Subject: Ed McWilliams's Response to Catharine Dalpino's The "Kopassus Kerfuffle"

Note: The original piece by Catharine Dalpino is below

Asia Security Initiative April 2, 2010

Ed McWilliams is a retired US diplomat. He worked as political counselor in Jakarta and received the American Foreign Service Association’s Christian Herter Award for creative dissent by a senior foreign service official.

The Asia Security Initiative’s March 29 post, “The Kopassus Kerfuffle” by Catharine Dalpino, is a timely and thoughtful analysis regarding the U.S. decision whether to provide training or other assistance to Indonesia’s Special Forces Kopassus.

This issue is important, as indicated by Ms. Dalpino, not only for the future of U.S.-Indonesia military relations, but also for the future of U.S. observance of the 1997 Leahy law which prohibits foreign military units from participating in military training or receiving assistance for weapons purchases if unit members have committed human rights violations for which they have not been brought to account. The decision whether or not to skirt provisions of the Leahy law is a litmus test of whether the Administration respects U.S. Congressional mandates not to provide assistance to corrupt, human rights abusing forces that remain unaccountable for their crimes.

Ms. Dalpino’s piece fails to place the U.S. debate over assistance to Kopassus in the broader context of U.S. assistance to the Indonesian military (TNI). For many years, a bipartisan, bi-cameral majority in the U.S. Congress insisted that the prospect of U.S. assistance to the TNI be used as leverage to exact real reform. This consensus was based on the recognition that this key institution had not been a part of the transformative reform movement that followed the 1998 overthrow of the military dictator Suharto. Instead, the TNI has remained the single greatest threat to democratization in Indonesia, eluding civilian control and insisting on impunity before the courts for its personnel who violate human rights or engage in illegal activities, including people trafficking.

U.S. observance of the Leahy law suffered serious erosion during the Bush Administration. In 2005 the administration used a “national security waiver” to remove remaining restrictions and U.S. assistance ceased to serve as a key incentive for reform. Unsurprisingly, faltering TNI reform stopped. Since then, the TNI failed to meet legislative requirements that it disburse its business empire which includes both legal and illegal businesses. That action, mandated by the Indonesian Parliament in 2004 was to have been completed by 2009. Failure of that key reform has enabled the TNI to maintain access to non-Indonesian government budget resources and to evade civilian control. The TNI also remains unaccountable for human rights violations and other crimes, enjoying impunity before an Indonesian justice system that is deeply corrupt and easily intimidated. Despite this the Obama administration has continued to pursue a broad military-to-military relationship with the TNI (but not its special forces).

Ms. Dalpino’s article also fails to emphasize that the debate over U.S. assistance to Kopassus is not simply a U.S. debate. Many Indonesian NGO’s and individual Indonesians are opposing U.S. assistance to Kopassus, and have urged U.S. and international NGOs and observers to join them. These Indonesian voices have been especially important and noteworthy given the risk they face for their criticism of the Indonesian military which has regularly targeted its Indonesian critics.

Finally, Ms. Dalpino raises the “osmosis” theory which conjectures that Kopassus could become a human-rights respecting organization through collaborative contact with U.S. forces. Yet, the Kopassus awful record was indelibly established during decades of close association with U.S. forces during the Suharto era. The reality is that Kopassus contact with rights-respecting Australian and other foreign forces has had no impact on the essential criminality of the Kopassus. The “osmosis” argument does not wash.

President Obama ultimately faces a choice on principle. Inevitably, that choice will reveal the level of importance he attaches to respect for human rights, accountability and civilian control of the military.

Catherin Dalpino responds:

Ed McWilliams has offered a very thoughtful response, and I don’t disagree with most of his criticisms, which primarily expand on brief mentions I had made of other points (e.g., Indonesian human rights NGO concerns over Kopassus). And I do agree that the Kopassus issue is about more than Indonesia and is an early test case of the Obama administration’s implementation of the Leahy Law as part of the human rights framework of the US Government, a point that should be raised with Jakarta. It is not uncommon for people to assume that legislation is aimed at a specific country or situation and therefore to be confused or disappointed that the law is not easily swept away with a change in bilateral relations. However, Mr. McWilliams has misread my including the “osmosis” theory in my recitation of the arguments on both sides of the issue as an endorsement of that theory. I would agree with him that mere contact with the armed forces of a democratic country seldom if ever has a tranformative effect. We have ample evidence of that from a wide range of military-to-miltary relations in several regions.


Original Article

Asia Security Initiative [Blog] The MacArthur Foundation March 29, 2010

The Kopassus Kerfuffle

Posted by Catharin Dalpino on March 29, 2010. Filed under Indonesia.

If there is a silver lining for US-Indonesian relations in President Obama’s latest trip postponement, it might be that the two countries have more time to consider if and how Kopassus, the Indonesian Army’s special forces unit, fits into the bilateral security relationship. Kopassus was formed in 1952 to combat insurgencies in Java and has been integral to the Indonesian government’s response to internal conflict in provinces such as Aceh and Papua, and the former province of East Timor. Many Kopassus operations have been secret, and the unit has periodically drawn criticism for human rights abuses from the international community as well as Indonesian watch dog groups.

Kopassus activities in East Timor in the 1990’s drew particular attention from the United States and the unit was sanctioned under the 1997 Leahy Law, which prohibits foreign military units from participating in the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program or receiving assistance for weapons purchases if unit members have committed human rights abuses for which they have not been brought to account. The logic of sanctioning the entire unit lies in encouraging the foreign government to remove human rights offenders from the leadership structure. The Leahy Law applies to two appropriations bills, one for Foreign Operations and the other for Defense. The Defense Appropriations side of the law has a waiver mechanism, but the Foreign Operations side does not.

Under the Leahy Law and other Congressional actions, the US-Indonesian military-to-military relationship was largely dismantled for the better part of a decade. In 2005 a cautious new start was made with cooperation on counter-terrorism, and roughly $20 million is now appropriated for the TNI, much of it for military reform. However, Kopassus continues to be excluded under the Leahy Law.

In early March, Kopassus suddenly emerged as an issue in negotiation of the US-Indonesia Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. The momentum for this appeared to originate in Jakarta. The Indonesian press reported on government attempts to lobby the Obama administration to remove the prohibition as part of the agenda for the Obama visit. In mid-March a delegation from Kopassus visited Washington, led by the unit commander, Major General Lodewijk Paulus. Ann Marie Murphy, Seton Hall professor and author of a forthcoming book on the impact of democratization on Indonesia’s foreign policy, believes that Jakarta views training for Kopassus as a litmus test for the new US-Indonesia relationship. “They wonder how the Comprehensive Partnership can be comprehensive without full military-to-military relations,” she said.

Administration officials downplayed Indonesian press accounts that predicted Obama would announce the restoration of IMET assistance to Kopassus when he visited Jakarta but did not dismiss the possibility in principle. Jeffrey Bader, National Security Council Senior Director for Asia, acknowledged past human rights violations by Kopassus but said that the administration “hopes to be able, at some point, to move past and resolve those concerns.”

Bader’s comments, although cautious, are consonant with a new international view of Kopassus. The unit has attempted to reinvent itself in the post-Suharto era. Its mandate has expanded beyond internal security and extends to protecting Indonesian government facilities broad, such as the Indonesian embassy in Papua New Guinea. Kopassus troops have served in United Nations peace-keeping missions in Sierra Leone, Sudan, Georgia and Lebanon. Australia has restored training to Kopassus, and the UK appears to be on the verge of doing so as well. Kopassus has regular contact with other Southeast Asian military units.

But debate within the US policy community over the human rights issues with Kopassus is still unresolved. Opponents of restoring assistance argue that Kopassus has not sufficiently accounted for human rights abuse in East Timor. Moreover, they believe that the unit continues to commit abuses and report recent incidents in Papua and Aceh, the latter during the 2009 elections. Proponents of resuming training argue osmosis, that closer contact with the United States will strengthen awareness of human rights in Kopassus. They also maintain that sanctioning the entire unit, as the law requires, punishes officers who have not committed abuses and prevents younger generation officers from receiving training because of the actions of more senior officers.

These issues are too complicated to resolve overnight, and they make the Kopassus issue a very poor “deliverable” for a Presidential visit to Indonesia. Attempts to circumvent the vetting process under the Leahy Law may achieve a short-term political objective but they would most likely stir up enough opposition among US and Indonesian human rights groups to prolong conflict over this issue for some time to come. Contrary to impressions in some Indonesian media accounts, the Leahy Law was not promulgated specifically for Indonesia. It applies globally, and other countries ­ Columbia in particular ­ have received greater scrutiny under the law than Indonesia. As the two countries look ahead to Obama’s visit to Indonesia in June, they should take the Kopassus negotiations offline and let the issue itself determine the timeline for resolution.


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