In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Journal of Cold War Studies 4.3 (2002) 121-123

[Access article in PDF]

Book Review

Confronting Sukarno:
British, American, Australian and New Zealand Diplomacy in the Malaysian-Indonesian Confrontation, 1961-5

John Subritzky, Confronting Sukarno: British, American, Australian and New Zealand Diplomacy in the Malaysian-Indonesian Confrontation, 1961-5. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000. 246 pp. $59.95.

Although this slender volume covers only the four years of Indonesian President Sukarno's "confrontation" with Malaysia, it does so from the viewpoint of six separate countries, a sizable undertaking. In the early chapters, which focus on the Commonwealth states, the author explains not only the historical roots of each country's policy, but also the personal, political, and bureaucratic rivalries that helped shape it. This works quite well for the Commonwealth countries, but the author appears less comfortable in analyzing Indonesia and the United States.

The story is told largely through the recorded words of the principal policy makers. Subritzky has clearly undertaken an impressive amount of research and chosen his quotations well. They are pithy and revealing. American readers will find the chapters on Australia and the author's home, New Zealand, of particular interest. Compared to the United States and the United Kingdom, these two countries were minor players, but their stakes were as high as, and in some ways higher than, those of others. Both countries were at a crucial point in their history as they redefined their relationship with the "Mother Country," with each other, with the United States, with other world powers, and, perhaps most important, with their northern Asian neighbors. Because Australian and New Zealand leaders tended to be skilled political fighters and were well armed with words, their skirmishes often make entertaining reading.

The book's treatment of the Indonesian role is somewhat disappointing. As Subritzky explains, the Indonesian archives are sadly deficient in documentation of [End Page 121] what the country's leaders were saying and writing to each other. The author contents himself initially with repeating the standard belief at the time that President Sukarno was balancing the army and the Indonesian Communist Party against each other. Later events indicate that Sukarno was in fact manipulating political forces so that he could, as he himself put it, turn the wheel sharply to the left. The army, on the other hand, attempted to hold a steady course. Memoirs and interviews of some of the Indonesian leaders from that time, and a careful reading of the contemporary press, would have helped the author focus and enrich the picture. For example, the biography of General Benny Moerdani—Julius Poor, Benny Moerdani: Profile of a Soldier Statesman, trans. by Tim Scott (Jakarta: Yayasan Kejuangan Panglima Besar Sudirman, 1993)—and Hidayat Mukmin's TNI Dalam Politik Luar Negeri: Studi Kasus Penyelesian Konfrontasi Indonesia-Malaysia (Jakarta: Pustaka Sinar Harapan, 1991) reveal that, unknown to Sukarno and Western governments, Indonesian and Malaysian armed forces undertook secret talks as early as mid-1964, talks that a year later developed into a peace initiative.

Subritzky makes two important assumptions regarding American policy that do not stand up well under closer observation. He interprets a sentence in a report of visiting Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker as recommending that the United States "encourage as far as possible a military takeover during, rather than after, Sukarno's lifetime." A reading of Bunker's full report and interviews with those sitting in on his conversations would not support this interpretation. Although Americans may well have welcomed such a turn of events, they realized that any attempt on their part to bring it about would backfire. The Indonesian generals had made clear to American officials their loyalty toward their country's founder and their abhorrence of American meddling in their internal affairs as occurred during the PRRI/Permesta rebellion seven years earlier.

Subritzky also incorrectly concludes that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) assisted in the slaughter of Indonesian Communists in 1965, an assessment apparently based solely on an American press report that a U.S...