Indonesia’s new military chief

General Moeldoko

Here’s the reblog of my latest Strategist post:

On 21 August, the Indonesian House of Representatives endorsed the candidacy of General Moeldoko, Indonesia’s Army Chief, moving him a step closer to becoming commander TNI. With defence ties a key pillar of the Australia–Indonesia bilateral relationship, it’s worth knowing more about the Indonesia’s future military leader (known as ‘Panglima TNI’) and what this means for Australia.

Moeldoko finished top of his class and is generally considered to be a high-performing officer. If his first public statements can be taken to encapsulate his approach to the military, then expect an emphasis on military professionalism and soldier welfare. Moeldoko has promised to improve soldiers’ welfare by increasing their pay by 15%. He also intends to improve soldier discipline, minimise the import of foreign military equipment in order to support Indonesia’s defence industry and remain neutral during the upcoming 2014 elections.

Of particular interest to Australia is Moeldoko’s background, which is free from incidents of human rights abuse. As such, he’ll set a credible example in military professionalism and soldier discipline. There’s only been one minor controversy so far. There have been allegations that in March 2011, soldiers under Moeldoko’s command at the time were involved in encouraging Muslims to occupy Ahmadiyah Muslim mosques (a minority sect of Islam that is unpopular with many Indonesian Muslim groups) to teach Ahmadis the ‘true path’ of Islam. Despite Moeldoko having reportedly expressed some support for the activities, on 20 August, a Human Rights Commission found no evidence to support his direct involvement in that operation. As all incoming military and police chiefs undergo a human rights background check (called a fit-and-proper test), a positive finding would have jeopardise his chances of getting the top job.

With regards to military culture, Moeldoko wants soldiers to remain humble with civilians. And while he admits it might take some time to achieve this, he intends to make changes to the training and education to address what he calls ‘software bugs’ such as a culture of violence and impunity.

Also important has been Moeldoko’s merit-based appointment. It reflects recognition by the country’s political leadership that TNI needs smart and professional officers. Moeldoko is President SBY’s nomination, but suggestions of nepotism are less tenable in this case: he’s well-known as an ‘ideas man’ and enjoys support from other political figures including the deputy head of the House of Representatives. This contrasts with the appointment of President SBY’s brother-in-law, General Pramono Edhie Wibowo, as the former Chief of Army, which drew speculation of favouritism. TNI has come a long way (and still has some way to go) but if it’s to continue relations with foreign militaries and continue professionalising, it needs strong leadership.

The only thing to watch is Moeldoko’s request that TNI have a greater role in national security matters like ‘terrorism and communal conflicts’. Advocating a greater role for TNI in domestic matters is a means of increasing its prominence and demanding more resources. But as Indonesian defence analyst Iis Gindarsah has stated, the military should stay out of domestic issues and concentrate on external threats because it’s really the purview of the police.

The fact that Moeldoko is requesting this role is also a reflection of the poor job the Indonesian police are doing. The Cebongan incident in March is a case in point. Kopassus soldiers shot and killed four prisoners in Cebongan prison in Yogyakarta while in police custody. Rather than being condemned for vigilante action, the soldiers were praised by Yogyakarta citizens for ridding the city of gangsters, a task in which the police was seen to have failed. Rather than playing into this, it’d be far better for Moeldoko to rise above this competition so both Indonesia’s police and military can focus on their own challenges. The appointment of a new police chief later this year will provide some idea about the future effectiveness of Indonesia’s civil forces.

Overall, Moeldoko will be good for TNI–ADF relations and for Australia. His commitment to professionalism and soldier welfare make him a positive figure and role model of a post-reformasiTNI. Moeldoko’s current counterpart, Australia’s Chief of Army Lieutenant General David Morrison, is also committed to improving military professional culture—which suggests some natural complementarity in future ADF cooperation with Indonesia’s forces. Despite occasional incidents like the Cebongan case that impair TNI’s image, Moeldoko seems quite serious about its future. A more professional TNI is always going to be more palatable for the broader Australian polity in Australia–Indonesia relations. And perhaps figures like General Moeldoko can help shift outdated Australian perceptions of TNI in the process.

Image source: Viva News.

Dirgahayu Indonesia!: President SBY’s national day address

Presiden SBY menyampaikan pidato kenegaraan di hadapan sidang bersama DPR dan DPD RI di Gedung DPR/MPR, Jakarta, Jumat (16/8) pagi. (foto: cahyo/presidenri.go.id)

Long live Indonesia, indeed! President SBY’s ambitions in this year’s national day address (delivered on 16 August ahead of Indonesia’s Independence day on 17 August) included continuing economic development, expanding Indonesia’s role as a global diplomatic actor, maintaining religious harmony and stability, and protecting the sovereignty of the Indonesian state.

At a glance, SBY’s key messages and points on international-related issues included:

  • The Asia-Pacific region requires a new paradigm (an Indo-Pacific Treaty) to increase mutual trust and eliminate the use of force in settling disputes, being based on the spirit of unity;
  • Indonesia remains committed to the establishment of the ASEAN Community by 2015;
  • On Syria, “the world should not stand idly by and let the humanitarian crisis continue.”;
  • The use of military force towards protesters in Egypt is contrary to the values of democracy and humanity;
  • The theme of this year’s APEC meeting chaired by Indonesia will be ‘Resilient Asia-Pacific, Engines of Global Growth';
  • On Papua, “Indonesia will act decisively in the face of any threat to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia (NKRI)”;
  • SBY hopes that all parties would work actively to prevent political activities [concerning Papua] that could lead to disruptions in Indonesia’s relations with friendly states.

On domestic issues, SBY underscored the importance of four areas:

  • Economic management in light of uncertainties and global economic slowdown;
  • Looking after religious harmony and tolerance;
  • Successful elections in 2014 as well as democratic and peaceful leadership succession;
  • Maintaining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Indonesian state.

The discussion about Indonesia’s sovereignty and territoriality addressed both Aceh and Papua which is surprising given only the latter’s prominence in the international media. Aceh’s inclusion in the discussion seems therefore more like a buffer for the addressing pricklier issue of international activists agitating for Papuan independence.

Also, there was little mention of Indonesia’s military modernisation process or the armed forces, contrary to previous years. Terrorism, transnational threats and disaster management were listed right at the end.

Notably absent for the first time in several years was SBY’s oft-stated goal of 7% growth in GDP. At one time, he even heralded 8% as a possibility. With the country posting its second-quarter growth rate of 5.8% (the first time it’s dipped below 6% since 2010) and with Indonesian stocks falling in recent weeks, it seems his ambitions have been more muted.

Lastly, the speech seemed to follow the new pattern set by last year’s national address which put issues relating to the global economy and Indonesia’s role as a global player towards the top. In the past, SBY devoted at least three-quarters to two-thirds of his address discussing domestic policies. As encouraging as it’s been to see Indonesia be involved in global development and security issues, there are some pressing domestic issues that deserve a top slot. Growing religious intolerance rightly earned a mention but corruption, contrary to previous years, was only fleetingly raised at the very end. Corruption remains a critical issue for the country, highlighted by this week’s arrest of the head of Indonesia’s oil and gas business management body (SKK Migas) for accepting bribes.

Overall, nothing ground-breaking was raised in this year’s national day address but this tweet sums it up well:

Image courtesy of the Indonesian President’s official page.

The Raid

I’m not talking about the hit Indonesian martial arts film about a crack police team raiding an abandoned building and fighting gangsters. I’m talking about the commencement last Thursday of the trial for 12 Kopassus soldiers who are accused of raiding Yogyakarta’s Sleman prison in March and killing four detainees.

The Kopassus soldiers are alleged to have carried out the shootings in revenge for the fatal stabbing of a Kopassus sergeant in a Yogya nightclub after a dispute with the detainees, who turned out to be gang members. When the case hit the media, there were varying levels of public denial from military leadership about Kopassus involvement. Some, like former intelligence chief (and former Kopassus member) Hendro Priyono who attended the trial on Thursday, had defended the special forces soldiers by pointing to the initial stabbing as a ‘human rights violation’. The trial and mixed messages of senior leadership (both currently serving and retired) make it a current case of the continuing challenges of TNI reform. Also of note is the extent to which they shape public perception of the extra-judicial killings.

This was seen on Thursday with strong public support for the soldiers, including from paramilitary groups photographed outside the military courthouse who showed up in force.

Supporters who were interviewed by Tempo praised the actions of Kopassus soldiers in cleaning up the city’s streets of preman, or ‘gangsters’. To give you an idea of the pro-soldier sentiment, the red banner in the middle reads ‘The people of Yogyakarta are ready to replace the 12 Kopassus warriors in prison’ (errors in translation mine). The idea of Hendro Priyono and others that Kopassus were carrying out a positive act appears to be echoed in these public displays. The black banner in the foreground implores the judge to consider the track record of Kopassus not only in providing rescue services during the 2006 earthquake and 2010 eruption of Mt Merapi but also helping to rid the city of the ‘crime of Decky and others’ (the detainees).

But we shouldn’t be confused about who’s really on trial here. If there’s an ounce of credibility to the statements by Indonesia’s new Army Chief of changing military culture and improving professionalism, Kopassus simply cannot be celebrated as victors against preman-ism or victims of ‘human rights propaganda’. Human rights organisations, most notably Komnas HAM (Indonesia’s National Commission for Human Rights), have also called for military leaders in command of the soldiers and police in charge of prisoners’ welfare to be held accountable.

None of this is to suggest that Indonesia’s reform of its military has failed. There was a signal sent by the reassignment of Diponegoro Military District Command chief Major Geneneral Hardiono Saroso for stating all his soldiers, including the accused who were in his operational area, were at barracks the night of the killings (a statement he later retracted). But there’s still more to be done. Simply, the case highlights the importance of the TNI leadership at all levels in unequivocally committing to cultural change and publicly supporting the rule of law.

Image sources: @MBachelard, @MBachelard and Tempo.

My military is bigger than yours …

I think a bit of context needs to be given to the ABC’s report, ‘Indonesian President vows to outgun Australia‘. Published the same day our new Defence White Paper (PDF) was released, the story’s headline made Indonesia look particularly hawkish. I’d like to offer my thoughts to clear up what Indonesia’s military modernisation is and isn’t about.

First, let’s look at the expanded version of what President SBY actually said (apologies for any errors in translation):

The Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia is non-negotiable. Our military forces must be larger and more modern than neighbouring countries, like Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, and so on. Given our vast country, the Indonesian military forces must absolutely be larger.

This isn’t about Australia. Not only did SBY not single out Australia, his statements were about reassurance, not threat. What he said makes more sense when you consider SBY, a former general, was speaking at Latihan Gabungan 2013 (a joint military exercise involving 16,000 troops) in front of a large military crowd and, in the lead up to the 2014 presidential election, he was reaching out to a domestic audience.

Looking at its strategic circumstances, it also makes sense for Indonesia to have a bigger military. It’s a vast archipelago with different strategic priorities, the most pressing of which are sovereignty and territorial integrity, and it’s in dire need to boost air and naval capabilities.

Paragraphs 3.16 and 3.17 of the new Defence White Paper indicate that a cohesive and stable Indonesia is vital to our security. For one, we don’t want hostile actors to project power against us from Southeast Asia therefore, as Indonesia grows stronger and more capable militarily, there will be security dividends for the region.

In any case, Indonesia’s military modernisation still has a long way to go as it progresses from a lower capability level and is building up indigenous technological expertise required for high-end capabilities. Furthermore, the history of military involvement in politics still has implications today for the levels of professionalism and conduct within the forces. Indonesia’s military has reformed to an extent, but there’s still the question of transforming into an effective defence organisation (PDF).

The bottom line is Indonesia is busy sorting out its own house. These kinds of statements might be an editorial whim, but they belong to a broader context. So before we get anxious about who’s got the bigger military, let’s remember that it’s not always about us.

Image credit: President of the Republic of Indonesia

Photo of the Day: POLRI and Gangnam Style

How do Indonesia’s police do crowd control? ‘Gangnam Style’, of course. With May Day bringing thousands of demonstrators to Indonesia’s streets protesting for better workers’ rights, Indonesian policewomen in Surabaya danced to the hit song by Psy to keep crowds happy. Well played, POLRI PR, well played.

Video here.

Image credit: Agence France-Press via Jakarta Globe

Indonesia’s strategic flexibility: something something devil, something something detail

Brad Nelson has a neat overview in today’s Jakarta Globe of Indonesia’s strategic options vis-à-vis China and the US. Enabled by what he calls ‘strategic flexibility’ (which I think is actually an extension of Indonesia’s so-called ‘dynamic equilibrium’ approach), Indonesia can stay neutral, pick China or the US, be a mediator/conduit or play the big kids off against one another.

Nelson rightly identifies Indonesia as attempting to pursue a ‘conduit’-type role. In fact, to be an effective conduit and exert real influence on the US and China, Nelson prescribes Indonesia build goodwill as a conflict mediator and regional problem-solver.

In theory, it’s a sensible option but I have my misgivings about how it’s presented in relatively unproblematic terms. I say this because I’m reminded of comments made at a recent workshop by a participant challenging Indonesia’s image as a neutral party in South China Sea disputes. They asked, how could Indonesia be a legitimate mediator if it refuses mediation itself on issues such as the Natuna Islands?

Not being an expert on Indonesia’s territorial disputes, I dug up some of I Made Andi Arsana’s writing to work out how much of an issue Natuna is. Arsana’s overview of the history around the Natuna Island EEZ reveals a complicated picture (excerpt):

On the other hand, China seems to have a different view. In 2010, for example, Chinese fishermen were caught fishing in waters off the Natuna Islands, which Indonesia unilaterally considers as part of its EEZ. When patrolling Indonesian officers approached to arrest the vessels, a large Chinese vessel arrived and demanded that the vessels be released.

This gives the impression that the fishing vessels were guarded by a large vessel known as the “Chinese fishery administration vessel”. It can be inferred that China has extended its maritime claim up to the area that Indonesia believes to be its.

The aforementioned incident implies that Indonesia is not totally free from the SCS conflict.

Nelson approach isn’t incorrect but it requires more detail than its current form to be a true representation of Indonesia’s strategic options. It might be strengthened by addressing questions about China–Indonesia strategic relations, found in other writings of Ristian Atriandi Supriyanto and Greta Nabbs-Keller, to name a few. With reports earlier this year of the Indonesian navy on alert for possible Chinese claims to Natuna waters, it seems like this isn’t over yet.

Indonesia and the US pivot

Admiral Samuel Locklear III, the Commander of United States Pacific Command, with Commander of the Indonesian National Defense Forces Admiral Agus Suhartono.

If you’re looking for an Indonesian perspective on the US pivot, check out Dewi Fortuna Anwar’s NBR and Asialink essays. Her NBR essay, in particular, sees the pivot as reversing the perception that the US neglected Southeast Asia during the Bush years. According to DFA, it was a time when ASEAN and other Asia-Pacific partners could develop new relations between themselves to manage China’s rise. But since then, as China has swung its weight around in unfavourable ways, the region (including Indonesia) is glad the US is ‘back’, so to speak.

In terms of the pivot’s substance, DFA notes Indonesia’s concern that too much emphasis on the military dimension risks stoking regional tension (something that Ashton Carter addressed in his Jakarta International Defense Dialogue speech this week). DFA explains that the Marines in Darwin are close enough to the US-owned Freeport mining operations in Papua to raise suspicions of intervention. She concedes this is highly unlikely but cites past US and Australian interference across the archipelago as the historical background for this fear.

These messages are reiterations of Indonesia’s foreign policy and strategic positions, particularly with regards to hedging great powers and promoting regional cooperation. The utility of DFA’s essays therefore is to provide Australian and American audiences with an account of Indonesia’s official perspective (she’s still, after all,  Deputy Secretary for Political Affairs to the Vice President). As time goes by, and proposals like the HADR exercise between Australian-Indonesian-American forces come to fruition, there’ll be a greater indication of how the pivot has played out for Indonesia, but until then, watch this space.