Reforming Indonesia’s Military: Going Beyond Cash, Guns, and Ballots

The Straits Times, Friday, May 9, 2008

[Later reprinted under “Reforming Indonesia’s Military” by The Jakarta Post, 13 May 2008]


Evan A. Laksmana

THIS month, Indonesia celebrates the 10th anniversary of the reformasi movement that toppled president Suharto and ushered in democracy. One of the key issues then was reforming the country’s military.

Reform has focused thus far on three major areas: bringing the military under democratic civilian control, curbing the military’s economic activities and restructuring the defence management process.

Although much remains to be done – reforming of the territorial command structure, for instance – there has also been much progress.

Serving military officers are now required to step down before holding political office. Also, the military’s ‘dual function’ doctrine as well as its ‘social political’ offices have been officially abolished.

Meanwhile, military-run businesses have been banned and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has established a team to take over these. The government is also trying to raise the annual defence budget.

But the depoliticisation and defence management reforms represent short- and medium-term solutions which overlook the fundamental problems of professional military capacity building.

There are two issues here: military education and the strengthening of a civilian defence community. Education is perhaps the single most important long-term issue that can change the military’s underlying culture and behaviour, as well as its ability to function as a professional force.

Of especial concern are the curricula of the Military Academy, Staff and Command Colleges and National Resilience Institute. A recent study notes that, since the 1960s, 53 per cent of the academy’s curriculum and 64 per cent of the command staff and college curriculum covered political and social subjects. This suggests that military education was not aimed at producing professional soldiers but rather at preparing them to play a ‘social-political’ role.

Thus, one can surmise that while there are many politically savvy officers in Jakarta, there are few technical experts. One indicator of the impact of such politically heavy curricula can be seen in the fact that the Defence White Paper is mostly formulated by civilian academics.

The percentage of technical military courses should be raised and integrated into Indonesia’s national defence and military doctrines.

The welfare of the rank-and-file soldiers must also be improved. Reform will be pointless if soldiers are preoccupied with securing additional funding to support their families.

Another aspect of military education reform is the need to gradually ‘civilianise’ the teaching staff of the military academies. But this cannot be accomplished without a strong civilian defence community.

Unfortunately, Indonesian civil society is lacking in this regard. Although there are some highly qualified defence academicians, very few are trained in technical, strategic or military studies.

Civilians need to move away from their ‘anti-military’ attitude. If they do, perhaps more civilians would be willing to study military- related subjects, thereby providing a pool of people able to assist the military in policy-making.

For example, such a community could conduct studies on issues that practical military officers may not be able to carry out themselves. They could also help distinguish between short-term and long-term strategic issues, as well as project trends and future threats.

A strong civilian defence community is sorely needed to overcome the inferiority syndrome which civilians seem to suffer from whenever they have to deal with the military.

Reforming military education and creating a strong civilian defence community are important.

A large budget, plenty of weapons and a politically neutral officer corps are not enough to ensure that Indonesia’s military functions as a thoroughly professional and modern force.

The writer is a research analyst at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, NTU.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s