The Heritage Foundation

News Releases on Asia

September 22, 2000

September 22, 2000 | News Releases on Asia

U.S. Should Not Resume Military Contact with Indonesia

WASHINGTON, Sept. 22, 2000-The United States should suspend efforts to resume military training for Indonesia's armed forces until the civilian government in Jakarta has gained control of that troubled nation, a new Heritage Foundation paper says.

The military has been blamed for much of the violence plaguing Indonesia over the last several months, including a Sept. 14 car bombing in Jakarta's stock exchange that killed at least 15 people. Continuing U.S. training of its military will undermine efforts to create a stable democracy there, writes Dana Dillon, a policy analyst in Heritage's Asian Studies Center.

"The Indonesian military must demonstrate that it respects the rule of law," Dillon says. "Indonesian officers who have received training in the United States should be encouraged to use that training to build a professional armed force, to promote democratic ideals, and to stress the importance of a civil society."

Training foreign militaries is an important U.S. national security tool, Dillon says, because it offers an opportunity for the United States to build relationships with small or poorly funded forces and help instill respect for democratic values.

But Indonesia's military-known as the National Armed Forces, or TNI-has so far shown a penchant for violence that makes such contact unwise, Dillon says. A TNI-supported mob recently killed three United Nations relief workers in West Timor, including one American. The military has also provoked a bloody sectarian conflict in the Moluccas islands and savagely suppressed independence movements in the provinces of Aceh and West Papua.

Yet the Clinton administration, which has condemned Indonesian officials for not controlling the military, wants to expand military engagement with the TNI and has proposed having its officers and units train in U.S.-supported military exercises.

But, Dillon says, increased military-to-military contact will only "aid and abet forces working against U.S. interests in Southeast Asia." Among his suggested remedies:

  • Cut off military contact at all levels. TNI officers are likely to view any contact with the uniformed members of the U.S. military as American validation of the TNI and its activities.

  • Train Indonesia's legislature to conduct proper oversight of the military. Providing U.S. expertise on legislative oversight to lawmakers in Jakarta would ensure civilian control, increase respect for the rule of law, and open TNI's activities to outside scrutiny.

  • Decide whether a TNI representative should be accredited to the Indonesia Embassy. Allowing the TNI an official representative to the United States would only legitimize its activities-and therefore prolong regional instability.

Since 1966, the military has co-ruled Indonesia, a southeast Asian nation of 6,000 inhabited islands, under a doctrine that says it is both the defender and a political leader of the country. Because of the doctrine, the military is heavily involved in politics, the government and many parts of the economy. Though democratic government was introduced in 1999, the military has been reluctant to cede control to civilian authorities.

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