatively affect U.S. relations with both Thailand and South Vietnam. (94, 98) Finding little support from the major Western powers, Sihanouk eventually shelved the issue in mid-1963. (107)
The question of guarantees would have been unnecessary if Cambodia and its neighbors had been able to settle their differences diplomatically. Cambodia broke relations with Thailand in 1960 and was on the verge of doing the same with South Vietnam by mid-1962. Allegations of border violations and support for opposition groups and similar issues poisoned regional relations and eventually U.S.-Cambodian relations as well. (95, 100) Regional rivalries were so prevalent that the President's Military Representative, General Maxwell Taylor, concluded in September 1962 that Sihanouk's "morbid fear" of Thailand and South Vietnam had "created a situation of tension and emotionalism which might blow up at any time." (93)
In late 1963, the blow-up occurred. Sihanouk became increasingly agitated by the presence of Cambodian dissidents in Thailand and South Vietnam. By autumn, the issue absorbed him and he fixated on the dissident Khmer Serei, or Free Cambodians, created by his old enemy Son Ngoc Thanh. The Khmer Serei began broadcasting anti-Sihanouk messages into Cambodia from a transmitter thought to be in South Vietnam. Sihanouk publicly and vehemently condemned the group and their broadcasts. Although the Khmer Serei was small in number (about 400) and had no appreciable support within Cambodia, Sihanouk expended an inordinate amount of energy agitating against the group and its radio broadcasts. Sihanouk also raised allegations about U.S. complicity with the group. (108, 109)
Already upset by the Khmer Serei radio broadcasts, Sihanouk was further shaken by the coup in South Vietnam and the assassination of President Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu in Saigon on November 1, 1963. Believing that the United States and the Central Intelligence Agency were behind the coup, Sihanouk saw himself as the next target. His agitation was compounded by the effects of a rigid dietary regimen he had recently begun. The combination made him emotionally overwrought and prone to impulsive, irrational behavior. (108)
In this state and without consulting his advisers, Sihanouk unilaterally embarked on an erratic path, issuing an ultimatum that called for an end to the Khmer Serei broadcasts by January 1, 1964. If they continued, he declared, he intended to terminate all U.S. and French aid and ask U.S. personnel to leave Cambodia. In response, the United States attempted to find the onerous Khmer Serei radio transmitter and encouraged South Vietnam to suppress further broadcasts. (111, 114, 116)
After ebbing somewhat after President Kennedy's assassination on November 22, the crisis intensified during the last weeks of 1963 when it seemed to the United States that there was a problem "of keeping Sihanouk from committing [political and economic] suicide." (127) Sihanouk's anti-American policies had increasingly less support within Cambodia, and if U.S. aid abruptly ended, the United States feared that negative economic consequences could spark public dissatisfaction and even Sihanouk's ouster.
In late November and early December 1963, Sihanouk revived his oft-repeated but unsubstantiated charge of U.S. complicity against him. The United States asked for evidence to support the allegations, but Sihanouk produced nothing more than his conviction that the Thais and South Vietnamese could not harbor and support his opponents without U.S. approval. (109, 121, 122, 124) He carried his anti-American theme even further in a radio broadcast and a public speech, in which he celebrated the deaths of those identified as Cambodia's "only three enemies": Diem and Nhu, Sarit Thanarat of Thailand (who died of natural causes), and a third identified only as "the great boss of these aggressors," an unmistakable reference to the recently assassinated President Kennedy. The Cambodian people were instructed to revel in the deaths by participating in street celebrations and enjoying shortened workdays. (132)
The United States vigorously protested the reference to President Kennedy. Sihanouk immediately recalled his Embassy personnel from Washington. The United States responded by agreeing to reduce its diplomatic personnel in Cambodia. Sihanouk's reaction effectively ended U.S.- Cambodian negotiations then underway to plan for a gradual withdrawal of U.S. aid to reduce the negative impact of the termination on Cambodian society. The Ambassador in Phnom Penh concluded that the United States could no longer work with Cambodia as long as Sihanouk remained in power. By the end of 1963, Sihanouk was characterized as having a "pathological hatred" of the United States, expressed in a "constant campaign of abuse in public statements" intended to intensify anti-American feelings among the Cambodian population. (138, 141)
U.S.-Cambodian relations, which had appeared on the upswing at the start of the Kennedy administration in 1961, were now on the verge of collapse. Responsibility for the deterioration rested in large part on Sihanouk. At times, however, U.S. diplomats in Phnom Penh and policymakers in Washington gave into exasperation at Sihanouk's constant threats to align Cambodia more closely with the Communist powers. The United States might have done more to assuage Sihanouk's fears, but its other concerns in Southeast AsiaSouth Vietnam, Laos, and Indonesia took precedence. U.S. relations with Sihanouk were to sink even lower during the Johnson administration.
The Kennedy administration took office believing that previous U.S. policy toward Indonesia had been a mistake. Eisenhower's secret support of the rebellion of dissident army factions in the outer islands had alienated the central government in Java. Even when the Eisenhower administration ended its covert support of the rebels and decided to look to the Indonesian Army as the best hedge against the growing influence of the Indonesian Communist Party (the PKI), relations with President Sukarno remained strained. The principal reason for this friction was the Eisenhower administration's insistence on neutrality in the dispute between Indonesia and the Netherlands over West New Guinea (called West Irian by the Indonesians). Indonesia interpreted U.S. unwillingness to support Sukarno's claim to the Dutch colonial territory of West New Guinea as support for Dutch colonialism.
U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia, Howard P. Jones, waited only days after the inauguration of President Kennedy to submit a broad seven-point plan to prevent Indonesia from falling under Communist control and to win it over to the west. Key points in his plan were the resolution of the West New Guinea (WNG) question whereby Indonesia received a promise that the territory would be reunited with Indonesia. Equally important was the creation of a personal relationship between Presidents Kennedy and Sukarno. (143)
The suggested pro-Sukarno policy was not without its critics. In the Department of State, the Bureau of European Affairs was sympathetic to the Dutch view that annexation by Indonesia would simply trade white for brown colonialism, and wanted to put Indonesia on notice that the United States would not accept force as a solution to the dispute. (146) Secretary of State Dean Rusk supported closer relations between Sukarno and Kennedy (147), but he was not convinced that the United States should force its NATO ally to relinquish its colony directly to Indonesia. The Central Intelligence prepared a blistering anti-Sukarno brief. (155) There was, however, a group within the U.S. Government that was very interested in accommodation with Sukarno. White House and National Security Council staffers Robert Johnson and Robert Komer and the President's Deputy Special Assistant for National Security Affairs Walt Rostow initiated their own review of U.S.-Indonesian policy, using the advice of academic specialists and concluded that U.S. policy toward Indonesia needed to change. (154, 156, 157)
In early April 1961, Rusk presented the President with a proposal to support a U.N. trusteeship for WNG administered by Malaya. (158, 160) Komer considered the proposal inadequate since it did not spell out for the President that trusteeship was not just a "graceful out for the Netherlands," but also "a cover for eventually giving WNG to Indonesia." (159) When Kennedy met with Netherlands Foreign Minister Joseph Luns, he was skeptical. (162) Rusk was more sympathetic to Luns in his conversations, suggesting that the United States was still opposed to the use of force by Indonesia and considered trusteeship leading to self-determination the best course for WNG. (163, 164) The pro-Indonesia group at the White House were not pleased, believing that Rusk's solution would do nothing to avert a major crisis over "West Irian." (165-167)
President Sukarno's visit to Washington in late April 1961 provided the next focal point. State Department and White House officials presented the President with extensive briefing material recommending positions shaded to their own viewpoints. (168-171) When President Kennedy met with Sukarno, he soon discovered West Irian was the major issue on Sukarno's mind. Kennedy tried all the arguments against Indonesian annexation, but Sukarno parried them. When the President raised the issue of the trusteeship, Sukarno replied, "we would be willing to borrow the hand of the United Nations to transfer the territory to Indonesia." (172)
As a result of this conversation, the Department of State and the White House joined in a concerted effort to solve the WNG dispute before it escalated into regional war. They attempted to bridge the gap between the Dutch desire for a trusteeship that guaranteed self-determination for the inhabitants of WNG and the Indonesian demand that a trusteeship served only as an interim stage to Indonesian administration. The Department suggested leaving the final disposition of the territory open ended. (175) As part of the process, the Department also encouraged the Netherlands and Indonesia to hold secret bilateral negotiations. (176)
After consultations with the Netherlands in June 1961, the Department of State agreed that the United Nations offered the only practical means of solving the problem. (181, 182) When the matter was broached with Indonesia, it became clear that the Indonesians required assurances that "internationalization" of the problem through the United Nations would result in Indonesian control. They feared the Netherlands would use the United Nations to delay or prevent an Indonesian takeover. (185) Rusk worried about pushing the Dutch too far (187); the pro-Indonesia group at the White House feared the Dutch were not being pressed enough to dissuade Indonesia from reverting to the military option. (189, 190)
At the United Nations, Luns proposed transfer of the territory to the United Nations, which would dispatch a commission to organize a plebiscite on Papuan self-determination. (193) Rostow encouraged Kennedy to take the initiative with Rusk and insist that the only resolution of the issue was one that "looks to Indonesian control." Rostow suggested that the Dutch were "playing a double game" by attempting to keep West New Guinea out of Indonesia's hands and forcing the United States to side with the Dutch or seeming to "oppose the principle of self-determination." Rostow recommended speaking frankly to the Dutch by warning them that the ultimate end of their policies would be military collision with Indonesia and that meaningful self-determination for "stone-age Papuans" would take too long. (197)
At the U.N. General Assembly meeting in autumn 1961, the United States inspired a compromise resolution, which failed to obtain a 2/3 majority. The resolution was floated in the face of Indonesian opposition and temporarily worsened U.S.-Indonesian relations. White House advocates of a pro-Indonesian policy believed that the United States had acted not as an "honest Broker," but as an advocate of the wrong side. (200-203) Sukarno interpreted the U.S. campaign at the United Nations as a retreat from the policy of neutrality. Sukarno professed to be "shattered." (210)
On December 1, 1961, Kennedy's National Security Adviser, McGeorge Bundy, gave his support to Indonesia. Bundy told the President that "most of the specialists believed that the Secretary's [Rusk's] respect for the Australians and dislike of Sukarno has led him to take a position in the UN debate which, if continued, can only favor the Communists." Bundy realized that "Sukarno is not your own favorite statesman," but he endorsed Rostow and Robert Johnson's views that "no one in this towndoes not believe that, sooner or late, the Indonesia will get West Irian." The United States must work with this trend and not allow the Soviet bloc to exploit the issue to draw Indonesia even closer to it. (205) Bundy's intercession got the President's attention and moved U.S. policy away from neutrality toward active support of Indonesia. (208-210)
As a result, the United States encouraged both the Netherlands and Indonesia to engage in bilateral negotiations and suggested that U.N. Secretary-General U Thant should serve as a third party moderator. (218) Both sides were reluctant to enter negotiations without some guidelines. The Dutch insisted that the transfer of WNG have some provision for self-determination; the Indonesians required that the Dutch agree, as a prerequisite to the talks, that WNG's administration (not its sovereignty) be transferred to Indonesia. (224-225)
President Kennedy then sent his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, to Indonesia and the Netherlands to encourage bilateral negotiations under U.N. aegis. While Robert Kennedy could give no assurances to the Indonesians that the Netherlands would agree to transfer WNG to Indonesia, he could say that the United States believed this was the likely outcome. Robert Kennedy himself feared he would be caught in the middle of the conflicting demands and be able to satisfy neither party. (226-230) Robert Kennedy encouraged Sukarno to talk without preconditions and offered the opinion that the result of the negotiations would end satisfactorily for Indonesia. (231) Kennedy sensed that Sukarno was willing to negotiate without preconditions so long as he knew that the United States would use its influence with the Netherlands to encourage a transfer. (232)
Rusk was still unwilling to give the Indonesians an assurance that the Dutch would not accept as the basis for talks. (235) Sukarno inched closer toward talks without preconditions, but with a mutually negotiated agenda. (236, 237) Robert Kennedy's discussions with the Dutch were guided by a Department of State-White House drafted telegram authorizing him to agree to the United States operating as the moderator of the talks, but insisting that the Netherlands agree that the agenda would include as an item the transfer of administration to Indonesia. (239) When Kennedy put his idea to the Dutch, they were shocked by what they considered a U.S. request for capitulation. A day after Robert Kennedy left The Hague, Luns considerably softened his opposition. (241)
In March 1962, Luns came to Washington to meet with U.S. officials, including the President, and asked permission to reinforce Netherlands naval presence in WNG through transit of the Panama Canal. The President turned him down flat. (244, 245) After this painful signal, the Dutch agreed to secret talks with a third party. The Indonesians also agreed to talks without preconditions provided that the transfer of WNG could be the first issue raised by Indonesia. (246) Both sides clearly wanted an American as the third party and former Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker was offered and accepted the job. (248)
The Ambassadorial level secret talks, held in Middleburg, Virginia, in late March 1962, began with promise but were soon stalemated, primarily because of Indonesia intransigence. To make matters worse, the Dutch and Indonesians engaged in sporadic naval engagements in the waters around WNG. It became clear in Washington that a demarche to Sukarno would be required to keep the negotiations moving. (251) Ellsworth Bunker proposed a formula whereby Indonesia was given administration of the territory and the Netherlands was assured that the United Nations would be involved in the process of self-determination for the inhabitants. The transfer process would take 2 years, with Indonesians replacing U.N. administrators during the second year. The United Nations would assist inhabitants in expressing their freedom of choice at a later date to be negotiated. (254)
Sukarno agreed to the formula (255), but the Netherlands did not. They claimed it was a shocking betrayal by the United States. (256, 258) Dutch disappointment soon waned and they began to suggest that if the Bunker formula was modified to give greater assurances for free choice, they might be willing to accept it. (259) Komer, who had became so pro-Indonesia as to become the butt of jokes among the White House staff about being Sukarno's personal representative, argued that the Dutch were stalling. (260, 261) Komer convinced the President to send Rusk a message suggesting that in a meeting with Luns in Athens, Rusk threaten to publish Bunker's formula. (262) This new initiative convinced the Dutch to work on the basis of the Bunker formula, but they were not yet willing to accept Indonesian administration. (263)
To get the Indonesians to resume secret talks, the Department instructed Jones to inform them that while the United States could not guarantee the success of the negotiations, there was a reasonable chance that they would succeed. (267) Komer's idea of a public surfacing of the Bunker formula as a prod to the Dutch was accepted within the Department of State. It was released as a U.N. document on May 25. (269, 270) The next day, the Netherlands formally agreed to resume the Middleburg talks. After some hesitation, (272, 273), Indonesia also agreed. The outstanding issues for the talks were the Indonesian desire to shorten the 2-year transition period and the Netherlands insistence that it was the absolute minimum time for a transfer. Both sides were concerned about mechanisms for self-determination. Indonesia wanted to minimize the role of the United Nations; the Netherlands wanted to maximize it. (274)
As the talks proceeded, the Indonesians proved difficult, insisting on a 1-year transition period, minimal U.N. participation, and special status for their paratrooper forces which had infiltrated into WNG. They threatened to recall Foreign Minister Subandrio, who had joined the talks in Middleburg. At Department of State suggestion (280), President Kennedy meet with Subandrio and told him that if the Indonesians resorted to force when they were on the brink of achieving one on the greatest diplomatic victories of all time, the United States would switch sides and support the Dutch. (281, 284, 285)
In the face of this direct threat, Sukarno acceded to revised terms of understanding whereby the Dutch would transfer administration to the United Nations, which could then start transferring administration to Indonesia after May 1, 1963 (less than a year). Indonesian forces within WNG would be at the disposal of the U.N. authority, which could also use Netherlands and Indonesian officials. One year before "self-determination," which could be no later than 1969, the United Nations would appoint a staff to advise and assist with arrangements. The Indonesian flag could be hoisted along with the U.N. flag after January 1, 1963.
The agreement was almost a total victory for Indonesia and a defeat for the Netherlands, who wanted to leave the territory, but not on terms that assured that WNG would soon be part of Indonesia. The underlying reason that the Kennedy administration pressed the Netherlands to accept this agreement was that it believed that Cold War considerations of preventing Indonesia from going Communist overrode the Dutch case. The Kennedy administration then sought to capitalize on the good will it had won in Indonesia by establishing better relations with Sukarno and upgrading U.S. economic and military assistance programs. (286, 287) The Department of State produced an extensive plan of action for Indonesia which combined immediate actions and longer term goals. (291) The President agreed that the emergency actions, such $60-70 million in P.L. 480 food aid, $17 million in technical assistance, a modest military assistance program, and $15-20 million in grants for spare parts and start-up material, but wanted more work done on the longer range measures. (294)
The plan to win over Indonesia had mixed results. Sukarno opposed the formation of the Malaysia Federation with threats and a guerrilla campaign. (300, 301) The Indonesian economy did not respond, and Sukarno was unable to introduce the kinds of reforms the United States believed that it required. (302) Ambassador Jones and staffers at the White House hoped that President Kennedy would accept Sukarno's longstanding invitation to visit Indonesia, but scheduling difficulties prevented a visit in 1963. (293,303) Indonesia pressed U.S. oil companies to provide Indonesia with a larger share of the proceeds. A mission by Governor Wilson Wyatt succeeded in defusing the potential crisis. (306-308) The United States shifted its focus from economic development to the more immediate problem of stabilizing the failing Indonesian economy, but with little success. (311-313, 316)
Jones suggested that the downward trend in Indonesia made a Presidential trip even more important and hoped that a visit by Kennedy would moderate Sukarno. The Department agreed to inform Sukarno that Kennedy would visit Indonesia early in a second term provided Sukarno abandoned his policy of confrontation with the United Kingdom and Malaysia. (318) When informed of the possibility of a Kennedy visit, Sukarno was enthusiastic. On November 19, Jones, who was in Washington for consultations, received a commitment from the President to go to Indonesia. Three days later, Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. The Johnson administration would face new challenges in U.S.-Indonesian relations. Malaysia
A federation of Malaya, Singapore, North Borneo (Sabah), and Sarawak had been a British goal since 1960 and was an idea to which the United States gave tacit support. (329) The United States viewed the potential Malaysian Federation as a stabilizing and anti-Communist measure, but Indonesia and the Philippines both opposed it. Miffed at not being consulted, Sukarno convinced himnself it was a colonialist plot; the Philippines opposed the federation because of their claims to parts of North Borneo. The Philippines pursued its claim through diplomatic channels, and Indonesia embarked on a policy of confrontation and guerrilla war in early 1963. (330)
One of Sukarno's tactics was a demand for a referendum in the Borneo Territories under U.N. auspices. The United States supported the idea even though it delayed postponement of the inauguration of the federation. Rusk and Kennedy convinced the skeptical British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan that "a little give now may be worth the risk, especially if the likely alternative is a further step-up of subversive pressure." (338) The United Nations reported on September 14, 1963, that the inhabitants of North Borneo and Sarawak favored joining Malaysia. Indonesia and the Philippines denounced the report; Indonesia stepped up its confrontation. (335)
Australia sent troops to Malaysia to combat Indonesian subversion and hoped to obtain from the United States an assurance that its troops in Malaysia would be covered under the ANZUS Treaty. Under Secretary of State Averell Harriman agreed with the Australians in June 1963 that ANZUS should cover Australian troops, but only in the case of overt attack not subversion by Indonesia. After Australia gave a formal commitment to defend Malaysia on September 23, 1963, President Kennedy wanted further clarification; he did not want the Australians to turn around one day and say "where are the Americans." Nor did Kennedy want to fight another war in Southeast Asia. (337, 338) On October 16, McGeorge Bundy handed the Australian Ambassador a paper that promised that the United States would consult with Australia about appropriate political and military support if its troops were attacked. In view of extensive U.S. commitments, Australia could count only on U.S. air and sea forces and logistical support in the last resort. (343)
In late 1963, the United States encouraged Philippine-Indonesian-Malaysian contacts through quiet diplomacy in conjunction with the British, Australians, and New Zealanders while at the same time trying to use U.S. economic aid as a lever on Sukarno. (342, 345) The results were mixed and the Indonesian campaign of confrontation continued as a serious problem for the Johnson administration.
The Philippines was a longstanding U.S. ally on the island periphery of Southeast Asia. While the Philippines had its own low-level insurgent movement, the Kennedy administration's major concern was the problem of corruption, which tarnished the Philippines' reputation as a pro-Western leader of Southeast Asia. As the 1961 Presidential elections in the Philippines approached, the Kennedy administration tried to discourage political corruption and graft. (355-358)
The other main issue causing friction in U.S.-Philippine relations was World War II claims amounting to $73 million for war damages that Filipino individuals and businesses sustained during the retaking of the Philippines. At the strong urging of the Philippines, the Kennedy administration pressed and finally succeeded inconvincing a reluctant U.S. Congress to pass the Philippine War Damage Bill. (360, 373, 374, 375, 390)
Other irritants in U.S.-Philippine relations included currency reform, the level of military aid, the Philippine claim to parts of North Borneo, and Philippine opposition to the Malaysia Federation, but the administrations of newly-elected President Macapagal and President Kennedy generally worked well together during the 1961-1963 period. Thailand
Thailand was the U.S. ally in Southeast Asia most concerned about the outbreak of civil war in Laos in 1960 and SEATO's failure to respond to it. Thailand's security fears grew into what the U.S. Ambassador to Thailand termed a "morbid fear gripping the Thais." (412) After assuming office, the Kennedy administration initiated what would become a series of repeated affirmations expressing unequivocally the U.S. commitment to defend Thailand in the event of a Communist attack. (397-400) None of these assurances fully allayed Thai fears.
Strategically located, the headquarters for SEATO, and staunchly anti-Communist, Thailand was the rock for U.S. anti-Communist policy in Southeast Asia. The Kennedy administration was prepared to discourage Thailand from wavering from its pro-Western stance into neutrality. The administration underscored U.S. willingness to fulfill its military obligations in Thailand with the issuance of a joint communique by Secretary Rusk and Thai Foreign Minister Thanat Khoman in March 1962. The communique was the public confirmation of the full extent of the U.S. commitment to Thailand. In the communique and in private statements, the United States acknowledged its obligation to defend Thailand in the event of Communist aggression as defined in the SEATO Pact. The United States further assured Thailand that military intervention was not contingent on acquiring prior approval from or on the participation of other SEATO members. (427, 432, 453)
Notwithstanding these assurances, the Thais remained uneasy if not distrustful of the U.S. commitment to defend Thailand. They resented the United States making SEATO the centerpiece of its commitment and would have preferred a mutual defense treaty. For its part, the United States explained that the treaty legalized, rather than hindered or prevented, U.S. intervention in Southeast Asia. (471) When hostilities flared anew in Laos in May 1962, the United States quickly responded by sending ground forces and an air squadron to Thailand, a move intended not only to influence the Lao situation, but also to demonstrate to Thailand U.S. willingness and ability to act rapidly in its defense, should intervention become necessary.
The United States also extended to Thailand financial support in the form of grants, equipment, and loans to strengthen its social, economic, and defense capabilities and enhance internal security. Although a stable, homogeneous country, Thailand experienced an increased threat of infiltration and Communist insurgency by 1963 in its poorest northeast section. (410, 472, 474, 475) The Kennedy administration encouraged the Thais to make a greater contribution to the counterinsurgency effort by providing funding and manpower to expand its paramilitary and police forces and by creating a special border patrol police unit. (396, 409, 411) Such advice was not always received warmly by the Thai military, which had a vested interest in its conventional military establishment.
Even though the United States made a substantial investment in and commitment to Thailand, the Thais remained skeptical of U.S. resolve to assist its Asian ally and pointed to such developments as a perceived slow-down in receiving U.S. foreign aid, the U.S. decision to supply Cambodia with military equipment, and U.S. support of neutralist Souvanna Phouma to head a coalition government in Laos as adversely affecting Thailand's security. (424, 432, 435, 462, 471) Because the United States implemented those and other measures without adequately consulting them, the Thais charged that they were slighted and not respected as an ally. (462, 464, 466) The insecurity and friction culminated in a Thai call for a bilateral U.S.-Thai defense agreement and a strengthening of the SEATO charter.
Thai threats to break with the United States and pursue an independent policy were not taken overly seriously. The Kennedy administration knew that the U.S.-Thai relationship was fundamentally sound. Thai efforts to bend the United States to its wishes and threats to end its special relationship and go it alone were reflective of the inherent conflict between allies unequal in size and power and diverse in perception and outlook. Although fearful of being dominated by a strong, Western foreign power, the Thai leadership realized that in the face of North Vietnamese and Chinese threats Thailand's continued existence as an independent, non-Communist state was closely tied to financial, military, and political support it received from the United States.
Office of the Historian Bureau of Public Affairs January 1995