Tue, 25 Feb 2003

No reason to give power back to the Army

Philips J. Vermonte, Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Jakarta, pjvermonte@csis.or.id

The statement made by the Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ryamizard Ryacudu last week clearly showed the lack of understanding on the part of the Indonesian Military (TNI) about the nature of objective civilian control over the military.

The main reason for this is that the statement had bypassed a chain of command within the military, and may have disrupted the state of our healthy civilian-military relationship. Such a statement, which entails a supposedly formal political stance of the TNI, should have first come from the highest in command.

In a democratic country, a civilian government would only discuss important matters with the Armed Forces' highest in command, not with the chief of staff, and not during a press briefing. Of course no civilian authority has the right to prevent the Army from holding a meeting to discuss the fate of this country. But it needs to be understood that the TNI, be it the Army, Air Force or Navy, should channel its ideas to the civilian authority in a democratic manner.

It was reported that the statement was made after Gen. Ryacudu held a closed-door meeting that brought together hundreds of active and retired top Army officers (The Jakarta Post, Feb. 21). Since it seems that those who attended the meeting were officers that were building up their career during the New Order regime in which the Army enjoyed a great political role, it can be said that the Army's current leadership, despite all its rhetoric that it was committed to gradually reforming itself, is still longing for the power that once gave them so many privileges.

It is interesting to note that instead of consulting with younger Army officers, such as colonels, Gen. Ryacudu chose to discuss the matter with his former superiors. To a certain extent, the statement does not mean anything but the fact that our Army has not really adjusted itself within the new democratic environment that has been gradually installed in this country since the fall of Soeharto's authoritarian regime in 1998.

Although Gen. Ryacudu stated that the Army's security role had to be reinstated due to threats of separatism and other disturbances, he seems to forget the very important fact that the two issues were adequately dealt with by two laws that were enacted last year by our legislature, namely the laws on defense and the National Police.

We clearly need to first differentiate the role of the military, not only the Army, during times of peace and war. Law No.3/2002 on defense stipulates that during peace, it is the regional governments that are given the role to continuously prepare the resources and infrastructure necessary for national defense.

In other words, the territorial function is being seen as a governmental function carried out by regional governments, and not by the Army as it was in the past. In August 2001, a seminar organized by TNI Headquarters and attended by military officers and civilian academics concluded that even if the Army needed to continue its territorial function, it would have to be limited to only training and preparing the soldiers without any right to reach the people in any way.

The two laws also regulate how to position the military during an emergency. If an emergency, such as a separatist movement, escalates to an open-armed conflict and becomes a military threat to the country, the military might be given a role in handling it.

Nevertheless, the right to define an emergency is held by the democratically elected civilian authority, not the TNI. In the case of Aceh, for example, the Megawati government has so far decided to pursue diplomatic channels, instead of taking military action, to solve the problem.

With regard to disturbances, as long as it concerns maintaining law and order within society, it is the police who have been authorized to deal with them. However, Law No.2/2002 on the National Police stipulates that police officers have to assist the military during an emergency situation.

Several civilian experts on defense and security-related issues helped draft the two laws, which set a very good precedent in our effort to establish democratic civilian control over the military. However, some circles in our Armed Forces tend to think that the two laws greatly undermine TNI's power on the one hand, while giving more substantial power to the police. In fact, the two laws are only following the commitment of the TNI to reform itself.

In the early days of reformasi, TNI announced what it called a "new doctrine" that, among other things, guaranteed it was ready to share various roles with other state components. It is in this spirit that the two laws were agreed upon, tasking the police with maintaining domestic security, while the TNI has the responsibility of safeguarding our country's sovereignty and territorial integrity and to deal with external threats.

Therefore, it can be concluded that at the political level, the issue raised by the Army chief of staff last week had in fact been settled long before the statement was made.