Richard Nixon highlighted the major factor driving US policy towards Indonesia when, in 1967, he noted that ‘with its 100 million people and its 3,000 mile arc of islands containing the region's richest hoard of natural resources, Indonesia constitutes the greatest prize in the Southeast Asia area’. 1 His assessment came after the Indonesian military had, in 1965, suppressed the Indonesian communist party, the PKI, and carried out a massacre of alleged communists, which had left hundreds of thousands of people dead, and had removed President Sukarno from power. In November 1967, Western business leaders met the new Indonesian leadership in Geneva to divide up the spoils of victory – the economic assets Nixon spoke of – and begin the exploitation of the country's wealth, which Sukarno had resisted. 2
Indonesia's value to the West has, though, always gone beyond its economic significance. As the world's largest Islamic country and fifth most populous nation, it was arguably the most important country in Southeast Asia. Nevertheless, assessments of Indonesia's importance invariably reflected its position in the priorities of Western governments rather than its own intrinsic worth. Thus, to The Netherlands, it was the major imperial asset which brought wealth and status as a world power to an otherwise small European nation. For the Australians, Indonesia represented not just a physical barrier to invasion from the north but also, with its huge population and geographical proximity, a potential threat. With its western extremity close to Singapore and stretching to New Guinea in the east, Indonesia's wider strategic importance derived from its control of the lines of communication vital to the British Empire and the West's military and trading operations.
This book examines how successive postwar US administrations developed and executed policy towards Indonesia. It will assess the way in which Washington faced the challenge of Third World nationalism in an economically and strategically important country and, after acting as midwife to the Republic of Indonesia, managed the post-independence relationship. Of crucial interest is why, during this period, American policy towards Indonesia swung from non-intervention, at the end of World War II, to a position where, thirteen years later, Washington provided political and material support for a rebellion against the