The Jakarta Post
Setting all conspiracy theories and political interests aside, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s appointment of Lt. Gen. (ret) Prabowo Subianto as defense minister cannot be separated from the fourth presidential election debate late last March. Prabowo, who was challenging Jokowi, highlighted the country’s insignificant defense budget and weak defense capability, hence Indonesia’s unpreparedness for offensives from outside.
The debate on security and defense apparently impressed Jokowi so much that after his reelection he picked Prabowo for the post of defense minister. Such is Jokowi’s faith in Prabowo’s capability in matters of defense that the President simply said: “I believe I don’t have to tell him about his job — he knows more than I do,” when announcing Prabowo’s appointment.
A defense minister, as stipulated in Article 16 of Law No. 3/2002 on state defense, assists the President in formulating the broad state defense policy, setting the state defense policy implementation, and defining the policy of budgeting, procurement, recruitment, management of national resources, as well as the development of technology and defense industries, for the Indonesian Military (TNI) and other defense force components.
Prabowo is obviously mandated with the gigantic tasks of administering the TNI with its three military branches — Army, Navy and Air Force — inclusive of managing their weaponry and defense equipment and systems, as well as the professionalism and prosperity of some 500,000 TNI personnel. Of all the priorities that the new defense minister has to pursue, fulfilling the military modernization program target is obviously the most urgent one.
After the end of the New Order in 1998, efforts to modernize the military were devised under a specified arms procurement policy, dubbed the Indonesian Military Modernization Program under the Minimum Essential Force (MEF) scheme. The medium-term 15-year scheme, which is intended to replace the obsolete TNI arms and weaponry, is divided into three five-year terms of strategic planning (Renstra) beginning in 2010 and is expected to be completed in 2024, when Jokowi completes his second term.
While there are numerous items to purchase under the MEF program, particular attention should be paid to the planned purchase of jet fighters to replace the aging F-5-E/F Tiger II warplanes after 35 years in service and also the renegotiation for a joint jet fighter development project with South Korea — the Korean Fighter Xperiment/Indonesia Fighter Xperiment (KFX/IFX) project. Also part of the MEF scheme is the targeted procurement and joint development of 12 Chang Bogo-class diesel attack submarines, also from South Korea.
Other than that, the defense minister is also tasked with completing the establishment of an integrated radar surveillance system that is expected to cover the country’s land, water and air territories. Such an integrated system is needed not only to ensure complete coverage of the country’s territory, but also interoperability with the existing defense equipment and system in operation.
Also part of the defense minister’s role as stipulated in the 2002 law is to draft the country’s defense white paper. The last defense white paper was issued in 2015.
In regard to the restructuring scheme of the TNI organization, which is based on a 2016 presidential regulation (Perpres) on the organizational structure of the TNI, the minister should carefully examine the scheme, which basically increases the number of military personnel in certain positions and creates new posts for high-ranking officers in the three branches of the armed service.
While the professionalism of TNI personnel should always be associated with their effectiveness and efficiency in performing their defense duties, an examination of the restructuring scheme should also mean setting the limit for such a restructuring program so as to prevent the recurrence of the recent problem of idle officers in the future.
Prabowo, however, may have limited capacity to perform his duties as defense minister, particularly in conducting overseas trips. His failure to visit the United States to attend his son’s university graduation in Boston in 2000 after his visa application was denied by the US State Department is one example.
There was no official explanation for the case, but many have associated the US entry denial with his alleged past involvement in human rights abuses. So far, however, he has never stood trial to prove the allegations levelled against him.
With all Prabowo’s pluses and minuses, as well as the controversies surrounding him, President Jokowi has decided to appoint the former chief of the Army’s Strategic Reserves Command (Kostrad) to assist him in managing the country’s defense affairs. The President, or anyone who advised him to appoint Prabowo, must have thoroughly considered all the possible political and legal implications of Prabowo becoming the defense minister.
The President’s credibility is at stake, unless he pressed for a thorough verification of Prabowo’s profile before choosing his former contender over other candidates tipped for the post. As a consequence, President Jokowi — as Prabowo’s direct superior — must jump to the defense of his defense minister if the latter faces problems at home and overseas. The President cannot just let Prabowo respond to all those criticisms against him alone as that is what leadership is all about.