Subject: JP: Why Is Australia Resuming Military Training with RI?

The Jakarta Post Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Why Is Australia Resuming Military Training with RI?

Imanuddin Razak The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

A number of "whys" immediately entered the minds of many Indonesians -- and perhaps Australians as well -- over a report last week that the Australian government intends to resume annual joint military training with Indonesia's elite forces, Kopassus.

Australian special forces are set to resume training with Kopassus more than five years after ties were suspended over allegations that the latter were behind human rights abuses in East Timor, the former name of Timor Leste. The Sydney Morning Herald said Kopassus commander Maj. Gen. Syaiful Rizal had confirmed that Kopassus troops were scheduled to undergo counterterrorism training with the Perth-based Special Air Services (SAS) regiment next April, and that Australian special forces would then carry out antiguerrilla training in Indonesian jungles.

It's hard to understand Australia's decision to resume joint military training. It is worth an explanation, especially from the side of the Australian government, over why it felt it had to resume such training with Indonesia while it was the Australian government itself that suspended the program in the wake of the 1999 East Timor referendum.

Kopassus was linked to militia gangs that went on a rampage and killed some 1,400 people after Timor Leste voted for independence from Indonesia in a United Nations-sponsored referendum in August 1999. Timor Leste gained full independence in May 2002 after more than two years of UN stewardship.

However, the question is probably not that difficult to answer. As England's Lord Pamerston said one and a half centuries ago: "We have no eternal allies and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and these interests it is our duty to follow."

A spokesman for the Australian Defense Department revealed that the planned resumption of joint military training was triggered by the Oct. 1, 2005 Bali bombing, which highlighted the importance of continuing to work with Indonesia to combat terrorism.

After five years of "isolating" Kopassus from participating in any international military cooperation, the Australian government likely could not find a fitting partner to combat rampant terror attacks, especially in Indonesia and the Asia-Pacific region in general. It did try to establish cooperation with the Indonesian Police (Polri) after the first Bali blast in October 2002, which killed 202 people including 88 Australians, but the fact that the police have yet to capture the masterminds behind the first and the latest Bali blasts probably forced the Australian government to turn again to Kopassus.

Excluding Indonesia from its global campaign against terrorism was not beneficial to Australia or for the security of the Southeast Asian region. Indonesia has thus looked elsewhere for partners.

For the past few years, Indonesia has been conducting joint military training with Germany. And recently, a decision was taken by the Indonesian government to procure Russian Sukhoi jet fighters after a prolonged military embargo imposed by the United States on Indonesia over alleged human rights abuses by Indonesia's military.

The latest move by Australia also cannot be separated from the global diplomacy of the United States in combating terrorism, especially after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on its landmarks.

It was U.S. President George W. Bush who called Australia America's "sheriff" -- the U.S.'s key ally in combating terrorism in the Southeast Asia region. In an October 2003 interview with local Australian newspapers, Bush heaped praise on Australia and its conservative Prime Minister John Howard for supporting the war on terror.

The policy to resume joint military training has been viewed as uncontroversial, and will not draw any criticism or opposition from countries in the Southeast Asian region.

"No one in the region really will object to this because they're all doing it themselves," said Neil James, executive director of the independent think-tank Australian Defense Association, in a statement last year. He cited the extensive military training programs between the U.S. and Thailand and Malaysia and Singapore, and the U.S.'s limited training programs with Indonesia.

Last but not least, Australia also has an interest in a stable Indonesia. An unstable Indonesia is a threat to Australia; a mass influx of Indonesians escaping instability to Australia threatens Australia's own stability and security.

Back to October menu 
World Leaders Contact List
Main Postings Menu