Fri, 23 Feb 2001

Loyalty and obedience of the Indonesian Military

The military need explicit rules to ensure its members' accountability, says Kusnanto Anggoro, a senior researcher at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies and a lecturer at the postgraduate studies program of the School of International Relations, University of Indonesia.

JAKARTA (JP): When Prime Minister Winston Churchill characterized the British navy as consisting of little more than "rum, sodomy, and the lash", his intent was to ridicule the stultifying effects of ethical failure.

He spoke, in effect, for all services. In Indonesia, the military can do no wrong. Many, including President Abdurrahman Wahid, have blamed individual officers -- rouge elements and/or deserters of the armed forces -- but defended the military against accusations that it was responsible for the atrocities in Aceh and elsewhere.

For sure, Abdurrahman, or Gus Dur, and Churchill are in different political and cultural settings. Churchill lived amid already stable civil-military relations where the profession of arms has a long tradition, with a high and exacting standard and an inherent nobility derived from the nature of war and the conditions of service.

Meanwhile, Gus Dur faces a situation where the military command is breaking down.

Nevertheless, in both cases distinction between individual officers and military institutions signify only one thing: it is impossible to calculate in advance the potential impact of disobedience upon the military forces of a nation, despite their loyalty to the country.

In fact, a man can be selfish, cowardly, disloyal, false, fleeting, perjured, and morally corrupt in a wide variety of other ways, and still be outstandingly good in pursuits in which imperatives other than those upon the fighting man are brought to bear.

One can be a superb creative artist, for example, or a scientist of the highest order, and still be a very bad man. What the bad man cannot be is a good sailor, or soldier, or airman.

For many years, the major culprit within military organizations has been the personalization of the military profession.

Promotion repays loyalty. The legacy of the New Order is still pretty strong. To a large extent, the dual function doctrine had made its way into the military, and resulted in a generation of senior generals who believed in, and attempted to apply to their duties, the rationalist doctrine of universal quantifiability.

This proved to be a fundamental and crucial error, as loyalty is not a substitute of obedience, but only a small and subordinate element of it.

Involvement of the military in business is another source of ethical failure. It is also a critical problem within the ranks of the military itself, because the ethical standards of the businessman that soldiers have been and are being encouraged to emulate, are not only not mutually reinforcing, but in fact mutually exclusive.

The ethic of the businessman is self-interest, while that of the soldier is self-sacrifice.

Thus, when Chief of the Armed Forces Adm. Widodo said before legislators that the Indonesian Military (TNI) remains loyal to the President, he was conveying only part of the problem.

A military coup is of course out of question within the current context of Indonesian politics. "Rouge elements" of the military, or the so-called oknum in Indonesian, may have nothing political in mind, let alone something that relates to creating a military regime.

Yet, no one can be sure about the disobedience of the military.

The role of the TNI in modern democratic Indonesia lies at the root, not only of the ethical drift currently afflicting the military, but also of the military's poor public image.

In fact, the determination and treatment of the root causes of the alleged "crisis of ethics" in Indonesia is a more complex and longer term exercise.

Unfortunately, no law would automatically correct such ethical failure, though they may construct order and enforce obedience, conformity and acceptance of the military to the civilian authorities and democratic practices.

If we return back to basics, soldiers are traditionally expected to possess military virtues in all facets of their lives. This is inherent in the idea that the military is not a job, but a way of life.

Therefore, military institutions should form a repository of moral resource that should always be a source of strength within the state.

They must promulgate and enforce explicit rules derived from formal ethical standards and hold personnel accountable for following minimal standards of duty and conduct demanded by these rules, and sanction or even punish those who fail to do so.

As Sir John Hackett suggests in The Military in the Service of the State (Colorado: Westview Press, 1979), boards of inquiry, court martials and public censure may in part mitigate the symptoms of ethical failure.

All these should be embodied in the law on the structure and organization of the armed forces, not in the law on National Defense.