Sat, 05 Apr 2003

'This war may set a precedent for unilateral invasion'

War disrupts daily activities, such as commerce, and a prolonged war in Iraq is feared to impact Indonesia strongly, while the country has yet to recover from its economic crisis. The Jakarta Post reporter Tiarma Siboro talked to Maj. Gen. Sudradjat, Director General of Defense at the Ministry of Defense. Following is an excerpt from the interview:

Question: As the world's largest Muslim country, some fear there could be repercussions from the Iraq war on Indonesia, which also maintains economic ties with the U.S. How will the government anticipate this?

Answer: The war affects all countries. The impact can vary from political, economic, military, social and cultural arenas. Economic problems will be the most painful to us, as we still rely on foreign investment.

Distribution among many countries have been interrupted by security disturbances; and changes of market demand will also affect the stock of raw materials for industry.

The fluctuation of the price of oil will also affect our state budget, and eventually influence economic growth. Indonesia has about 40 million unemployed and we are very sensitive to possible social disturbances that may ensue. And we're also planning the general elections for 2004, which will be prone to conflicts.

Do you share the view that securing oil supplies is the main motive of the U.S.-led war in Iraq?

Actually, the war is a war against terrorism, triggered by the U.S.-led antiterrorist campaign. Iraq is known to have developed weapons of mass destruction, including biological and chemical weapons, and the world worries whether these weapons will be used for inappropriate purposes in the hands of a dictator like Saddam Hussein.

Given Saddam's invasion of Kuwait in the early 1990s, it is viewed as possible that Iraq might launch a similar attack on other countries, such as the Arab Emirates and Syria. These considerations gave more reasons to justify the attack.

What implications do you see in the war?

I think we have to talk about the omnipresence of U.S. interests, especially in the Middle East, whereas the U.S. feels insecure if Saddam remains in power in Iraq.

As a superpower, the U.S. was easily able to change the regime in Afghanistan, and now it is trying to do the same in Iraq. Now, can the U.S. protect its interests? If the U.S. insists on changing the regime in Iraq, this would be against international ethics. But again, it is difficult to confront a superpower which can invade Iraq without prior approval from the U.N.

What do you think of Iraq's strategy so far?

The first Gulf War lasted 46 days, while the current war has been going on for only two weeks. But the invasion of Iraq this time is twice as fast as the first Gulf War.

Our concern now is whether this war will last for a long time. Maybe the U.S. will easily oust the regime, but this would not mean that the war is over, especially if the troops are involved in urban warfare.

This will be a long war requiring serious anticipation from the world community. If only it could end immediately, we could start economic recovery, but otherwise there will be various consequences that countries, including Indonesia, must face.

Do you think the war could spread beyond Iraq?

The magnitude of this war is not as big as that of World War II, or the war in Vietnam. Sure, the U.S. is spending more, but I don't see that it will affect the world's economic situation in a similar manner to 1929, which led to the Great Depression.

As for politics and security, there have been dramatic changes and the world will learn a new lesson in security values. It is now not impossible that a country can easily invade another country.

These elements can set a new paradigm for a future world war. We worry if the strong countries hold power because the UN mechanism is no longer effective in managing world order. We also worry now whether countries affiliated to the U.S. (in the current alliance) will face no sanctions (from the UN) should they launch an attack against other countries.

I don't think Indonesia (would be a target) unless, for instance, we are considered to be continuing to accommodate, or facilitate, the spread of terrorism.

What can the Indonesian Military (TNI) learn from the current war, especially in regards its relationship with the supreme commander?

Our military can learn much from the current war, as it involves new technology and sophisticated strategy, such as the use of "smart bombs" or its helicopters. In the past, a military attack would be more focused on the use of an infantry unit with armored vehicles, but today they combine all military resources -- helicopters, armored vehicles, infantry units, as well as naval and air force units -- engaging in simultaneous attacks in a big-scale operation.

Troops now carry bigger backpacks, meaning that they carry more equipment. This war demonstrates the high technology of war machines. We can also see how Iraq, with less developed technology, copes by developing defense tactics combining militia and guerrilla methods. This is the world's new laboratory of war.

Talking about the position of the president as the supreme military commander means talking about the civilian-military relationship. Civilian supremacy entails authority held by a legitimate president who has the support of the people.

George W. Bush is a legitimate president, and in a democratic country like the U.S., the military is subordinate to the president. The military only follows what has been ordered and does not carry out political responsibilities. Whatever the U.S. troops do in Iraq, no one can ask them to be responsible for anything because this is the responsibility of Bush and his ministry of defense.

Likewise with Saddam Hussein -- regardless of whether or not he is legitimate -- he is the president and the Iraqi military should obey him as the holder of political power in the country. Iraqi soldiers cannot be asked to be responsible for anything.

Is this what we call a professional military?

Yes -- therefore, we have to be careful in developing a military posture as well as in the use of military force, because once we use military force, it will always be followed by a serious impact, or "collateral damage", especially if we deploy troops for inappropriate aims.