Indonesian-U.S. Military Ties
As Indonesia continues to struggle with its ongoing presidential crisis and secessionist violence in Aceh and Irian Jaya, the Bush Administration has undertaken an overall review of its military assistance policies toward Indonesia. While the results of this review have yet to made public (and will likely depend in some measure on the Indonesian military’s behaviour during the resolution of the Presidential crisis) any major shift in U.S. policy will send important signals regarding Washington’s perspective toward the future of Indonesian military reform, the role of the military in Indonesian society and the military’s conduct in dealing with internal turmoil. Further, the ongoing U.S. appropriations process will also invite Congress to weigh in with its views on these same topics during the next several months. So, while the outcome of such policy reviews remain in doubt, it is clear that the evolving role of the Indonesian military will be a key factor in determining that country’s long-term prospects for stability.
The potential scale of military cooperation between the United States and Indonesia remains relatively modest in the immediate term and will likely continue to be constrained by a patchwork of existing U.S. legislation and Indonesia’s own financial and bureaucratic disarray. However expanding the scope of arms sales and military training programs has taken on important symbolic significance in security quarters in both Jakarta and Washington where such cooperation is often viewed as a barometer of U.S.-Indonesian relations. Ultimately, the issue of the bilateral military relationship is one of politics, status and perception as much as security. Further, Indonesia’s frequent shortcomings in bringing to justice perpetrators of gross human rights abuses within the ranks of its own military, and the continued need for Indonesia to pursue broader military reforms as it struggles to cope with separatist and other violent conflicts, raise important questions regarding how best to manage military ties.
This briefing addresses several core points. First, it offers a report card on Indonesia’s relative progress in meeting the U.S. Congressional conditions imposed on International Military Education and Training (IMET) programs and Foreign Military Financing by amendments to the 2001 Foreign Operations appropriations bill. Secondly, it assesses the relative U.S. interests involved in the bilateral military relationship and highlights the approaches that Australia, Britain and France have taken to arms sales and military training for Indonesia. Thirdly, the paper weighs the appropriateness of renewed arms sales and the types of training and assistance most needed by the Indonesian National Military (TNI) in the current security environment. Lastly, it recommends guidelines and practical benchmarks that might be applied to the provision of future assistance to ensure that Indonesia meets reasonable standards of reform, transparency and accountability. It focuses on U.S. relations because of that country’s close ties to the Indonesian military throughout the 1990s and the deep historical roots of the military partnership. The Indonesian government has repeatedly expressed interest in purchases of U.S. arms and expanding military-to-military links and training programs with the Pentagon. In January 2001, Indonesian Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab told reporters, “I am optimistic that the military sanctions will be lifted because the Bush government is more pragmatic and realistic”. In March, Foreign Minister Shihab asked the Bush Administration to renew military assistance while visiting Washington to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Deputy Secretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz. Such aid has largely been cut off since 1999 in reaction to Indonesian military abuses in East Timor. Complaining that the lack of military assistance was hampering Jakarta’s efforts to stem separatism, Minister Shihab stressed Washington’s interest in ensuring Indonesia’s territorial integrity.
At an April air show in Jakarta, Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid lashed out against what he viewed as slow progress by Washington on lifting its arms embargo: “We should not surrender to intimidation from anyone”. President Wahid suggested that Indonesia would need to purchase weapons from other more willing nations and, “We don’t need to depend on one country”. Defence Minister Mohammad Mahfud and other Indonesian officials have insisted that a shortage of spare parts for U.S.-manufactured “Hercules” transport planes has limited their ability to contain instability and violence across Indonesia, although U.S. officials counter that a waiver for these specific spare parts was granted in September 2000. Despite the grumbling, the Indonesian government remains keen to repair its relations with the U.S. military.
For its part, the Bush Administration is receptive to improving ties with the Indonesian military, albeit realistic about some of the U.S. Congressional hurdles that must be addressed for that to happen and concerned by the ongoing presidential crisis in Jakarta. When questioned in January during his confirmation hearings about arms sales to Indonesia, Secretary of State Powell argued, “Every nation has the right of legitimate self-defence, and if they don't buy it from us, they have many other sources in which they can get such weapons”. However, the Secretary of State also added that he would need to study the issue further. The Commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, Admiral Dennis Blair, has repeatedly made clear his desire to engage the Indonesian military more closely. The U.S. Administration has also requested an expansion of IMET programs for Indonesia, and undertaken an across the board review of its military assistance strategy toward Indonesia.
Jakarta/Washington/Brussels, 17 July 2001