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.

Indonesia and ‘strategic trust’: no-one knows what it means, but it’s provocative

Image

Here’s my latest post on The Strategist, and kudos to the executive editor for letting me keep the phrase ‘dropping the mic’. 

One of the main features of the Indonesian President’s speech to last week’s Jakarta International Defense Dialogue was the concept of ‘strategic trust’. Admitting this was difficult to define, he referred to it as ‘an evolving sense of mutual confidence between nations – particularly between government and militaries’ that enables parties to work together more effectively and, more importantly, peacefully.

President SBY offered two examples from Indonesia’s own history where strategic trust has been the glue in otherwise shattered relationships: between Indonesia and East Timor (a poignant reference given East Timor’s PM Xanana Gusmão was sitting in the audience), and between the Indonesian government and GAM in Aceh. His message is that it’s something that can bring bitter enemies together very gradually over time, ‘brick by brick’, and it has to reach from top leadership to the bottom rung.

It’s not a particularly radical concept, and it has been bounced around before. But what President SBY has put in words is, for instance, what Australia is seeking to build with regional partners. If we were asking ourselves, ‘what does it take to be strategic partners with Indonesia?’, SBY has got an easy answer: ‘strategic trust’, as it’s understood in Jakarta. And that’s the beauty of abstraction: you’re off the hook proving it in quantitative terms but you certainly can say you’re working towards it.

The President gets further mileage from a term ‘strategic trust’ because it’s entirely consistent with the back catalogue of Indonesia’s regional and international proclamations. Strategic trust is an extension of Indonesia’s foreign policy of ‘dynamic equilibrium’ and its diplomatic approach of having ‘a million friends and zero enemies’. It continues to affirm Indonesia’s desire to be seen as a balancer within the region, not only between global and emerging powers, but also between Asia–Pacific partners. It comes as no surprise that the President would cite opportunities for strategic trust-building as areas where Indonesia has been active diplomatically: in Myanmar’s democratic transition and the South China Sea Code of Conduct.

The speech might not be ground-breaking but it’s clever for slipping a diplomatic buzzword into a forum like JIDD. There’s no doubt ‘strategic trust’ was whispered around the JIDD stalls throughout the day and after. Media coverage of the event has played up SBY’s speech like he was ‘dropping the mic’ on strategic thinking. But at the end of the day, ‘strategic trust’ is a term that, if incorporated into our everyday diplomatic parlance and practice with Indonesia, wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Image source: President of the Republic of Indonesia

More than words: Australia–Indonesia strategic relations

I’ve just returned from a trip to Jakarta so with Indonesia on my mind, it’s a good time to share some of the recent Indonesia-related posts I’ve written on The Strategist, starting with Australia’s stated defence policy on Indonesia:

Exercise Pitch Black 2012

26 September, Canberra:

Australia’s leaders from both sides of politics have been paying greater attention to Indonesia; there’s been more official engagement, as well as new diplomatic and defence initiatives in the past year. And we’ve been describing Indonesia, as our Defence Minister has during his Jakarta visit last week, in more important terms like ‘strategic partner’.

But it looks like that there’s some way to go before ‘strategic partner’ becomes more than just a term of endearment. If we look at the 2009 Defence White Paper (for the time being still the government’s defence strategic policy), we find a curious ambivalence towards Indonesia. According to the White Paper, we have a ‘fundamental interest in controlling the air and sea approaches to our continent’ (paragraph 5.5). But in reference to a secure immediate neighbourhood, it says we should prevent or mitigate ‘nearby states [from] develop[ing] the capacity to undertake sustained military operations within our approaches’ (paragraph 5.8). There’s a contradiction there; as Hugh White notes in his Security Challenges essay (PDF), it may very well be those same capabilities Indonesia requires to ensure its own security in its northern approaches that could be instrumental in both Indonesia and Australia securing their strategic interests. Continue reading