Indonesia’s Defense White Paper: Talk So Much, Say So Little

The launch of Indonesia’s latest Defense White Paper (DWP) in May was quickly followed by a wave of criticism of its failure to communicate the government’s agenda. While presenting an overview of national defense principles as well as identifying a batch of old and new threats, the 150-page document offers only an obscure vision of the direction of Indonesia’s defense strategy.

The document triggers many questions, including on the government’s defense priorities for the next five years. Instead of offering a new defense paradigm in line with President Joko Widodo’s concept of building a sovereign maritime country, the new white paper tiptoes back to the “total defense system” rhetoric which emphasizes the establishment of civilian-based components to support the military.

In addition to the failure to interpret Widodo’s maritime agenda, concerns are emerging that the real intention of the Defense Ministry in drafting the DWP is to push for the military to have a greater role in the civil domain and to promote the militarization of civil society.

The DWP identifies a wide range of “non-military” threats and dedicates one full chapter to the ministry’s national defenders program aimed at triggering patriotism among the ranks of Indonesian citizens, which some observers believe may create the atmosphere and even a legal loophole for the return of the Armed Forces (TNI) into everyday life.


Global maritime fulcrum
During the early days of his presidency, Widodo generated wide support when he announced a shift in the country’s development agenda. He vowed to take advantage of the country’s maritime resources and spread welfare across the nation, and particularly to the remote eastern region, known to have abundant fish and energy resources, as well as huge maritime tourism potential, under the so-called ‘Global Maritime Fulcrum’ (GMF) vision.

As leader of the world’s largest archipelagic nation, Widodo declared that he would rebuild Indonesia’s maritime culture with the goal of emerging as a respectable power in the Indian and Pacific oceans. The doctrine inevitably calls for stronger maritime security measures, an area that Indonesia has long neglected.

During the 32 years of the late President Suharto’s New Order era, the Army maintained its domination of the Armed Forces (now TNI, formerly ABRI). Top-ranked officials were given positions in the cabinet, government departments and state-owned enterprises as part of the Dwi Fungsi (dual function) policy in which military officials were part of every aspect of civilian administration.

The military finally got its first non-Army commander during President Abdurrahman Wahid’s tenure with the appointment of Admiral Widodo Adi Sutjipto to head of the Armed Forces in October 1999. At the same time Wahid split the police from ABRI in an effort to provide some independence to the force, and gave it responsibility for domestic security, a major slap in the face of the military.

After decades of land-oriented defense strategy and a posture concentrating on domestic security, the country’s navy and air force were left with a paucity of resources to secure the country’s 3.3 million sq km maritime territory. Meanwhile, limited budgets have hampered the progress of the military modernization drive under the Minimum Essential Force (MEF) program which many argue still will not meet Indonesia’s ideal defense requirements when it is completed in 2024.

The White Paper states that “the government is very interested in creating security in the region, including maritime security,” to realize Widodo’s maritime ambition. It recognizes that the archipelago, located between two oceans and two continents, is vulnerable to security threats and needs to build maritime defense power.

During a gathering hosted by the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club (JFCC) in June, Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu admitted that “guaranteeing marine security is vital and essential,” not only for Indonesia, but also “to bolster economies in the region.”

However, neither the minister nor the DWP have elaborated strategies to improve maritime security. The DWP only states that the government will need support from “satellite technology and drone systems” to establish the global maritime fulcrum.


Narrow-focused strategy
Al Araf, the executive director of military watchdog Imparsial, points to the minimal attention given to the development of a maritime security concept, which reflects the failure of the Defense Ministry to buy into Widodo’s political directions.

“Maritime security development obviously calls for more than the use of drones and satellite technology. It is only a minor part of it. What is important is the change of doctrine and paradigm, that would later be elaborated in the perception of threats as well as budget allocation and weaponries,” Araf told Concord Strategic.

While Indonesia applies a layered defense strategy that combines the powers of Navy, Air Force and Army, a shift to maritime-oriented security development clearly requires the government to prioritize the improvement of capabilities at the Navy and Air Force.

In a section on military defense design, the DWP states that the government aims to establish a strong defense posture through the MEF “which prioritized the development of the maritime defense force by utilizing integrated satellite technologies and drones systems.”

However in the chapter on TNI’s posture, the white paper says very little about improving the capacities of the Navy and the Air Force. A long-reported plan to restructure the Navy by creating a third fleet in the eastern region is not mentioned. The document, instead, implies that the military in general will focus on personnel maintenance.

Araf admitted that it would be difficult to really draft an objective defense white paper amid ongoing conflict of interests. “The Army will resist attempts to change the priority to a maritime-oriented strategy,” he said.


Global threats
The paper does recognize that Indonesia will face more complex security threats as it is impacted by global and regional developments. It acknowledges that the strategic policies of China, the US and instability in the South China Sea will increasingly dominate Indonesia’s strategic environment.

But Yohanes Sulaiman, a security analyst from the Gen. Ahmad Yani University in Cimahi, West Java, said the latest white paper is underwhelming and is focused too much on domestic issues – bordering on the paranoid.

“While a proxy war is obviously a possibility, they seem to be very fixated on it, he told Concord Strategic, adding that the attention for issues like a proxy war is disproportionate, especially considering the real tensions in the region that need to be tackled, for instance in the South China Sea.

Ristian Atriandi Supriyanto, a PhD scholar with the Strategic and Defense Studies Center at the Australian National University, also noted, in an article published by The Jakarta Post on June 15, that the paper provides few clues on how Indonesia’s defense policy should be crafted to respond to and anticipate the changes in the regional environment.

Despite the destabilizing trend, Supriyanto said the DWP assumes uncritically that “armed conflict will not happen because ASEAN member states have made commitments amongst themselves in the settlement of the conflict without using armed violence.”

Minister Ryacudu at the JFCC meeting also acknowledged the potential for conflict as a result of the disputes in the South China Sea. However, he said he was optimistic that the tensions can be doused and even eliminated as conflicting parties are committed to reach agreement through intensive dialogue and by abiding to international laws.

That comment was made before the rather hysterical response of the Chinese government to the ruling by the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled on July 12 that it has no legal basis to claim “historic rights” to islands in the South China Sea. Nevertheless the minister appeared convinced that domestic threats such as terrorism are more dangerous than any threat involving external powers.

In this regard, although the DWP has failed to act as a reference point for the direction of the country’s future strategy, it does at least assure the wider community that Indonesia’s defense capacity will not pose a destabilizing threat to the region. For Ryacudu, there are no fundamental changes in perception about the threats to the country since the days of the New Order.

“If you’re looking for confirmation of Indonesia’s foreign and defense policy, its threat assessments, its international partnerships and its general priorities for the future, you’ll gain some comfort from this 130-page process – rather than outcome-oriented document,” Bob Lowry of the Australian Institute of International Affairs wrote in an article posted by The Strategist website on June 15.

“Neighbors are reassured that it has no aggressive intent and seeks peaceful solutions to outstanding problems related to the definition of borders and other cross-border tensions,” he added.

So what the DWP does say is that nothing much has changed. National defense is managed by means of a total defense system, which is non-aggressive and expansive. To solve problems related to and affecting national defense, Indonesia must prioritize diplomacy supported by modern military force.

The DWP reiterates the country’s free and active foreign policy by referring to the principle of independence in maintaining peace and security. “Indonesia believes that neighboring countries are friends who have shared commitment to promoting security and stability in the region,” it states. “Developing defense power is not intended as an arms race; it is an effort to gain standard professionalism of defense forces,” it continues


Non-state actors
Apart from security and strategic threats, the DWP also lists and provides definitions for a wide range of non-military threats that must be addressed. “These threats include terrorism, radicalism, separatism and armed rebellions, natural disasters, border violations, sea piracy and natural resources theft, epidemics, cyber attacks and espionage, trafficking and drug abuse,” it states.

Imparsial’s Araf said the identification of these threats provides justification for the military to enter the civil domain. He and Lowry of the AIIA agree that most of those threats should be the preserve of other government agencies and provide little guidance on issues such as determining force structures or dispositions.

“Energy and food crises indeed are problems that must be resolved but there is no pressing need to make it a defense and security issue,” said Araf. Listing every threat as a security issue does however create a rationale for military securitization, according to Araf, who added that there is evidence that it has begun to occur with the involvement of soldiers to secure public facilities and in recent evictions in Jakarta.

Proposals to let TNI play a greater role in efforts to combat drug trafficking and terrorism, said Araf, are also indications of ongoing militarization.

Similar concerns have been raised by activists over proposals to place TNI personnel in strategic state bodies, saying the move threatens the supposed process of military reform. TNI since late 2014 has increased cooperation with a number of government bodies, including the Transportation and Agriculture Ministries and the National Narcotics Agency.

TNI has also assumed a greater role in counter-terrorism operations and is seeking stronger legal standing for the move in revisions to the 2003 Counter-Terrorism Law. Meanwhile, the Defense Ministry said it is setting up branches at the provincial level and said it wants its own intelligence agency to better monitor the security situation.

Sulaiman of the Gen. Ahmad Yani University said the military continues to formally adhere to the 2004 TNI Law, which prohibits involvement of soldiers in general politics without an official request from the president. However, according to Araf, the military has by-passed the law in its latest attempts to enter the civil domain by signing memoranda of understanding (MoU) with ministries and companies. “The MOUs are a fait accompli (against the president) and it appears that the TNI is further trying to legalize the move through the DWP,” Araf said.


Bela Negara
Instead of reflecting Widodo’s maritime ambition, another reason for the drafting of the White Paper appears to be to support the National Defenders program, launched by the Defense Ministry in October 2015.

The DWP reiterates that Indonesia’s national defense is built on a universal defense system which involves all citizens and national resources. “The system integrates military defense and non-military defense through efforts to build a strong and respected defense capability which has high deterrent power,” says the paper.

It dedicates a full chapter to the program, known as Bela Negara, which is aimed to indoctrinate 100 million citizens over the next 10 years as well as incorporating it in educational curricula and professional training courses.

“Indonesia can’t compete with other major regional powers so the white paper retains a total people’s war policy and strategy that would see the whole human and material resources of the nation mobilized to deal with internal and external threats. That in turn normalizes its concern and involvement in policy matters outside the remit of defense in a democracy,” said Lowry.

The integration of military and non-military defense institutions is conducted through five measures, including the establishment of regional defense offices and improved information exchange between the Defense Ministry and intelligence agencies.

Another step is to create a mechanism to ensure effective cooperation and readiness of both military and non-military elements to face potential threats that could endanger national stability.

In this light, the Bela Negara program appears to serve as a vehicle to militarize civil society. While the Defense Ministry has denied that the program will provide physical military training, officials have confirmed that it will equip participants with basic intelligence skills in a bid to prevent social disturbance and the spread of dangerous ideologies.

That suggests that Indonesians may be trained to snoop on other Indonesians, with the Ministry of Defense potentially becoming something like the former East Germany’s Ministry for State Security, the Stasi, which pried into the lives of virtually every member of society.

Ryacudu at the JFCC gathering said the Bela Negara program aims to build nationalism to support national defense against threats and as a tool to strengthen the national identity against left-wing, right-wing, and other radical ideologies that can be used to wage a proxy war.

“Weapons are far less useful than correct mindset and ideology. The training on ideology is thus very important,” said Ryacudu.

The minister also hinted that military training is possible when a real threat appears. “In regard to the military training, we are not conducting any of it yet. If there is a real threat, then we will conduct the military preparation,” he remarked.

“The government seems to have no strong idea and argumentation in planning Bela Negara, turning what was intended as good citizenship training into a state-centric program,” said Araf, adding it is doubtful that a sense of patriotism can be instantly triggered.

Supriyanto, the ANU scholar, said the program is reminiscent of much of the Army-sanctioned “total people’s war” narrative associated with former President Suharto’s rule as “it entails paramilitary training and indoctrination classes to imbue the participants in jingoism that may suppress inquisitive and critical appraisals of Indonesia’s national values.”

“It raises legitimate fears that the concept risks becoming a form of politico-security mobilization bent on creating a generation of “yes-men” uncritical of defense and military policies,” he wrote in The Jakarta Post op-ed.


A problem of competence
According to Araf, unclear priorities as well as the launching of such a vague white paper indicate a problem of competence at the Defense Ministry and its leadership.

It also indicates that Widodo has not developed a clear vision for the sector himself, despite his promise to rebuild the country’s maritime culture and his vision of Indonesia emerging as a respectable power located between the Indian and Pacific oceans.

While Ryacudu and other defense officials involved in the drafting of the DWP have failed to translate Widodo’s idea, analysts predict that the minister will retain his position as he has backing from Megawati Sukarnoputri, the chairwoman of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) that supported Widodo in the 2014 presidential election.

Ryacudu was passed over as TNI commander when Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono took the presidency from Sukarnoputri at the 2004 elections, giving rise to the view that the PDI-P chairwoman now owes him. Indeed Ryacudu remained untouched during Widodo’s most recent cabinet reshuffle, on July 27.

While it is impossible for a country to detail its national defense strategy in a public document, the failure of the white paper to provide a clear new direction for developing defense capability for the next five years is too apparent to ignore.

The paper, as Lowry of the AIIA said, is only a cosmetic addition to a defense planning process that’s independent of the white paper and remains largely opaque. It is also allegedly a projection of TNI and Ryacudu’s doctrines instead of a real set of guidelines on the national defense strategy development.


A version of this article was first published by Concord Review on July 20, 2016. Free trial subscriptions are available.

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