The creation of a peacekeeping center in Bogor, West Java has become a symbol of Indonesia’s pride over its contribution to Peacekeeping Operations (PKO). But how far have we actually come and where are we headed?
Peacekeeping, by UN definition, is a technique designed to preserve peace, however fragile, where fighting has been halted, and to assist in implementing agreements achieved by peacemakers. It is believed to play a critical role in transition toward permanent peace. What differentiates peacekeeping from other missions is that it encompasses a wide spectrum of activities, such as Disarmament Demobilization and Repatriation (DDR) of combatants, Security Sector Reform (SSR) and electoral assistance to support the restoration of the state’s authority.
Although PKO is considered not as risky as peace-making because of the availability of consent/legitimacy, it demands capability beyond the military basics. The multi-national contingent also brings up the challenge of joint operation and civil-military relations (CMR). At the core of every PKO mission, however, is the challenge of establishing credibility and impartiality.
UNPKO had nearly lost its credibility by the mid 1990s due to its failure to recognize the fragility of peace processes and apparent habit of acting “too little, too late”, most importantly in relation to Bosnia and later on, Rwanda.
Its credibility was finally resurrected following soul-searching on what went wrong and looking at how to improve missions, which eventually gave way to the rise of the most intriguing and, as some see, most dilemmatic concept of the “Responsibility to Protect”, which emphasizes the importance of preventive action.
The era was also marked by the rise of developing countries’ contribution to PKO as developed countries became more restrained by national caveats, and the creation of regional PKO based on the cognizance that cultural sensitivity played an important role in the success of a mission.
Indonesia’s peacekeeping contingent, famously known as Garuda, has been deployed in various missions since 1956. It has achieved some noteworthy cornerstones such as the UN Mission in Congo and UNIFIL Maritime Task Forces. Garuda consisted of selected people from military, police, military police and civilian backgrounds. It deployed as combat support, combat service support, medical support, observers and many more. During the UNIFIL mission in Cambodia, Garuda was acknowledged for its ability to engage the most difficult party, the Khmer Rouge, in a way that others could not, which saw the release of hostages.
Being peacekeepers delivered some important lessons for Garuda. Major General Tamlicha Ali who served as UNTAC military chief, outlined at least six lessons: The need to develop a broad knowledge of the area of operations, maintain vigorous standards in selection, maintain high standards of personal and unit discipline, master the basic vocabulary of English and the local language, undertake training on negotiation and diplomatic skills for military officers and ensure civil action and humanitarian assistance are incorporated in the military doctrine (John B. Haseman, Join Forces Quarterly, 1996).
Jakarta gave assurances that PKO would continue to be an essential instrument of foreign policy. Garuda aspires to be in the top 10 PKO contributing countries, gearing up to deploying around 4,000 peacekeepers soon. The intention is welcomed by international society. Support from the US, Australia and South Korea poured into the establishment of a peacekeeping center. Indonesia also hosted multinational peacekeeping exercises under the “Garuda Shield” and was praised for taking charge of the command.
At the regional level, Indonesia has proposed a Southeast Asian peacekeeping force since 2004 and even offered Aceh as an example where such forces could be deployed. The new center could serve as regional hub for peacekeeper training.
But the question remains: How can Indonesia push the envelope further, not only in terms of numbers but also in terms of representation in policymaking that shapes the mandate and planning of peacekeeping operations. To soar to a higher level, Garuda needs to overcome some challenges.
The first is credibility and media relations. In the case of Lebanon, Garuda learned the hard way about the fragility of credibility in the face of media attention, when Garuda was accused of abandoning its duty. Recognizing the speed and effect of current media (and social media), any blunder made at home will be instantly known globally and vice versa. This could undermine the trust of people in host country and endanger the safety of both the personnel and the peacekeeping mission.
Critics that accused Garuda’s PKO ambitions as a publicity stunt need to be answered with a strong demonstration of consistent credibility, both domestically and internationally, which is also safeguarded with good media relations.
Second is impartiality. Being impartial means sticking to the mandate, which does not always serve the national interest. In the case of Srebrenica, confusing impartiality with neutrality could lead to disaster. Until now, the UN Security Council is mostly in charge of the mandate and overall responsibility of peacekeeping mission, while developing countries are de facto the biggest contributors, but are not well represented in decision making.
As the world’s biggest Muslim democracy, Indonesia represents a distinctive value and a more suitable alternative for some countries, notably those in the Middle East (Egypt and Tunisia, for example, have requested Indonesian help in the election process and electoral issues.
Furthermore, Indonesia also has first hand experience of how difficult it is to build trust with peacekeepers whose impartiality is in question when it hosted a PKO back in 1999. Indonesia would have made a noteworthy contribution, represented a balanced interest and would have been sensitive to local values, had it been given the access to PKO policy making.
Third is gender sensitivity, which has not been seen as a pressing issue until the UN requested more women peacekeepers to work with traumatized societies, a condition commonly found in war-torn places. Critics doubted whether the Indonesian Military (TNI) could actually fulfill UN requests due to unaccommodating local cultures. In theory, the TNI as professional institution should have a distinctive culture above that of society, but in reality armed forces are a reflection of the nation and inevitably, its associated culture.
It is expected that the TNI will incorporate gender mainstreaming into training and a military career progression scheme.
Fourth are civil-military relations, since Garuda is not only made up of military and police officers, but also civilians such as engineers, medics and education specialists. Humanitarian work is not really the core expertise of the TNI, therefore the question of humanitarian space and the limits of military roles must be considered.
It is true that the centrality of military roles cannot be denied, as the rapid progression of hostile conditions is always possible in the area of operations. But the TNI must be accustomed to work more with civilians and vice versa.
A clear division of labor is the key, so is the training, coordination and trust that will be gained through intensive exposure prior to the deployment. The new training center will also be used for the preparation of civilian capability, becoming a living laboratory where military and non-military approaches are formulated and mixed to get the perfect formula.
Garuda, the soaring eagle, has come a long way to becoming a reputable peacekeeper and is now ready to reach new heights. Good peacekeepers are treasured like a good fire brigade: Nobody wants to mess with them because they will always be needed to put out fires anywhere, at any time.
The writer is a PhD candidate at Cranfield University in the UK.