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Indonesia: Next Steps in Military Reform


The first two years after President Soeharto’s fall from power in May 1998 saw substantial changes in the Indonesian National Military (TNI) as it withdrew from direct involvement in political matters. Thereafter reform slowed in the absence of government policy, the TNI’s absorption in security disturbances across the country, and the political crisis that led to the fall of Abdurrahman Wahid from the presidency and the elevation of Megawati Soekarnoputri to that position on 23 July 2001. In an address on 16 August, the day before Indonesia’s national day, President Megawati committed her government to reviving military reform.

The presidential crisis showed the dilemma that continued TNI representation in parliament presents. It is impossible to be represented in parliament and at the same time remain aloof from day-to-day politics, especially at moments of high political drama. Inevitably the TNI was seen to be partisan and thus the integrity of the security forces on the streets was compromised.

This is not to deny that TNI should be deeply engaged in providing advice and assistance with drafting relevant documents but it should not dictate the objectives of the review or its outcomes. There is some concern that in the absence of government policy and with continuing distrust of civilian politicians, TNI has been attempting to control the military reform agenda. For example, referring to the doctrine of total people’s defence in the draft defence law and other legislation, the TNI has begun planning the reshaping of the army territorial organisation. This is a lower order reform that should stem from government policy that determines the future mission, size, shape and organisation of the defence forces rather than being determined by the TNI on the basis of a vague philosophical concept contained in legislation.

The first task of the new government, the legislature, the media and defence interest groups is to monitor the passage of defence legislation to ensure that no time bombs are left that might justify TNI political imperatives or limit government policy options. Effective government leadership is the best hedge against this possibility.

It has been over twenty years since a comprehensive review of defence policy was undertaken. The change of regime, the economic crisis, and the chronic state of the TNI demands a comprehensive review to guide force development, make best use of scarce resources and assets, and reorient it to external defence as internal security imperatives decline. This is an opportunity for government to seize the initiative and regain control of the defence reform agenda.

TNI reformers not only need government policy guidance, they also need to implement reforms that will lead to behavioural changes in the field that are consistent with their declared aspirations. They have gone part of the way by reforming education and training in human rights and rules of engagement but they have yet to impose the penalties for violations of these rules that will force change. President Megawati has committed herself to uphold respect for human rights but it has yet to be seen what this means on the ground, particularly in the troubled provinces of Aceh and Irian Jaya.

Reform of the national and military intelligence organisations will be fundamental to ending their propensity to act independently of civilian political control. Effective intelligence services are an essential element in combating terrorism and internal security challenges but they must be subject to government policy direction and external oversight, and not undermine democratic freedoms. Again, a government review is called for along with legislation to set the ground rules for the operation of the intelligence services, including military intelligence that might be engaged in internal security.

As pointed out in previous reports, no government institution can be reformed in isolation but there is much that can be done in the defence field pending broader reforms that will generate the government funds needed to finance the armed forces. Currently only about a quarter of the defence budget is covered by central government funds. The rest is raised by the military through various legal and illegal means. Without full government funding of the armed forces, declared policy objectives will be distorted by the demands of a diverse band of paymasters.

President Megawati’s commitment to seeking solutions to the various conflicts in Indonesia, if successful, would be an enormous boost to reform across the board, particularly for the military and police. If she is willing to make the concessions necessary to have a chance of success, the international community should be ready to support the search for peaceful solutions to these conflicts.

The scope for foreign assistance for military reform is largely dependent on the TNI’s willingness to commit itself to reform the conduct of its troops in the field. Only then will some members of the international community be able to convince their constituents that they should re-engage with the TNI. Meanwhile, the international community should assist with planning, education and training, and information that might be required to set reform in motion.


1. Initiate a comprehensive review of defence policy.

2. Open military income and expenditure up to public scrutiny by publishing a defence budget.

3. Freeze defence numbers and creation of new reserve forces (cadangan) or militias (ratih), new headquarters, or purchase of major equipment until the defence review is complete.

4. Review the defence and police bills to ensure that they are complementary and not unnecessarily prescriptive.

5. Initiate a review of national intelligence requirements, structures and controls, and legislation.

6. Consider reducing army manpower (by limiting recruitment) as an interim measure to force qualitative reform, especially in the army territorial structure.

7. Pending completion of legislation, produce executive guidance for the employment of the TNI in internal security, law enforcement, and civil assistance tasks.

8. Establish Human Rights Courts, as provided for in the November 2000 law, as soon as possible and prosecute appropriate cases involving military personnel in these courts.

9. Adopt appropriate legislation, including amendment of the Military Courts Act, to provide for the prosecution of military and police personnel for civil crimes in civilian courts.


10. Take firm action to dispel the common impression that the TNI is protecting personnel from prosecution for human rights offences, including by vigorously applying the law.

11. Implement proposed reforms of the army headquarters foundation and extend them to all TNI foundations and cooperatives.

12. Capitalise on the TNI’s improved public image and consider initiating withdrawal from the legislature after the draft defence law is passed into law.


13. Maintain existing limits on cooperation until there is evidence of effective punishment of human rights abuses but provide assistance with legislative drafting, planning, education and training, and software that might help with policy reviews and professional management of reform.

Jakarta/Brussels, 11 October 2001


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