Indonesia's Military Culture Has to Be Reformed
International Herald Tribune, 24 July 2001
Despite the continuing turmoil in Indonesia, foreign governments have quietly been reviewing their ties to the country's military. They have a real dilemma.
The United States, France, Britain and Australia all hope to maintain some level of influence with Jakarta, and to help the troubled nation and its military move toward reform.
On the other hand, there is the often glaring pattern of human rights abuses by the Indonesian military. I am one of those who has to acknowledge, as Australia's foreign minister at the time, that many of our earlier training efforts helped only to produce more professional human rights abusers.
Almost all military training and arms sales to Jakarta ended as a result of the violence and destruction that the military helped perpetrate in East Timor after the overwhelming vote by East Timorese for independence in 1999. Since then, more signs of social disintegration have appeared in other parts of the archipelago. For weeks, a presidential crisis has been paralyzing the political system.
Secessionist or communal violence remains a major threat to security in several provinces, particularly Aceh, Irian Jaya and Maluku. The military and police have not performed well in any of these places.
The European Union lifted its ban on arms sales only four months after September 1999. France led the sales push, followed by Britain. Australia, which was never a major arms supplier to Indonesia, is likely to limit any assistance to noncombat areas. Even at the lowest points of the political confrontation over East Timor, Australia maintained, for reasons that I can well understand, a skeleton military relationship with Indonesia. In its 2000-2001 budget it allocated military aid of $2.38 million for Indonesian officer education, noncombat training and maritime and air surveillance.
The Bush administration wants to expand military training programs and has undertaken an overall review of its military assistance policies toward Indonesia. The results of this review have yet to be made public. Any major shift in U.S. policy would send important signals about Washington's perspective on the future of Indonesian mili- itary reform and the role of the military in Indonesian society. Unfortunately, Indonesia has not taken effective measures to bring to justice members of the armed forces and militia groups against whom there is credible evidence of human rights abuses in East Timor and Indonesia itself. Several investigations have been started. Charges have been pressed against a number of lower-ranking field officers, but convictions have been few. None involve senior officers, and a general culture of impunity still exists within the armed forces and among militia leaders. Several officers who held command positions in East Timor in 1999 have received promotions. Six Timorese arrested in connection with the killings in September of three staff members of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in West Timor received sentences ranging from 10 to 20 months in what the UNHCR quickly labeled "a mockery." Human rights abuses continue in Aceh, Irian Jaya and elsewhere in Indonesia.
Other problems are more deeply structural. Indonesia's armed forces are built around a territorial structure that deploys forces throughout the country more or less shadowing the civil government. It is estimated that only 25 to 30 percent of the military's funding comes from the government budget. The military must raise the rest on its own.
This desperately corrupting dynamic has severely distorted the capacity of the Indonesian armed forces to operate in anything approaching a satisfactory relationship with the government and society they are supposed to serve.
Changing the way the military is financed and thereby producing a genuine security budget will be one of Indonesia's most difficult internal reforms.
While it is probably too much to expect anyone to provide direct budgetary support for the military (although the World Bank should certainly consider this), outside players can have a constructive role here.
First and foremost, the United States and other donors should insist that providing any future assistance or training be predicated on the Indonesian government making the military's entire budget and expenditures a matter of public record. Such transparency is a bare minimum to be expected from any modern military operating in a democratic system.
Other useful short-term barometers for providing assistance could include progress on accountability for human rights abuses. This should be monitored throughout Indonesia, including Aceh and Irian Jaya, and not only focused on past activities in East Timor. Large-scale sales or transfers of arms from the United States are not justified until Indonesia shows major improvements in stemming human rights abuses. Exemptions for spare parts for some existing equipment should be judged on a case-by-case basis.
Some modest training programs could be resumed if the Indonesian government demonstrates progress toward reform and accountability. Officer training programs can help, particularly those focused on creating a new military culture and in particular instilling respect for civilian control.
Most importantly, international military ties with Indonesia must be viewed through the wider optic of reform facing the central government in Jakarta as a whole. The Indonesian military does not operate in a vacuum.
Efforts to reform the security services will not succeed unless accompanied by credible efforts by the government to combat corruption, decentralize power, promote the rule of law and bring much needed transparency to all public institutions.
The writer, who was Australia's foreign minister from 1988 to 1996, is president of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. He contributed this comment to the International Herald Tribune.