Will the state secrecy bill suffocate the TNI?

| Evan A. Laksmana | Jakarta, 27 August 2009 |

Amidst all the gung-ho following the Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott bombings and the aftermath of the general elections, one could easily forget that the controversial state secrecy bill is being discussed and could soon be passed into law.

Despite heavy criticism claiming the bill would turn back the clock on democratic freedom and accountability, defense officials claim there is nothing to worry about as the bill is meant to protect strategic state information — which was true of the very first draft initially set to protect specific defense information, but not of the current draft that covers the protection of information from other government agencies and ministries.

Oddly, although skeptics argue the bill will ultimately kill our democracy, very few, if any, have pointed out the long term implications of the bill to the military itself.

Instead, they have simply criticized the military for halting reform efforts by trying to “protect” key information — such as defense budgets, posture, procurements, and salary levels — and highlighted the lack of accountability and transparency within the defense establishment. These criticisms surely deserve merit.

But when they continue to use the same language of “democracy,” “human rights,” and “justice” — a legacy of the 1998 reform movement — they have had a tough time swaying Defense Ministry officials of the need to postpone deliberation of the bill, or at least, to significantly modify it.

Therefore, perhaps we need to move away from those abstractions of democracy to the concrete reality of the bill’s detrimental implications, if passed in its current form, for the military in the long run.

First, the bill will effectively hamper any possible military innovation that could arise in the future.
Given our economic conditions, military innovation — significant changes in education and training, manpower policies, structure, doctrine, and strategy through creative policies to optimize defense resource allocation — is the only way for our military to stay relevant and regain the respect of friends and foes alike.

Unfortunately, the bulk of military history suggests that such innovation would be difficult to achieve without a conducive, open and “critical” climate within the military itself.

If the bill classifies almost every aspect of military life as state secrets, how can we encourage frank and open discussions of innovative ideas when the basic data needed to have such discussion is hidden? Moreover, how do we know if the military has done better or worse in its force development when there is no official data to compare it to?

Second, the bill could also harm Indonesia’s still nascent civilian defense community.

The civilian defense community is a crucial and integral part of any country’s national security community — without which, any critical input and “out-of-the-box” thinking required to boost military innovation would be stifled.

Even more so when we consider the adolescent state of our civilian defense community with only very few individuals trained in advanced military and strategic studies.

Would the bill not eventually kill off our civilian defense community as they would be too afraid to discuss defense problems for fear of criminal prosecution?

Furthermore, how could we encourage multi-disciplinary policy-relevant research — in psychology, sociology, economics, or civil engineering — in our universities and research institutes in support of our defense establishment if they are not allowed to posses the data needed
to do so?

Third, the bill could affect, if not tarnish, our military’s international defense relations.

The current state of international stability, and specifically, our entire international defense relations, are basically based on a principle of trust and mutual benefits — two elements that would have been almost impossible without international laws and regulations requiring states to be transparent about their military development.

Not only would intense military secrecy violate some of those laws, but since Indonesia — the biggest regional country with hegemonic overtones — live in what used to be a turbulent region plagued by suspicion and unresolved disputes, wouldn’t such a move be portrayed as provocative and potentially disruptive to regional stability?

Won’t such secrecy further complicate bilateral military-to-military relations at a time when such relations are the solid foundation of amity with our friends?

Finally, and most importantly, the bill could further hurt the next generation of military leaders.

In conversations with younger military officers, one gets a sense of frustration from within the ranks — especially middle and lower-level officers who are not related to the elite in any way and would then have poor career prospects, despite their overseas education.

Such resentment, not only related to promotions, but also to what seems to be a lack of internal transparency within the military.

Though these are perhaps anecdotal instances, wouldn’t the state secrecy bill, by classifying promotion papers and salaries, further exacerbate the lack of internal transparency from the high command to its own rank-and-file?

Would this not eventually suffocate bright young officers who are forced either to conform to the rules-of-the-game or be left out in the cold?

One should not forget that honesty breeds confidence, and silence breeds fear.

The writer is currently a researcher with the Department of Politics and International Relations, Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Jakarta.

This article was originally published by The Jakarta Post

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