What You Really Need to Know about the U.S.-Indonesian Security Relationship

On August 26, sovaldi USINDO hosted an Open Forum on U.S.-Indonesian Security issues with the recently returned Senior Defense Officer/Defense Attaché to Jakarta, Colonel Kevin Richards.

In 2006, Colonel Richards was sent to Indonesia with the mission to re-establish the U.S. Military relationship with Indonesia.  When he arrived, the US and Indonesian militaries had not participated in any joint exercises in the pervious year; however, by the time he left in 2010, the two entities had participated in 140 joint activities, reflecting great progress in the relationship.

He reported that upon arrival in Indonesia, he observed that the Indonesian Military had felt neglected and had begun to harbor resentment toward the U.S.  As a result, the military’s English had deteriorated as well as their equipment for which they depended upon U.S. assistance to fix.  Regardless, Richards found the Indonesian military eager to re-engage with the U.S. and committed to making the military work within the new democratic framework of Indonesia.

As democratic consolidation has proceeded and the police have taken over internal problems, the Indonesian military has transitioned from a focus on internal to external issues.  Richards outlined the three major spheres in which he sees the military focusing on in the future.  With Indonesia’s 17,000 islands, the first important area of focus for the military is maritime security.  The second is protecting citizens from natural disasters, in particular, strengthening Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR).  Third, the military has begun to develop a niche in the global arena as excellent peacekeepers.  With 1,500 men in Lebanon, the Indonesian military has already proven they have good organization and leadership skills in the peacekeeping arena.

Richards discussed the continuing process of reform of the Indonesian Military which he believes has been positive and fairly successful.  He highlighted that the military no longer has any seats in the government and its only involvement in recent elections has been helping to secure election sites.  Furthermore, last year was the first year of a new policy where soldiers will attain four years of higher education including coursework in human rights and rule of law.  The military has also reached out to the International Red Cross (IRC), and currently every deployed soldier has a booklet drafted by the IRC on how to treat non-combatants.

Despite progress, Richards also recognized that there is still more work to do to complete the military’s reform.  Notably, there is still a lack of transparency in the military’s bookkeeping, making the budget less susceptible to corruption and inappropriate transfers of funds.  In addition, the current budget of 4 billion dollars is not enough to equip and pay the 450,000 personnel.

Since Richards’s arrival in Indonesia, the U.S. has begun to significantly support the Indonesian Military’s transformation, particularly in the three spheres of specialization.  There has been a significant focus on improving the navy to navy relationship which has been very hostile in the past.  The U.S. has also provided $60 million from Section 1206 and 1207 funds for radar to improve maritime security.  For Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR), the U.S. has assisted in selling used C130s and fixing newer ones, as few Indonesian C-130s were flyable upon Colonel Richards’ arrival.  The U.S. is also assisting with the building of a Peace Keeping Center in Indonesia.  In addition to helping in the three areas of focus, the U.S. has continued the International Military Education and Training Program (IMET) which brings Indonesian Military officials to the U.S. to further their education.  Although the numbers of participants remains low, the program not only helps build technical skills among the Indonesian Military among trainee’s return but also is a system to export American values like respect for rule of law.

Richards also commented on the Leahy Amendment.  He sees the need and reasoning behind the restrictions that prevent the U.S. military from training known human rights offenders or units which have committed human rights abuses in the past.  Although Richards admits the restrictions and vetting can be difficult to deal with and expensive, he feels that the amendment was necessary to protect U.S. taxpayers’ money and to uphold human rights internationally.  He noted, however, that he does take issue with the lack of a statute of limitations on the restrictions.  For example if a unit had committed human rights abuses 100 years ago but has had a clean record since, that unit is still barred from being trained by the U.S. military.  Richards recommended that a statute of limitations of 10 years with a clean record should be adequate enough to receive training assistance from the U.S. Military.

The discussion on human rights abuses led into a brief update on KOPASSUS. Although they indisputably have committed grave offenses in the past, Richards was optimistic about the unit’s future.  Upon his arrival in Indonesia, he met with the leaders of the group who were very open and frank with him.  To his pleasant surprise, he was informed that many of the soldiers who had committed human rights abuses in the past had spent time in jail or had been moved out of the unit.  Richards recommended that the U.S. move forward slowly and cautiously exploring options for cooperation with KOPASSUS.  If we can identify a clean unit which has changed its mission since human rights abuses were committed, Richards believes we can begin with unit to unit training.  Given the sensitive nature of KOPASSUS’s history, Richards recommends proceeding slowly with collaborative efforts and pausing to reassess progress often.  However, if unit to unit training is successful, the incorporation of range firing training in the next two years would be a natural next step.  Overall, Richards expressed approval of the leadership and direction of KOPASSUS.

Colonel Richards addressed various other issues during a question and answer section.  In response to a question regarding the Indonesian Military’s commitment to staying out of politics and above the influence of radical Islam, Richards reiterated that he believes the military will continue to progress and understands their new role outside of the political sphere.  Furthermore, he noted that he felt Islam in Indonesia was moderate overall and that although there are Islamic political parties, he does not see the movement becoming more radical or powerful.

Answering another question regarding the gravity of KOPASSUS’s past human rights abuses and the Indonesian Military’s lack of accountability, Richards conceded that there is not full accountability yet; however, addressing past issues of accountability should not solely fall on the military.  He also expressed concern that in many cases perpetrators were sent to jail for six months and then allowed to return to TNI, however, mostly to staff and desk positions.  He went on to explain that despite these issues, the U.S. is the best equipped to teach rule of law and human rights to KOPASSUS, and in order to teach these values, we need to engage.

Finally, Richards touched on the challenges facing the military in Papua.  He conveyed that he thinks the Papuan separatist movement, the OPM, is being overplayed, and instead, the Indonesian military should focus on the economic development of Papua so as to narrow income inequalities. Richards recommended we jointly address issues in Papua and Papua New Guinea together in order to achieve progress.  Regardless of these challenges, in the end, Colonel Richards seemed optimistic for the future of U.S.-Indonesia Military relations and the progress of the Indonesian military’s reform.

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