The ‘Know Your Region’ series is designed to support unit and individual professional military education on the Indo-Pacific region. It’s important for all serving members of our military to have a foundational knowledge of the countries and issues in our region.

On this Page:

  • Summary
  • The Brunei Revolt
  • Indonesia-Malay Confrontation


Brunei’s history is deeply entwined with that of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore as each nation’s borders and sovereignty have shifted throughout their shared history. The United Kingdom also plays a significant part in the story of Brunei and in the region due to its former policy of colonisation. Brunei became a British protectorate in 1888 and gained full independence almost 100 years later in 1984. The outcome of the Brunei revolt and Indonesia-Malay confrontation has shaped the region into what it is today.

The Brunei Revolt

In 1962 the northern part of the island of Borneo consisted of three British colonies known as Sarawak, North Borneo, and the protectorate of the Sultanate of Brunei. Negotiations had been underway for some years between Malaya, Singapore, North Borneo, Sarawak, and the UK for the creation of the Federation of Malaysia. Over this time anti-federation sentiment had grown, particularly in Brunei and Sarawak.

The Brunei Revolt and Indonesian Confrontation had their origins in Indonesian opposition to the creation of the Federation of Malaysia and their own plans for a greater Indonesia. The proposed Federation of Malaysia aimed to unite the mainly Malay-populated states of the Malayan Peninsula with the former British colonies of Singapore, Brunei, Sarawak, and North Borneo. In order to destabilise the process, Indonesian President Sukarno actively supported The North Kalimantan National Army (TNKU) in their aim of overthrowing the Sultan of Brunei and uniting the whole of Borneo under Indonesian rule.

The United Kingdom quickly came to the defence of its commonwealth former colonies by sending forces to rescue hostages and re-capture strategic terrain. The 42 Commando Royal Marines later assaulted Limbang and re-captured a TNKU-held police station. Around 3,400 militia were captured with the remainder fleeing into the jungle.

The Malaysian Federation was formed on 16 September 1963. Brunei remained a sovereign Sultanate and Singapore later seceded from the agreement in 1965 at the invitation of the Malaysian Government, largely due to ethnic differences.

Malay-Indonesia Confrontation

In January 1963, Indonesia declared a policy of Konfrontasi, with the aim of breaking up the new federation by engaging in economic, political, and military action without directly declaring war.

In 1964, mobs in Jakarta attacked the Malayan Embassy and burned down the British Embassy. Alongside other commonwealth forces, Australia initially joined the effort to protect Malaysia’s independence in a defensive capacity by providing materials and training. This changed in 1965 when Indonesian troops began to occupy the sparsely populated border region in North Borneo in an escalation to the conflict. Australia and New Zealand troops took part in patrols and cross border raids to destabilise the Indonesian forces and protect the Malaysian border. By the end of 1965, the commonwealth was gaining the upper hand. The revolt was abandoned in 1966 when Indonesian President Sukarno was overthrown by a coup and General Suharto assumed the role.

Of the 114 Commonwealth soldiers who died because of the confrontation, 22 were Australian. While some were killed in action, others died of incidents such as drownings, motor vehicle accidents, illness, and injuries caused by a wild elephant.

The Brunei revolt was thought to have influenced the Sultan of Brunei’s decision not to join the Malayan federation due to the implication there was widespread opposition to the Malaysian plan amongst the population. Others have speculated that the reason may have been a reluctance to share the country’s vast natural resources.

For further information on the Brunei Revolt, see the resources below:


  1. Institute of Asian Studies – “No Federation Please-We Are Bruneians”
  2. Brief History of the Brunei Revolt and Indonesian Confrontation
  3. Britannica – Malaysia Political Transformation
  4. National Museum Australia – Indonesian Confrontation