Indonesia’s Defense Reform: Neglected Long-Term Issues

After refreshing my mind for the past two weeks about the state of Indonesia’s military reform, it is unfortunate that not much has changed. Most of the published account still focuses on short and medium term reform policies (e.g. weapons modernization, defense legislation, etc.). Some policies do have long-term implications however, such as the ongoing discussion to change the TNI’s doctrine as ordered by the President in 2011. I was told recently that the TNI leadership has concluded the discussion and have a first draft to be presented and circulated (whether, when, and how it will be released remains a question mark).

However, two other basic long term issues and policies of reforming the TNI remains untouched. Back in 2009, I wrote a policy paper for The Indonesian Quarterly (download here) that basically argued:

First, the President should support and play a decisive role in reforming and re-integrating the military education and training system as well as revamping operational missions. Second, the President should support the creation and strengthening of a civilian defense community to assist defense policymaking and facilitate communication between the military leadership, the administration, and general public at large.

I went on to elaborate the different issues and challenges in these two policy recommendations, and why these issues matter. The education piece of the paper is particularly important since very few officers and observers pay serious attention to it. Indeed, when it comes to doctrinal discussion for example, I was once told how officers involved in the process would still debate what ‘strategy’ or ‘strategic theory’ is.

One of my earliest writings in 2008, addressed the importance of education in strategic theory. I wrote for The Indonesian Quarterly (download paper here) and basically argued that:

we should start focusing on how to professionalize the Indonesian military by ‘re-militarizing’ them, since the utter focus on ‘de-politicization’ and ‘defense management’ has appeared to have left out the need for ‘capacity building’ among the military professionals. One place to start is perhaps in the realm of strategic theory. The core theme here is that education in strategic theory is not simply focused on telling the military and civilians about what to think, but how to think strategically when we deal with the use, or threatened use, of military force amidst the increasingly complex strategic landscape. In addition, this article will also review the thinking of Carl Von Clausewitz, considered to be the founder of modem strategic thought. Finally, we hope to ascertain the significance of strategic theory, the relevance of CIausewitz, and perhaps draw lessons for Indonesia.

These issues of education, strategic theory, and the importance of strengthening the civilian defense community are obviously considered ‘less urgent’ or ‘less sexy’ than issues dealing with military violence, defense modernization, or even establishing civilian supremacy. But any long-term solution to fully professionalize the TNI would be flawed in the absence of an overhaul of the education and training system and without a strong civilian defense community.

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