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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

OCTOBER 8, 1999 VOL. 25 NO. 40

A Battle Being Fought
Believe it or not, the military - yes, the military - is reforming
By JOSE MANUEL TESORO Bandung


Senior officers at the military training school Sesko TNI carry the burden of facing mock invasions - and angry public demands for change
Tantyo Bangun for Asiaweek
Under cover of night, the enemy sweeps in from the Indian Ocean. One by one the cities of Sumatra fall. A foreign army is now encamped beside Banda Aceh's black-domed Baiturrahman Mosque; hostile troops patrol the emptied streets of Medan and Pekanbaru. West Sumatra's capital of Padang, leveled after a doomed resistance, still smolders. Besieged and encircled, Palembang cannot hold out for much longer. Meanwhile, West Java's key Siliwangi division, the Army Strategic Command's two infantry divisions, Special Forces commandos, the navy's Western Fleet and 17 air squadrons at Jakarta's Halim Airbase are all awaiting orders. Yours.

The wrong response to present to one's instructors would be fear, panic and utter confusion. Especially since those challenged with this invasion - actually a four-day regular exercise dubbed Operation War Game, held at the Indonesian military's Staff and Command College - will one day occupy command positions in the nation's armed forces. All candidates for senior jobs in the Indonesian defense hierarchy must undergo a seven-month course at the college's spare campus in the cool West Java city of Bandung. The minimum rank for admission is senior lieutenant-colonel. The minimum age is 47.

    ALSO IN ASIAWEEK
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Unrest against the military revives the debate over civil and military power in Indonesia. But a bigger question is: Will disillusionment and division jeopardize the presidential poll?
• When Enemies Become Allies
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The aim of the 25-year-old institution, known in Indonesian as Sesko TNI, is to smooth cooperation on matters of strategy and military science among leaders of the army, navy, air force and, until recently, police. But as the final tier of training and the main think-tank for top military personnel, Sesko TNI is leading the redirection of Indonesia's most influential organization. Even as civilians attack the military for obstructing change and spreading violence, reform has actually been quietly at work.

"We have to acknowledge there have been mistakes," says Col. D.E. Nadapdap, a Sesko TNI instructor. One major problem: the doctrine of dwifungsi ("dual function"). By declaring that the military had both a defense and a social-political role, the armed forces elevated involvement in day-to-day politics to the same plane as maintaining a professional military. In time, the former grew at the expense of the latter. Many military men built up significant interests in both business and politics, especially in the bureaucracy and local government, which, as a result of dwifungsi, at one point reportedly had about 21,000 officers in civilian positions.

Armed forces chief Gen. Wiranto is under renewed fire for the army's human-rights abuses, especially in East Timor and Aceh. Yet, under him, the military has committed itself to becoming more professional. Says Lt.-Gen. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, one of Wiranto's top aides: "Reform will continue until the military is in a proper position to perform its main task of defense and security." Some of Wiranto's measures have been largely symbolic, such as changing the acronym by which most Indonesians refer to the military from the Suharto-tainted ABRI (Armed Forces of the Republic of Indonesia) to the original, Independence-era TNI (Tentara Nasional Indonesia, or Indonesian National Military). Other moves are more concrete. Last November, after protests and public pressure, the military gave in to a cut in the number of military representatives in the national parliament from 75 to 38 seats, and in local parliaments from 20% to 10%. Wiranto has even suggested that the military faction may not exist by the next parliamentary election, in 2004. In April, the armed forces chief separated the police force from the military. Most significantly, he delivered an ultimatum to the 3,000 soldiers who now serve as both officers and public officials: either retire from the military or resign from the bureaucracy. Most chose to take their pension papers.

In a move unthinkable not too long ago, the military has even surrendered its troublesome social-political function, at least formally. Wiranto abolished the military headquarters' socio-political department, formerly headed by Yudhoyono. Now, the TNI says it has a single function: the maintenance of national security. At Sesko TNI, senior soldiers no longer take units on the military's social-political function, but instead discuss "social communication." There are even seminars on public relations and on human rights.

Reforms could be coming at just the right time for the military. Two young academics, Douglas Kammen and Siddharth Chandra, oppose the established perception of the Indonesian military as driven by personal or religious alignments. In their recently published book A Tour of Duty, they argue that little-examined internal organizational pressures have a great influence on military politics. During the 1960s, the military academy graduated a huge number of cadets - the same soldiers who are now among the military's seniors. That explosion in the number of soldiers expecting positions, they say, is why officers have been rotated through commands so rapidly in the 1990s, and one reason why jobs in the bureaucracy have been so key for the military for so long. But after 1975, the number of cadets dropped and has now stabilized at about 250 a year. With less competition for posts, explains Kammen in an interview, there could be increased respect for professionalism. He says: "There's reason to believe that many of these officers have an interest in keeping a clean record and avoiding flagrant human rights abuses."

Retired general Hasnan Habib detects among the younger crop of senior officers an enthusiasm to make the army more professional. The problem is that there is no money. In the latest government budget, 2.3% of expenditures went to the defense sector, or about $143 million. That means that someone like Special Forces Capt. Andiyanto, after 20 years of service, makes about $80 a month from salary, bonus and food allowance. "How can we be as professional as we should be," he asks, "when we are underfed like this?" Corruption is almost inevitable. Habib worries that chronic underfunding will frustrate efforts at modernization - and disillusion even those officers keenly seeking change.

It will also be tough to remove politics from the profession, especially since, in the past, promotions to the highest positions were often decided on political connections. The requirement that all senior commanders attend Sesko TNI was routinely disregarded. Lt.-Gen. Prabowo Subianto, a Suharto son-in-law, had commanded the Special Forces and the Army Strategic Command but never attended Sesko TNI. Neither did Wiranto, a former Suharto adjutant. The military now promises that the regulation will be strictly adhered to.

A clean and merit-based military, focused on its readiness to defend the country - the TNI has a way to go before it gets there. More money would help, but the public mood prevents loosening the purse strings for the military. At least it has begun the journey. The result may not be visible for years, even decades. Meanwhile, the image of the armed forces continues to plummet among many Indonesians. "They don't want to see us anymore," says a Sesko TNI colonel sadly. The re-training of Indonesia's military is not just a result of political necessity or generational change. It is also a matter of honor.

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