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Jakarta Post

Soldiers sans uniform

  • Editorial Board

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Tue, February 25, 2020   /   08:37 am
Soldiers sans uniform Indonesian Military (TNI) personnel are on patrol in Jeunieb district, Bireun regency, Aceh while people pass on the road. (JP/Hotli Simanjuntak)

The government’s plan to recruit 25,000 people between 18 and 25 years of age to join the military reserve unit seems to be based on valid reasons. There has been a yawning gap between the number of soldiers and the huge population and vast archipelago they have to protect, and the country sits in a region prone to conflicts among nations.

Persistent threats to regional peace include territorial claims over the South China Sea that not only pit China and a number of ASEAN member states against each other but have also dragged outside forces into the dispute. Although not a claimant, Indonesia has borne the brunt of the tension and will have to protect itself if the dispute turns into a war.

Transnational crime, such as terrorism, drug smuggling and human trafficking, poses another clear and present danger to the country. Our porous borders, thanks in part to the lack of military personnel, have made the country vulnerable to cross-border crimes.

Indonesia’s military force is the strongest in Southeast Asia, according to the latest Global Firepower Index, but with one serviceperson for every 264 citizens, the country has the lowest personnel ratio in the region. Singapore and Vietnam top the list with a ratio of 1:11 and 1:17, respectively.

Despite its deficit in numbers, the Indonesian Military (TNI) is given nonmilitary duties on top of its routine responsibilities, such as helping the police maintain security and order. The TNI has conducted various non-war operations, especially in the event of natural disasters.

Given its limited defense budget, Indonesia is hard-pressed to recruit more personnel, even as Vietnam and Singapore, where military service is compulsory for young people, have done. Indonesia has been increasing its defense budget over the past few years, but 40 percent of the amount is allocated for existing personnel.

Recruiting military reservists could help the country cope with budgetary constraints while fulfilling the need of defense force personnel, as they would be fully employed only if the country were at war or under an armed threat. After undergoing three months of military training, the reservists return to civilian life until the state needs them.

The State Secretariat is drafting a government regulation to implement the Management of National Resources for State Defense Law passed last year, which will stipulate details on the mechanism to recruit reservists. One thing is for sure; joining the reserve component of the military will be voluntary, unlike in some neighboring ASEAN countries.

Voluntary or not, the recruitment of military reservists is not without risks, especially given the government-sponsored fight against radicalism and communism that is feared to target government critics or those resisting government policies. Rights groups have warned of possible mobilization of the military reserve to deal with those domestic issues, reminiscent of the use of paramilitary youth groups to fight right-wing and left-wing groups during the New Order era.

The military reserve program must not create fertile ground for a militaristic mindset but simply be aimed at a love for the nation without reservation.