Indonesian Military and Defense: Democratization and Challenges
(Washington D.C.) March 12– Indonesia’s government and military has experienced great change in the past decade as Indonesia attempts to transform itself into a globalized democracy with regional influence. In order for Indonesia to secure itself from external and internal threats, however, it must make significant investments in its military and police forces. In an East-West Center in Washington Asia Pacific Security Seminar, Ms. Connie Rahakundini Bakrie, executive director, and Mr. Sidratahta Mukhtar, senior researcher, of the Institute of Defense and Security Studies (IODAS) in Indonesia discussed the security threats facing Indonesia and the measures necessary to develop a more secure Indonesia.
During the Suharto regime, Indonesia experienced economic growth, improved living standards, and industrialization. However, much of Suharto’s power stemmed from the military, which was accused of serious human rights violations during and after the invasion of East Timor. Subsequent revelations of embezzlement and human rights abuses by Suharto, coupled with an economic crisis, public protests, and an ultimately unsupportive military, pushed Suharto from power. Following this, the Indonesian people criticized the old political system and began implementing democratic and economic reforms. Ms. Bakrie explained that a legacy of the Suharto era is a distrust of the military, causing the Indonesian people to see the military as an enemy. Consequently, Indonesians began separating the idea of ‘security’ from ‘defense,’ leading to a functional separation of the police from the military and, according to Ms. Bakrie, a continued effort to decrease military spending, authority, and activities.
Ms. Bakrie cautioned, however, that while Indonesia marginalizes the military, the situation in Southeast Asia demands greater investment in Indonesian defense. Indonesia, made up of numerous islands, is located at a convergence of sea lanes and regional interests. A vast majority of the world’s oil is transported through Indonesia’s waters, and regional governments worry about piracy and terrorist threats in the same sea lanes. The waters around Indonesia are rich with natural resources, included oil, natural gas, and fisheries, yet Indonesia is unable to fully exploit or protect these resources. Additionally, the close proximity of many nations in this region has led to numerous territorial disputes, and most of these nations, including China and India, continue to develop maritime security capabilities that far outstrip Indonesia’s. Due to these and other threats, Ms. Bakrie argued that Indonesia needs to make significantly higher investment into its military in order to secure its territory and interests.
Ms. Bakrie explained that Indonesia’s military expenditures continue to be quite low by regional standards, despite Indonesia’s status as one of the largest nations in the region. The majority of these expenditures are for routine items like salaries and maintenance: there is little money left for development and acquisition of necessary defensive items. Ms. Bakrie argued that Indonesia must significantly increase its spending, investing not only in equipment but also in the training and development of military forces in order to create a professional, outward looking, strong military force. Further, she called for the development of an Indonesian National Security Council to increase the military’s effectiveness and enhance understanding and cooperation between military and civilian sectors.
Another challenge for Indonesia is how to best govern and support its police force. Mr. Mukhtar noted that there is confusion over the boundaries between the role of the police and the role of the military and that the two organizations do not cooperate well together. Additionally, though the police are regarded by the public as politically neutral, questions remain about corruption and effective oversight of this service. Indonesia also continues to struggle to define the role of the police within its borders
The changes that Ms. Bakrie and Mr. Mukhtar argue are necessary will not come easily. Many in Indonesia continue to worry about allowing the military too much power and influence due to past human rights abuses. Ms. Bakrie noted, however, that at some point Indonesia will have to overcome the past and begin looking to the future, towards the development of a trustworthy, professional military that can protect the economic and security interests of the people. Further concerns are linked to the ability of Indonesia to make the investments required to advance its armed forces, as the financial crisis and Indonesia’s status as a developing country put restrictions on the funds available for such investments. Despite these obstacles, Ms. Bakrie and Mr. Mukhtar argued that Indonesia cannot remain competitive economically, influential regionally, or secure nationally without considerable investments in Indonesia’s military and police forces.
Connie Rahakundini Bakrie is the executive director of the Institute of Defense and Security Studies (IODAS) in Indonesia. She is also lecturer in political science in the Faculty of Social and Political Science at the University of Indonesia. Ms. Bakrie is the author of numerous books and articles and is a contributor to the Indonesian journals Media Indonesia and Intelligence and Counterintelligence . Her new book on Indonesian security issues, Defending Indonesia , was published in March 2009.
Sidratahta Mukhtar is a senior researcher at the Institute of Defense and Security Studies (IODAS) in Indonesia. He is an assistant professor of politics and security at the Indonesian Police Staff College and a lecturer in Indonesian politics and foreign policy in the department of international relations at the Indonesian Christian University in Jakarta.