Children play at an abandoned military post, South Aceh.
A decade after the fall of Suharto, the Indonesian military is facing a historically unprecedented moment. Peace has broken out and there is no internal warfare. What does ‘peace’ mean for TNI (the Indonesian military), and for civil-military relations?
Since the independence war of 1945-49, a number of struggles for territorial integrity have strengthened the military’s voice in government. During the 1950s, the military expanded its influence in the Sukarno government after defeating rebellions in Sulawesi and Sumatra. In the early 1960s, it was involved in the anti-Malaysian ‘konfrontasi’ (confrontation) and in Irian Jaya (now Papua). In the 1970s, the military invaded East Timor. In the 1980s, it expanded counter-insurgency operations in Aceh. A history of counter-insurgency helped militarise Indonesia’s political system, and politicised the military.
Even after the fall of Suharto in May 1998 and the arrival of democracy, the TNI was busy with domestic ‘wars’. In 1999, it sought to derail the independence of East Timor, and pursued a scorched earth policy when that failed. A few years later, the TNI shifted its attention to Aceh, pressuring civilian political leaders to introduce a state of military emergency in the region in order to crush separatists. Again, combat operations did not solve the problem. The breakthrough leading to Aceh’s peace settlement came as a result of civilian negotiations after the tsunami disaster of 2004.
Today, under the Yudhoyono government in power since 2004, the TNI is hard-pressed to invoke credible threats of national disintegration. Questions about its mission are increasingly urgent. The generals say they are targeting ‘terrorists’. The TNI also asserts that Papua has the potential to be the next East Timor. However, the political leaders running the country mostly do not support these claims. They understand that terrorism and Papua are political problems needing political solutions, not military force.
The TNI is hard-pressed to invoke credible threats of national disintegration. Questions about its mission are increasingly urgent.
With the end of armed conflict in Indonesia after sixty years of independence, the question is: has the moment arrived to transform the TNI into a modern, conventional armed forces organisation, without provoking a backlash? Is there a peace dividend, and how will it be realised? Can the Yudhoyono presidency use this opportunity to promote military reforms? How is the TNI responding to the new internal stability, which so radically challenges its self-proclaimed raison d’être?
The TNI has long claimed to be the main ‘guardian’ of the unified republic (NKRI, Negara Kesatuan Republik Indonesia). It emphasised this logic to influence Sukarno’s leadership, to dominate politics during the 32 years of the Suharto era, and to deflect pressure for change under successive post-Suharto governments. The pretext of preventing national disintegration has always bolstered TNI’s political autonomy. Military officers invoked that pretext in order to perpetuate impunity for abusive military actions. But the Aceh peace of 2005 has made it more difficult for the TNI to sustain this pretext. This, more than anything else, has placed fresh pressure on the military to accept reforms that would lead to democratic control over the military as an institution.
During a decade of post-Suharto reformasi, the TNI has not enthusiastically embraced internal reforms designed to end its ascendancy over political institutions. Even so, there have been some important changes. In 1998, soon after the fall of Suharto, the TNI introduced new policy guidelines withdrawing its support from Golkar, the ruling party during the Suharto era. It also declared an end to day-to-day involvement in politics and scrapped military offices which dealt with socio-political affairs at both the national and local levels. In 1999, the police force was split from the military; it assumed responsibility for handling internal security, leaving the TNI to concentrate on ‘defence’ matters. Confirming these new arrangements, a national defence law was enacted in 2002, and the long-awaited TNI law was enacted in 2004. Both laws sought to rein in the military’s political activism as a step toward recasting military–civilian relations.
However, these reforms have not been sufficiently reinforced by efforts to develop effective civilian control over security sector agencies, including the military and the police. As a result, the TNI retains considerable autonomy in relation to budgeting and defence policy. There has also been little progress in holding TNI officers accountable for human rights atrocities they have committed.
If the official budget is too small, the military needs to streamline its organisation, not engage in self-financing beyond government scrutiny.
The TNI’s budget is a central problem. Traditionally, a large share of military income has been self-generated, coming from regular business activities and from illegal activities such as protection rackets and smuggling. Military leaders counter civilian pressure to end such activities by insisting that the government is unable to provide sufficient funds to meet military needs. They thus ignore the democratic principle that it is the elected civilian political authority, and not the military, who decide the country’s defence outlook, including the size and mission of the state apparatus. If the official budget is too small, the military needs to streamline its organisation, not engage in self-financing beyond government scrutiny. Civilian leaders seem unwilling to impose such a principle of accountable governance on the TNI, perhaps fearing the military’s response.
The problem of defence policy is typified by the debate about the territorial command structure. The majority of the more than 200,000 army personnel are serving under twelve territorial commands that cover the country from Aceh to Papua and that reach down to the village level. This system was designed to fight a guerrilla war against the Dutch, but the Suharto government transformed its mission into an ongoing nation-wide campaign to suppress opposition to the regime. In the post-Suharto era there have been many calls to eliminate the territorial commands so that the TNI can concentrate on external defence. But the generals have resisted this idea, asserting that the territorial commands remain useful. They have repeatedly insisted that the country’s police force remains inadequate to the tasks it is responsible for and still needs TNI support in case of serious security disturbances. It is true that the police were unable to stop the eruption of post-Suharto ethnic and religious conflicts around the archipelago. This poor record helped neutralise reform pressures on the territorial command system. The military’s assertions about ‘incapable police’ in conflict areas may have some basis, but they hardly justify continuing the old system in the non-conflict areas where most people live. Here too, civilian political leaders are vulnerable to military manipulation and are unable to assert their will in the face of military opposition.
Asserting civilian control in practice requires political support, leadership and, of course, good timing. It also depends on military cooperation, or at least acquiescence. Right now is a good time to take civilian control beyond mere appearances. First, an unprecedented absence of internal conflict has robbed the military of its ‘saving the NKRI’ pretext. Second, Indonesia’s first direct presidential election has given President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono an unmatched popular mandate. He has a strong hand to play, and could exercise leadership in furthering military reform.
Third, personal ties within the elite at present favour reform efforts, provided the government has the will. The current TNI leadership is loyal to Yudhoyono. In December 2007 he slotted two former subordinates into the top TNI positions. Djoko Santoso became armed forces commander, and Agustadi Purnomo became army chief. The trio shared younger days in the elite paratroop brigade of the army strategic reserve command. Yudhoyono was the first to graduate from the academy, in 1973; Purnomo followed in 1974 and Santoso in 1975. They were all involved in counter-insurgency operations in East Timor, albeit in low-profile roles. All three have political experience. In 1999 Yudhoyono, as the TNI chief of territorial affairs, struggled with civilian demands for military reform. Santoso supported him as his direct assistant, and Purnomo as a member of the TNI faction in parliament. The trio’s close relationship assures Yudhoyono of the loyalty of the current TNI leadership.
Right now is a good moment to take civilian control beyond mere appearances.
The present circumstances are conducive to the taking of significant steps towards effective civilian control, and towards improving TNI’s budgetary and policy accountability. No other post-Suharto president has ever enjoyed such favourable conditions for transforming the Indonesian military into a peace-time defence organisation under civilian control.
Is Yudhoyono willing to play this historical role? It depends on how he gauges his re-election prospects next year. If he sees adopting the mantle of reform as the key to boosting votes, it is not impossible that he may press ahead with reform initiatives. If, on the other hand, he thinks ‘friendship’ with the military is more crucial to his re-election, he may avoid any initiatives that might provoke TNI. This could happen out of fear that his competitors, such as the retired generals Sutiyoso and Wiranto, who are both his military seniors, may mobilise TNI support for their political campaigns. Will Yudhoyono seize the moment, or will he play it safe? Experience suggests he will act cautiously, carefully weighing the political merits of asserting civilian control. But if he faces stiff competition from credible civilians, he will be more likely to play his populist card and make significant gestures towards extending military reform. ii
Jun Honna (firstname.lastname@example.org ) teaches at the Faculty of International Relations, Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto, Japan. He is the author of Military politics and democratization in Indonesia (London, 2003).