The Jakarta Post
After retiring from the military almost a decade ago, newly appointed Defense Minister Gen. (ret.) Ryamizard Ryacudu, 64, has returned to the fray with a plan to reboot New Order-era policies.
In a discussion held until late on Wednesday, Ryamizard's physically frail appearance had not dimmed his flare, as the highly decorated field commander credited with clamping down on separatist movements in Aceh and Papua spoke with force.
But his take on several defense issues left many puzzled, particularly over his vision for military
Ryamizard repeatedly emphasized the need for the military to expand its engagement in other sectors, with an expectation that it would eventually revive the outdated military doctrine of Total Defense System (Sistem Pertahanan Semesta).
The doctrine is an all-encompassing view that provides leeway for the military's 'involvement' in civilian areas and institutions ' more or less how the military operated during Soeharto's three-decades-long rule.
'The Soviet Union was torn apart not because it had no advanced weapons. It was dissolved because it did not apply the Total Defense System. Advanced weaponry cannot guarantee our unity and defense capability,' said Ryamizard.
While the proposal is deemed effective at fending off foreign invasions, Ryamizard said that future threats to the nation revolved around terrorist acts stemming from the proliferation of extremism.
'The likelihood of foreign invasion is very small. Our immediate threats are actually extremism, illegal fishing and smuggling,' he said.
He also recommended the revival of the military's (TNI) community-service program, popularly known as AMD, or ABRI Masuk Desa (military enters the village) during the New Order.
Soeharto used the AMD as a tool to spy on any form of resistance to his rule and to gain political support from villagers across the country to hold on to power.
'We can accelerate rural development through the revival of the program,' said Ryamizard, citing his success spearheading an emergency response team after the 2004 tsunami in Aceh.
Ryamizard has also proposed placing the National Police under the Home Ministry rather than under the President, an idea he would present to President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo.
He argued that the since the TNI was placed under the Defense Ministry, there was no reason not to apply the same system to the National Police. 'No countries place the police directly under the president.'
The 1998 reform movement stripped the military of domestic security authority; separated from the military, the police was made the sole guardian of internal security.
Ryamizard has proposed changing that arrangement by re-vesting the military with some domestic security powers, particularly with respect to counterterrorism.
'Since terrorists use war gear, the military has the authority to step in. I will propose a greater role for the TNI to the House of Representatives,' he said.
Ryamizard's penchant for action may stem from his long career as a field commander and comparatively time spent behind the desk.
Although he retired in 2005, most current TNI top brass retain a high level of admiration for Ryamizard for his leadership during combat.
However, analysts have argued that Ryamizard's appointment as defense minister had more to do with his influence in the TNI than it did his strategic vision for defense.
Ryamizard is known as a confidante of defeated presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto, founder of the Gerindra Party. Both graduated from the Military Academy in 1974.
Ryamizard acknowledged that the friendship had contributed to easing tensions between Prabowo and Jokowi.
According to Ryamizard, he told Prabowo to bury the hatchet and continue to help build the nation.
'He [Prabowo] is like a brother to me. He sent me a letter congratulating me on my appointment as minister,' said Ryamizard, who is also a confidante of Jokowi's patron and the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle's (PDI-P) chairwoman, Megawati Soekarnoputri.
'Although we have different political affiliations, our friendship remains. Pak Prabowo may look tough on the outside, but believe me, on the inside he is very soft. I know his character well,' he said.