Jun 14, 2024 Last Updated 8:34 AM, May 27, 2024

Indonesia - US military ties

Kurt Biddle

'Every lame duck political idea that couldn't get any mileage in the past ten years, has now been repackaged in light of the events of September 11th and is now being sold under the guise of anti-terrorism.' - Congressional staffer

September 11th has changed our world. That's true, but not everything has changed. Tensions that began in the early 1990s between Congress and the Pentagon over aid to the Indonesian military continue. Only the Pentagon's justifications have changed. And the Indonesian military is just as brutal as ever.

US-Indonesian military ties were first restricted after the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre in Dili, East Timor, in which more than 270 people were killed by Indonesian troops with US-supplied weapons. The massacre prompted human rights groups and activists to demand that Congress sanction the Indonesian military (TNI). Consequently, the US Congress restricted most military aid to Indonesia by refusing to fund the International Military and Training (IMET) program for TNI personnel in October 1992. In July 1993, after years of unrestricted weapons transfers to Indonesia, the State Department, under congressional pressure, blocked a transfer of US F-5 fighter planes from the Jordan to Indonesia, citing human rights as one of the reasons.

In 1994, the State Department banned the sale of small and light arms and riot control equipment to Indonesia. In 1995, Congress restored some military training funding under the Expanded IMET (E-IMET) program, which purports to be an 'educational program' briefing officers on issues of human rights, military justice and civilian control of the military. In June 1997, then-Indonesian president Suharto wrote to President Clinton rejecting E-IMET and a proposed sale of F-16 jet fighters. Suharto stated that he would not accept restrictions on military transfers based on human rights.

Throughout the 1990s the Pentagon clearly violated Congressional intent and continued to train Indonesian special forces troops (Kopassus) in urban guerilla warfare, surveillance, sniper marksmanship and 'psychological operations' tactics. In March 1998, the existence of this JCET (Joint Combined Exchange Training) program was publicised by Congressional allies of the East Timor Action Network (ETAN), who fought for and won an end to such training to the TNI.

East Timor

When Indonesian military, police and their militia proxies razed East Timor after the referendum vote in August 1999, then-President Clinton was forced by public outrage to ban all joint military exercises and commercial arms sales. Later that year Congress put part of this ban into law. The 2001 Foreign Operations Appropriations Act renewed those conditions, which must be met before normal military ties can be restored. These include the return of refugees to East Timor, and accountability for military and militia members responsible for human rights atrocities in East Timor and Indonesia. They also require Indonesia to actively prevent militia incursions into East Timor and to cooperate fully with the UN administration in East Timor. The President is required to certify to Congress that the conditions have been met.

The scorecard on the conditions isn't good. The incursions into East Timor have stopped, although January's UN Secretary General's report on Untaet said that 'hard-line militia may still pose a long-term threat.' According to the UN, there remain sixty to seventy thousand refugees in West Timor. One of the most important remaining issues is accountability. The Indonesian military and police along with their milita proxies killed thousands of East Timorese people, burned towns to the ground, destroyed eighty percent of the half-island's infrastructure and forced or led more than a quarter of a million villagers into Indonesian-ruled West Timor. The international community will be watching the long-awaited and much-delayed trial in Indonesia, but it seems few have much hope that it will bring justice.

September 11th

Just eight days after the attacks in New York and Washington on 11 September 2001, the Indonesian president Megawati Sukarnoputri kept a previously scheduled appointment with President Bush. In the short meeting, Bush promised to lift the embargo on commercial sales of non-lethal military items. Indonesian military officials and much of the Indonesian press thought that Megawati had scored a victory in restoring military ties. Many speculated that Bush was offering Megawati a recruitment bonus to join his coalition against terrorism.

But in an off-the-record conversation, a White House official explained that the package Bush presented to Megawati was completed on September 10th, and not a word was changed after the events of the next day. Much of what Bush promised Megawati was from the administration's review of US-Indonesian military ties policy that had taken place over the northern summer. Bush is limited to what military support he can offer Indonesia, since most of the money for training and equipment is restricted by Congress.

Mega's visit was highly symbolic: the president of the world's most populous predominantly Muslim nation comes to Washington. Megawati would be useful to Bush in building his new coalition, demonstrating that a war on terrorism wouldn't be a war on Islam. But Megawati's trip was plagued before she even left Jakarta by Vice President Hamzah Haz' comments on his hopes that the September 11th attacks 'can cleanse the sins by the US.' (Later, Megawati's own comments criticising the US war in Afghanistan further angered many in Washington.)

Now that the Congressional appropriations cycle has finished, we see a mixed Washington policy towards the Indonesian military. In the 2002 Foreign Operations Appropriations Act, Congress renewed and bolstered the ban on training and funding of the TNI. What originally were six conditions were expanded to seven. Congress saw that the military was acting in much the same brutal way towards people still within Indonesia's borders, so the conditions were reassessed. For example, because the UN relinquishes sovereignty to East Timor's government this May, the Congress dropped the condition of complying with the UN Transitional Administration. The new conditions include releasing political detainees (activists serving prison time include Faisal Syamsuddin, chair of the Jakarta chapter of the Aceh Referendum Information Center SIRA); allowing the UN and other international humanitarian organisations and representatives of recognised human rights organisations access to conflict areas such as Aceh, West Papua, Maluku and West Timor; and demonstrating a commitment to civilian control of the armed forces by reporting to civilian authorities audits of expenditures of the armed forces.

An audit of TNI finances is a key condition for accountability and civilian control. The International Crisis Group estimates that just 30% of the TNI's budget comes from Jakarta, the rest of the money is through the military's own fund-raising efforts, from both legal and illegal businesses. Human rights advocates argue that if civilians do not control the purse strings of the TNI, civilians will not have control of the military. Conditions regarding accountability and return of refugees to East Timor remained part of the law.

However, in a last minute move while finalising the Defence Department Appropriations Act, Senator Daniel Inouye (a Democrat from Hawaii) inserted language appropriating US$17.9 million to establish a Regional Defence Counter-terrorism Fellowship Program at the behest of Admiral Dennis C Blair, Commander in Chief of the US Pacific Command (CINCPAC). The new program contains no restrictions on which countries can participate, thereby allowing training for Indonesia. Both men have long opposed existing congressional bans on training for the TNI.

US battlefield?

The Pentagon seems to be chomping at the bit for military involvement in Indonesia. One of the most vocal advocates for military ties with Indonesia is Deputy Secretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz, a US ambassador to Indonesia for three years during the Reagan administration. He has repeatedly argued that Washington should help Indonesia fight terrorists. Wolfowitz told the Far Eastern Economic Review, 'Going after Al Qaeda in Indonesia is not something that should wait until after Al Qaeda has been uprooted from Afghanistan.' It remains to be seen if and how the US will be involved in Indonesia, but with 600 US military 'advisers' on the ground in the neighbouring Philippines, some see Indonesia as the next battlefield.

Many at the Pentagon and in the administration call the TNI the only viable institution in Indonesia. Admiral Blair claims he wants the same goals as Congress does for the TNI, but disagrees with congressional methods. He argues that 'engagement' will teach the Indonesian military to respect democracy, human rights and civilian control.

But the TNI hasn't met the basic conditions that Congress passed into law before training can resume. For years the Pentagon trained and equipped the Indonesian military, but this contact certainly did not instill the TNI with a respect for human rights. The military terrorises their own population every day. Over 1,800 were killed in Aceh last year, and the military committed more killing in West Papua, including what appears to be the Kopassus assassination of Papuan independence leader Theys Eluay in November 2001. TNI atrocities show no sign of abating.

Unless the Indonesian military is placed fully under civilian control (including budget and command), stays out of politics (and not just when it is convenient for their goals), focuses on external defence, and stops committing human rights abuses - in other words, becomes a professional military - the US must not support them. The US should focus on helping civil society groups build Indonesia's democracy, and not hinder democracy by supporting a military that is both corrupt and brutal.

Kurt Biddle (kurt@IndonesiaNetwork.org) is Washington coordinator for the Indonesia Human Rights Network (http:www.indonesianetwork.org).

Inside Indonesia 70: Apr - Jun 2002

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