Military reform: Is Indonesia’s enemy outside or within?

Military reform: Is Indonesia’s enemy outside or within? AFP Photo/Alex Widojo/Anadolu Agency

The basic tenet of military reform is repositioning the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) completely under the control of our civilian government. Once the military has undergone reform, it should only focus on defense against external threats, unless the president orders otherwise. The most significant obstacle to TNI reform since the reformasi era has been that reform of the political authority that oversees the military has lagged behind reform of the military itself. Many in the military have not been able to move on from the idea that the TNI should be the sole guardian of the nation and focus on domestic threats.

Under Indonesia’s 1945 Constitution, the Indonesian Armed Forces should function as the state’s instrument in defending, protecting and maintaining the unity and sovereignty of the state. The Indonesian police, meanwhile, are a state instrument tasked with maintaining security and order, protecting and serving the people, as well as enforcing the law. If we see the beginning of reforms in 1998 – 20 years ago – as a point of departure, then they should have been continued until completed. At that time, there were some crucial things that needed to be changed as part of the reform process that had not been fully carried out. In some cases, the reform movement even experienced a decline due to the nature of Indonesia’s new democracy. We cannot blame this on someone or something. The context of a transition to democracy has resulted in conditions that we should be cautious of, that might make reform of the security sector stall or even regress.

The obstacle is that in the transition to democracy in Indonesia, we have not had an effective civilian authority order, while civilian authority is actually the body that should launch reforms or continue to reform the military. If we look at history and compare it with today, which institution has undertaken a thorough reform in Indonesia, in the framework of democratic transition? Only one, the TNI, and nothing else. Why? Because the TNI carried out reforms that were initiated by itself. Therefore, it was said to be internal reform. And what about the civilian authority at that time? When President Soeharto resigned, Indonesia, in the political domain, was strategically stunned: everyone
was caught unprepared. “Pak Harto backing down? Really?” No one was ready. Who would replace him? So, the political authority was stunned and unprepared. And only at least a year after he resigned in May 1998 were they able to complete the plan to amend the 1945 Constitution as a further step of political reform. Meanwhile, the military had taken its own steps to reform its internal structure.

Ideally, security sector reforms should be implemented and controlled by an effective

In the transition to democracy in Indonesia, we have not had an effective civil authority order, while civilian authority is actually the body that should launch reforms or continue to reform the military.

political authority. But what happened was that the security sector and political authority were reforming themselves at the same time, and eventually the political authority lagged behind. The TNI did it first. The amendment of the 1945 Constitution came after the TNI was reformed. The TNI reforms were carried out from 1998 to 2002. The amendments to the 1945 Constitution took place from 1999
to 2002.

So, practically, political reforms only started in 2004. Now, the problem was: who controlled the military reform movement? The civilian authorities were not functioning effectively. It was even unclear and the subject of debate as to who controlled civilian reforms. So, there was no one to control the military reform effort, and no roadmap to determine its follow-up. There were some plans and also plans for political reforms based on the amendments, but overall, the 1998 reformasi movement was such a startling strategic shock that we did not ideally plan what steps to take next. So that’s the constraint: because reform of the military and political authority happened simultaneously, it was not clear who controlled whom. And no one was in control of the military reforms. It is fortunate that the Indonesian nation has a good military that was able to control its own internal reform.

Let’s take a moment to explain the relationship of the Indonesian Armed Forces with civilian authorities. In a democracy, power is held by civilian officers or elected public officials. Why? Because they are elected by the people, and as such, they hold the people’s mandate. They can make political decisions because they have a mandate from the people as a form of people’s sovereignty. What does this mean? No matter how valiant a TNI commander is, whether he wears a green, red, purple or orange beret, he never holds a political mandate, because he is not elected by the people. He is the instrument of the president. As an analogy, we can consider the TNI chief as a chauffeur. Although he holds the weapon – and the weapon is more often held by the commander of the TNI – the instrument is actually still the instrument of the president. Likewise, although the chauffeur more often holds the steering wheel of the car, we should remember that the car is owned by the employer. So, the chauffeur who drives the car only drives the car under the orders of the employer.

That’s basically how the military commander should be positioned in relation to the president. In a democracy, power lies in the hands of public officials elected by the people. The civilian authority is said to have supremacy over the military authority, because it can deploy the TNI. The military cannot
give orders to the president.

But the concept of civilian supremacy should not be understood as civilians having control over the military, because this civilian supremacy is only about the way authority flows through the public policy-making pipeline regarding defense. That policy comes
from those who have political authority, and is carried out functionally by the main operational actor, the TNI. So, any goal in the TNI’s duties always contains political objectives, and this is in accordance with the law regarding the tasks performed by militaries everywhere. The TNI’s goals always contain political aspects and are within the framework of political objectives.

That said, there’s no reason the Indonesian military should do anything outside of its external defense function unless the president orders otherwise. The primary mission of the military is basically to engage in combat missions to defend the sovereignty of the state and the integrity of our national territory against external military aggressions. A military force is never designed to be a law enforcement force in the internal affairs of the state. It is also healthy to keep the military away from any involvement in politics. But the military can be brought in to assist civilian authorities during peacetime by order of the president. A change in role and authority can be brought about by the declaration of a state of military or war emergency. 

Culturally, the Indonesian military’s mind-set cannot completely move away from domestic security. This is especially true within the Army. They are always preoccupied with domestic issues. If people talk about the South China Sea or where external threats are coming from, they are not enthusiastic enough. But when talking about Papua and Aceh – perceived domestic threats to the nation – they become excited and very agitated. We are not yet able to divert our energy from a domestic orientation, which was the main orientation of the Indonesian military in the past, to analyze possible external threats in the future.

At the same time, the National Police has shown considerable progress. The point is, they are willing to learn, and were greatly assisted by the Australian Federal Police after the 2002 Bali bombings. From then onward, the police have progressed considerably through learning. Under the presidency of Joko Widodo, there is also one important thing that

We are not yet able to divert our energy from a domestic orientation, which was the main orientation of the Indonesian military in the past, to analyze possible external threats in the future.

we need to observe, namely, that the president has given political backing for the police to carry out their law enforcement duties. This includes President Joko’s declaration that “no mass organization is allowed to do ‘sweeping’” – or unlawful raids that often include violence. If there is a mass organization that does “sweeping,” it will be dealt with by the police. That gives political backing and morale for the police to act, as compared to previous presidents who did not give clear political support to the police to carry out law enforcement. In 2016, the police took action to stop Muslim groups who threateningly trolled shopping malls to make sure Muslim employees were not being forced to wear Christmas-style
clothing.

The Armed Forces are learning as well. The process of military education can be a means for communicating and transmitting the concept of reform within the TNI, but it is not the material source of reform. Because education lags behind the institution, it is not possible for education to be more advanced than the institution. Where did the source of education come from? Frankly, from abroad. People who want to make progress must havesome access to comparisons. When one has no comparison, one cannot say, “How valuable isthis right now?” But if one has that, one can
say, “This is valued at eight, this at four.” Sothis comes from education abroad, particularly from the United States’ International MilitaryEducation and Training program, which many
Indonesian military officers have gone through. This was unfortunately closed to Indonesia for a number of years due to alleged human rights abuses in East Timor and elsewhere; it was a regretful act by Washington, because generations of officers were denied access to the program’s benefits.

The Indonesian Armed Forces had to – and still does – look elsewhere, including to China and Russia, for military weaponry, as we don’t want to be solely dependent on the United States, despite our continuing good relations.

But that has come with its own issues. It is clear that the Chinese economic slice of the global economic pie is getting bigger and bigger. The question is, with a bigger slice, what will it be used for? The tendency for countries that feel they are becoming increasingly capable is that they will have the desire to extend their influence. So how is China going to expand its influence in the context of the world today? Will China expand it through peaceful means or through military
power?

We see, for example, the development of the concept of the Maritime Silk Road through the We are not yet able to divert our energy from a domestic orientation, which was the main orientation of the Indonesian military in the past, to analyze possible external threats in the future. One Belt, One Road initiative. That actually is a non-offensive, nonmilitary way to extend its influence to other countries. So we need to see how China will use its economic advantage and whether it will cause disturbances to other balancing forces in the Asia-Pacific region. We also have to see how countries in the region are going to persuade Beijing not to transform its economic ability into military power, and convince it to make more contributions to world peace as a responsible global citizen instead.



"Lt Gen (Ret) Agus Widjojo is the governor of Indonesia’s National Resilience Institute and a member of Strategic Review’s advisory board. This essay, the second in a two-part series, was adapted from an interview with the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies-Yusof Ishak Institute."

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