The Bush administration heralds Indonesia
as the world's largest Muslim democracy and a crucial ally in the war on terrorism.
Since 9/11 it has pushed Congress to allow it to bolster the Indonesian military
with weapons and military training. For many years, the United States was Indonesia's
largest weapons source, equipping the country with everything from F-16 fighter
planes to M-16 combat rifles. But during the '90s the spectacle of how Indonesia
was using these gifts to repress and brutalize its own people
provoked an international outcry. The U.S. Congress responded by cutting most
military ties with the Indonesia.
In recent years, pressure from human rights activists has kept members of Congress
wary of the Bush administration's efforts to restore military aid and training
assistance. In October 2004, 45 members of the House of Representatives wrote
Secretary of State Colin Powell to oppose restoration of foreign military aid
to Indonesia, citing "grave concerns over the prospects of real military
reforms" in a "massively corrupt" institution riddled with "impunity."
They call the administration's efforts "premature, unwarranted, and
The repression continued, and so did the efforts of the White House and the
Pentagon to restore full military relations.
These efforts illustrate the tension between security and democracy in the
"war" on terrorism. Washington needs Jakarta as a Muslim ally in this
"war" and a source of intelligence on Islamic extremism, which means
strengthening its military infrastructure. On the other hand, to uphold its
image as a beacon of democracy and freedom, the U.S. must act to loosen the
stranglehold of the Indonesian military over politics, justice, and culture.
Washington cannot erect a security state and foster democracy at the same time.
Rhetorically supporting and encouraging democracy in Indonesia while actually
strengthening the anti-democratic tendencies within its military is a dangerous
contradiction that is likely to create more of the very problems it seeks to
Members of Congress who actively oppose resumption of military aid to Indonesia
understand that security flows from vibrant democracy. Nations are more secure
when human and civil rights are protected, laws are enforced equally for everyone
(even those wearing uniforms), the political process is transparent, and military
power is curtailed.
The administration behaves as if it does not understand this. In return for
Jakarta's vowed cooperation in the war on terrorism, Washington is turning
a blind eye to the Indonesian military's long track record of human rights
abuses, brutal repression of independence movements, involvement in sectarian
violence, and relationships with terrorist networks.
Thus, aid to Indonesia is on the upswing. For fiscal year 2005, President Bush
is requesting $600,000 in military training, up from the $459,000 that was frozen
in 2004. Even if Congress does not release these training funds, Indonesia is
slated to receive $70 million in Economic Support Funds. This benign-sounding
program is supposed to "promote economic and political stability"
for infrastructure and development projects. While it is not intended for military
expenditure, many recipient governments use it as a backdoor method of freeing
up their own money for military programs.
An embargo on commercial sales of "non-lethal" weaponry has been
lifted and contact between the two militaries is on the rise. Indonesia's military
will participate as an observer in military exercises scheduled for this fall,
even though Congress had banned Indonesia from receiving U.S. military training.
In addition to the naval exercises, Indonesian security forces are getting
other significant help under the aegis of the war on terrorism. Indonesia benefits
from the Regional Defense Counter-terrorism Fellowship Program, a $17.9 million
military training program for Asian militaries, and more is in the offing. Through
the Anti-Terrorism Assistance program, Washington is arming and training SWAT-like
police forces in Indonesia. With initial funds of $12 million, the program has
funneled new high-tech weaponry and communications equipment into the country's
arsenal. Indonesia hopes to have six units of 325 elite force members armed
and trained by the end of 2005.
Background: A Legacy of Military Ties and Repression
The history of postwar U.S. support for the Indonesian
military provides the "war" on terrorism with an important cautionary
tale. In December 1975, Indonesia invaded neighboring East Timor, which had
just declared itself independent from Portuguese colonizers. Over the next five
years, the Indonesian military killed more than 200,000 people, one-third of
the population. Declassified U.S. documents point to Washington giving Indonesian
leader General Suharto the green light for invasion. In the months that followed
the brutal takeover, the United States signaled its approval by doubling military
aid to Indonesia and preventing the United Nations from taking effective action
From 1975 through East Timor's referendum for independence in 1999, the
United States continued its military support, transferring over a billion dollars
worth of weaponry to Jakarta.
Washington was forced to break off military relations with Jakarta because
of the military's abuse of power, violations of human rights, massacres, and
extrajudicial killings. In 1992, Congress suspended military training aid after
the Santa Cruz Massacre, in which Indonesian security officers fired into a
peaceful crowd of protesters, killing 271 people. Classroom military training
was restored in 1995. And then, in response to military and paramilitary violence
after East Timor's vote for independence in 1999, Congress strengthened the
ban, establishing a set of criteria Indonesia must meet before military ties
can be resumed. To this day, none of the criteria, including the transparency
in military budget and the prosecution of soldiers involved in human rights
violations, have been fully met.
Congressional controls on U.S. origin weaponry and military know-how are crucially
important, especially because the Indonesian military regularly rebukes international
controls placed on the use of imported weaponry. As Indonesian General Endriartono
Sutarto remarked when asked about his military's use of UK-origin Hawk
fighters, "I am going to use what I have. After all, I have paid already."
U.S. Weapons Used to Crush Aceh
In May 2003, Indonesia launched a military campaign
to "strike and paralyze" separatist rebels in the Aceh province. Soldiers
parachuted onto the island from six C-130 Hercules transport aircraft manufactured
by Lockheed Martin, the United States' largest defense contractor. As many as
45,000 Indonesian troops, backed up by warships, fighter planes, and other high-tech
military equipment, invaded the island. Their adversary, the Free Aceh Movement
(GAM), is thought to have about 5,000 guerillas armed with automatic weapons,
mortars, and rocket-propelled grenades. For 27 years, Jakarta has been trying
to squash GAM's quest for independence in a war that cost 12,000 civilian lives
and forced tens of thousands more to leave their homes.
The attack, which is Indonesia's biggest military campaign since its invasion
and occupation of East Timor in 1975, followed the breakdown of five months
of peace talks between GAM and the Indonesian government.
Two thousand Acehnese have been killed in this latest round of violence. President
Megawati downgraded military power from imposition of martial law to responding
to a "civil emergency" in May 2004. This is a shift in name only the
violence continues and 400 Acehnese have been killed since the "downgrade."
While Indonesian military officials claim to be targeting armed rebels, they
are employing "drain the ocean to kill the fish" tactics, with brutality
and indiscriminate killing. According to Amnesty International, the Indonesian
military has engaged in extrajudicial executions of civilians even children.
The human rights group also charges that there is widespread "torture of
detainees in both military and police custody."
The attacks are being carried out with U.S.-origin military hardware like the
C-130 military transport aircraft and the OV-10 Bronco attack planes manufactured
by Rockwell International.
With the aim of adding more C-130s, Broncos, and other weapons to the volatile
mix in Indonesia, the White House is failing to balance the need for security
with a commitment to democracy, thus jeopardizing both.
Arguments for resuming full military ties highlight Jakarta's contributions
to the war on terrorism. As President Bush's request to Congress for military
assistance notes, "Indonesia has demonstrated its resolve to fight terrorists
and violent extremism." But John M. Miller, an activist with the East Timor
Action Network, counters that the military there, "continues to terrorize
Indonesia 's residents; the military's human rights record remains atrocious.
Who are the real terrorists?"
Success in the war on terrorism depends on answering Miller's question honestly
and crafting foreign policies that are based on the response.