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Jakarta Post

Challenges in enhancing Indonesia's domestic security

  • Jefferson Ng and Sigit S. Nugroho


Singapore   /   Tue, October 13, 2020   /   09:54 am
Challenges in enhancing Indonesia's domestic security Indonesian Military (TNI) soldiers stand guard in Glodok, West Jakarta, in this file photo. (The Jakarta Post/Wendra Ajistyatama)

In the last few years, the post-Soeharto era reform consensus on the apportionment of responsibilities between the country’s security agencies has become blurred. Among Indonesia’s security agencies, the Indonesian Military (TNI) would secure national sovereignty and external defense, the police-maintained safety and public order, while the State Intelligence Agency (BIN) coordinated domestic and foreign intelligence.

This distinction is becoming less clear-cut as the three security agencies work in concert as well as independently to bolster their internal security capabilities. In our opinion, they are responding to what they perceive to be genuine law and order problems plus a marked weakening of national and social resilience. The erosion of Pancasila’s role as the state ideology, as well as growing sectarianism and radicalism, are key concerns.

To address these issues, these agencies have opted to supplement their capabilities through external and informal structures to facilitate cost and burden sharing with willing individuals and non-government groups.

The Defense Ministry is currently working with the Education and Culture Ministry to develop the Bela Negara (state defense) program. It is envisioned to cultivate patriotic values through the national education system and provide an opportunity for university students above the age of 18 to volunteer in the Reserve Component (national reserve).

Selected candidates take a semester off and undergo a three-month basic military training program to join the Reserve Component. Ostentatiously, the role of the Reserve Component is to “enlarge and strengthen” the TNI’s three branches only in a military emergency or in wartime. Most likely, the Reserve Component will also have a significant nation-building role. It can bring together Indonesians from different cultural and religious backgrounds, as well as cultivate core national values. Therefore, the policy intent of the state defense program appears to be more about promoting national unity through the education system and the volunteer reserve system.

On Aug. 5, National Police chief Gen. Idham Aziz released National Police Regulation No. 4/2020 on Pengamanan Swakarsa (Voluntary Security Initiative), revising a similar regulatory framework stipulated in 2007. It stipulates that various types of voluntary security initiatives, such as private security guards (Satpam) and neighborhood watch units (Satkamling), as well as special socio-cultural institutions like the Balinese pecalang (watchmen), can be tasked to maintain security and order under police supervision.

For Indonesians, the term Pam Swakarsa invokes memories of paramilitary forces deployed by the TNI against student protestors in 1998 prior to the fall of the New Order regime. The police have vehemently denied such accusations, highlighting that Indonesia remains very lightly policed, and emphasizing that Satpam members can help to alleviate police manpower issues.

Presently, the police have found themselves shorthanded in tackling criminal activities, as they are also tasked with enforcing health protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, incorporating existing security companies and/or neighborhood groups provides a burden-sharing mechanism to help deter crime and an early-warning system for the local police.

In front of prominent TNI special forces generals, the BIN recently introduced its special intelligence squad code-named “Rajawali” on the parade grounds of the National Intelligence College in Bogor, West Java. Outfitted in military gear, the squad was explained away as an “attraction” at an inauguration ceremony.

The Rajawali force is said to be an ad-hoc squad composed of members from the TNI, police, and BIN trained in counterterrorist scenarios.

The controversy had led to open public debate about whether BIN is floating a trial balloon to become an independent “armed service” alongside the TNI and the police. In recent years, BIN has sought to expand its institutional prerogatives beyond its intelligence gathering role to obtain legal powers to arrest, detain and interrogate terrorists.

However, BIN’s clear desire to play an increased role in counterterrorism has likely stemmed from the police’s lackluster record despite being provided with actionable intelligence. Therefore, the policy intent behind the Rajawali squad appears to be part of an attempt to bring intelligence and counter-terrorist operations under one roof with adequate TNI and police representatives, thereby minimizing coordination challenges.

These initiatives have incited significant controversy. Indonesian civil society groups are justifiably alarmed when security agencies expand their influence and scope of activity. The development of these external and/or informal structures in legally ambiguous settings can be prone to abuse, as it increases their ability to conduct surveillance, shape behaviors and intervene in society with limited civilian oversight.

Furthermore, there are potentially huge gaps between intent and outcomes. For instance, students will not blindly accept the state’s indoctrination program, nor will it be easy to recruit volunteers for the Reserve Component. It will also be difficult for the police to reconcile the local agendas of voluntary security initiatives with its law and order priorities. The Rajawali squad would also be less capable than the existing police and military counterterrorist squads.

The above concerns suggest that there are clear trade-offs between expediency and efficacy in the forward trajectory of the three security agencies’ internal security capabilities. In theory, building institutional capacity, maintaining a clear division of roles and improving coordination between the three agencies will improve their long-term effectiveness as well as accountability to civilian institutions.

In practice, we see that the building of external and/or informal structures and alliances to augment the security agencies’ internal security capabilities is more expedient in the Indonesian context given limited resources and the archipelagic state’s centripetal threats. The trade-off for enhancing internal security capabilities in this manner is that both long-term operational effectiveness and accountability could be eroded.


Jefferson Ng is a senior analyst and Sigit S. Nugroho is a research associate affiliated with the Indonesia Program, Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.