Subject: No reason for U.S. to coddle Indonesia's army

Also - NYT: Indonesia's Unreformed Military

The Houston Chronicle

July 15, 2002, Monday 

BUYING FRIENDS; No reason for U.S. to coddle Indonesia's army

Some Bush administration officials and members of Congress worry that an unstable Indonesia could become a haven for al-Qaida terrorists. Because the United States requires Indonesia's cooperation in the war on terror, they reason, the ban against U.S. aid to Indonesia's army should be relaxed.

The United States certainly needs the cooperation of the world's most populous Muslim nation in the fight against terrorism falsely perpetrated in the name of Islam. However, that is no argument for aiding Indonesia's army.

After decades of transferring U.S. tax dollars to the armed forces of two Indonesian dictators, the Indonesian army provoked a massacre when East Timor residents voted for independence. Americans wound up having to finance emergency aid and provide logistical support to U.N. peacekeepers. Over the years the Indonesian army has inflicted incalculable carnage on the Indonesian people, with little indication U.S. aid bought any restraint or affection for democracy.

A proposal has been floated in Congress to provide the Indonesian army nonlethal "command and control" equipment. However, senior army officers had no difficulty commanding ethnic militias in East Timor to start the killing in an effort to thwart independence. Once begun, the orgy of violence had to be stopped by U.N.-sanctioned Australian troops, who had their own command and control equipment.

Aside from an army resentful of lost power, Indonesia is plagued by corrupt courts and police and a civilian government too weak and indecisive to do anything about it. Strengthening the military, however, would do nothing to strengthen the civilian government of President Megawati Sukarnoputri and probably would kindle support for the radical Islamists the United States most fears.

Scholars and policy analysts familiar with the region and surveyed by the Council on Foreign Relations note that extremist religious parties have never attracted much support in Indonesia, where most of the diverse population lives unmolested by separatist violence or religious conflict. The consensus favors U.S. support for democracy and economic development, even though the elected government has criticized U.S. military action in Afghanistan.

These are the ingredients most likely to give Indonesia - a nation with strong business and cultural ties to Houston - the peace and prosperity that will keep it inhospitable to terrorists.


The New York Times 
July 17, 2002

Indonesia's Unreformed Military

American military cooperation with Jakarta, suspended during the Suharto dictatorship over the Indonesian Army's human rights abuses, should not be resumed without strict conditions and careful controls. Unfortunately, the Bush administration is in a hurry to restore ties with the Indonesian military and seems willing to overlook misconduct in the name of strengthening the war against terrorism. The Senate Appropriations Committee, which is planning to consider the administration's request tomorrow, should block it, as urged by Senator Patrick Leahy and other critics.

Despite the coming of electoral democracy, the Indonesian military remains a law unto itself. Its past crimes remain almost entirely uninvestigated and unpunished. Its current practices in places like Aceh and the Maluku Islands are as brutal as ever. And its extensive business interests make it a major obstacle to needed economic reforms. Nor is it a very promising partner against terror.

Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, is an important battleground in the struggle against terrorism. Traditionally, the variety of Islam practiced there has been moderate and tolerant. In recent years violent extremist groups have emerged, some with foreign connections. For now, these radicals have only a limited following.

The best defense against further radicalization is to encourage the transition to civilian democracy that began with the overthrow of the Suharto regime in 1998. Civic groups such as human rights organizations, local development associations and independent trade unions have played a vital role in building democratic institutions.

The United States needs to strengthen these groups and nudge the government of President Megawati Sukarnoputri away from its current dependence on the armed forces. The administration argues that the proposed training program will also help by teaching young Indonesian officers the importance of democracy and human rights. In the context of real military reform, it might. Resuming military cooperation under present conditions would instead signal that Washington no longer cares much about the human rights performance of Indonesia's armed forces.


Back to July menu

Main Postings Menu

Note: For those who would like to fax "the powers that be" - CallCenter is a Native 32-bit Voice Telephony software application integrated with fax and data communications... and it's free of charge! Download from