Wed, 29 Mar 2000

Superficial and real reforms in the Indonesian Military

Competing agendas remain one hindrance to reform within the Indonesian Military, says Damien Kingsbury, the Executive Officer of Monash Asia Institute, who recently wrote Guns and Ballot Boxes: East Timor's vote for independence. In this recent interview at Monash University in Melbourne, he shared with The Jakarta Post his guarded optimism and concern for hurdles facing Indonesia's democracy in relation to the changing role of the military. An excerpt of the interview follows:

Question: In your research and observation of the Indonesian Military (TNI), what struck you as the most optimistic and most pessimistic aspects?

The most optimistic aspects are the strength and vitality of the reform movement. I think there is some political opportunism there, but on the whole we are seeing open discussions about a set of ideas that only a few years ago would not have been allowed at all.

On the down side, while superficial reform has been and will continue to be achievable, fundamental reform will be much slower, I think, and not as successful.

The main impediments to a more fundamental reform of the TNI revolve around the evolution of a distinct and particularistic military culture, more broad notions of authority and hierarchy and the practical difficulties of separating senior officers from what have been lucrative or powerful positions.

Very few people anywhere are happy to give up something that enhances their status or power, and TNI is no different. Indeed, many officers went into TNI attracted by status and power, and it is a challenge to now say this must change.

It is not as easy as having a benchmark of military disengagement and reaching that in, say, five years. There will be some hangover into the indefinite future. But I hope I'm mistaken.

President Abdurrahman Wahid, or Gus Dur, seems to have certain designs for TNI. He regards Agus Wirahadikusumah, the new chief of the Army's Strategic Reserves Command, as a thinker. Do you see attempts by Abdurrahman to "intellectualize" TNI?

No, TNI was already "intellectualized" under (retired generals) Wiranto and through (Susilo Bambang) Yudhoyono. Agus Wirahadikusumah is following that lead, although he's pushing it further. His appointment was made, I think, because he will shake up TNI.

He may not be successful in overhauling it, but he will certainly force it to reconsider some basic issues, such as the territorial structure. Of course, he may also be sacrificed in the process, although he could also be groomed as a potential commander.

Who else can you categorize as intellectuals or thinkers in TNI?

Bambang Yudhoyono is the obvious example, as is Agus Widjoyo. Although now out of TNI, Hendropriyono might also fit that mold. Hendropriyono was seen as one of a group of senior officers, also including Agum Gumelar, (Muhammad) Yunus Yosfiah, mostly after his appointment as information minister, and others, who were in favor of limited reform.

This mostly revolved around breaking Soeharto's control of ABRI/TNI and establishing it as an independent organization.

However, this did not necessarily imply an end to its dwi fungsi (dual function), so reform from some of these officers was quite limited.

Bambang Yudhoyono, on the other hand, suggested a more far- reaching program of reform, and articulated several key policy points.

But even here, while Bambang was clearly a reformist he was also cautious, in particular over the period of transition from TNI's political role to a nonpolitical role.

Possibly his biggest success was in ensuring that TNI did not interfere in last June's general election, and that it formally broke its links with Golkar.

However, since going into the Cabinet, Bambang has been much quieter on such issues, perhaps reflecting his acknowledgement that he is in the process of no longer being a serving officer.

In one sense, most of the leading officers now are "intellectuals" of one sort or another. None can afford to simply rely on being a good soldier -- they also need to be political thinkers and strategists, and to do this they need some sense of vision for both TNI and for Indonesia.

How effective are they?

So far, they have been very effective, especially compared with, say, when Try Sutrisno was the commander. He was definitely not an intellectual.

The reform process which TNI is grappling with is indicative of their intellectual strength, although this covers a range of positions.

But it should be remembered that "reform" is not synonymous with "intellectualism" and that some TNI "intellectuals" have a limited commitment to reform.

How good is this pooling of thinking cadres in TNI? Will it help TNI's professionalism?

"Professionalism" in TNI really means taking the military completely out of politics, which means making it a defensive force only, completely loyal and beholden to the civilian government.

This is the goal of the reformists, although as I've noted many of even the reformists have trouble in thinking about achieving such goals outside the political arena.

Perhaps this indicates just how entrenched TNI is in the political process. The "pooling" of "thinking cadres" in TNI was demonstrated by the launch of Agus Wirahadikusumah's last book, Indonesia Baru dan Tantangan TNI (The New Indonesia and TNI's challenge), and the officers who contributed to it.

But factionalism within TNI has somewhat divided the capacity for TNI's thinkers to be "pooled" as such.

How does the situation differ from under Soeharto?

The current environment concerning TNI reflects the competing political agendas in society at large. Under Soeharto such competing agendas were not allowed to exist in the open. Perhaps the most obvious difference is that the generals are slowly being parted from the economic process and having their direct political influence curtailed.

In part this happened under Soeharto too, and in part Abdurrahman is cultivating his own personal clique within TNI, as Soeharto did with the Armed Forces (ABRI).

But Abdurrahman's political style is very different -- much more liberal -- and this is reflected in the gradual reorientation of TNI. TNI is no longer the ideologically driven security apparatus that it was, especially in the first part of the New Order, although elements of that still exist.

If "reform" is not synonymous with "intellectualism" in TNI, isn't the idea of politically astute military officers rather incongruous with the ultimate objectives of depoliticizing the military?

There is, of course, a contradiction within elements of TNI over its depoliticization, in particular through the political processes being used to achieve this outcome.

This in part reflects the deeply entrenched political position of TNI. But it also reflects a fundamental inability of most senior officers to think of themselves or TNI in other than political terms.

There appears to be a process of contraction in TNI, because many civilian positions have been removed from TNI career avenues. Would this lead to gradual elimination of the military's dual function?

It is a step in that direction and it is a part of the "New Paradigm" developed by Bambang in the mid-1990s. But in one sense it only removes the New Order excesses of ABRI under Soeharto, and does not deal with the core elements of dwi fungsi as developed under (former commander Gen. A.H.) Nasution in the late 1950s.

Do you think Nasution had any idea his concept of dwifungsi would develop into what it was under Soeharto?

According to Agus Wirahadikusumah, the evolution of dwi fungsi was a product of its circumstances -- "a bastard child whose birth could not be prevented," he said.

Regardless of whether Nasution intended its outcome -- and I think it can be demonstrated by his later comments that he did not -- it was a logical consequence of establishing the military as a parallel structure to civil government.

Soeharto simply used that mechanism and elevated it to a more elaborate position. But the seeds of its evolution were planted by Nasution.

Perhaps he had not read enough of Latin American or Central European history to know the likely outcome of his plan, or perhaps he did.

It must be remembered that a major philosophical contribution to the founding of the state of Indonesia in 1945 was Japanese organicism -- also known as fascism -- and that this Japanese model also had parallel structures for the military and the government. In this sense, Imperial Japan was perhaps a less than ideal midwife to the birth of the new state of Indonesia.

Another side effect of this contraction is the concentration of middle-ranking officers in the middle, because they cannot be "dispersed" into civilian positions. Will this cause a great deal of dissatisfaction and create a boiling pot effect?

Perhaps, I've seen some of that. But perhaps such middle- ranking officers will also need to be educated, over time, about the role of the officer core being to obey orders and to serve the state, without regard for personal enrichment or political advancement.

Many say there is a lot of feudalism and primordialism in TNI. When Lt.Gen. Suaidi Marasabessy was replaced with Lt.Gen. Djamari Chaniago as TNI's chief of general affairs there were protests from Maluku, because they felt no longer represented by TNI leadership. How do you think feudalism and primordialism will fare in the immediate or distant future? Will they hinder the overhaul of TNI as presumably planned by Abdurrahman?

The question of feudalism is an interesting one, mostly because theoretical analysis of Indonesian politics and the Armed Forces have focused on patrimonial tribalism, which is a single, central authority dispersing patronage.

However, elements of TNI have increasingly been divided from the government and have split between themselves, creating a sort of feudal structure in which there are many power bases under an overarching power, in this case the presidency.

The main advantage of such feudalism is that it creates political "gaps" and allows and even encourages differences of views to be expressed.

This is a fundamental requirement for the development of a real democracy, toward which I think Indonesia is still heading.

Of course, such feudalism is a long way off from democracy itself, but recognition of a plural political constituency is absolutely necessary for such political maturation.

However, such feudalism does pose threats to the longer term stability and security of the state. It also has the potential to establish a type of "warlordism", especially under the proposed decentralization plans.

This could place the regions under the control of powerful elites and actually hinder the development of political participation in the regions.

In terms of primordialism, all societies retain degrees of "tribalism" and Indonesia is no different.

Indeed, such primordialism could be seen as a way for regions that feel vulnerable to excessive central control to assert some degree of autonomy.

This is okay if it is expressed through a participatory, representative political framework which includes the interests of the minority as well as the majority. But it can be very destructive if it reverts to a "winner-take-all" scenario.

If this was to develop now -- and there are elements of it in places like Ambon and some other trouble spots -- there would be a greater potential for the fragmentation of the state.

Any examples of a winner-take-all scenario?

The scenario is basically that which reflects more primordial forms of political dominance, in which power is centralized and in which any questioning of authority is implicitly a challenge to that authority.

This was noticeable under Soeharto. For example, if Islamic separatists in Aceh were to be successful, it is unlikely that they would opt for a compromise state.

Rather, it would seem that the type of state that would be established there would allow little room for meaningful dissent or disagreement.

In terms of Indonesia overall, if one group was to achieve power, or power was to again become centralized in the hands of an individual or a small, cohesive group, we could see that group assisting its friends and fellow travelers at the expense of other groups.

Fortunately, the tendency at the moment is not in that direction. But if, say, in Ambon, the situation is settled in a way that results in long-term exclusion of Christians from power and economic advantage, it would almost certainly further destabilize the region.

It really does depend on how decisions about difficult situations are made. If they are not inclusive there will continue to be trouble, and the continuing potential for fragmentation.

So, if this was to genuinely threaten, we could see a return to TNI asserting its authority as "guardian" of the state, as it did in 1958, which led to the dwifungsi in the first place.

Let's just say that Abdurrahman has a big job ahead of him on a number of fronts. (Dewi Anggraeni)