Rethinking RI defense policy

Indonesia's development of its defense capabilities has mostly been constrained by inadequate funding. While it cannot be denied that Indonesia's weak economy creates tremendous difficulties when the country wants to procure weapons, there are more fundamental problems that may not be solved even if funding were unconstrained.

The first is clean and effective defense spending. Defense allocations should be spent to improve the professional quality of soldiers -- i.e., combat skills and ethics -- as well as make available defense hardware appropriate for Indonesia's strategic environment. There is an urgent need to avoid waste through kickbacks and bribery, especially in the procurement process.

Second, the Indonesian defense establishment must determine a sustainable plan for developing its defense capabilities to defend the nation, the people and county's sovereignty, as well as to deter external or potential threats.

Only with clear ideas about the threats to national security can a country envision and formulate plans to develop its defense capabilities, because threat perception determines the military's tasks.

So far, the Defense Ministry, through its defense doctrine issued in January 2008, has indicated that military threats to Indonesia's national defense include primarily territorial breaches, espionage, armed rebellion.

But no less important are the nonmilitary threats that range from external interventions that exploit democratization and human rights issues, to the country's slow development of science and technology, creating dependence on other nations.

The Indonesian Military (TNI) will not be able to perform well as a deterrent force against external enemies and competitors if it is too deeply mired in the task of confronting these threats. Even worse, the TNI could develop its former role as praetorian guard of the state if it takes on nondefense affairs.

Overemphasis on internal security has resulted in today's absence of a strategic paradigm, and a defense doctrine that has been too inward-looking in nature. Meanwhile, this strategic culture has engendered two important characteristics in Indonesia's military.

First, the military role as a force for national territorial integrity, which obligates them to prioritize national disintegration as a primary national security threat at all times.

Second, the military as a national element stands ready to confront all threats to national security, which gives them a mandate to be involved in domestic nondefense arenas.

Recent changes in the military doctrine are significant because they have eliminated all the social and political responsibilities of the military, which may suggest the military no longer aspires to be involved in nondefense affairs.

Unfortunately, Indonesia's defense doctrine suggests an unchanging emphasis on internal threats and a wide variety of nonmilitary responsibilities for the military.

Indonesia urgently requires a set of principles to guide its use of force to acquire defense forces capable of mounting a credible deterrent in an international setting. In other words, we need a strategic culture. There are three long-term steps that should be undertaken in order to shape RI's strategic culture.

First, the country should prioritize transforming defense forces into a more efficient organizational structure and advance the defense technologies of each of the branches of the Indonesian military, either through international cooperation or national defense and strategic industries. Advanced technology and efficient military organization will increase the military's ability to perform its roles and reduce casualties in military operations.

Second, security sector reform must not stop at the military, but should involve the police and intelligence agencies. The sooner these two change-resistant institutions reform themselves, the sooner they can fully take over responsibilities for internal security and the military can leave the domestic security realm with confidence.

Intelligence agencies need to focus on the gathering and analysis of strategic information with a strong delineation between domestic and foreign mandates, while the police should focus on maintaining social order and law enforcement.

Third, nonmilitary aspects of national defense should not be overemphasized.

It is critical for civilian political leaders to stop looking at defense policy as a political commodity. National security should be pursued by all departments in keeping with their competence and resources.

The writer is a lecturer at the University of Indonesia*s International Relations Department.

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