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Jakarta Post

Militarizing civilians?

  • Editorial Board

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sat, August 22, 2020   /   08:35 am
Militarizing civilians? The youth of state defense carry an Indonesian flag to commemorate 75th Indonesia's Independence Day which falls on August 17, at a mountain of garbage in Banda Aceh on August 16, 2020. (AFP/CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN )

For the Defense Ministry, the old adage “If you want peace, prepare for war” looks to hold true, as it is preparing to recruit 25,000 people, including university students and millennials, to participate in the military reserve program.

Under the program, Deputy Defense Minister Sakti Wahyu Trenggono said recently, students would undergo basic military training that would be included in their semester credit system. Upon completing their studies, they would be given the chance to join the armed forces.

The Education and Culture Ministry has welcomed the program. The ministry’s higher education acting director general, Nizam, said university students would be allowed to enlist in the program only on a voluntary basis.

The program is a mandate of the 2019 Law on the management of national resources for state defense. The law says civilians can enlist in the military reserve force. They could be deployed to strengthen the Indonesian Military (TNI) in the event of military threats.

While many may justify military training as a means to nurture discipline, which Indonesian people may lack, there is no evidence the nation is facing any imminent military threats.

Tension is warming in the region due to increasing military activities of China and the United States in the South China Sea, but an open conflict between the world’s two powerhouses is unlikely to happen anytime soon. Indonesia has indeed anticipated any impacts of the rivalry by strengthening its naval and air bases near the South China Sea.

Indonesia, with its doctrine of a free and active foreign policy, has always promoted peace and cooperation. Even in the most delicate issue of Palestine, Indonesia has called for a peaceful settlement. With such a friendly diplomatic posture, military forces of other countries invading Indonesia is beyond everybody’s imagination.

Even when Indonesia was at war as a result of the politics of confrontation against Malaysia in the early 1960s, the Army rejected a plan to arm civilians. Now, nearly 60 years later, when Indonesia befriends many nations near and far, the government wants civilians to enlist in a military training program. Unless the Defense Ministry can prove otherwise, Indonesia is facing no clear and present danger from foreign forces, therefore the planned reserve force lacks urgency and will only add burden to the state budget.

The new program looks to rival, if not follow up on, a previous program called Bela Negara (state defense) to instill a sense of patriotism under then-defense minister Ryamizard Ryacudu. A Defense Ministry official responsible for the program claimed 2 million people had taken part in it from 2015 to 2017.

Apart from technicalities, such as how to make sure enlisted civilians can maintain their skills after completing their military training, the reserve component program is feared to infuse a militaristic culture while we have pledged to build a strong civil society and consolidate democracy. Such a culture prevails in organizations that associate themselves with and borrow the symbols of the military.

Rather than military training, our young generations need leaders who generate pro-people policies, fight corruption and uphold the law in a show of their love for the nation to learn from.