Published: Sep 30, 2007

Ian MacFarling, The Dual Function of the Indonesian Armed Forces: Military Politics in Indonesia, Canberra: Defence Studies Centre, 1996, 241 pp. RRP: AU$22.95.

Reviewed by JIM MCINTOSH

Wing Commander Ian MacFarling has produced a well-researched book on the often misunderstood 'dual function' of Abri, the Indonesian Armed Forces. Dual function means that Abri has both a defence and a domestic political role. The depth of his research attests to extensive personal experience with Abri. MacFarling displays a deep understanding of the political thinking of Abri's senior officer corps.

The author argues from the outset that this dual function is in fact a single function - that of managing internal security. Abri's role in maintaining internal stability has given it such social dominance that the Armed Forces are basically 'master' of the Indonesian population. Abri has achieved this by combining the concepts of National Resilience and National Stability into a single function, which permeates society.

Legality

MacFarling goes into great detail on how Abri's dominance was achieved, particularly by means of the law. He is critical of Abri's use of these laws to entrench its dominance. Legality, he stresses, does not necessarily mean legitimacy (although one could argue that, though some may not like the position Abri is in, it nonetheless has widespread legitimacy).

In spite of the view espoused by military officers that the Army is 'of the people', the study draws a social landscape where the military, particularly the Army, is above society, superior to it. The people are subject at every level to a corps of social managers who comprise a sort of armed bureaucracy.

This work provides scant hope for proponents of Western-style liberal democracy in Indonesia. Being an 'instructive example of new military professionalism', Abri clearly has no intention of returning the political system to the parliamentary regime that operated immediately after independence. Therein lies Abri's dilemma. As MacFarling states, Abri is unable to modify the present system 'without endangering their own status' within it.

The dilemma grows as the inevitable issue of presidential succession draws nearer. The lack of a clear successor to President Suharto, and the need for such a figure to be acceptable to Abri, has the potential to cause serious internal problems within the organisation. The overall cohesion of Abri may well be threatened if this issue is not resolved in the short term.

Avoids politics

Herein lies something of a weakness in this study. While it definitively paints a vivid portrait of the military's strength and its ability to control civilian society, and provides an intimate profile of the political thinking of Abri officers, the work avoids the political issues of Indonesia in the 1990s. These include the degree of personal power still held by President Suharto, especially in relation to Abri, the rise of new challenges from outside the tightly controlled political structure, and suggestions on how these challenges might be handled by the regime in the future.

For students of the Indonesian military and related fields, this is essential literature. It provides insight into an otherwise enigmatic organisation in detail rarely found elsewhere.

Jim McIntosh is doing post-graduate work on Abri at Curtin University, Perth.


Inside Indonesia 48: Oct-Dec 1996