Opinion

The problem with civilian
control

Democratization, or transition to democracy, has two dimensions. The first is the normative dimension that deals with how institutions are organized.

The second is the behavioral dimension, which deals with how democratic mindsets are implanted within all elements of society.

One important aspect in the process of transition to democracy is the establishment of democratic civilian control over the military.

The term democratic civilian control itself is related to the principle of military professionalism, which at the same time is also related to civilian professionalism.

It deals with how to ensure that the military obeys a democratically-elected civilian government, regardless of their origin, or how to enforce the military’s loyalty to the state.

Military neutrality in politics is usually regarded as one of the important indicators.

In terms of democratization, Taiwan and Indonesia may have the same experience. Both Taiwan and Indonesia have been undergoing a transition to democracy.

Indonesia started the process following the fall of Soeharto in 1998, while Taiwan started in 1987 when Chiang Ching-Kuo withdrew martial law.

Both processes became possible due to the contributions made by internal and external pressures.

One important issue in the transition to democracy in both Taiwan and Indonesia is the problem of the role of the military in governance.

During their respective authoritarian eras, the military was used by the regime to protect its power. In the case of Indonesia, some might argue that the military itself was part of the ruling power.

The major task in creating democratic civil-military relations during the transition to democracy in Taiwan and Indonesia is, then, how to ensure the military’s loyalty to the state, regardless of who is in power. This is sometime referred to as the nationalization of the military.

A number of steps have been taken to create mechanisms to ensure democratic civilian control. This process, however, is neither short nor easy.

On the normative dimension of the efforts to establish democratic civilian control, both Taiwan and Indonesia have already passed a set of regulations concerning management of the military and military affairs.

The enactment of these sets of regulations is regarded as an important step to ensuring democratic civilian control.

In 2000, Taiwan introduced the National Defense Law and the Ministry of National Defense Organization Law (effective in 2002).

The primary purposes of these laws are to enhance civilian control by reorganizing the defense bureaucracies and to nationalize the military.

The enactment of those two defense laws has provided the Defense Minister with control of both military administration and military command.

It makes the Defense Minister the real head of the defense establishment. In Indonesia, similar laws have also been introduced.

The Law on National Defense was passed in 2002, followed by the Law on the Indonesian Military (TNI) in 2004.

The enactment of those laws is not enough. Taiwan and Indonesia need to internalize the democratic values as a guiding principle in governing the relations between civilian authority and the military.

The failure in creating substantive democratic civilian control in Taiwan and Indonesia is due to the existence of a heavy penetration by civilian authority in regular military affairs; or the existence of the politicization of the military affairs.

In Taiwan, for example, several cases indicate that military affairs have become a subject for political rivalry among civilians.

On the issue of arms procurement, one can easily observe how political rivalry between the two main camps in Taiwan politics has put the decision on hold.

Another case of study is the initiation of doctrinal change during the first period of the Chen Shui-bian presidency that led to quarreling between the two parties.

Still another case study involves Chen Shui-bian’s personnel policies. The fact that many of Chen’s close associates have benefited from his personnel policies indicates the existence of the politicization of the military.

In Indonesia, the appointment of the TNI chief has become a political case. According to the new regulation, the President has the authority to appoint the TNI chief, but the appointee must go through a fit-and-proper test before the House.

In conclusion, to a certain degree both Taiwan and Indonesia have managed to establish democratic civilian control over the military.

On the normative dimension, both countries have adopted a set of regulations that place the military under civilian supervision and oversight.

On the behavioral dimension, Indonesia needs to embolden a stronger democratic mindset within civilian leaders, while Taiwan needs to be careful in handling the deep cleavages that exist among civilian leaders.

After all, it is not the task of the military to be faithful to the values of democracy, but it is the task of the civilian authority to cleverly draw the line.

“Riding is the art of keeping a horse between you and the ground,” once an unknown writer wrote. It is, therefore, not up to horse, but up to the rider to decide whether he or she is about to fall or not.

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

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