Bela Negara: Defending the Nation Against Moral Decadence

The government in October last year launched the National Defenders program, or Bela Negara, as a prelude toward realization of President Joko Widodo’s nine-point Nawacita goals. The program, officials said, aims to restore degraded patriotism and morality among citizens.

Nawacita – nine points in Sanskrit – includes commitments to promote good governance, judicial reform, improvement of the national education system, development of border and remote areas, as well as goals to provide a sense of security through development of a reliable defense strategy and a free and active foreign policy.

For Widodo, the nine agenda items together represent an effort to transform Indonesia into a politically and economically sovereign country that can compete globally. Through the Nawacita, Widodo and Vice President Jusuf Kalla aim to launch what they call a ‘mental revolution’ to strengthen Indonesia’s identity as a maritime nation.

With Bela Negara, the government wants to familiarize people, starting with civil servants and with a particular emphasis on youth, with the five basic principles of the state ideology Pancasila in a bid to address growing social problems in the country, said the program’s coordinator, Maj. Gen. Hartind Asrin, the head of the Education and Training Agency (Badiklat) at the Defense Ministry.

Citing increases in cases of drug abuse, radical fundamentalism, communal and youth clashes as well as rampant corruption, Asrin told Concord Strategic that the National Defenders program will build up society’s defenses to such “real threats to the nation’s unity.” And, he added, “Invasion (from another country) is a potential threat, but these problems are real threats that are already confronting us today.”

Bela Negara is designed to play a major role in Widodo’s so-called mental revolution, a concept defined as an intellectual shift to break with past ideas and unlock the country’s potential for progress, as specifically mentioned by Widodo in the eighth point of the Nawacita. This revolution is centered on improving the national education system by including civic education materials to nurture patriotism and good citizenship in the curriculum.

Bela Negara curriculum
Methods for Bela Negara training have been developed by reviewing and standardizing similar programs from the past such as the Pancasila compulsory orientation course (P4), scouting (Pramuka) and student regiments (Menwa), said Asrin.

About 70% of the materials are delivered in the classroom and the remaining 30% is made up of outdoor education materials that include team building, group discussion and problem-solving skills, he added.

Asrin assured that no military technical skills are being taught in the program, dismissing widespread concerns of militarization. “We only teach Bela Negara participants marching and discipline. No combat skills,” he said.

And, Asrin explained, the program does not represent a military draft as participation is voluntary. All healthy Indonesian citizens aged between 18 and 65 can join the National Defenders program, with training for each batch to last for one month.

Asrin insisted that the program’s focus is to instill a greater sense of patriotism among the public in a bid to create good citizens and statesmen. Bela Negara, he continued, is also being introduced to fulfill the rights of all citizens to defend their nation as stated in Article 27 paragraph 3 of the 1945 Constitution. “The key words for Bela Negara are ‘voluntary’ and ‘character-building.’ We don’t want to create more politicians,” Asrin remarked.

Civil militarization
Concerns that the military is trying to regain its influence among civil society have been raised since Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu in August last year revealed during an event at the military-linked Taruna Nusantara High School in Magelang, Central Java that he aimed to recruit 100 million citizens nationwide to take part in the program.

Critics cite a number of reasons that they say justify the fears of a resurgence of the TNI in civilian life. In the past year it has announced several moves that signal the intention to become more directly involved in society. There was an echo of the Suharto-era “ABRI Masuk Desa” (the Armed Forces enters the village) village empowerment program when it revealed a new farmer development program in 2014.

Concerns increased when TNI signed an agreement with several government agencies, state port and airport operators to provide security assistance. It also reportedly plans to employ officials to be investigators at the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK).

NGO Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace alleges that the national defenders program is an attempt by Widodo to maintain the support of the military at a time when the backing of the political parties is half-hearted. The push contradicts the main aim of the TNI reform program which is civil supremacy, according to Setara, adding that the program could lead to the creation of TNI-controlled militias.

Absence of the state
Respected political analyst Yudi Latief provides a different perspective on the matter. He implies that the Bela Negara program appears to be a twisted interpretation of US President John F. Kennedy’s famous line “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

In an op-ed published in Kompas newspaper on October 27, Latief noted that the Bela Negara program was launched during the peak of haze and forest fires that threatened the lives of millions of people across the nation. The recurring haze problems, he continued, indicate that the state is subservient to an evil power, in this case the companies that started the fires.

“Negligence on the part of the government reflects the absence of the state in a time of hardship,” Latief wrote. “It is a violation of its constitutional obligation to protect the nation.”

Instead of fulfilling this obligation, the government urged the public to participate in the Bela Negara program. “The state is still maintaining its authoritarian mentality: it is asking the people to meet their obligations without fulfilling their rights,” he said.

Modern global developments, Latief wrote, show an urgent need to redefine the meaning and scope of national defense and security in general. Such meaning and scope must include the new threat from non-state actors, ‘corporatocracy’ (dominance of society by big business), and efforts to improve security in various sectors such as food, economy, health, the environment, community and politics.

“The shift in definition opens a wide area of state defense where each citizen can play a role in accordance to their potential, duties and functions,” said Latief. “This calls for ability to synergize the individual role with national interests by refining the citizen’s aptitude.”

Intelligence skills training
Both the government and TNI have dismissed fears of militarization but their statements need to be taken with a pinch of salt. While combat skills are not being taught, participants in the Bela Negara program are being given introductory courses in intelligence-gathering skills.

The materials include basic knowledge on delivering and processing information to meet intelligence information standards such as gathering, processing and classification of sources, as well as dissemination, according to Hartind Asrin.

He refuted fears that the government is creating an Orwellian society based on a regime of state spying, as well as concerns that participants may abuse their newly acquired skills by making false reports to facilitate their personal interests.

“Changes in the way the citizen perceives differences will prevent them using these skills for negative purposes,” Asrin said. Participants will be trained in the meaning of the “four pillars” of the Indonesian state: Unity in Diversity, the unity of the Indonesian State, Pancasila and the Constitution.

This appears to assume that the participants will appreciate that a degree of difference is part and parcel of Indonesia and that they will be able to distinguish acceptable differences.

He admitted that the intelligence training aims to make citizens an extension of the state, but argued that effective information delivery will enable law enforcers to provide quick responses in any criminal case.

Given the substance of the concerns about the program and Asrin’s admissions, the public and civil society groups will need to keep a close watch on developments related to the program to ensure that is not being manipulated for ulterior motives.

While there is nothing in principle wrong with the country’s laudable ideology of Pancasila, in the past it has been used as an excuse to silence criticism and was manipulated to develop fascist overtones. During the Suharto era, Pancasila became a tool to silence criticism by creating a straight-jacket for thought and discussion.

The total defense doctrine in law
Another important aspect of the debate surrounding the Bela Negara program is its weak legal standing. Tubagus Hasanuddin, a member of House of Representatives’ Commission I overseeing defense and foreign affairs, has called the program irrational as it does not have any legal basis or budget allocation.

The retired Army general said the Constitution stipulates that any national defense program should be backed by a specific regulation. While every citizen is required to defend the country according to the Constitution and the 2002 State Defense Law, a technical guideline is necessary to provide clarity, particularly as a large amount of money is needed to conduct the program.

Bela Negara, according to the country’s total defense doctrine, is a supporting component of national defense. This component is composed of, among others, non-military trained civilians and strategic industries. Other components of the doctrine are TNI itself and the reserve component (komponen cadangan) which include military-trained civilians. A reserve component draft bill is still awaiting deliberation at the House of Representatives.

Asrin said the ministry is preparing a regulation on national defenders training, which will mandate the establishment of a dedicated Bela Negara training and education center (Pusdiklat) under its Education and Training Agency (Badiklat). Currently, Badiklat has three Pusdiklat providing language, management and technical training for employees of the Defense Ministry.

Insertion into national education curriculum
Defense Minister Ryacudu on November 13 unveiled a plan to expand the Bela Negara program to become part of school curricula starting in 2016.

He said his ministry had been working closely with the Basic Education and Culture Ministry and the Religious Affairs Ministry to create a program that would not only instill national values but also teach students about the state’s defense system and law enforcement.

Asrin said the Bela Negara lessons will be taught to students in kindergarten, fifth grade, 8th grade and 11th grade. The students will be taught to understand nationhood, the national defense system and leadership.

While kindergarten students would have one Bela Negara class each month, children in the higher grades would be given instruction in the subject for just one period of five consecutive days in the academic year, he explained.

“It’s only five days, but we’ve run tests and found that’s sufficient to give students what they need,” he said, adding that university students would be given Bela Negara classes as part of their orientation programs.

The new program, Asrin continued, would be kicked off simultaneously in all 207,895 schools nationwide in 2016, with preparations for the introduction of the program 90% complete.

Despite these ambitions, the only recent sign of Bela Negara entering the national curriculum was a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed in March by the Basic Education and Culture Ministry and the Armed Forces (TNI) to allow students to utilize military facilities for educational purposes.

According to Basic Education and Culture Minister Anies Baswedan, the MoU will “inform students of the importance of human resources’ capacity in terms of acquiring knowledge and educational competency.”

Effectiveness questioned
Even before the ministry’s announcement, NGO Setara chairman Hendardi had warned that the national defenders program will overlap with the national education curriculum. “The civic education course has a similar approach as the national defenders program and it is a required subject at the country’s schools,” he said. “With this program, it will be easier for the TNI to introduce military doctrines to young voters.”

In this view, the appointment of the Defense Ministry as the leading actor in leading the mental revolution through the national defenders program is of dubious merit. With improvement of the national education system representing the core of Widodo’s mental revolution, the Basic Education and Culture Ministry and the Higher Education and Research and Technology Ministry should be the drivers for civic and moral lessons.

The replacement of the didactic educational approach and the provision of more opportunities for students to develop their mental skills is clearly a priority. Many doubt that the inclusion of Bela Negara into the national curriculum will not effective in overturning the “moral decadence” confronting the nation if teachers still use outdated teaching methods to deliver the content in a short period of class time.

Measuring the effectiveness of the program will also be difficult as sense of nationalism and patriotism are intangible and must be periodically refreshed. Participants may feel nationalist euphoria during the program, as Asrin told Concord Strategic, but there is no assurance that they will maintain that sense of commitment for long.

The Defense Ministry appears to be engaged in an attempt to revive the sense of nationalism and patriotism in a society that is heavily influenced by factors such as the entertainment industry, consumerism and other ills of modern society.

In many ways, the Bela Negara program duplicates early course such as P4 which themselves failed to nurture a sense of nationalism. “I remember being taught about Pancasila in school but then we were told that what we were taught was wrong,” notes one young professional. “The risk is that this program will end up spending a lot of money and achieve very little.”


A version of this article was first published by Concord Review on December 2, 2015. Free trial subscriptions are available.

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