1st Nov 2010


The comprehensive partnership between Indonesia and the United States, first called for in November 2009 by Indonesia’s president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono during his visit to Washington, DC, deserves celebration for validating the need for this kind of non-treaty, mutual help association. The two countries have much in common – but for most Americans, Indonesia may be the most important country in the world that they know little about. The comprehensive partnership will change that – at least that is the hope of Presidents Yudhoyono and Obama.

Neither country has yet published a “table of contents” of this comprehensive partnership, but it is envisioned to be one of broad reach from education to global warming to security to investment and economic cooperation. The symbolism of such an agreement between the world’s second and third largest democracies is welcome indeed, and although it breaks no new ground it serves to reaffirm a bipartisan consensus over the importance of the U.S. relationship with Indonesia. But it’s also still a work in progress requiring both parties to work patiently to patch up the disagreements that remain.

The U.S. needs a non-formal working relationship like this in Southeast Asia where its formal alliances with the Philippines and Thailand are showing their age and are of diminishing utility. Singapore is the near-perfect model of such a quasi-alliance; Malaysia is emerging as another de facto ally in maritime security. Indonesia is the vital link in this network of informal arrangements that has to be in place for the be a credible security guarantor of last resort. Indonesia’s strategic location, huge geographic expanse and large population make it a key partner in the regional security locus.

In dollar terms the U.S. security assistance package is fairly modest – averaging between $20 and $30 million a year in training and peacekeeping funds plus almost $80 million (over several years) for extensive maritime security program. But it matches well with the TNI’s security priorities. These include improvements in soldiers’ quality of life and setting what it calls the Minimum Essential Force necessary to ensure maritime and land border security and to prevent encroachment from neighboring countries. The TNI has also shifted priorities to various “operations other than war” including international peacekeeping and disaster relief planning and operations. The TNI leadership has also made a prudent decision to defer major – and expensive – weapons purchases to concentrate on less costly but important priorities. The U.S. in response has initiated a series of programs to upgrade the Indonesian Air Force’s airlift capacity to support both territorial defense and humanitarian missions. A key project in the package is a periodic aircraft maintenance program intended to keep Indonesia’s inventory of C-130H transport aircraft flying safely and efficiently. Other important components of the security relationship are military education, training, seminars and conferences, and a broad program to upgrade maritime surveillance along critical waterways.


The components of the U.S.-Indonesia security cooperation package have grown rapidly since the Bush administration resumed a meaningful security relationship in 2005. That resumption of ties came after more than a decade of estrangement caused by political revulsion in the U.S. over human rights abuses committed mostly by the Indonesian army and militia surrogates in East Timor in the decade of the 1990s. The U.S. has resumed funding for Indonesian participation in the International Military Education and Training Program (IMET) and for military sales and cooperative financing for equipment and services. Both countries now participate in a series of bilateral and multilateral training courses, seminars, soldier-to-soldier training exercises, and meetings of high level officials.

The partners achieved an important milestone in June 2010, when senior defense officials of both countries signed a defense cooperation agreement (DCA) that sets down in writing the
objectives and components of the bilateral security relationship. Another important step was the Obama administration decision, announced in July 2010, to resume – gradually – ties with the controversial Indonesian Army Special Forces Command (Kopassus).

To offer a comparison of those recommendations – now more than two years old – and today’s security relationship, an examination of past and present observations is in order.

Training and Education: “The U.S. should expand IMET-funded education and training and administer a vigorous “soldier-to soldier” program of in-country training and U.S. hosted visits and exchanges.”
There are significant funding increases in one key item – Indonesia’s share of the IMET program. While just a little more than half a million dollars in 2004 the Indonesian account nearly tripled to $1.547 million in 2009. There are concerns, however, that much-needed IMET funding has slowed in current and near-term years. In 2010 Indonesia was allocated only $1.75 million for 2010 and an estimated $1.8 million for 2011. This is a much slower trend than the amounts requested, which would increase funding to as much as $2.7 million in 2012. The need to make up for a missing generation of Indonesian IMET alumni alone can justify the increase. The IMET program is the least expensive item in this package but it is of incalculable value to both the militaries. One of the major objectives of the partnership, after all, is to broaden and deepen the military-to-military relationship.

The IMET program is the most cost-effective component of a security relationship. Not only does it provide education and training to the partner country, it also exposes security personnel from Indonesia attending schools and training courses in the U.S. to the role of the military in a democratic society, the ingrained mores of human rights, and the treatment of civilians in conflict areas. Dollars spent to train military personnel of all branches of the TNI (including English language training in Indonesia as well as part of precursor preparation for specific military courses in the U.S.) are multiplied many times over when IMET graduates return home and pass on impressions of American society, culture, and military professionalism to their fellow officers.

The TNI’s doctrinal and policy changes that now focus on non-traditional missions such as peacekeeping, disaster relief, and maritime security add a dimension to the paramount need for more professional military education, an area where the U.S. is well-poised to assist.

U.S. and Indonesian policy makers agree on the importance of IMET. Since the program resumed in 2005 after a hiatus of more than a decade, funding for Indonesia’s IMET program has steadily increased – although it has yet to return to the funding levels before the program was stopped in 1992. When resumed in 2004 the program had less than $600,000, but funding has increased each year since then. The 2010 fiscal year (FY10) amount is $1.75 million, with $2.45 million requested for FY11. By comparison, at its height of funding back in FY80, Indonesia received $3.1 million (at that time the largest in the world), which amounts to about $4.0 million in 2010 dollars (See Table 1).
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Table 1
International Military Education and Training Funding

(amounts in US$ millions)
Fiscal Year    2003  2005  2006   2007   2008   2009   2010   2011    2012 (requested)

IMET            .599    .728    .938  1.398  1.037  1.547   1.75   1.80       2.7

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The current IMET program provides for a variety of professional military education courses, ranging from basic officers courses to military service staff and national war college courses. The program includes English language training courses in the U.S. for students with marginal English language skills. Plans are underway to resume U.S. English language training in Indonesia, perhaps similar to the Defense Language Institute English Language Center (DLI-ELC) programs funded from IMET in the 1970s and 1980s. To that end the DLI-ELC in mid-2010 conducted a “train the trainer” course for English language instructors at the Defense Ministry’s Language Training Center.

Although there are more than a hundred bilateral face-to-face training iterations every year, from ship visits to joint exercises that bring together the soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen of the two nations, only IMET can expose Indonesian officers for a whole school term to American society and standards of military professionalism. The program is even more timely than before, as it is adapting to the TNI’s doctrinal and policy changes that place a high priority on non-traditional security missions. Even better for the U.S., that student – chosen for ability and potential – will rise through the ranks and, as a future TNI leader, will become a key senior officer that an American general or admiral can confidently talk to about how their forces could work together to rescue people caught in a natural disaster or confront a regional security threat.

The U.S. has developed other funding sources to supplement IMET and expand the number of TNI personnel able to attend courses in the U.S. These funding mechanisms pay for training exercises and conferences, purchase of services and equipment, and defense and security studies as well as classroom costs. The Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI), Foreign Military Financing (FMF), and Combating Terrorism Fellowship Program (CTFP) are being imaginatively employed to the benefit of both countries’ armed forces. Recent initiatives using these funds for training include the use of GPOI funds to help conduct the 2009 Capstone peacekeeping training exercise Garuda Shield, which involved representation from 22 countries. In addition, foreign military sales grants purchased blanket training cases for expanded technical training, such as aircraft mechanics courses. Additional FMF grant funding will provide technical assistance training for the full range of U.S.-made aircraft and professional development training to both officers and NCOs.

The Pacific Command (PACOM) commander also commits operational funds for face-to-face training iterations in both Indonesia and in Hawaii. PACOM funding covers costs of more than 100 training exercises and subject matter expert exchanges across the spectrum of military operations and humanitarian assistance. Most recently the U.S. Navy hospital ship USS Mercy participated in Operation Sail Banda (along with the ships of several other navies) by providing medical services to the people on the small and scattered Molucca Islands. Since face-to-face training and education events resumed in 2005, the value of PACOM-funded assistance is estimated to be in the tens of millions of dollars.

Support for New Missions in Operations Other Than War: “The TNI has adapted to this shift in priorities by deferring major weapons purchases and tasking all its service branches to assist the government in handling civil emergencies.”

In addition to its primary missions of national defense and upgrading quality of life for all military personnel, the TNI has added a new portfolio of defense missions grouped into the category of “operations other than war.” These missions include, inter alia, international peacekeeping, disaster relief planning and operations, and maritime security. The TNI adapted to this shift in priorities by deferring major weapons purchases and tasking all its service branches to assist the government in handling civil emergencies. It will instead concentrate on restoring the readiness of its existing aircraft fleets that support these missions, particularly the aging
C-130 transports and a variety of transport helicopters.

The U.S. in response has initiated a series of programs to assist these efforts. Among the highest priority programs are efforts to upgrade the readiness and maintenance capabilities of the Indonesian Air Force C-130 transport fleet, which is vital for effective response to natural disasters such as the 2004 tsunami in Aceh and more recent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions around the archipelago. Similarly, the Indonesian Army’s transport helicopter fleet needs extensive upgrading for local movement of personnel and equipment. The primary focus for these projects is the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program , specifically the use of Foreign Military Financing (FMF) grants that focus on improving airlift capability and aviation safety.

Indonesia will receive approximately $20 million in FMF grants in FY2010 (up from $15.7 million in 2009, with an expected $22 million in additional FMF funding to come on stream in 2011). The U.S. Air Force is finalizing an FMF grant to fund a C-130 Periodic Depot Maintenance package that will become the most significant commitment of FMF funding to Indonesia in many years. Additional grant funding will provide technical assistance for the full range of U.S. made aircraft.

Indonesia is paying its way too – the Indonesian Air Force committed $50 million to new and existing FMS cases that provide spare parts and technical assistance for U.S.-made aircraft (F-5, F-16, C-130). The program calls for the first Indonesian C-130 aircraft to be upgraded in Oklahoma City; the first aircraft arrived there in July 2010. At the same time the U.S. will prepare the TNI’s own maintenance depots in Bandung and Malang to handle subsequent work. Indonesia has also expressed interest in purchasing additional C-130 aircraft from the U.S. to expand its fleet of transport aircraft, in accordance with the new emphasis on better strategic mobility.

Support for United Nations (U.N.) Peacekeeping Operations: “Indonesia has returned to U.N. peacekeeping operations with pride and determination after an interregnum that began with the 1997 financial problems that swept Southeast Asia.”

The comprehensive partnership supports the TNI’s vigorous reentry into United Nations-mandated peacekeeping missions. Indonesia’s woeful fiscal state in the late 1990s had reduced its international peacekeeping presence to just a few token observer missions. It is now back in business with 1,650 personnel deployed in Lebanon, Congo, Liberia and Sudan. Their value to the U.S. – along with that of other U.N. peacekeepers – is in serving where the U.S. won’t send its own soldiers for policy or cost-saving reasons.

To support Indonesia’s robust return to U.N. peacekeeping operations the Bush administration set a precedent of utilizing funds from the Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI), a program intended mainly to help train African peacekeepers, to pay for the transport of the vehicles of an Indonesian mechanized infantry battalion to southern Lebanon in support of U.N. peacekeeping operations. The Obama administration continued this policy by supporting Exercise Garuda Shield 09, the largest multilateral peacekeeping training event ever held in Indonesia, as well as the follow-on Garuda Shield 10, held this past June. The multinational Garuda Shield exercises include troops from several participating nations; Garuda Shield 10 included forces from Indonesia, the U.S. (the Hawaii National Guard and USARPAC personnel), Thailand, Philippines, Nepal, Brunei and Bangladesh. The U.S. has also earmarked $3.3 million in GPOI funding to support the construction of a 300-man barracks at Indonesia’s planned Peacekeeping Training Center at Sentul, just south of Jakarta. An additional $1.32 million in GPOI funds has been set aside for supporting equipment at the Center.

The Obama administration is continuing one of its predecessor’s key initiatives – the installation of coastal surveillance radar stations along key waterways to deter terrorist activities and to improve navigational safety. In addition to ground locations the U.S.-provided radar equipment on board ships in both the Indonesian Navy’s Eastern and Western Fleets. The administration is requesting quick-dispensing funds from Congress to provide the Indonesian navy with the small boats and the army with helicopters, all needed to interdict suspect boat traffic. These assets are meant to be part of a regional maritime security network. Such an array of coastal radar installations along the important Strait of Malacca, the Sulawesi Strait, and the Sulu Sea enhances maritime security in the key passageways between Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines – the so-called “Tri-Border Initiative” – and will be useful in deterring the movement of terrorists and human traffickers, and the smuggling of resources. A ceremony to mark the completion of the Malacca Strait portion of the Initiative was held on the island of Batam, near Singapore, in July 2010. The entire Tri-Border Initiative project is planned for completion in early 2011 and the U.S. plans to allocate funding to sustain the project for several more years.

The Major Challenge: Regain Mutual Trust and Respect

Despite these robust engagement efforts, the partnership cannot attain its full potential until a decade-old issue over the discriminatory treatment of the Indonesian Army Special Forces Command (Kopassus) is resolved. This elite unit cannot receive any congressionally-funded assistance from the U.S. under a law that denies such funding to any foreign military unit credibly accused of having committed gross human rights violations. The ban froze Kopassus out of the U.S. Pacific Command’s Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) exercises since 1999 and denies IMET training and education to current Kopassus personnel. Former Kopassus personnel are now eligible for IMET programs provided that they clear the vigorous human rights screening process.

After U.S. sanctions against the TNI were lifted in the aftermath of the Aceh tsunami and a peace settlement with Aceh separatists, PACOM sought to gradually bring Kopassus back into its training programs by inviting a few officers to take part in non-lethal exercises along with soldiers from other commands. However, congressional staff members, angered that they were not informed of these exercises in advance, forced the State Department to cancel them. Later attempts to include individual Kopassus officers in peacekeeping training have met similar congressional disapproval.

Kopassus has been singled out for ostracism because of the violent behavior of some of its members in East Timor, and the abduction and disappearance of more than a dozen student activists in the waning years of the Suharto regime. Most of the individuals involved in these incidents have already retired or left the service, and Kopassus has not been credibly accused of a major human rights violation in at least the last five years. Still, the Leahy Law, named after its principal sponsor Senator Patrick Leahy (Democrat from Vermont), is being invoked against all Kopassus members, even though a great number of them are too young to have served during the abuses of the Suharto era.

For this partnership to succeed, the parties have to deal with each other with trust and goodwill. Continued focus on the actions of officers that did the bidding of a long-gone authoritarian regime a decade and more ago only invites the TNI’s comparison with the U.S.’s own unfortunate record of violations of rules of engagement in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Each party must try to accommodate their social and cultural differences. For Senator Leahy this is a matter of strictly enforcing the law – for others it is sheer bullying. The State Department has to follow the bidding of a senatorial baron who has the final oversight of its entire budget. For Indonesia this is a matter of trust and not human rights.

The TNI has gone to great lengths to raise human rights consciousness in Kopassus and other units. Human rights training is now standard through the TNI education and training system and in its tactical units. Personnel carry instructional cards on how to treat civilians in conflict areas, and on the universal tenets of human rights. Several countries – led by Canada and Norway – and respected organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) regularly conduct human rights courses for the TNI and its component commands. And all U.S. education and training courses include instruction on human rights.

During a recent visit to Washington, the current Kopassus commander, Major General Lodewijk Paulus – who personally has an immaculate record on the issue of human rights – appealed to Senator Leahy’s staff for its understanding of the extent to which the TNI has already reformed itself and how unjustly the Leahy Law is treating his younger officers. General Paulus has already reassigned several officers tainted by past human rights charges.
Indonesia took court action to discipline many of those accused of fomenting human rights abuses in East Timor, but those efforts were marred by inept prosecution – perhaps deliberately so – that led to the eventual acquittal of those accused. Now the principle of double jeopardy prevents re-trial of those individuals, most of whom have left military service in any event. Officers accused of specific offenses in Papua (the murder of political activist Theys Eluay) and Jakarta (the kidnapping and alleged murder of anti-Suharto activists) were convicted by courts-martial and sent to prison but in most cases not removed from military service. Having served their terms in confinement, they are back on active duty – to the dismay of many – but not in positions of command influence.

The Obama administration’s July 2010 decision to resume contacts with Kopassus was based on the significant improvements undertaken since the fall of Suharto, and the U.S. policy is strongly conditioned on continuing good conduct on the part of Kopassus – and all of the TNI for that matter, and TNI actions on accountability for any lapses. Reengagement will allow Kopassus personnel to be invited to PACOM-sponsored seminars and conferences, engage in limited training with U.S. Special Forces personnel, and participate in regional special forces events. However, it does not remove current restrictions on Kopassus personnel receiving formal military schoolhouse education in the U.S. under IMET and other programs that are congressionally funded.

What fair-minded people cannot understand is this: If U.S. policy is intended to support reforms throughout the TNI, including Kopassus, then why does it continue to deny Kopassus personnel the education opportunities that can make those reforms stick? There will be resentment in the TNI – and a not too bright future for the partnership – if the U.S. continues to treat the TNI as not worthy of its trust. Discrimination against Kopassus forced by a tiny minority in Congress and the State Department has caused widespread anger against the U.S. within the TNI, and could have an adverse effect on other important U.S. security objectives.

Congress could easily address this issue by a simple change of wording – by stressing restrictions on individuals credibly accused of human rights abuses, rather than on units. Because of the continuous turnover of personnel in any military unit, the makeup of that unit changes almost completely over a period of three to five years. Punishing Kopassus as a unit today imposes unwarranted penalties on personnel with no human rights abuse history. It would be far better to impose restrictions on those individuals with a dark background no matter where they may be assigned.

Indonesian leaders view the normalization of relations with Kopassus as a litmus test of America’s sincerity in desiring a truly comprehensive partnership with Indonesia. The proposed slow opening of contacts is viewed by the TNI as the first step leading eventually to full engagement with Kopassus. If these doubts persist they could dampen the prospects of the partnership reaching its full potential.

John B. Haseman is a retired U.S. Army colonel who had three tours of duty in Indonesia between 1978 and 1994, including as U.S. Defense Attaché in Jakarta, 1990-1994. Eduardo Lachica is a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal and The Wall Street Journal Asia.

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