Seeking a strategic, professional military institution

| Evan A. Laksmana | Singapore, 14 October 2008 |

The Indonesian Military (TNI) celebrated its 63rd anniversary on Oct. 5. Its formal commemoration, however, will be held on Oct. 14 because the original date was too close with Idul Fitri, which fell on Oct. 1.

Sixty-three years after its inception and ten years after the birth of the reform order, the complex challenge of repositioning the military in Indonesia’s democratic setting and building a professional military to tackle the changing security environment remains.

on the domestic front, several contentious issues seem unsettled, including past abuses of military force, despite significant and commendable progress in internal reforms. Meanwhile, the traditional challenge of fighting a conventional war is compounded by an array of modern security issues such as terrorism, disaster relief and illegal fishing.

Richard D. Kohn, a professor at the University of North Carolina, contends that creating a strategic and professional military means dealing with three challenges: the intellectual, political and moral.

The intellectual challenge deals with how to prepare the military to operate successfully in a variety of security environments. For the TNI, this would amount to providing the intellectual foundation for officers to be repositioned.

Despite commendable legal efforts to do so, the intellectual challenge of tackling traditional and modern security challenges in a democratic setting enables us to reconstruct the mind-set of the officer corps by reconsidering the military education and training system along with the military’s basic doctrine.

The former might involve a revamp of previous curricula and teaching methods, since the legacy of the old system preparing officers to play a sociopolitical role, under the now-defunct dual function doctrine, might still linger.

For example, we could consider increasing and refining core military subjects, such as geopolitics and modern warfare, while further improving existing key nonmilitary subjects, such as history, humanitarian law and international relations.

This would not only lay a stronger intellectual foundation for officers by exposing them to critical thinking, but it could also pave the way to civilianize the teaching staff as the courses could be taught by numerous qualified civilian instructors. Plus, more officers could be sent abroad for further education to expose them to other militaries, providing them with a broader strategic perspective.

Although the TNI’s external defense role is legally prescribed, given the low military budget and domestic economic problems, efforts to assist the people is commendable. After all, the devil gives work to idle hands, as the old saying goes.

However, given history, where such “civic missions” were misused by president Soeharto for his own political purposes, a continued persistence on domestic operations might raise concern about possible excesses in the future.

One often overlooked external mission might be considered to help downplay the problem of “idle capacity”, namely international peacekeeping operations. Not only is the TNI’s track record excellent in this regard, but such operations have the potential to replace domestic operations as a key consideration in career promotions while boosting Indonesia’s international image.

However, a modification of the military’s basic doctrine of Total People’s Defense — born from Indonesia’s guerrilla warfare against the Dutch in the 1940s — might be needed to complement any education and training efforts.

One could argue that an archaic formula assuming the TNI to be underdeveloped to face an external attack, and therefore needs to “prepare” the people for guerrilla warfare, could hamper the dynamic and critical thinking necessary to tackle more complicated security challenges, especially in the realm of modern security.

Meanwhile, the political challenge is the military’s political neutrality and subordination to the legally constituted civilian authority. Considering Indonesia’s turbulent civilian-military relationship, this challenge is perhaps the least clear cut.

Thus, a civilian defense community is needed to create a triangular balance and achieve the so-called concordance civil-military relations where the government, officer corps and civil society have a cooperative relationship stressing dialogue, accommodation and shared values.

This could be done through several steps.

First, the government could reduce suspicion and grievances within the officer corps by not politicizing the military, especially on the eve of next year’s elections, and by not interfering excessively in internal military affairs.

Second, the military could maintain the trust extended by the political leadership by continuing the momentum of military reform.

Finally, the moral challenge addresses the internal honor and integrity of the officer corps.

Polls have shown that the military’s public image has significantly improved over the past decade, largely due to perceived civilian corruption and political bickering. However, the recent spat between the National Commission for Human Rights and retired officers regarding investigation into past human rights abuses by the military suggests that a perceived “culture of impunity” might become a “pebble in the shoe” for the military’s public image.

The writer is a research analyst at the Indonesia Programme at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

This article was originally published by The Jakarta Post.

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