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Security Sector Reform in Indonesia

There is no issue more critical to the success of democratic projects anywhere than the civilian control and accountability of those institutions of state that exercise the capacity for compulsion; the military, police and intelligence services. The two requirements of these institutions of the ‘security sector’ are that they are effective in providing security from external threats and internal law breaking, and that they do not themselves constitute a threat to the state or its citizens. Where the security sector does not comply with these conditions, it can and often does create a hurdle to sustainable development, normative political progress and the sense of security these outcomes are nominally intended to provide.

In a country such as Indonesia, which has been subject to the intervention by and control of the security sector at various stages of its history, there is no issue more important to its continuing process of democratisation than reform of its security sector. In short, without such reform, Indonesia will at best only have a partial democracy, and will remain in danger of slipping back into authoritarian responses to legitimate democratic questions.

At its most basic, security sector reform means the reform of the armed forces, the police and intelligence agencies to bring them under, and make them accountable to direct civilian control, and to act in ways that supports civilian government and respects the rights of the state’s citizens under law. Security sector reform also includes removing these institutions from active political life, ensuring they do not have a civil function other than that stipulated both by law and democratic convention, and ensuring that they are professional in their capacity and conduct. Since the end of the New Order era under President Suharto in 1998, there have been a number of changes to the security sector which have begun the reform process. Notably, the armed forces have had their permanent position in the state legislature removed, and the police have been separated from the armed forces so as to both be independent and to take full and theoretically sole responsibility for internal law and order. However, this process is a long way from complete, with the security sector retaining many of the qualities and habits that characterised it under the previous authoritarian regime, and with the commander in chief of the armed forces continuing to retain a cabinet-level post.

In particular, as the manifestation of the state’s claimed monopoly on the use of violence[1], the security sector both reflects the types of regime that prevails in the state while also influencing or shaping that regime. Such use of violence should be ‘legitimate’, as in being according to the law and in keeping with the prevailing wishes of the citizens it serves. However, a dictatorial or authoritarian regime which is less responsive to citizens’ needs or concerns o which employs those needs and concerns selectively will tend to employ a security sector that is intolerant and repressive. An intolerant and repressive security sector will, in turn, shape the lived reality of the state and its citizens. This is so even of a nominally liberal democratic state, and will always stand as a threat to the continuation of such a liberal democratic model.

The history of Indonesia’s security sector revolves around its army, as the pre-eminent service of the armed forces. Until 1999, the police were also formally part of the armed forces and, while they have since been separated, they continue to operate in an often draconian, regularly unaccountable and sometimes militaristic manner. This is not to add that, in areas of conflict or in particular separatist tensions, the police and in particular its paramilitary so-called Mobile Brigade continues to act as a wing of the army, for example in operations in West Papua. Similarly, the army continues to have an active ‘policing’ function, and has little emphasis on external defence – nominally its principle task – with very considerable emphasis on maintaining internal state unity and suppression of dissident views, be they separatist, religious or ideological.

While some branches of the intelligence services are formally separate from the army – and some are not – they have their origins in and continued close associations with the army. It is no surprise that the nominally civilian State Intelligence Agency is largely staffed by active and retired military personnel. These close associations reflect the origins of the security services, which arose during the 1945-48 war of independence from the Netherlands and in the immediate post-independence period. During Indonesia’s ‘parliamentary democracy’ period, as well as suppressing rebellions and enforcing the constitutional reorganisation of the state from having a federation to a unitary structure, the army in particular intervened in political affairs, threatened the government, delegitimized certain political parties and, in 1958, was the key proponent of the ending of the parliamentary period. It was under the army’s so-called ‘Middle Way’ that saw the banning of a number of political parties Indonesia’s introduction of the concept of ‘Guided Democracy’, which was short-hand for political closure.

In part because of the lack of political accountability this closure implied, Indonesia spiralled out of control. The singular and organicist ideology that informed the military’s thinking led it into direct confrontation with its only remaining viable political opponent, the Communist Party of Indonesia. That confrontation manifested in October 1965 as a series of events, often if inaccurately described as a ‘coup’, in which five senior army generals were murdered. In events that the interpretation of which remain controversial, the army, some of which had been part of the ‘coup’, unified and launched a pogrom against the PKI. Over the next several months, army-led and organised gangs murdered up to a half a million communists, suspected communists and sympathisers, jailed many more and pushed then President Sukarno from office, replacing him with a general, later president, Suharto.
A very big part of the problem of the security services has been that because they are self-defining and their tasks are internally determined and regulated, their structure and financing are beyond the control of the central government. Whether or not the TNI chooses to add a new territorial command or not, whether it wishes to restructure the territorial command system, by which is constitutes something akin to a ‘shadow government’, how and where it chooses to deploy its troops (with very limited exceptions) and how it raises most of its operational funds are entirely beyond the purview of the government.

In particular, the budget of the TNI and the police is only partially met by central government funding, with as little as a third of total spending requirements coming from the central budget. The rest of the income derives from ‘off-line’ sources, including both legal and illegal businesses. The former includes transport, mining, fishing, other primary industry, real estate, and so on. The latter – said to still be more lucrative – derives from ‘grey’ businesses such as the provision of ‘security’ services (protection rackets or extortion) and funding from non-defence government agencies and departments, to the latter, including to prostitution, gambling, smuggling and so on. These off-line forms of income go towards funding everything from soldiers’ ‘welfare’ and equipment to financing illegal militias or ‘black’ (covert or illegal) military and intelligence operations. Much money also goes towards supplementing soldiers’ salaries, both in cases where salaries to too little to adequately survive and where incomes are topped up to levels that are on a par with successful businesspeople.

The origins of military business activities goes back to the days of the war of liberation against the Dutch, in which the new republican government had virtually no funds available to it and the military and its auxiliary units had to fend for themselves. This meant engaging in business, or more often criminal, activities, in particular smuggling and extortion[2]. Following independence, as the central government struggled to fund its own budget, the military continued to financially fend for itself, if with some government support.
The principal problem here, though, is that a military that does not rely on the government for its income, or which is able to finance operations outside a transparent budgetary process, is not accountable to a government for its actions. This then undermines the key principle of civilian authority over the military and is central to security sector reform. It also contributes to and is arguably at the core of a culture of corruption, impunity and lack of respect for the rule of law.

There have increasingly been attempts by governments since the introduction of Law 34/2004 banning the military’s commercial activities, but implementing this has been a slow and largely ineffective process, supposedly having to be complete by 2009. A Supervisory Team for the Transformation of TNI Businesses (Tim Supervisi Transformasi Bisnis TNI, or TSTB) reviewed and verified data on more than 1,500 businesses identified. In July 2006, the TSTB estimated that these businesses were worth approximately Rp. 1 trillion (US$108 million), which was a figure so low as to be widely discredited.
At best, some businesses have been corralled by the government and are now state owned enterprises, so they are no longer under day to day military control. Senior TNI officers have demanded that the government increase the military budget in order to compensate, which has been at least in part fulfilled. However, rather than reducing military business, this has often just supplemented the income the military receives from a range of sources.

This corralling of legal business activities does not, of course, take into consideration the military and police’ interests in illegal business or criminal activities, which are not formally admitted to and hence cannot be included in any government control process. More problematic is that these sources of income have been variously estimated to produce as much as double the income that is generated by legal business ventures.

In large part, the problem of implementing security sector reform in Indonesia lies not just in a reluctant security sector, but in the reluctance and to a considerable degree the lack of capacity of legislators and the executive to push through serious security sector reform. On one hand, many legislators simply don’t understand how the military and intelligence services work, don’t know how to strategise successful security sector reform, are disinterested or are beholden to them. On the other hand, the role of the military in particular in Indonesian public life has become so acculturated that beyond its many continuing elected  proponents, there are many more who passively accept both the high level of presence of the security sector in public life and who, when confronted with its occasional discomfort, feel unable to do anything about it and so continue to accept its active presence simply as a fact of Indonesian political life.

That so many former military officers continue to retain prominent positions in Indonesian public life is itself taken as nothing unusual, and external observers point to governments in transition, such as Thailand and the Philippines, that have similar experiences. What they fail to note, however, is that despite its occasional stab at democratic processes, Thailand lurches from political crisis to political crisis with regular military interventions or coups, while what passes for ‘democracy’ in the Philippines would be regarded as, at best, procedural electoral politics leavened by bribery and violence. Security Sector reform in Indonesia has progressed since the end of the New Order government. It has, however, a very long way to go and, like democracy itself, is far from a guaranteed or necessary outcome and may, without careful attention, revert to its previous, less accountable and more authoritarian state.

[1] Weber, M. Politics as Vocation in Gerth H. And Mills, C. trans. and eds. From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology Routledge and Keegan Paul, London, 1948, Weber, M. The Theory of Social and Economic Organization, ed. Parsons, T. Oxford University Press, New York. 1946. p. 154.

[2] See Cribb, R. Gangsters and Revolutionaries: The Jakarta People’s Militia and the Indonesian Revolution 1945-1949.Equinox, Jakarta, 1991. Other guerrilla movement have operated in a similar manner, e.g. the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, or GAM) and its pajak nanggroe (state tax).

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