SECURITY POLICY IN INDONESIA:
BY GUESS, OR BY GOLLY?
by John B. Haseman
A paper prepared for the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies symposium:
“Domestic Determinants of Security Policy:
Security Institutions and Policy-Making Processes in the Asia-Pacific Region
10-11 January 2001
Indonesia's people have discovered that becoming the world's third largest democracy will not be an easy process. After more than 30 years of autocratic rule under President Soeharto, repressed desires for a more open political system burst violently into the open in May 1998. But by 2001, almost three years after Soeharto's resignation, Indonesia's social, political, and security challenges are more difficult than before. The country has a new president and vice president, a democratically elected parliament has been seated, but now reality has set in. The hard work to overcome those challenges has just begun.
The reasons for Indonesia's difficult challenges are many, intertwined with the country's complex society and recent history, regional economic factors, and its uniquely disparate geography. A momentous political transformation is underway as Indonesia changes from the autocratic rule of the Soeharto era to the more open political environment of the new century. It will be a slow and often stressful process. In addition to the difficulties inherent in major political change, the country must simultaneously face the challenge of economic reform, repair a badly torn social fabric, and re-address its internal and external security policies. One of these challenges is difficult; Indonesia must cope with three or four at the same time.
The Security Environment
The key to addressing Indonesia’s many challenges with any hope of success is a secure and stable environment within which to practice social, economic, and political reforms. Security issues have always been the focus of the central government. During the Soeharto era, domestic stability was first priority. Governance during the New Order employed a simple formula: the government undertook to provide economic development and gradually improve prosperity for all. In return it imposed tight political controls and tolerated little criticism or political opposition.
The formula worked well for many years. Within a shield of imposed domestic stability, Soeharto led Indonesia away from the economic disaster of Sukarno's final years and restored social and political harmony, but at the cost of freedom of political expression. This meant that security disturbances, from separatist guerrilla activity through outbreaks of ethnic fighting to much ordinary crime, were quickly and harshly addressed. Political historians will debate for years the point at which a more prudent ruler gradually would have begun to open the political arena for greater popular participation. For now, however, the legacy is clear: Soeharto kept the political lid on Indonesian society for too long.
Indonesia’s leadership has always identified internal instability as the country's greatest security threat. Indonesia is an inherently centrifugal country. With its fragmented geography of more than 17,000 islands, more than 300 separate ethnic and linguistic groups, religious diversity, and glaring imbalances in economic distribution, the nation needs a strong central government to keep its volatile population at peace with itself. Even in the best of times during the late 1980s and early 1990s when Indonesia’s economy experienced annual growth rates of seven to eight percent, flare‑ups of ethnic or social‑based violence illustrated how close to the surface lies friction.
The most serious security threat to Indonesia is violence between ethnic and religious groups all over the country. The continual outbreak of clashes between ethnic, religious, and social groups has been the most prominent aspect of domestic affairs for the past three years. While some are spontaneous explosions of pent up tensions, there is serious concern over the extent to which such domestic violence is contrived by powerful interests to destabilize and embarrass the democratic government of President Abdurrahman Wahid. Clashes between Ambonese Moslems and Christians, between Dayaks and Madurese, between Sumatran Bataks and Flores Catholics, and the wave of violence that swept the former province of East Timor are just some in a continuous series of clashes that has wracked Indonesia. Ominously, many such outbreaks of violence have clearly been instigated or supported by individuals outside the area of conflict who had a political interest in encouraging conflict.
This type of violence is known by the Indonesian acronym "SARA," which stands for ethnic group, social group, and religion. During the Soeharto era SARA conflicts were invariably dealt with quickly and ruthlessly. It was an item of faith that such violence was never to be tolerated and certainly not to be allowed to spread.
Ironically, that very tight security response to ethnic and religious violence may be responsible for some of the clashes among ethnic and religious groups today. The combination of strong pressure against political development under Soeharto, as well as instant repression of religious and ethnic violence, kept a tight lid on the natural pressures that exist throughout Indonesian society between its many ethnic and religious groups.
For many years it has been difficult for ethnic leaders to gain a following because they were often assumed by the government to be preparing for political competition with the ruling party and government authorities, or against another ethnic group. Traditional ethnic leaders were stripped of their powers to control their own peoples. Those responsibilities became part of the duties of government‑appointed officials at the regency and village level. Their management of inter‑ethnic relations often consisted of calling out the army or police to repress real or imagined confrontations.
Indonesia's SARA clashes are almost always sparked by a single act of violence or a personal clash which, because those involved were of different ethnicity or religion, quickly take on the larger character of ethnic or religious warfare. In fact, few were started by members of an ethnic or religious group who deliberately determined to begin a violent clash with another, "different," group. This is what has made diagnosing and predicting such violence so difficult.
In short, many of Indonesia's current problems were caused by three decades of tight political autocracy during which it was impossible for any type of alternative leadership to emerge, practice leadership, or gain a following. The resulting leadership vacuum at the head of newly‑emerging political, ethnic, and social groups has encouraged demagoguery and violence.
More easy to analyze is what has made ending the violence so difficult. Simply put, the Indonesian police and armed forces are so damaged by revelations of prior, routine, violent abuse of human rights throughout the country's trouble spots that they have little credibility in the eyes of the population, and can arguably be said to be engulfed in a crisis of confidence on their own part. There are strong indications as well that more than a few senior officers may be involved in sub-rosa activities to subvert social order in pursuit of personal power in Indonesia’s chaotic political environment. There is clearly a behind-the-scenes conflict among those seeking to assume some, or all, of the powers held by Soeharto. In Javanese terminology, that powerful right to power or aura is called the pusaka and it seems apparent that a number of powerful interests are at play in attempts to secure the pusaka. The current president, Abdurrahman Wahid, does not yet have that stature.
The police and armed forces are further hampered in their domestic security responsibilities by a lack of training in, and a scarcity of equipment for, non‑lethal crowd and riot control. Selected military and police units in some urban areas have received this kind of training and equipment, and have used that experience to ameliorate the number of casualties that are inevitable in such situations. But when violent incidents occur frequently, in cities and towns throughout the country, trained units and equipment do not stretch nearly far enough. It is unrealistic to expect the army or police continuously to fly the few well‑trained quick reaction units from Jakarta to all the far flung islands of the country in reaction to violence that erupts, often spontaneously, for unforeseen causes.
The alternatives when persuasion fails in such cases are very stark: defuse a real or potential riot with deadly force, or allow part or all of a city to be destroyed by rampaging crowds. The unfortunate result is that civilian casualties will rise as out manned and under equipped troops are deployed against an unruly populace. This in turn can only worsen relations between the armed forces and the population, raise criticism from concerned outside countries, and adversely affect plans for political reform and economic recovery.
The Major Domestic Security Threats
Indonesia's major internal security problems have involved separatist groups in three areas of the country: the former province of East Timor, Aceh, and Irian Jaya. It is important to stress the differences between secessionist guerrilla groups whose goal is to secede from the country and gain independence for their region, and non‑secessionists whose grievances center around economic and social exploitation by the central government but who do not advocate formal separation from Indonesia.
East Timor was the most difficult security problem for Indonesia for many years. Indonesia's Foreign Minister Ali Alatas once described East Timor as "a pebble in Indonesia's shoe." That pebble caused a major stone bruise for the country, severely damaged its international image, and cost uncounted billions of rupiah and thousands of lives. Like many of Indonesia's problems, previous intransigence on East Timor by Soeharto allowed the problem to fester until a solution favorable to Indonesia was impossible. The violence surrounding the August 1999 “consultation” ballot has been well documented elsewhere and is mentioned in this paper only because of the influence that experience has exerted both on the security forces of the country and on the regional security environment.
The effect of East Timor's experience has already given encouragement to separatists in Indonesia's north westernmost province of Aceh. The province has been a hotbed of anti‑center sentiments for hundreds of years. The Acehnese have historically opposed rule from Jakarta whether by the Dutch colonialist government or the independent government of Indonesia. Since the fall of Soeharto and the removal of many of the army troops that had controlled an uneasy security situation there, violence in Aceh has escalated dramatically over the past year. Unlike East Timor, a Catholic province which became a part of Indonesia only in 1976, staunchly Moslem Aceh has always been a part of Indonesia. And while problems in East Timor were of minor interest to the Indonesian population over the years, they are keenly interested in the situation in Aceh and adamantly opposed to allowing the province to split away from the country.
The rise of violence in Aceh has its roots in many causes. Historical opposition to outside rule is one. Another is the legacy of violence by Indonesian security forces during the Soeharto era and since. The propensity of the army and police to treat all civilians as actual or potential guerrilla supporters, which contributed to their lack of success in East Timor, has also harmed government pacification efforts in Aceh. A record of egregious human rights violations on the parts of both government forces and the separatist Aceh Merdeka guerrillas has inflamed passions on both sides.
A third major cause of unrest in Aceh is the diversion of the province's natural wealth to the center. Acehnese resent the fact that only a tiny percentage of the monies derived from its huge natural gas reserves is returned to the province. This grievance can be addressed by enlightened policies by the central government. Already tabled in Parliament are a number of proposals to devolve considerable political and economic powers to the provinces. More significantly, the proposals will increase dramatically the percent of income from local resources that will remain in the provinces.
But before meaningful results of the devolution of power and money to the provinces can be discerned in Aceh, a halt to the escalating violence is urgently needed. To date the police and military have been unable to find the right balance between the exercise of force to preserve security on the one hand, and allowances for local guerrillas to retain some degree of influence on the other. A “humanitarian pause” in effect since September 2000 was supposed to reduce the level of violence but was of little success in stemming incidents by both the government forces and the separatists. It reduced casualties but did not halt the violence, and the pact is set to expire unless political accommodation can be reached. Aceh is likely to remain the single most important security concern of the government for the next several years.
Irian Jaya remains a security concern as well. Small and uncoordinated separatist groups have conducted anti‑government operations for years. Now, with the change in government in Jakarta, those groups have begun to coordinate and communicate among each other and the threat for potential separation is greater now than in the past. However it remains to be seen how strongly the population in Irian Jaya feels about separation. As elsewhere in Indonesia, grievances there run the gamut from a higher return to the province of the profits from its huge natural resources (copper, gold, oil, agriculture), as well as strong resentment of the government and military attitude toward the local tribal population.
Given the huge natural resources in both Aceh and Irian Jaya it is highly unlikely that Indonesia will allow the provinces to separate. Thus the keys to security in both regions is a reduction in tensions between government and populace, agreement on devolvement of political power and budget to the province level, a revenue sharing formula that leaves a greater percentage of natural resource profits to remain in the province, and a revised formula for the local and national security apparatus to carry out legitimate police and defence missions.
The External Security Environment
The primary responsibility of the Indonesian armed forces (Tentara Nasional Indonesia - TNI), like all nations' armed forces, is to counter any threat to the country's security, whether foreign or domestic. Indonesia is fortunate in that it does not confront a significant external threat. In Indonesia’s view, the most serious regional problem involves overlapping claims of sovereignty in the South China Sea of its partners in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and those of China. Indonesia itself has no overlapping sovereignty claims with its ASEAN partners in the South China Sea. Further afield, an increasingly assertive China looms as the region's most worrisome future threat.
However, even this relatively benign international environment has worrisome challenges. Economic downturn throughout the South China Sea region increases the value of potentially important undersea resources such as petroleum, natural gas, and other minerals. Thus, the potential for clashes over rights to develop such resources may be increasing.
The political harmony of ASEAN has begun to fray at the edges with the admission to membership of the economically less developed and politically more repressive countries of Burma, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. The long‑hallowed principle of non‑interference in fellow ASEAN members' domestic affairs is being challenged by the free democracies - led by the Philippines and Thailand - who now criticize the human rights abuses of other members. The assertion of “all for one, one for all” during the 2000 conference of ASEAN heads of state may have sounded like a united declaration of policy, but it could run into practical troubles with the European Union, for example, from which some countries still refuse to send full ministerial representation to meetings that include Burma at the table.
Powerful regional neighbors such as China and India will undoubtedly seek greater influence in the region. Thus Indonesia's armed forces must be mindful of a potential change in the heretofore benevolent regional security situation. For example, Indonesia has a large territorial claim around the Natuna Islands, which until comparatively recently was included in China's broad claims to virtually all of that important body of water. China figures large in Indonesia's concerns over possible future outside threats to its economic interests and sovereignty. It was no coincidence that several years ago the scenario for the TNI's last major multi‑service training exercise focused on Natuna Island. The exercise tested planned operations to regain the island from "an outside invading force."
Security Policy Making: Intuition or Process?
During the New Order, security policy was made by a very small group of senior officers who worked through consensus without recourse to formal governmental organizations. Several governmental institutions had a nominal role in the security policy arena, but in practice they played - at best - an advisory and consultative role on the periphery. Several research institutes also had an important role in security policy formulation because of a close relationship with one or more powerful government officials.
Internal security - the primary focus - was the preserve of former President Soeharto and discussed and decided by a small group that included the Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs (almost always a retired military officer), the Ministers of Defense and Home Affairs, the armed forces commander-in-chief, and the heads of the Armed Forces Strategic Intelligence Agency (BAIS) and the National Intelligence Coordinating Body (BAKIN). The Ministers of Information and Foreign Affairs were part of this small group in most, but not all, cases.
Always, of course, President Soeharto’s decisions were paramount. But he often expressed his thoughts in a convoluted Javanese manner rather than by issuing clear guidance and orders. Senior officers found themselves attempting to interpret Soeharto’s frequently oblique instructions and then to implement them through policy decisions and the security chain of command, both military and police.
In this manner the Soeharto government formulated and implemented the highest policies of foreign and domestic security affairs. In domestic security issues a small group determined when, where, and how to implement the much-criticized “security approach” to anti-government and separatist threats or whether to use the “developmental approach” (more emphasis on consultation and reduced military presence). In foreign affairs a small group also determined what stand to take in such international fora as the United Nations and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Similar small groups of trusted high-ranking military and civilian officials were also empowered to determine political matters, monitor and detain anti-government figures, and decide national level policies affecting the lives of all Indonesians. The policy making process was informal, made by a small number of persons, and at all times ultimately determined by President Soeharto.
Under Soeharto, the executive branch of government - the president, his immediate office, and the cabinet - determined all security policy matters. The Parliament had no policy-making powers and acted purely as a rubber stamp approval authority for presidentially-initiated policy decisions. Security issues were almost always deliberated by a much smaller segment of the cabinet, as noted above, and presented to the full cabinet as a fait accompli. It was this small group of influential ministers who, together with Soeharto, determined Indonesia’s foreign and domestic security policies.
Security Policy After Soeharto: Process or Happenstance?
Since the end of the New Order, security policy-making is no longer the purview of a single strong national leader. Democracy, however, has not yet brought an institutionalized system for determining either domestic security policy or the prioritization of foreign security issues.
The biggest change has been the “confusion-ization” of security policy formulation and execution. It is not clear how policy decisions are reached, nor is it axiomatic that policy decisions are implemented as directed. The ad hoc governance style of both the Habibie and Wahid governments is certainly illustrated in security policy issues. For example, what was arguably the most significant security decision of the entire Habibie presidency - the “autonomy or independence” of East Timor - was apparently decided by President B.J. Habibie without consultation with either the foreign minister or the armed forces commander-in-chief, and then implemented in spite of the strong opposition of the armed forces. The resulting debacle destroyed the nation’s international prestige, severely damaged the armed forces’ reputation, and ended in the most embarrassing period in recent Indonesian history.
Under President Abdurrahman Wahid, security policy formulation has been decentralized more through happenstance than deliberate decisions by the nation’s leader. The current situation has placed more decision-making on both domestic and international security issues into the hands of cabinet ministers. They are delegated through the Coordinating Minister for Political, Social, and Security Affairs to the Minister of Home Affairs and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, respectively.
But it is not nearly that simple in practice. Although the cabinet ministries have more responsibilities now than under Soeharto or Habibie, a number of outside players have gained significant powers over the decision and implementing phases of security policy. The slow transition from autocracy to democracy has been a frustrating process across the range of government, and security policy has not been exempt. While the formal process described here is what is supposed to happen sometimes actually does happen, the implementation of policy, particularly regarding domestic security issues, is far more complex.
Within the cabinet the Department of Foreign Affairs has considerable staff working on issues of foreign policy but has only limited input on internal security matters. Within the Department of Defense there is a small foreign policy planning office headed by a two-star general or admiral, usually with considerable prior intelligence experience, with primary responsibilities for policy planning within the Department.
The most powerful security affairs agency in the country - for planning as well as implementation - is the TNI. TNI headquarters concentrates most planning within the office of the Assistant for Plans and Budget. Security issues are addressed within the office of the Assistant for Intelligence and BAIS. Neither is particularly sophisticated on international security issues, but they excel in extensive domestic intelligence and operations. BAIS is the single most powerful internal security organization in the country. In addition to its intelligence gathering and analysis mission BAIS controls its own intelligence operations unit and also frequently exercises operational control (under orders from the commander-in-chief) over the Army Special Forces Command (KOPASSUS).
The new government has prioritized strengthening the Department of Defense at the expense of TNI. Among other efforts, this contemplates shifting some of BAIS’ security policy and operational activities to the Department of Defense, and some of BAIS’ domestic intelligence and security responsibilities to the nominally civilian National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (BAKIN). Planning for these significant intelligence shifts are underway in Jakarta, but because of the great political power ramifications of any change, there is much opposition to change.
The Supreme Advisory Board is the senior non-cabinet agency involved in national-level policy issues, including security matters. In the past its influence varied with the quality of its membership and the degree of access it and its recommendations had to Soeharto. Under President Wahid the role of the Board has yet to be determined. In all cases, however, its role is purely advisory; it has no statutory authority and its power to work on specific policy issues is drawn only from instructions from the Office of the President.
Since early in the Soeharto era, two think tanks have played an important advisory role in the formulation of security policy. The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), headed by Mr. Jusuf Wanandi, has long played a pre-eminent role in informing the formulation of security policy. During the long period in which retired General Leonardus Benyamin “Benny” Moerdani headed military intelligence and later commander the armed forces it was particularly influential. CSIS is manned by highly educated specialists in economic, political, social, and security affairs. Its senior officials are internationally educated, sophisticated observers of Indonesian and international affairs.
During the presidency of Prof. B.J. Habibie the Indonesian Science and Research Institute (Lembaga Ilmu Pengetahuan Indonesia - LIPI) assumed a leading advisory role. One of LIPI’s senior political analysts, Ms. Dewi Fortuna Anwar, became one of President Habibie’s senior personal advisors.
Since the installation of the democratic government of President Abdurrahman Wahid in 1999, the question of how security policy is determined (and who have become the primary actors in the process) is a valid and worrisome issue. All of the formal institutions and informal players mentioned still exist. But the most important player, an all-powerful autocratic president, is no longer around. President Wahid appears to depend more on his cabinet for policy-making decisions, but has appeared hesitant and vacillating in the all-important problem of maintaining domestic security.
The formerly powerful army, the single most important instrument in the maintenance of internal stability, has lost some of its political stature and is engulfed in internal policy turbulence and sub-rosa activities that may in fact be contributing more to the problems rather than to the solutions. The political future of the TNI is no longer clear. Formerly the pre-eminent national instrument of security policy, the army is in disarray. Challenged as an institution, its reputation badly damaged by revelations of brutality on a general scale, and its dominant political role under intense debate, the army must now repair cracks in its structure, reassert its unity and integrity, and find an accepted place for itself in Indonesia's angry society. The new democratic era has also brought to prominence Indonesia’s parliament, which has gained far more power than ever before. It now has authority to approve appointment of cabinet ministers, the chiefs of the armed forces and the three branches of the military services, and the chief of police. Political party leaders have frequently insisted on an active role in security policy matters, particularly those affecting internal security. Yet neither parliament as an institution nor the many political parties have formed any structure for involvement in security policy. Thus there is no clearly enunciated procedure for participation of the legislative branch of government in the security policy process. It appears that the presidential staff and cabinet will remain the decision-makers on both internal and external security policy, but the cabinet process is not nearly as decisive as it was during the Soeharto era. It is too early to determine with certainty the most important actors involved.
The TNI and Security: Policy Formulation and Implementation
While many will look at emerging political leaders for new security policies and innovative solutions, the key to success lies, as it always has, with the country's armed forces and its ability - and willingness - to support significant reform and simultaneously to enforce a reasonable degree of domestic security. Indonesia's Armed Forces are in vastly different circumstances than anyone might have imagined just a few years ago. The military and police establishment is essential for national survival, but its effectiveness in assuring law and order and domestic security is in question. Under attack for decades of abuses during the era of Soeharto's rule, the police and the army have seen their reputations sink to a low ebb in the esteem of the population. Now, in addition to the normal challenges facing any country, Indonesia’s security forces must meet the challenge of regaining the respect of its people.
The anticipated efforts by the Indonesian military to begin its withdrawal from political dominance are of considerable importance to the evolution of a more participatory democracy in Indonesia. The military has already initiated some reforms. One was the separation of the national police from the armed forces establishment; another the taking of a new name. The military kept its pledge to remain neutral in the election process. Military officers serving in civil government postings now must retire from the armed forces to keep their jobs. A navy officer is commander-in-chief of the armed forces, the first time in history an army officer has not held the post. Two civilians have served as Minister of Defense for the first time since the early years of the Sukarno government 40 years ago. But internal reforms and changes in military security policies are likely to be taken slowly, at a pace that may not be acceptable to the country's newly-enfranchised population.
The military still remains the single most powerful segment of Indonesian society. Though small in numbers, its influence is significant and widespread. The armed forces commander‑in‑chief, Admiral Widodo, appears determined to implement reforms although he is criticized by reformers for moving too slowly on some needed changes, and by opponents of reform ‑‑ many of them senior military officers ‑‑ for moving too quickly on others.
Most Indonesians acknowledge the importance of a disciplined and capable military establishment for the country's stability and unity. Indonesia is a centrifugal country. Its multi‑ ethnic, multi‑religious society and its geographical fragmentation require a strong central government and a police and military apparatus capable of maintaining domestic stability.
The only major change in TNI security missions in recent years was the 1999 separation of the national police from the armed forces structure. The strength of the remaining military force has changed little over the past 15 years, and remains one of the lowest per‑capita military forces in the world. Despite its loss of stature because of human rights violations, the force remains well‑trained and disciplined overall. Like many Asian forces, its primary weaknesses lie in the fields of maintenance and logistical support.
Because of its traditional low priority in budgetary allocations under the Soeharto government, the TNI has acquired few modern weapon systems in recent years. The most significant addition of the past five years or so was the purchase of most of the East German navy, a policy decision urged by B.J. Habibie when he was Minister for Science and Technology. That decision is still highly controversial because of the costs to modernize and refit those ships. President Wahid's announcement that protection of maritime resources will be a high priority of his government, and the appointment of a naval officer as military commander, indicate that the navy and air force may now assume a higher priority.
The air force has upgraded its strength with Hawk fighters purchased from the United Kingdom. But neither the "new" navy nor the "new" air force acquisitions are first‑rank equipment. The force needs upgraded strategic mobility, both ships and transport aircraft, to defend its huge and fragmented territory and to improve movement of ground forces around the country. The shortcoming was particularly noticeable over the past two years when reserve battalions were repeatedly, and often slowly, moved around the country in response to major outbreaks of domestic violence.
The armed forces played the key role in the constitutional process that removed Soeharto from the presidency. When the moment of crisis came in May 1998 the Indonesian armed forces supported the will of the people and the dictates of the constitution rather than the will of the man who was president and who had controlled ABRI for 32 years. Military leaders effected the constitutional removal of the world's second longest serving strongman without taking up arms against the people.
The armed forces establishment remains the single most influential and powerful element of Indonesian society. Its pre-eminent role in security planning and operations is likely to remain for the foreseeable future regardless of any efforts at political reform and democratization. Most Indonesians realize that a strong and effective military force is essential to a smooth transition to a more democratic system and to guarantee the nation's security, particularly during the turbulent times certain to stretch into the future.
 Colonel Haseman served three assignments in Indonesia between 1978 and 1994. He was the U.S. Defense and Army Attache in Jakarta from 1990 through 1994. Since retirement he has written extensively on Indonesian political-military affairs and he consults frequently on Indonesian and regional affairs in the United States, Australia, and Asia.