How the West destroyed Sukarno -The First President of Indonesia
Posted on December 5th, 2018

By Paul Lashmar and James Oliver Courtesy Independent (UK)

UK Foreign Office `dirty tricks’ helped overthrow Indonesia’s President Sukarno in 1966. Over the next 30 years, half a million people died.

In autumn 1965, Norman Reddaway, a lean and erudite rising star of the Foreign Office, was briefed for a special mission. The British Ambassador to Indonesia, Sir Andrew Gilchrist, had just visited London for discussions with the head of the Foreign Office, Joe Garner. Covert operations to undermine Sukarno, the troublesome and independently minded President of Indonesia, were not going well. Garner was persuaded to send Reddaway, the FO’s propaganda expert, to Indonesia. His task: to take on anti-Sukarno propaganda operations run by the Foreign Office and M16. Garner gave Reddaway pounds 100,000 in cash “to do anything I could do to get rid of Sukarno”, he says.

Reddaway thus joined the loose amalgam of groups from the Foreign Office, M16, the State Department and the CIA in the Far East, all striving to depose Sukarno in diffuse and devious ways. For the next six months he and his colleagues chipped away at Sukarno’s regime, undermining his reputation and assisting his enemies in the army. By March 1966 Sukarno’s power base was in tatters and he was forced to hand over his presidential authority to General Suharto, the head of the army, who was already running a campaign of mass murder against alleged communists.

According to Reddaway, the overthrow of Sukarno was one of the Foreign Office’s “most successful” coups, which they have kept a secret until now. The British intervention in Indonesia, alongside complimentary CIA operations, shows how far the Foreign Office was prepared to go in intervening in other countries’ affairs during the Cold War. Indonesia was important both economically and strategically. In 1952 the US noted that if Indonesia fell out of Western influence, neighbours such as Malaya might follow, resulting in the loss of the “principal world source of natural rubber and tin and a producer of petroleum and other strategically important commodities”.

The Japanese occupation during the Second World War, which to the Indonesians amounted to another period of colonial rule, had revitalised the nationalist movement which after the war, declared independence and assumed power. Ahmed Sukarno became Indonesia’s first president. Western concern regarding Sukarno’s regime grew owing to the strength of the Indonesian communist party, the PKI, which at its peak had a membership of over 10 million, the largest communist party in the non-communist world. Concerns were not allayed by Sukarno’s internal and external policies, including nationalising Western assets and a governmental role for the PKI.

By the early Sixties Sukarno had become a major thorn in the side of both the British and the Americans. They believed there was a real danger that Indonesia would fall to the communists. To balance the army’s growing power, Sukarno aligned himself closer to the PKI.

The first indication of British interest in removing Sukarno appears in a CIA memorandum of 1962. Prime Minister Macmillan and President Kennedy agreed to “liquidate President Sukarno, depending on the situation and available opportunities”.

In 1963 his objections crystallised in his policy of Konfrontasi, a breaking off of all relations with Malaysia, soon coupled with low-level military intervention. A protracted border war began along the 700-mile-long front in Borneo.

 According to Foreign Office sources the decision to get rid of Sukarno had been taken by Macmillan’s Conservative government and carried through during Wilson’s 1964 Labour government. The Foreign Office had worked in conjunction with their American counterparts on a plan to oust the turbulent Sukarno. A covert operation and psychological warfare strategy was instigated, based at Phoenix Park, in Singapore, the British headquarters in the region. The M16 team kept close links with key elements in the Indonesian army through the British Embassy. One of these was Ali Murtopo, later General Suharto’s intelligence chief, and M16 officers constantly travelled back and forth between Singapore and Jakarta.

The Foreign Office’s Information Research Department (IRD) also worked out of Phoenix Park, reinforcing the work of M16 and the military psychological warfare experts.

IRD had been established by the Labour government in 1948 to conduct an anti-communist propaganda war against the Soviets, but had swiftly become enlisted in various anti-independence movement operations in the declining British Empire. By the Sixties, IRD had a staff of around 400 in London and information officers around the world influencing media coverage in areas of British interest.

According to Roland Challis, the BBC correspondent at the time in Singapore, journalists were open to manipulation by IRD, owing, ironically, to Sukarno’s own policies: “In a curious way, by keeping correspondents out of the country Sukarno made them the victims of official channels, because almost the only information you could get was from the British ambassador in Jakarta.” The opportunity to isolate Sukarno and the PKI came in October 1965 when an alleged PKI coup attempt was the pretext for the army to sideline Sukarno and eradicate the PKI. Who exactly instigated the coup and for what purposes remains a matter of speculation. However, within days the coup had been crushed and the army was firmly in control. Suharto accused the PKI of being behind the coup, and set about suppressing them.

Following the attempted coup Britain set about exploiting the situation. On 5 October, Alec Adams, political adviser to the Commander-in-Chief, Far East, advised the Foreign Office: “We should have no hesitation in doing what we can surreptitiously to blacken the PKI in the eyes of the army and the people of Indonesia.” The Foreign Office agreed and suggested “suitable propaganda themes” such as PKI atrocities and Chinese intervention.

One of the main themes pursued by IRD was the threat posed by the PKI and “Chinese communists”. Newspaper reports continually emphasised the danger of the PKI. Drawing upon their experience in Malaya in the Fifties, the British emphasised the Chinese nature of the communist threat. Roland Challis said: “One of the more successful things which the West wished on to the non-communist politicians in Indonesia was to transfer the whole idea of communism onto the Chinese minority in Indonesia. It turned it into an ethnic thing. It is a terrible thing to have done to incite the Indonesians to rise and slaughter the Chinese.”

But it was the involvement of Sukarno with the PKI in the bloody months following the coup that was to be the British trump card. According to Reddaway: “The communist leader, Aidit, went on the run and Sukarno, being a great politician, went to the front of the palace and said that the communist leader Aidit must be hunted down and brought to justice. From the side door of the palace, he was dealing with him every day by courier.”

This information was revealed by the signal intelligence of Britain’s GCHQ. The Indonesians didn’t have a clue about radio silence and this double-dealing was picked up by GCHQ; the British had its main eavesdropping base in Hong Kong tuned into events in Indonesia.

The discrediting of Sukarno was of fundamental importance. Sukarno remained a respected and popular leader against whom Suharto could not move openly until the conditions were right. The constant barrage of bad international coverage and Sukarno’s plummeting political position fatally undermined him. On 10 March 1966, Sukarno was forced to sign over his powers to General Suharto. Now perceived as closely associated with the attempted coup and the PKI, Sukarno had been discredited to the point where the army felt able to act. The PKI was eliminated as a significant force and a pro-Western military dictatorship firmly established.

It was not long before Suharto quietly ended the inactive policy of Konfrontasi resulting in a swift improvement in Anglo-Indonesian relations, which continue to be close to this day.

From: `Britain’s Secret Propaganda War 1948-77′, by Paul Lashmar and James Oliver, to be published by Sutton on 7 December

8 Responses to “How the West destroyed Sukarno -The First President of Indonesia”

  1. Randeniyage Says:

    This article does not pay any importance to the fact that Indonesia was a Dutch colony prior to Japanese occupation and the influence of the Dutch and Islam.
    Soekarno’s association with the communists (PKI) made him gradually unpopular because communism doesn’t allow religions ( those days – remember JVP failure). Even the Catholics were worried and communism and socialism is not popular in Indonesia because of this. This is the main cause of premature ending of Sukarno’s rule. Even the majority of the minority Chinese are strong Catholics. British conspiracy, may be, but religion paid the major part ( and may be British made use of that too )
    Even today, speaking to general Indonesian public what I see is their strong liking to Westerners. You cannot see Gonibilla dresses in Jakarta like in Colombo.

  2. Nimal Says:

    I have business and family relations there from the Chinese community. They suffered terribly in 65/66 and they were all branded as PKI supporters and communists. One of the biggest massacres happened there. To start the massacre and upheaval they massacred 7 generals and dumped them in to a well. Since then the military turned against the Chinese community who were peaceful and hard working. Some didn’t like the natural wealth of the country to fall into the hands Maoists.Indonisia are blessed with a lot of natural recourses. At present they are been very much influenced by the countries like Saudi,propergating their type of Islam.

  3. NeelaMahaYoda Says:

    Sukarno was the leader of his country’s struggle for Independence from the Netherlands. He was a prominent leader of Indonesia’s nationalist movement during the Dutch colonial period, and spent over a decade under Dutch detention until released by the invading Japanese forces. Sukarno and his fellow nationalists collaborated to garner support for the Japanese war effort from the population, in exchange for Japanese aid in spreading nationalist ideas. Upon Japanese surrender, Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta declared Indonesian independence on 17 August 1945, and Sukarno was appointed as first president. Author Pramoedya Ananta Toer once wrote “Sukarno was the only Asian leader of the modern era able to unify people of such differing ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds without shedding a drop of blood.

    Sukarno’s father was Raden Soekemi Sosrodihardjo, a Muslim aristocrat and school teacher from Java. His mother, Ida Ayu Nyoman Rai, was a Hindu of the Brahmin caste from Bali. In 1943 Sukarno married for the third time a teenager named Fatmawati. Fatmawati had five children, including Indonesia’s first female president, Megawati Sukarnoputri.

    The early 1960s saw Sukarno veering Indonesia to the left by providing support and protection to the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) to the irritation of the military and Islamists. He also embarked on a series of aggressive foreign policies under the rubric of anti-imperialism, with aid from the Soviet Union and China.

    Although Sukarno seemed to have Indonesia gripped in a mailed fist, his military/Communist support coalition was fragile. The military resented the rapid growth of Communism and began to seek out an alliance with Islamist leaders who also disliked the pro-atheism communists. Sensing that the military was growing disillusioned, Sukarno rescinded martial law in 1963 to curb the army’s power.

    In April of 1965, conflict between the military and communists increased when Sukarno supported communist leader Aidit’s call to arm the Indonesian peasantry. USand British intelligence may or may not have established contacts with the military in Indonesia to explore the possibility of bringing Sukarno down. Meanwhile, the ordinary people suffered enormously as hyperinflation spiked to 600 percent;

    On October 1, 1965, at the break of day, the pro-communist “30 September Movement” captured and killed six senior army generals. The movement claimed that it acted to protect President Sukarno from an impending army coup. It announced the dissolution of parliament and the creation of a “Revolutionary Council.”

    Major General Suharto of the strategic reserve command took control of the army on October 2, having been promoted to the rank of Army Chief by a reluctant Sukarno, and quickly overcame the communist coup. Suharto and his Islamist allies then led a purge of communists and leftists in Indonesia, killing at least 500,000 people nation-wide, and imprisoning 1.5 million.

    Sukarno sought to maintain his hold on power by appealing to the people over the radio in January of 1966. Massive student demonstrations broke out, and one student was shot dead and made a martyr by the army in February. On March 11, 1966, Sukarno signed a Presidential Order known as the Supersemar that effectively handed control of the country over to General Suharto. Some sources claim that he signed the order at gunpoint.

  4. Randeniyage Says:

    Have you visited Indonesian cities lately ?
    “At present they are been very much influenced by the countries like Saudi,propergating their type of Islam.”
    NOT TRUE. Don’t spread such terrible lies please.

    I have resided in few countries (long -term). Most parts of Indonesia has friendliest and kind general public in the world (much better than most cities of Sri Lanka).
    Surely Saudi Wahabism is trying to catch the whole world, not just Indonesia. Look at Sri lanka. Sri Lanka’s most popular Sinhala-Buddhist leader have betrayed the country to Wahabis money.
    Islamic schools have been set up throughout Indonesia. They dress the girls in black Gonibilla ( without face covered), but you can only see them on Saturdays and also it is a very small minority.
    Because of wide spread poverty, Wahabi money can do a lot of damage.
    But I believe all governments are resisting this.
    Current President is a good man from poor people who doesn’t take bribes. Chinese business people who always bribe to get their projects approve are now being sued and are getting frustrated and are working very hard to get rid of him. But he is very popular in East Java , specially in the special region of Jogja ( Yogyakartaka).
    If you want to see how Buddhist should behave, please visit Indonesia and see for yourself. They use the two hand
    greetings shown on Home page top of this website( Deerghaayu in Indonesian) much more often than in SriLanka.
    Every vendor after selling you some thing will say thank you that way.
    Buddhist culture is still alive in Indonesia more than in Thailand ( I mean the cultured behavior than slogans like in our country).
    We should kick out all present politicians if you want to save our country from Wahabi Islam. It is 100 times wide spread in Sri Lanka than in Indonesia. We should be ashamed how our politicians get rid of even those who bring up this issue ( like Mahason Balakaya and BBS). Mainly Wimal Weerewansa and Vasudeva Nanayakkara did this crime.

  5. Randeniyage Says:

    I must correct that the Alugosuwa who did the killing was Ranil. However WW, VN took the opportunistic advantage of attacking Champika Ranawaka ( branding him as the creator of MB) thereby destroyed both BBS and MB.
    With the current crisis, ISIS has a great advantage and no one to talk about what Wahabis doing.

  6. Randeniyage Says:

    It is Sukarno who twisted the real meaning of the word “Panchaseela” to Islamic way. It is different to even Indian “Panchseel” principles and there is a National Holiday called “Panchseela Day” in Indonesia.

  7. Nimal Says:


    Yes I was there in September as I have a business. If I am wrong then why the Chinese Governor who is a Chinese in Jail?
    Yes their president is a good man and the people are friendly, Hindus and Buddhists live peacefully, also Christians and one could never believe that the locals could turn against the Chinese so violently. My son’s father in law is a practising Chinese Buddhist. One never could trust if your one time good neighbour would turn against you and that happened in Indonesia. I can’t say much more about the 60s and 3 of my burgher friends took their lives, suffered from PTS after they witnessed the events there I don’t want to go back to that time.

  8. Nimal Says:

    We were very much associated with KAMI, did you remember them? It was the Military that killed their own generals to start the ball rolling against Chinese. Some believe in the Monroe doctrine. That place give me creeps and I only go to Batam in the sight of Singapore, all ready to get out, getting a bit cynical.

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