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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Image credit: Agence France-Press via Jakarta Globe
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?
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.