Did the British and Americans start Confrontation?
Book Review: “The Genesis of Konfrontasi, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia 1945-1965”
By Greg Poulgrain, published by the Strategic Research & Development Centre (SIRD), Malaysia, 2014.
In this essay I try to cover the main points of Dr Poulgrain’s thesis with some reference to other sources. It is a book packed with detail and the essay is therefore detailed and quite long.
Konfrontasi or Confrontation was the war that New Zealand’s armed forces were committed to from 1964 to 1966 as part of Commonwealth military assistance to the Federation of Malaya and the British Borneo states. At the time Malaya was enmeshed in the process of federating with Singapore, and with the Borneo states of North Borneo (Sabah), Brunei and Sarawak, to form the Federation of Malaysia. Indonesia was opposed to that and engaged in political and military Konfrontasi.
The main NZ units in Konfrontasi were 1st Battalion Royal NZ Infantry Regiment (1 RNZIR), detachments of NZ Special Air Service Squadron (NZSAS), 41 Squadron RNZAF (troop and supply carrying), 14 Squadron RNZAF (Canberra bombers), HMNZS Otago, HMNZS Taranaki and HMNZS Royalist. 1 RNZIR was at the time permanently stationed in Malaya as part of the 28th Commonwealth Brigade. Parts of the British response to Konfrontasi especially its “Claret” cross border operations in Borneo were very secret. It was also a war that was mostly beneath the radar of public awareness in New Zealand.
The reviewer served in 1 RNZIR for part of that period from November 1965 to December 1967 and deployed with the battalion to Sarawak on operations in 1966.
Retired NZ Army officer and military historian Christopher Pugsley states in his book “From Emergency to Confrontation, the New Zealand Armed Forces in Malaya and Borneo 1949 – 1966”:
- “The principal trigger for the Confrontation between the Republic of Indonesia and the United Kingdom and the Federation of Malaya was the outbreak of a rebellion in Brunei.”
- 2003, Oxford University Press, Ch 7 Confronting Intruders.
To this day that has been the orthodox official and historical line from the time of the rebellion (also called the Brunei Revolt) on 8th December 1962 and it is true to an extent. However Dr Poulgrain, an Australian political historian specialising in South East Asia, has unearthed compelling new evidence to suggest that the Brunei Revolt was started by British Intelligence and that the CIA was also complicit in fomenting unrest in Sarawak, condoned by British Intelligence. It that was so then it could be said that Konfrontasi was started by British Intelligence and not, as history records, by Indonesian President Sukarno.
This new evidence contradicts the orthodox historical version stated by Pugsley:
- “… it was the attempted coup d’etat in Brunei by Inche A.A.Azahari Mahmud [sic] and his Patai Ra’ayat on 8 December 1962 which prompted the Indonesian action against Malaysia’s formation that was known as Konfrontasi (Confrontation)”.
That contradiction is explored in detail later in this essay.
“The Genesis of Konfrontasi” traces the relationship of Indonesia and British Colonialism in South East Asia from the end of World War II through to the events leading up to the outbreak of Konfrontasi. To gain a fuller appreciation one should also read Dr Pougrain’s companion book “The Incubus of Intervention, conflicting Indonesia strategies of John F Kennedy and Allen Dulles” (SIRD, Malaysia, 2015).
Post war decolonisation in Indochina (Vietnam, Laos & Cambodia), Philippines, Indonesia. Malaya, North Borneo, Brunei and Sarawak provides the broad background in which Britain and the USA generally cooperated but also had conflicting interests and goals.
The USA was also internally conflicted in that the CIA under Allen Dulles was conducting a covert programme in Indonesia at odds with President Kennedy’s own policy. The CIA programme aimed at regime change by unseating President Sukarno and replacing him with a USA-friendly military led government. President Kennedy on the other hand befriended President Sukarno and wanted to provide economic assistance to bring Indonesia into the USA’s sphere of influence. Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963 and the CIA prevailed. To implement their own programme the CIA had first to unify Indonesia’s various military commands into a single powerful national force and also to ensure it was trained and equipped to assume its new role. As part of that programme the CIA fomented rebellion in various outer islands in Indonesia, covertly supplied the rebels with arms, and also provided Intelligence to Indonesia’s armed forces to ensure they put down the rebellions, thus building themselves into a legitimate national force.
That CIA programme is documented in “Incubus of Intervention” and it provides information vital to understanding the CIAs role in Konfrontasi.
Whereas the USA aimed to decolonise South East Asia as soon as possible after WW2 Britain was less enthusiastic. Undoubtedly the USA wanted to establish its own military and economic hegemony over the region, in its own interests and also as a Cold War strategy to restrict the influence of China and the USSR. Britain was reluctant to give up the last vestiges of empire and its access to strategic assets notably Brunei’s oilfields.
The Philippines gained its independence from the USA in 1945. Indonesia declared independence in 1945, fought the Dutch and gained UN recognition in 1949. Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia fought the French and gained their independence in 1954. Britain granted independence to the Federation of Malaya in 1957 but continued to maintain its military and economic influence. The territories of Singapore, North Borneo and Sarawak remained British until the formation of Malaysia in 1963. Singapore left the Federation of Malaysia to become an independent nation in 1965.
Malaya was an important producer of tin, rubber and palm oil. Brunei was a major source of oil. Singapore was a centre of regional power and control with its port and trade facilities. Those facilities were also used in the export and import trade with the resource rich Indonesian archipelago. British companies controlled most of that economic activity. To ensure that the cash continued to flow from those assets Britain had to ensure that Indonesian influence in the British sphere of economic interest was eliminated or that the leadership in Jakarta was not anti-British. To this end Britain engaged in a series of covert provocations towards Indonesia. President Sukarno’s firm stance of anti-colonialism, anti-imperialism, anti-capitalism and non-alignment meant that he had to be removed and replaced. In this respect, and from an Indonesian viewpoint, Konfrontasi is seen not as a premeditated act or as a policy by design but partly as a response to British provocation.
Dr Poulgrain writes extensively about the post-WW2 relationship difficulties between Britain and Indonesia leading to Britain’s determination to oust President Sukarno.
Konfrontasi may also have been a ploy in the presidential ambitions of Indonesia’s foreign minister Dr Subandrio who might have been Britain’s preference as president.
Singapore was important not just as a transit port for South East Asian imports and exports but as the centre of British control and power over the region.
Much of that control and power was exerted through its Intelligence operations commanded and coordinated from Singapore. Hong Kong and Singapore were major spy bases in the region. During the Malayan Emergency High Commissioner Sir Gerald Templer who had served in Military Intelligence overhauled British Intelligence in Malaya and from that time it became a potent coordinated force. His innovations were repeated in the other British territories. The Police Special Branches were primarily responsible for Intelligence operations in the British colonies and former colonies. They were supported and virtually controlled by MI5 officers who were often appointed to senior positions in Special Branch.
MI5 was the lead agency for Intelligence within the colonies and former colonies, although in Malaya, Singapore, and the British Borneo states Special Branch was the lead agency for internal security and Intelligence. The Joint Intelligence Committee Far East (JICFE) was located in Singapore as was Security Intelligence Far East (SIFE) which was a joint Intelligence assessment agency (MI5, MI6, Military and Police Special Branch). MI6 had had a station in Singapore since the 1920s and eventually took over the lead role in Singapore from MI5 after British withdrawal from the region. The CIA had had a station in Singapore since the 1930s and was represented at JICFE and SIFE.
In 1954 MI6 and the CIA concluded the “Four Square Agreement” in which the CIA retained intelligence responsibility for the Phillipines and British intelligence services looked after Malaya, Singapore and Burma. Both the CIA and MI6 agreed to cooperate in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Indonesia.
Intelligence operations throughout the region included covert MI6 operations in Indonesia aiming to undermine President Sukarno.
GCHQ, the British signals intelligence agency now known to be part of the Five Eyes network, had a major listening post in Singapore until well into the 1970s (and one in Hong Kong). It was of crucial importance in the Malayan Emergency and leading up to and during Konfrontasi. In the mid-1970s it was revealed in the Australian media that it had operated as a joint British/Australian intercept station for some time. The Australian signals intercept station in Darwin was also an important source of Intelligence.
See Calder Waldron, “Empire of Secrets, British Intelligence, the Cold War, and the twilight of Empire”, William Collins Publishers, London, 2013.
For details of the Intelligence structure and responsibilities see also Leon Comber, “Malaya’s Secret Police, The Role of the Special Branch in the Malayan Emergency“, Monash University Press Melbourne and Institute of SE Asian Studies Singapore, 2008.
This coordinated Intelligence network was to play a major role in the genesis of Konfrontasi.
By 1960 the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) under the leadership of Ralph Harry had created independent stations in Jakarta, Tokyo and Dili and had several officers working with allies in Hong Kong and Singapore. The ASIS officer in Singapore worked on the staff of the Head of MI6.
In the early 1960’s ASIS had mounted six covert operations in Indonesia including propaganda campaigns, medical assistance to President Sukarno’s opponents, and ‘more direct’ attempts to engineer President Sukarno’s political demise. These would have been in conjunction with Britain’s MI6 and probably the CIA.
- See Robert Macklin, “Warrior Elite”, Hachette, Sydney, 2015.
In the book Dr Poulgrain refers simply to SIFE as the main agency involved in the genesis of Konfrontasi but the Intelligence apparatus was much greater than SIFE which was a coordinating agency.
Indonesia’s Anti-Colonial Campaigns
Following its successful fight to gain independence from the Dutch from 1945, Indonesia engaged in two anti-colonial campaigns in the 1960s. The first was against Dutch control of Netherlands New Guinea (now Papua and West Papua). Indonesia invaded in 1962 and gained control in 1963. It was a simple matter of ejecting a colonial power and gaining territory and control of its economic potential. The second campaign against the formation of Malaysia erupted about three months before the May 1963 assumption of sovereignty in New Guinea.
Dr Subandrio was prominent in both campaigns and it was he who declared Konfrontasi.
Although many British government and other commentators have declared that the simple aim was territorial expansion the actual aims of Konfrontasi were never clearly delineated, remained unclear throughout the three years it lasted, and remain unclear to this day unless Dr Poulgrain’s thesis is correct.
His research has been painstaking. In the extensive bibliography he lists over 120 Colonial Office records, and records from the Foreign Office, War Office and India Office. He lists 62 interviews across all sides of the conflict. Some of the main interviews were A.M.Azahari who it was widely claimed started the Brunei Revolt, Oei Tju Tat a Chinese lawyer appointed by President Sukarno as the leading civilian coordinator for Konfrontasi, General Soehario former head of the Indonesian Army in Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) and General Nasution former Indonesian Chief of Staff. On the other side he interviewed Sir Alexander Waddell former Governor of Sarawak, Roy Henry former head of Special Branch in Sarawak and Brunei and a number of former oil company employees of British Malayan Petroleum (BMP, later Brunei Shell).
The late Roy Henry provided crucial new verbal evidence for this book concerning his time as Head of Sarawak Special Branch, which made him the head of British Intelligence in Sarawak and Brunei before and during Konfrontasi. He was a very credible witness for after Special Branch he was appointed Commissioner of Sarawak Police, Commissioner of Police Fiji, then Commissioner of Police Hong Kong.
BMP had been exploring for oil in the region since the 1950s and operated the known very lucrative oilfields. In 1963 BMP discovered, or announced the discovery of the giant offshore oilfield known as South West Ampa just off the coast of Brunei. BMP built its own Intelligence capability and was covertly active in combating threats to its vested economic interest. So close was BMP’s relationship with British Intelligence that Chinese speaking members of the BMP intelligence network were made available to Special Branch. BMP also had close relations and influence with the Colonial Office in London.
The history of Konfrontasi would not be complete without an examination of the role of BMP.
The Colonial Office Agenda
Public Office records reveal that the Colonial Office had two aims in the decolonisation programme. Firstly to ensure that the new political leaders were those amenable to continued British investment and secondly to ensure that the political environment of the region did not include Sukarno as President of Indonesia.
The Colonial Office drew up the format for decolonisation and the formation of Malaysia as early as 1953 but had a number of political and security hurdles to overcome before it could be implemented. Foremost among those was the large number of Chinese resident in Malaya, Singapore and the Borneo states. All Chinese were thought to be potential communists. The solution in Malaya was a constitution that gave most political power to the Malays and diminished the political influence of significant Chinese and Indian populations, and a military and Intelligence campaign (Malayan Emergency) against Chinese communists. By about 1960 many Chinese communist leaders had been eliminated or driven north into Southern Thailand. Malaysia would continue to combat that threat until about 1989.
Singapore was mainly Chinese and in the mid-1950s there were large scale riots blamed on communist led unions. But British Public Office Records reveal that the largest of those riots in October 1956 was deliberately provoked by British Intelligence to enable the arrest of prominent anti-British activists. British Intelligence was also active in supporting the political rise of Britain-friendly Lee Kuan Yew who later became Prime Minister of Singapore and who probably had close links to British Intelligence.
In Sarawak the Chinese dominated commercial and political activity and comprised one third of the population. The Sarawak United Peoples Party (SUPP) was the most prominent political party and was Chinese dominated with some underground communist support. The political direction in Sarawak was changed by Konfrontasi by reducing the influence of the Chinese and causing Sarawak to seek greater security in the Federation rather than statehood in its own right. British interests were furthered by Konfrontasi in that it made the British decolonisation plan possible.
On 15th August 1991 Dr Poulgrain interviewed Roy Henry the former head of Special Branch in Sarawak and Brunei and he admitted that he had a direct hand in starting the Brunei Revolt. At the time Henry was the overall head of British Intelligence in Sarawak and Brunei. He also admitted that the CIA had a hand in supplying arms and fomenting rebellion in Sarawak prior to Konfrontasi thus allowing the British to reduce Chinese influence through Special Branch operations whilst blaming it on Indonesia. British Intelligence was well aware of what the CIA was doing.
The Brunei Revolt
Brunei and its oil was vital to British (and BMP) interests and Britain tried to include it in the Federation of Malaysia, with the Sultan of Brunei given a governance role much as the ruling sultans in the Malayan states had been given roles in the Federation of Malaya.
However political leader Sheikh Azahari bin Sheikh Mahmud better known as A.M.Azahari was opposed to the British plan and proposed a Kalimantan Utara (North Kalimantan) federation of Brunei, British North Borneo and Sarawak with the Sultan of Brunei as titular head. He and his Partai Rakyat Brunei (PRB – Brunei Peoples Party) favoured joining the Federation of Malaysia but as a unified North Kalimantan grouping. They thought that would shield them from the dominating influence of Malay administrators and Chinese merchants.
In fact Azahari had promoted his version of federation as early as 1955 before he formed the PRB. By 1962 he had gained support for Kalimantan Utara across all three Borneo states and had become the most likely politician to lead the proposed new state. Azahari was then and is still depicted as being opposed to the Federation of Malaysia but in fact he supported it, just not in the form proposed by Britain. Just as he was not anti-Malaysia he was not anti-British and not anti-Sultan although that was the British propaganda of the time and the most common historical version to date.
Azahari was actually close to the Sultan and trusted by him. The sultan supported Azahari’s Kalimantan Utara alternative. That was anathema to the British who had to get rid of Azahari in order to defeat it. In fact British Intelligence working hand in glove with the oil company’s (BMP) managing director had been trying to destroy Azahari’s influence since at least 1957.
Legislative Council elections were held in Brunei in August 1962 and Azahari’s PRB won a sweeping victory with 54 of the 55 seats. The independent 55th member promptly joined the PRB. The PRB then announced that a motion would be tabled requesting the British Government to return sovereignty of Sarawak and North Borneo to the Sultan of Brunei, and to federate the three British Borneo Territories. Azahari was determined to avoid violence and maintained a commitment by PRB to achieve power by constitutional means.
While he was in the Philippines in December 1962 one of his PRB executives, H.M.Salleh, instigated armed rebellion. He did it in response to a predicament engineered by Roy Henry and Special Branch. Henry created the situation by arresting several PRB members in Sarawak and then “leaking” information that he had threatened similar arrests in Brunei. He led them to believe they had only limited time to act. His message was relayed to the PRB by a magistrate (Jaya Latif) whose uncle became one of the eight executive members who panicked and started the Brunei Revolt.
While in the Philippines Azahari had obtained a document proclaiming the official agreement of the Philippines Government to forego all claims to North Borneo and recognising the claim of the Sultan of Brunei. It was the first international recognition of Azahari’s Kalimantan Utara concept with the Sultan of Brunei as constitutional monarch. It was an important document and Azahari had intended to produce it at the United Nations. On the morning of the revolt the PRB officials bearing the document were physically prevented from reaching the Sultan’s palace.
- “Shaken by the tumult and commotion, and believing the explanation given him by British intelligence the he would have been kidnapped, the Sultan turned against the PRB rebels, and against Azahari”.
- “British Intelligence succeeded in turning the Sultan away from the concept of Kalimantan Utara, and Brunei subsequently became an isolated oil enclave under British protection”.
That isolation also robbed the new Federation of Malaysia of much needed oil revenues and preserved them in British hands. Had Azahari’s plan been successful Malaysia would have shared in the benefits.
In his interview Roy Henry stated that all of the political organisations in Brunei and Sarawak including Azahari’s PRB were well penetrated by Special Branch, the PRB at executive level. That being so his manipulation of events would have been relatively easy.
After the Brunei Revolt
The aftermath across all of the proposed Malaysian states was diabolical. In Singapore Lee Kuan Yew accused Lim Chin Siong of being complicit in the Brunei revolt because Siong had met Azahari (on another matter entirely). Nevertheless in Operation Cold Store on the night of 2nd February 1963 Lee Kuan Yew arrested Siong and 112 political activists. It was almost his entire left wing opposition. Evidence in the British Archives and provided to Dr Poulgrain in interviews with British government and security service officials clearly show that this was a political contrivance.
In Malaya a dozen of the top left wing opponents of Federation were arrested on 13th February 1963. As a result of the Brunei Revolt the leading figures in the left wing political parties in Malaya, Singapore and Sarawak were detained prior to the formation of Malaysia. Azahari and Siong were probably the two most influential opponents of the British plan and both were removed.
So far in this review I have dealt (at great length) with the first Colonial Office objective in decolonisation: to ensure that the new political leaders were those amenable to continued British investment. Intelligence operations towards achieving that objective included the Brunei Revolt which helped lead to the achievement of the second objective, to ensure that the political environment of the region did not include Sukarno as President of Indonesia. In other words to Konfrontasi, although it should always be remembered that the CIA was primarily responsible for the removal of Sukarno and that the British Commonwealth response to Konfrontasi was a sideshow in that programme. It is probable that Britain’s MI6 (SIS) and perhaps its branch office (Australia’s ASIS) were involved with the CIA in Indonesia.
Just how the Brunei revolt led to Konfrontasi, or even if it did, is still shrouded in mystery.
The British immediately sent troops to quell the revolt. That reaction may or may not have been pre-planned. The Intelligence hierarchy in Singapore would certainly have known about Roy Henry’s manipulation of events in Brunei. Historians have written that the Sultan himself asked for military assistance “yet, according to The Straits Times, the request came from W.J.Parks, the aide-de-camp of the High Commissioner Sir Dennis White, who was then on sick leave in London”. The Brunei constitution at the time allowed the Colonial Office to bypass the wish of the Sultan.
- “Soon after the rebellion started British troops from Singapore went straight to Sarawak, causing the exodus of many Chinese youths into neighbouring Indonesian territory. Whilst these youths were regarded by Indonesia as part of a clandestine communist organisation engaged in a righteous anti-colonial struggle, what Indonesia did not realise is that they were armed with weapons only because they had been supplied by William Andreas Brown and Frank C. Starr, both linked to the CIA”.
The involvement of those two Americans was revealed by Roy Henry during his interview.
- “The absence of any real communist threat in Sarawak in the days before Konfrontasi was precisely what necessitated the CIA supply of weapons, in order to boost the political profile which previously the ‘underground group’ in Sarawak did not have”.
- “This exodus caught the attention of Indonesia and, after some bitter recrimination between Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta (with some crucial addition by Subandrio) the argument expanded into Konfrontasi. The threat of Indonesian incursion into Sarawak now ensured that the previous reluctance to join Malaysia suddenly evaporated”.
After the Brunei Revolt and the exodus of Chinese from Sarawak hostilities in Sarawak between Indonesia and Britain and Malaysia gradually escalated. The rhetoric on both sides became so offensive that armed Konfrontasi became inevitable. It began on 12 April 1963, when about 30 armed raiders from Indonesian Kalimantan overran a police border post in Sarawak.
Dr Poulgrain explains in detail how those hostilities were started by British and American Intelligence. He also details the role of Indonesian foreign minister Dr Subandrio in increasing the tension between Indonesia and Malaysia/Britain, thus providing fertile ground for Konfrontasi.
The three rival power factions in Jakarta were all involved in Konfrontasi; the political elite led by Dr Subandrio, the military, and the PKI (Communist Party). President Sukarno did not initiate it but moved to try to take control after it started in 1963. Whilst Konfrontasi suited the agenda of the CIA President Kennedy wanted it to stop. In 1963 he arranged to visit Indonesia early in 1964 to join with President Sukarno to bring it to an end using their considerable combined personal charisma to achieve it through popular support of the Indonesian people.
According to the USA ambassador in Jakarta at the time President Sukarno was in accord with President Kennedy. However Kennedy was assassinated on 22nd November 1963. Konfrontasi continued.
On 17th August 1964 Indonesia landed a small military force on the west coast of Peninsula Malaysia. On 2nd September 1964 Indonesian paratroopers dropped into the same general area. That incursion drew into Konfrontasi the Australian and New Zealand battalions based in Terendak Camp near Malacca. The Indonesians were quickly killed or captured.
Attention then focused entirely on operations in Borneo rising to a peak in 1965 and gradually decreasing through the early part of 1966. Konfrontasi formally ended on 11th August 1966.
Konfrontasi was largely a political action rather than a concerted military one. It was started by Indonesia’s foreign minister. The Indonesian military initially welcomed it for it enabled them to gain more manpower and resources to build their own power base compared to the other two powers, the political elite (and President Sukarno) and the PKI (Communist Party). The military did not however commit to Konfrontasi with any enthusiasm for the PKI was its main concern. Its best and most loyal units were retained in Java where they were held in preparation to put down any communist uprising.
General Suharto (later President Suharto) who at the time was commander of the army’s strategic command (KOSTRAD) was deputed by his pro-American anti-communist superiors to effectively sabotage Konfrontasi. He initiated secret negotiations with British officials in 1964 even before the landings in Peninsula Malaysia. The landings themselves, being extremely limited in manpower and especially in logistic support, cannot be construed as a serious military invasion but as an act of political provocation (i.e. Konfrontasi).
In 1965 (before 1 RNZIR’s first deployment to Borneo) Suharto had his envoys in Singapore assure the British that the Indonesian Armed Forces did not intend to invade Malaysia. He was also responsible for the operational aspects on Konfrontasi in Borneo and elsewhere. He deliberately starved Indonesia’s units deployed along its border with Sarawak of manpower and resources. Units in Sumatra were denied the naval assets they needed to invade across the Malacca Straits to West Malaysia. However British Intelligence and military action in Borneo, including its cross border “Claret” operations ensured a high level of operational activity throughout most of 1965.
Given that Britain’s primary concern was to drive the Sultan of Brunei into the British camp, and to drive Sarawak into federation with Malaya, and given that Indonesia’s military didn’t actually intend to invade Malaysia, Konfrontasi was to all intents and purposes a phoney war. It was a phoney war on both sides.
After the tumultuous Gerakan-30 September Movement (G-30-S) in 1965, in which six pro-American anti-communist generals were killed by a joint PKI-military action and after which General Suharto assumed command of the armed forces and effective control of President Sukarno, formal negotiations with Britain and Malaysia began, ending in the agreement in August 1966 that recognised the nation of Malaysia.
“The Genesis of Konfrontasi” describes the events leading up to Konfrontasi and does not cover any of the subsequent hostilities and operations described above.
The Role of Dr Subandrio
Foreign Minister Dr Subandrio was the leader of Jakarta’s political elite and regarded himself as the president-in-waiting. He had some influence in Britain having been ambassador in London from 1950 to 1954. After the “G-30-S” 1965 bloodbath in Indonesia when several generals were killed he was accused of complicity and sentenced to death. He refused to ask General Suharto for clemency and it was the British Foreign Office that arranged a plea for clemency in the names of Queen Elizabeth II and US President Lyndon B. Johnson. He then spent 20 years in prison and lived for another nine years. Dr Subandrio was the main agitator for Konfrontasi against Malaysia and therefore against Britain and he was the man who declared it. That was an extraordinary plea on behalf of a former enemy unless there was a deeper connection, perhaps an Intelligence connection.
- “Subandrio was instrumental in creating conditions that led to the Brunei rebellion and the start of Konfrontasi, and that his motivation and also SIFE’s [British Intelligence] motivation was that, as the acknowledged deputy, he would soon replace President Sukarno whose health was deteriorating”.
Dr Subandrio used his leading involvement in the first anti-colonial campaign against the Netherlands and his lead role in the second campaign against Malaysia to promote his own credentials as the replacement for President Sukarno. And Sukarno’s replacement was the second item on the Colonial Office agenda. The CIA had other ideas and their preference for a military government came to pass.
In the last chapter of the book Dr Poulgrain explores the evidence for collusion between Subandrio and British Intelligence to start Konfrontasi and to promote Dr Subandrio’s cause. He presents considerable circumstantial evidence.
In reviewing this book “The Genesis of Konfrontasi” I have drawn on other sources including Dr Poulgrain’s companion book “The Incubus of Intervention” about CIA involvement in Indonesia. Christopher Pugsley’s “From Emergency to Confrontation” was valuable in sourcing information about New Zealand’s involvement in Konfrontasi. “Empire of Secrets, British Intelligence, the Cold War, and the twilight of Empire” by Calder Waldron has been used specifically to fill out information about British Intelligence in the region at the time.
Intelligence is the missing dimension in most geopolitical and military history and it is not until archives are opened 30 or 50 years after the events that the true history is revealed. A case in point is ULTRA, the breaking of the German Enigma codes during WW2, a coup that significantly aided allied victories. That secret was not revealed until 1974 just over 30 years later. In 2012 some Intelligence archives in London were declassified. They covered the period up to the early 1960s but not, it would seem, the machinations behind Konfrontasi.
Hopefully this investigation into the secret history of Konfrontasi some 50 years after the event is just the first. Dr Poulgrain presents an extremely well researched history of the genesis of Konfrontasi not at all consistent with the official history. It is a compelling and very believable version. It will however need to be corroborated by other historians in the years ahead. I hope it is.
For those of us in the military who were involved and who have lived with what may well have been official lies for the last 50 years we need to know the truth. It is somewhat disconcerting to find out that perhaps we were not simply fighting to protect Malaysia from Indonesia, but mainly to ensure that British economic interests in the region were preserved under the control of their preferred political leaders, in the form of nationhood preferred by Britain, regardless of what the people of the region might have wanted for themselves, such as a Kalimantan Utara federation in Borneo under the rule of the Sultan of Brunei.
Much of the evidence of British Intelligence involvement in the genesis of Konfrontasi is conclusive, based on historical archives and first hand accounts. Some is circumstantial, especially the relationship between Dr Subandrio and British Intelligence. It is that aspect that will need further research, and hopefully more Intelligence archives will eventually be declassified. What is certain is that the genesis is murky and nothing like the official version.
The book is so at odds with the official version that I am sure that many in the Establishment, if they ever come across a book published in Malaysia, will label it a crank theory. It deserves more serious consideration than that.
In this review I have related the highlights but there is much more in the detail. The book is packed with the detail of decades of research and is not a quick read. It is however rewarding for those with an interest in the events of that time.
The book is not in ready stock, not even at Amazon, and takes time to be sourced. I heard about it from Dr Poulgrain himself (on Skype) during a presentation on his later (2015) book “The Incubus of Intervention” about the involvement of the CIA in Indonesia. I bought the last copy of “The Genesis of Konfrontasi” online from Amazon and it is currently unavailable.
It is also advertised by a Singapore bookseller, $US17.51 plus postage.
Select Books, Singapore