Fri, 18 Jul 2003

'Barbarism' won't win peace

Andi Widjajanto, Center for International Relations Studies, University of Indonesia, Jakarta

The renewed, massive military operation in Aceh allows us to assess the conditions under which the Indonesian Military (TNI) deals with an asymmetric conflict. Only a comprehensive theory of asymmetric conflict can guide policymakers in building the necessary forces to implement effective strategic responses.

Military strategies characteristically include direct attack and "barbarism". Direct attack means the use of the military to capture or eliminate an adversary's armed forces, to gain control of that opponent's values. The main goal is to win the war by destroying the adversary's military capacity to resist.

"Barbarism" is the systematic violation of the just war doctrine in pursuit of a military or political objective. Its most important element is depredations against noncombatants. Unlike other strategies, barbarism has been used to destroy an adversary's will and capacity to fight. When will is the target in a counter-insurgency campaign, the strong actor attempts to deter would-be insurgents through, for instance, a policy of reprisals against noncombatants. TNI can also target GAM to sustain an insurgency by, for example, embedding intelligence operatives deep inside the bureaucracy.

GAM's strategies will typically include direct defense and guerrilla warfare strategies.

Direct defense refers to the use of armed forces to thwart an adversary's attempt to capture or destroy possessions such as territory, population, and strategic resources. Like direct- attack strategies, these strategies target an opponent's military. The aim is to damage an adversary's capacity to attack by crippling its advancing armed forces. Examples include limited aims strategies, static defense, forward defense, defense in depth, and mobile defense.

Guerrilla warfare strategy (GWS) is the organization of a portion of society for the purpose of imposing costs on an adversary using armed forces trained to avoid direct confrontation. These costs include the loss of soldiers, supplies, infrastructure, peace of mind, and most important, time. Although GWS primarily targets opposing armed forces and their support resources, its goal is to destroy not the capacity but the will of the attacker.

GWS requires two elements: (1) physical sanctuary (e.g., swamps, mountains, thick forest, or jungle) or political sanctuary (e.g., weakly defended border areas or border areas controlled by sympathetic states), and (2) a supportive population (to supply fighters with intelligence and logistical support, as well as reinforcements).

The TNI will most likely lose an asymmetric conflict when they adopt the wrong strategy vis-a-vis their weaker adversaries. Same-approach interactions -- whether direct-direct or indirect- indirect -- favor strong actors because they imply shared values, aims and victory conditions. Opposite-approach interactions (direct-indirect or indirect-direct) favor weak actors because they sacrifice values for time. This results in a significant delay between the commitment of armed forces and the attainment of objectives. Time then becomes the permissive condition for the operation of the political vulnerability.

Assuming that (1) the TNI has been trying to combine both direct and indirect strategies; and (2) GAM is now employing an indirect defense strategy, we do not need a Clausewitz to predict that GAM's military maneuver will be difficult to defeat. Of course, not all or even most asymmetric conflicts need follow this pattern, but when they do, and when a resort to arms is the only viable option, how should the TNI react?

One dangerous response would be a temptation to resort to barbarism, which appears to them to be an effective strategy for defeating an indirect defense. But even a snapshot of postwar histories reveals that, at best, barbarism can be effective only as a military strategy. If the desired objective is a long-term political control, barbarism invariably backfires.

The French, for example, used torture to quickly defeat Algerian insurgents in the Battle of Algiers in 1957. But when French military brutality became public knowledge, it inspired political opposition to the war in France and stimulated renewed and intensified resistance by the non-French population of Algeria. Within four years, France abandoned its claims in Algeria even though it had "won" the war. Barbarism thus sacrifices victory in peace for victory in war.

An ideal TNI strategic response in an asymmetric conflict therefore demands two central elements: (1) preparation of political and public tolerance for a long war despite the TNI's material advantages, and (2) the development and deployment of armed forces specifically equipped and trained for counter- insurgency operations.

Without more special operations forces -- the self-reliant and discriminate armed forces necessary to implement an ideal counterinsurgency strategy -- what began as a military operation against GAM, essentially an isolated violent minority, will tend to escalate into a war against an entire ethnic group.