| Evan A. Laksmana | Singapore, 9 December 2008 |
Vice President Jusuf Kalla remarked during the recent IndoDefence Expo 2008 that the strengthening of Indonesia’s defense sector by prioritizing operational readiness and the main weapons system remains a national imperative.
This statement, however, does not explicitly acknowledge the underlying problem of an underfunded military. The possible takeover of the Indonesian Military (TNI) businesses and the aging weaponry displayed during the Marine Corps anniversary recently are examples of how crucial the insufficient defense budget is.
Are we simply cursed with an everlasting underfunded military?
Since its inception during the Independence War, the military has never had adequate funding from the government, even during the heyday of Sukarno and Soeharto.
Today, although enjoying a much larger defense budget than before, defense officials claim the government is only funding around 30 percent of its current needs.
The debate surrounding this claim notwithstanding, the problem of defense budgeting is about many inter-related issues, including the TNI’s business activities, the lack of transparency and accountability in defense management, doctrinal stagnation and the financial capacity of the central government.
The complexities attached to each issue seem to lead to a “fatalistic” argument that the problem of defense budgeting will always persist.
The possible long-term solution to this age-old conundrum actually lies not in Jakarta, but all the way over in Magelang, at the Military Academy.
In hindsight, we could begin by looking at the fact that the largest portion of Indonesia’s military budget goes to personnel salaries.
Lex Rieffel and Jaleswari Pramodhawardani argued in a paper published last year that personnel costs account for 45 percent of the total defense outlay in 2007, or around Rp 14.6 trillion, to support more than 437,000 troops and civilians.
Clearly the answer here is not to simply cut back the personnel in one go. This certainly would cause major national instability if soldiers and bureaucrats were faced with possible sudden unemployment. This much history has taught us.
Instead, the long-term solution we might want to consider here is the revamping and tightening of the TNI’s recruitment policies at the academy level.
Such recruitment reform at the academy level could pave the way in the future to cut personnel defense spending gradually in the long run (quantitatively), while increasing the pay scale of soldiers and officers to a sufficient level (qualitatively).
More importantly, however, this could help solve the problem of “the inflation of generals” and promotional logjam where, to put it crudely, there are many officers, but few positions available.
Scholars argued that this promotional logjam began to surface during the late Soeharto and early reformasi periods when there was an increasing frequency of massive personnel reshuffles while the tenure of military commands was, in many instances, decreasing.
This was seen as a consequence of the increasing size of the officer corps by leaps and bounds in the 1960s through 1970s.
From the 59 cadets who graduated in the first class in 1960, the military academy later graduated 433 cadets in 1965. Later on, the number dropped to 85 graduates in 1976 only to rise again to 102 in 1980 and eventually 281 in 1991 — resulting in an overall average of around 250 cadets per year.
The increasing size of the officer corps along with the domination of certain classes that held back succeeding classes have been argued by scholars to have contributed not only to a massive personnel reshuffle, but also to intense rivalry and feuds.
Especially amid the increasingly competitive promotional space as envisaged by the late Gen. Benny Moerdani, some officers with political connections back then could easily rise through the ranks.
During the New Order, it seems plausible to argue that the size of the officer corps was not a problem as ABRI’s (as the TNI was known during Soeharto’s era) “dual function” (dwifungsi) and secondment of officers to civilian positions (kekaryaan) could provide additional billets for middle and high-ranking officers.
Moreover, while personnel, budgetary and even perhaps political considerations may have guided decisions about cadet intake, the idea during the 1960s of developing a modern military academy and consolidating military education should also be factored in.
Is this still the case today? In late October this year, the Military Academy inducted 531 cadets, with 304 for the Army, 127 for the Navy and 100 for the Air Force.
In the absence of kekaryaan and dwifungsi, as well as the shrinking number of posts available to officers in the post-Soeharto bureaucracy, should we not ask why the number of cadets inducted this year is higher than average?
Finally, by reforming recruitment policies, we could not only have a more efficient and well-paid military force, but we could also increase the quality of Indonesia’s future military leaders.
Political scholar Sukardi Rinakit has shown that there has been a decline in the quality of the officer corps as younger officers today were only average students in high school with an average grade of 6.5, compared with the high-quality students in the early 1970s and 1980s, whose average grade was 8.0. This, he argued, could make future military leaders more aggressive and less open-minded.
This argument might put too much emphasis on the significance of intellectual acuity and neglect leadership and other qualities, but an increasingly complex security environment coupled with a hardly breathing domestic defense establishment will require us to eventually incorporate the idea of a “soldier scholar” into our lexicon.
In other words, the challenge of repositioning the military to tackle the increasingly complex security environment in an even more complex democratic setting would at the very least require a mind at work.
The writer is a research analyst at the Indonesia Programme, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
This article was originally published by The Jakarta Post.