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.

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: TNI-AL Boarding Party during Exercise Kakadu

An Indonesian Navy (Tentara Nasional Indonesia Angkatan Laut; TNI-AL) boarding party with Captain Mal Wise, Australian Commander Task Group after a simulated boarding exercise conducted on HMAS Perth (FFH 157), during Exercise KAKADU 2012. Interesting to note the integration of Indonesian Naval SOF, KOPASKA (Komando Pasukan Katak; Frogman Commando Team), operators with a regular Navy boarding party. Australian boarding parties often operate in a similar way, with members of a Clearance Diving Team attached.

KOPASKA was influenced by USN Underwater Demolition Teams (UDTs) and US Navy SEALs, and has roughly similar operational responsibilities, including maritime counter-terrorism. Their insignia features a winged frog and anchor device, and their motto is “Tan Hana Wighna Tan Sirna” (“there is no obstacle that cannot be overcome”).

Defence notes: “Exercise Kakadu 2012 is Australia’s largest maritime exercise and allows the RAN to develop operational capability and skills in a coalition environment. Exercise Kakadu will be conducted from 29 August to 14 September in the Northern Australian Exercise Area off the coast of Darwin.  In 2012 there will be 15 ships, and over 2000 sailors and officers from 17 participating and observing nations taking part”

Photo credits: Department of Defence

Indonesia series post #6: Australia-Indonesia Relations by the Numbers

Inspired by Cogitasia’s regular blog feature ‘By the Numbers: the data driving Asia’, as the final post in this week’s Indonesia series, I’ve put together a snapshot of developments in Australia-Indonesia relations using figures from this week’s Annual Leaders’ Meeting.

4

The number of refurbished C-130H aircraft granted to Indonesia by the Australian Government for boosting its humanitarian operational capability. Indonesia will be responsible for future maintenance costs of these aircraft. According to President Yudhoyono, “This is half-grant, half-purchase.”

$578.4 million

The amount pledged by Australia to assist poverty reduction in Indonesia in 2012-13. Funding will support Indonesia’s development priorities in areas such as education, infrastructure and social protection.

1000

The number of visas that will be available annually (increased from 100) to Indonesians to work and holiday in Australia. Only a small proportion of Indonesians will be able afford the pricey trip downunder but it gets the ball rolling in helping to build people to people links.

2 and 1

The number of new bilateral and trilateral initiatives announced. Charles Darwin University and Nusa Cendana University in Kupang will forge new ties as the Australia-Indonesia schools partnership program (BRIDGE) is expanded this year.  A bilateral table-top exercise between the ADF and TNI—Exercise Garuda Kookaburra—and a new trilateral exercise between the US, Australia and Indonesia (and possibly Chinese observers) will take place in the Northern Territory in 2013.

0

The number of translators ABC News 24 had on hand to translate the President’s State Dinner address in Darwin delivered in Indonesian. Thankfully, this was corrected the next day during Prime Minister Gillard and President Yudhoyono’s joint press conference.

Indonesia series posts I, II, III, IV and V.

Image courtesy of Department of Defence.

Indonesia series post #5: Like a Boss

Image

Indonesian Army Sergeant Poltak Siahaan is chaired by his team members to receive the trophy for Champion Shot International from Chief of Army, Lieutenant General David Morrison, at this year’s Australian Army Skill at Arms Meeting (AASAM).

AASAM is open to all ADF members and also attracts champions from 16 international defence forces.

Image by Sergeant John Waddell, courtesy of Department of Defence.

Indonesia series post #4: Need to know about Indonesia’s military (TNI)?

Friend and online colleague Evan Laksmana has compiled an excellent reading list of books on the Indonesian military (TNI), and I encourage those interested in Australia’s relations with Indonesia to check it out. Understanding the military’s role in Indonesia is necessary in understanding the opportunities and limitations of closer cooperation with Australia.

If you’re pressed for time or unable to access a library with those books, here are some relevant reports on the state of TNI’s reform (in reverse chronological order):

  • Evan Laksmana, ‘Stirring from Beyond the Borders? American Military Assistance and Defense Reform in Indonesia’, Asia Centre, Paris, July 2011, available here.
  • Leonard C. Sebastian and Iisgindarsah, ‘Assessing 12-year Military Reform in Indonesia: Major Strategic Gaps for the Next Stage of Reform’, RSIS Working Paper, April 2011, PDF here.
  • Bruce Vaughn, ‘Indonesia: Domestic Politics, Strategic Dynamics, and U.S. Interests’, Congressional Research Service, January 2011, PDF here.
  • Human Rights Watch, ‘Unkept Promise: Failure to End Military Business Activity in Indonesia’, 2010, available here.
  • Marcus Mietzner, ‘The Politics of Military Reform in Post-Suharto Indonesia: Elite Conflict, Nationalism, and Institutional Resistance’, East-West Center Washington, 2006, PDF here.

Alternatively, Samantha Michaels and Ulma Haryanto produced this three part series on the state of TNI’s business practices, published in the Jakarta Globe in May this year.

Of note is Sebastian and Iisgindarsah’s report for its graphs and diagrams that show Indonesia’s defence spending, annual peacekeeper contributions, country origin of TNI armaments (the US ranks 1st, Australia 9th), and comparisons with other Southast Asian nations’ defence spending.

From the same report is a snapshot of the readiness levels of TNI’s armaments:

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If I’ve missed anything, feel free to send me suggestions. Happy reading!

Image source: Sebastian and Iisgindarsah, 2011.