Rethinking Indonesia’s ‘military reform’: Initial Thoughts

In the last few months, we’ve seen an old debate re-emerging: has the Indonesian military successfully reformed itself or not? The debate that sprung from this simple question is unfortunately of the “glass-half-full-half-empty” variety, particularly in the absence of a systematic framework–policy or theoretical–to measure ‘reform’.

While I’m currently working on a longer research project on ‘Transforming Post-Authoritarian Militaries: Indonesia in Comparative Perspective’, I want to share some nuggets and snippets of the initial theoretical and policy arguments.

Firstly, some of the initial conceptual and empirical foundations can be found in an older paper I wrote for Indonesian Review (in Indonesian). They represent my first cut of how I think about ‘military reform’ vs ‘defense transformation’, and what I think are the necessary policy elements we need to consider beyond the ‘democratic imperative’ of getting the military out of politics and establish civilian supremacy in the post-Suharto period.

For example, in my ideal-typical framework, which I develop deductively from the broader literature in military history and political science, I identify four broad inter-related policy areas: (1) political, (2) institutional, (3) intellectual and cultural, and (4) technological. These wide-ranging policy areas include some of the “less sexy” challenges such as overhauling military education and training. I have of course written about the importance of the TNI’s military education and training elsewhere.

Secondly, as my thinking evolved over the past two-three years, I’ve begun to identify another set of issues we have yet to consider: the initial imperative or rationale for why we need such an ideal framework in the first place.

Samuel Huntington famously argued in The Soldier and the State for a civil-military relations that could balance ‘functional’ and ‘societal’ imperatives. Functional imperatives are related with the need to be capable of defending the state against external threats, and societal imperatives arise from the social forces, ideologies, and institutions dominant within society. These two imperatives are too broad however to be useful for us in understanding post-authoritarian militaries like the TNI.

As such, I argue that we also need to consider two more imperatives in addition to the functional and societal ones: democratic governance of the armed forces and institutional rebuilding. I’m currently developing these ideas further as part of the aforementioned research project. I apologize therefore for not specifying them further here.

But some of the initial ideas of these imperatives are tentatively encapsulated in what I call the ‘strategic trinity‘ of defense transformation: democratic control, military effectiveness, and defense efficiency. This trinity is largely inspired by the work of scholars from the Naval Postgraduate School, especially this book.

I presented some of the initial ideas behind this trinity in an open forum presentation to the United States – Indonesia Society (USINDO) in Washington, DC, last year. The skeleton of my presentation can be found here and a transcribed summary of the session is here.

These thoughts are unfinished ideas. But they represent my initial attempt to be a part of the debate. In any case, since this is a long-term project, I expect more writings to come out of this in the next few years.

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