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Jakarta Post

State defense program: Mental revolution or militarization?

  • Keoni Indrabayu Marzuki and Tiola Javadi

    The Jakarta Post

Singapore   /   Tue, October 27, 2015   /  04:01 pm

The state defense program (Bela Negara), which was launched by Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu on Thursday, has been met with mixed reactions from the people.

While some believe that the program may help instill a strong sense of patriotism in individuals, many '€” particularly civil society organizations that promote democracy and human rights '€” warn that the program could gradually bring back New Order-style militarization.

The program itself did not come out of the blue. On the contrary, some of its elements resemble similar programs that were implemented in the past '€” such as rakyat terlatih (trained citizens), known as Ratih; perlawanan rakyat (people'€™s resistance), known as Wanra; and pertahanan sipil or perlindungan masyarakat (civil defense), now referred to as Linmas '€” albeit with different emphases.

The current state defense program places great emphasis on civic lessons intended to promote nationalism and patriotism as its primary directives, while simultaneously raising awareness on
social issues such as drug abuse, violence and corruption among many other things and not so much on arming the citizenry with tactical combat skills.

Several government officials say the program will be implemented to realize President Joko '€œJokowi'€ Widodo'€™s vision of '€œmental revolution'€. Regardless of the rationale
for the program, however, one should not separate it from the growing influence of the Indonesian Military (TNI) in civilian affairs as its background.

One source of the negative reception of the state defense program is the lack of clarity and the contradictions surrounding what the program is really all about.

During the announcement of the program Ryamizard said it was aimed at countering both military and non-military threats, such as religious extremist ideology and foreign ideology.

He said that in a scenario in which Indonesia went to war, all components of the country needed to defend Indonesia, reminiscent of the Total People'€™s Defense doctrine.

Ryamizard'€™s statement implied that some degree of basic military training was to be incorporated into the program in conjunction with its directive to combat military threat.

The program is said to be compulsory for all Indonesians below the age of 50, regardless of gender and profession.

There are concerns that the program may be infiltrated by religious extremists.

However, the Defense Ministry'€™s director general for defense potential Timbul Siahaan appeared to contradict this, saying that the program was on a voluntary basis and that military training was not a large part of it. A clear, consistent explanation and disclosure to the public is needed to avoid confusion.

Many have also questioned the financial dimension for such a program. The Defense Ministry has set a target of recruiting 100 million people in the next 10 years.

Although there has not been a clear statement on the source of funding, some trade-offs are bound to be made, unless the ministry asks people to pay to join the program, which would invite even more criticism. The ministry may be able to seek funding from non-governmental donors similar to how it funded Ratih during the New Order Era, but external funding means that the neutrality and credibility of the program would be compromised.

Moreover, similar programs such as Ratih, Wanra and Linmas already exist and thus there is no need for a new program structure that would take away more funding.

On the other hand, the ministry'€™s internal funding will not be sufficient to fund the whole program considering that Indonesia still needs at least Rp 36 trillion (US$2.64 billion) to complete platforms and weapon systems procurement as slated in the second stage of Minimum Essential Forces, which is set to be completed in 2019.

Within this context, the ministry'€™s priorities may need more consideration. In an era where long-range precision strikes and unmanned weaponry systems play key roles in defense, the urgency of state defense training for millions of civilians is questionable.

Another dimension of the program is to instill and strengthen discipline, nationalism and patriotism in the citizenry. Admittedly, there has been a growing necessity to uphold discipline among citizens, particularly the young generation.

Problems such as drug abuse have been a cause for concern for a long time, but other institutions like the National Narcotics Agency and Culture and Education Ministry, which are better-funded and more knowledgeable about the issues at hand, are in place.

Therefore, it is not imperative for the Defense Ministry to partake in crime prevention and disciplinary efforts first hand.

Furthermore, civilian participation in efforts of national defense would require a specific regulation that was approved by the House of Representatives. It is therefore perplexing that the Defense Ministry kicked off the program immediately without going through the House and public scrutiny.

The Defense Ministry maintains that articles 27 (3) and 30 (1), which state that every citizen has the obligation and right to participate in national defense, justify the program.

Externalities are one particular element that the ministry and the TNI need to monitor. Violent conduct and abuse are common in this type of training, as suggested by abuse at the Institute of Public Administration (IPDN) resulting in cadet deaths in the past.

National security experts have also voiced concerns that the program may be infiltrated by religious extremists and used as a medium to spread radicalism.

Moreover, the possibility that the training equips criminals or gang members with skills that can be used to harm others should not be discounted.

The ministry also claims the program can help address the growing threat of radicalism by fostering a more tolerant mindset through the internalization of Pancasila.

Potentially, the program could also help participants build networks and foster a stronger sense of national identity.

However, it is unclear how the immersion of Pancasila would eventually change the behavior of participants as studies regarding the efficacy of the New Order'€™s Pancasila course of upgrading in the past are sparse.

Ryacudu said any citizen who resisted the program could leave the country. This statement is perfectly fine, except for the fact that Indonesia is not a company. Indonesia belongs to its people, and the people are here to stay.

The citizens have the right to ask whether policies reflect the people'€™s needs and whether they are in line with Indonesia'€™s hard-won democracy.


Keoni Indrabayu Marzuki is a research analyst and Tiola Javadi is a research associate at the Indonesia Program, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. The views expressed are their own.

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