Journal of Cold War Studies 6.2 (2004) 77-78
[Access article in PDF]
Matthew Jones, Conflict and Confrontation in South East Asia, 1961-1965: Britain, theUnited States, Indonesia and the Creation of Malaysia.New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. 384 pp. $60.00.
Matthew Jones, a lecturer at the University of London, has chosen to write about a period that largely defined the nature and makeup of Malaysia, its relationship with its much larger neighbor to its south, and the relationship of both with the Western powers. It is also a period explored by a number of other authors from most of the countries involved, and one wonders, before reading Conflict and Cooperation in South East Asia, whether anything more can or should be said. The book provides a clearly affirmative answer to this question. Jones has no startling revelations to offer but he outlines in careful detail the evolution in the outlook and, eventually, the policies of all the key players.
An early passage in the book might lead some American readers to suspect Jones of bias. He seizes upon comments by President John F. Kennedy to state that "Washington still found it difficult to regard local regimes as anything but pieces to be moved or manipulated by their Soviet or American masters in a global power game, rather than as autonomous actors with their own priorities" (p.37). Although the United States may have deserved some criticism on this score, Jones's dismissive comment is clearly excessive. Nor does he mention some British attitudes toward Malaysia [End Page 77] that most Americans would consider patronizing and paternalistic. These lapses, however, are only minor drawbacks in what is otherwise a balanced narrative.
Jones's primary sources come from the U.S. State Department's Foreign Relations of the United States volumes, which contain declassified documents from various executive-branch agencies, and from the British counterpart, the Prime Minister's Office files. These documents allow readers to eavesdrop on the deliberations of the two countries' foreign policymakers, including a few occasions when the two allies were prone to outbursts of anger. In one case, when British Prime Minister Harold McMillan was worried about the pace of determining Borneo's commitment to Malaysia, he remarked that "the Americans have been taking their usual line—support for enemies more than for friends. Cynics would say they learned this from the British" (p.187).
Although Jones's sources seem entirely adequate in conveying the evolution of American, British, and Malaysian views and policies, they appear to fall somewhat short in regard to Indonesia. Indonesia's President Sukarno and Foreign Minister Subandrio seldom met or corresponded with their American and British counterparts and were usually evasive when they did. The British had only token representation in Jakarta following the burning of the British embassy, and the U.S. ambassador, Howard P. Jones, as the book suggests, had built a close personal relationship with Sukarno and strongly discouraged critical reporting by his staff (which included this reviewer). Sukarno's many public speeches are a far better guide to his foreign policies, which almost always were subordinated to his domestic goals. As the "Great Father of the Indonesian Revolution," he felt the need for a foreign foe to unite his disparate country. When the Dutch left the scene with the West New Guinea settlement, the casting of Malaysia as "imperialist encirclement" conveniently met this need. Later on, the United States would become "enemy number one."
The gaps in the treatment of Indonesia should not deter potential readers of this book. It is well written, tightly organized, and packed with interesting material. It deserves a place on the shelves of all those interested in Southeast Asia.
United States- Indonesia Society