Jakarta wants weapons. Lots of them.
Right after Valentine's Day, Indonesian Air Force officials met with
their U.S. counterparts to discuss "bilateral defense cooperation."
On their wish list were Lockheed Martin's F-16 fighters and C-130 Hercules
tactical transport planes. There will be more defense talks in April between
the two countries as they step up military cooperation.
The United States and Indonesia "normalized" military relations
in 2005, ending a 10-year period during which Jakarta was essentially barred
from receiving most forms of U.S. weapons sales and military aid and training
because of its military's human rights abuses and corruption. Jakarta
is happy to be back in Washington's good graces. U.S. Defense Secretary
dropped by for a visit on Monday, February 25th and praised
Indonesia as a "huge Islamic country, democratic, secular,"
before continuing to say: "I think strengthening our relationship with
Indonesia is very important, not just in a regional context, but I think in
terms of the role that Indonesia may be able to play more broadly." But
its military is carefully courting other weapons suppliers so it is not again
dependent on a single source.
Looking to Moscow
When Russian President Vladimir Putin visited
Jakarta in September 2007, weapons were at the top of the agenda. Moscow extended
$1 billion in loans for weapons and in December, Indonesia picked up medium
and short-range missiles, aerial bombs, and other systems. In 2003, Indonesia
bought Russian fighter planes and other hardware as part of a $192 million package
of weapons, and Moscow let their new friend pay most of its tab with palm oil.
Jakarta's military is now hoping for more including 20 fighter
planes, six submarines, air defense systems, helicopters, boats, and other systems
that could add up to about $3 billion.
Washington is watching this new friendship with a wary eye. Throughout the
Cold War, the United States counted on Indonesia as a staunch anti-communist
and friend. General Suharto ruled the archipelago with an iron fist and an avaricious
eye for more than 30 years.
Jakarta's rearmament push comes as Indonesia wrestles with Suharto's
bloody legacy following his death in January at the age of 86. The former leader
was given the burial of a statesman, and his legacy was burnished to a high
gloss. "Though there may be some controversy over his legacy," eulogized
U.S. Ambassador Cameron Hume, "President Suharto was a historic figure
who left a lasting impression on Indonesia and the region of Southeast Asia."
The "controversy" includes Transparency International's 2004
assertion that Suharto was the "world's greatest kleptocrat
ever" with a fortune of $35 billion or more stolen from the Indonesian
people. Other controversial issues include mass
killings. His extermination of between 400,000 and one million suspected
communists as he moved to seize power in 1965 and 1966 stands out in its brutality.
There was also the 1975
invasion of East Timor, the Santa
Cruz Massacre in 1991, and much more. Suharto was labeled "one of
the worst mass murderers of the 20th century," by the East
Timor and Indonesia Action Network.
Throughout the Suharto regime and since, Jakarta enjoyed the full support of
the United States. Most of Indonesia's
weapons came from the United States, their officers graduated from U.S.
academies, and the two militaries conducted joint exercises. Jakarta was almost
completely dependent on Washington for its military strength. Additionally,
Jakarta's generals developed a strong preference for U.S. weapons. Thus,
the congressionally mandated checks on weapons sales and military aid effectively
hamstrung the Indonesian military and sent it a strong message that it must
reform. But pressure from military officials from both countries and the political
exigencies of the war on terrorism successfully weakened and eventually undermined
Washington's willingness to use its influence to demand that the Indonesian
military respect human rights and eliminate corruption.
Normalization of military ties between the United
States and Indonesia in late 2005 was accompanied by State Department assurances
that "the United States remains committed to pressing for accountability
for past human rights abuses and U.S. assistance will continue to be guided
by Indonesia's progress on democratic reform and accountability."
The guides seem to have lost their map. This year, over the objections of the
State Department, Congress withheld
$2.7 million a fraction of U.S. foreign military financing until
the State Department could demonstrate that Indonesia was taking steps to hold
members of the military accountable for human rights violations and implement
"reforms to increase the transparency and accountability of their operations
and financial management." John M. Miller, national coordinator of ETAN,
reacted to this attempt to influence Jakarta by saying "withholding this
small portion of military aid is an inadequate stick, but it serves to keep
up appearances. The Indonesian government looks like it is trying, but the Indonesian
military correctly interprets it as a token gesture. The military gets what
it wants without concretely changing how they do business or losing its impunity."
Meanwhile, Washington nearly tripled Foreign Military Financing (FMF) for Indonesia.
In 2006, FMF totaled $990,000 but jumped to $6.5 million in 2007. The request
for 2008 is $15.7 million. ETAN reacted in a statement
at the time: "we see no dramatic change in the Indonesian military's
conduct over the past year to warrant such a generous increase."
But this is just the beginning of what the United States is providing to Indonesia.
Under a little noticed Pentagon program known as "train and equip authority"
or "Section 1206," Washington gave Indonesia another $18.4 million
in 2006 to procure coastal radar stations, and improved air and sea surveillance
capabilities. In 2007, "1206" funding totaled $28.7 million and was
used to beef up radar and communications equipment for the Indonesian navy and
coast guard. For 2008, details have not been released, but funding is expected
to be comparable.
Train and Equip program is designed to help armed forces address regional
terrorism problems, while bypassing the normal State Department channels for
aid. In 2006, the Pentagon doled out a total of $200 million to foreign militaries
through this program. Now the Defense Department is seeking to increase "1206"
authority to $750 million and make the program permanent.
Military aid is not the only thing pouring in. In 2005, the State Department
authorized Jakarta for $51 million in licenses for weaponry, defense articles,
and services. The next year, the State Department issued licenses for more than
$100 million in military hardware including spare parts for fighters, cargo
planes and helicopters, explosives and torpedo launchers were issued. Not all
licenses are exercised, but the list gives a sense of Indonesia's voracious
appetite for weapons.
Why So Many Weapons?
Washington hopes that by bulking up Indonesia's
military capacities it can help the nation counter terrorism and emerge as a
regional leader able to thwart North Korea's nuclear ambitions and deter
China's aggressive military build-up. That's what Secretary Gates
means when he talks about the "role that Indonesia may be able to play
more broadly" and that's why Washington is so threatened by the
way Russian President Putin has reached out to Jakarta.
So, Washington dangles F-16s to make its sweeping vision of Indonesia's
strategic importance a reality. But, in the past, U.S.-origin weapons, military
know-how and aid, were not used to achieve lofty political aims. They were turned
on Indonesian citizens active in the multiple movements for self-determination
and autonomy in far-flung regions like Aceh, Papua, and Timor. They were used
to put down political demonstrations and quell unrest after economic collapse
destroyed the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands.
The checks on U.S. military aid are gone, and now the floodgates have opened.
Political and military officials need to watch what Jakarta does next very carefully.
Human rights, broad political participation, secular democracy, and regional
leadership do not spring fully formed from the belly of an F-16 or the barrel
of a gun.