Home > Indonesia, United States > The U.S.-Indonesia Comprehensive Partnership: The Security Component

The U.S.-Indonesia Comprehensive Partnership: The Security Component

September 30, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

By John B. Haseman, former U.S. Defense Attache in Jakarta and U.S. Army colonel and Eduardo Lachica, former reporter for The Wall Street Journal

This is a partnership encompassing a number of activities including education, trade, and the environment but its security component can be said to be its progenitor and working model.  Long before President Yudhoyono called for its creation, the security component was already a mutually beneficial undertaking for the region. It serves the U.S. as another validation of its offshore security presence. It helps Indonesia modernize and reform its armed forces and police.

Indonesia is a deserving U.S. partner. It offers itself as a case study of the inadequacy of military force to solve internal conflict and the superior utility of good-faith negotiations.  Having learned that armed force alone cannot win the peace, Indonesia turned to political negotiations to end insurgency in Aceh and religious strife in the Moluccas and Sulawesi. Indonesia’s experience can be particularly helpful to Thailand and the Philippines, where violence and terrorism plague the southern regions of both countries.

The partnership takes no formal notice of China’s growing and potentially intrusive military power. But its value as a potential counter to the rising Chinese tide has to be in back of the minds of U.S. policy-makers. In the 1990s China released a map claiming sovereignty over virtually all of the South China Sea. The map marked off as Chinese territory all of the disputed Spratly Islands (where Indonesia has no claim) but, more significantly, a long “tongue” of sovereign waters that included virtually all of Indonesia’s Riau Archipelago, including the resource-rich Natuna Islands. China withdrew the offending map, but indications are that China still considers the South China Sea as part of its territorial waters. Needless to say, Indonesia itself has a high priority in protecting its interests there.

In addition to these sovereignty claims, China is expanding its influence elsewhere in the region. It is the primary military and political supporter of the Burmese junta. Most recently it has expanded its influence in Timor Leste. China funded the construction of that fledgling state’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs building and its presidential palace and will build a new headquarters for the East Timor Defense Force. China also sold two patrol boats to the East Timor Defense Force. It will not only will it train the East Timorese crews, but also man the vessels until those crews are ready. These developments have created considerable unease in Jakarta and Australia; certainly the U.S. has a vested interest in forestalling, to the extent possible, this Chinese “bracketing” of Indonesia.

Maritime Security and Counter-Terrorism

The partnership has also strengthens the security of navigation through Indonesian waters. It has helped reduce the incidence of piracy in the region, although that threat still remains. The U.S. also supports Indonesia’s efforts to gain better control over its extensive Exclusive Economic Zone and curb the poaching of its fisheries and other natural resources.   Since the succession of terrorist attacks in Bali, the National Police has killed or captured more than 500 terrorists and suspects. The primary instrument for this outstanding record of success is the special counter terrorism police unit, Detachment 88, which has been largely funded, trained, and equipped by the U.S. and Australia.

Enhanced Military Assistance Programs

The security cooperation package has grown rapidly since the two countries revived a dormant security relationship in 2005. In dollar terms it is fairly modest – averaging between $20 and $30 million a year in training and peacekeeping funds, plus almost $80 million (over several years) for an extensive maritime security program. The U.S. security assistance program matches well with the priorities of the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI). These include improvements in soldiers’ quality of life and its Minimum Essential Force necessary to ensure maritime and land border security and defend the country against any outside or domestic threat.

The U.S. has resumed funding for Indonesian participation in the International Military Education and Training Program (IMET) and for military sales and cooperative financing for equipment and services. Both countries now participate in a series of bilateral and multilateral training courses, seminars, military training exercises, and meetings of high level officials.

The two partners achieved an important milestone in June 2010, when senior defense officials of both countries signed a defense cooperation agreement (DCA) that sets down in writing the objectives and components of the bilateral security relationship.[i] Another important step was the recent Obama administration decision to resume – in gradual stages – ties with the Indonesian Army Special Forces Command (Kopassus).

Training and Education

IMET is the most cost-effective component of the security relationship. Not only does it provide education and training to Indonesian military and civilian defense personnel, it also exposes Indonesians attending U.S. training to the role of the military in a democratic society, ingrained mores of human rights, and treatment of civilians in conflict areas. The program takes pride in having as one of its products President Yudhoyono, who attended the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.

A major benefit to the U.S. is the network of personal relations formed as officers from the two countries study together for months at a time. Those contacts become key when IMET graduates assume positions at the top of the U.S. and Indonesian armed forces at the same time, and can discuss issues or problems as friends as well as counterparts. However, the fact is that the U.S. has no say over how the host country uses its IMET graduates, nor does it have much influence on how they might behave in the out years. The number of Indonesian IMET graduates who have been involved in human rights abuses or other unsavory behavior is tiny when compared to the huge majority who go on to serve Indonesia well – and work cooperatively with American officers. It is fair to question, as Indonesian defense analyst Evan Laksmana has,[ii] whether the program has a sufficient impact on the TNI’s standards of military professionalism. The IMET program was reactivated only in 2005 after a decade and a half of dormancy, so it remains to be seen whether this new generation of IMET alums can influence the ethos of the armed forces.

Support for New Missions Operations Other Than War

In addition to its primary missions of national defense and internal reforms, the TNI has added a new portfolio of defense missions in the category of “operations other than war.” These missions include, inter alia, international peacekeeping, disaster relief planning and operations, and maritime security. The TNI adapted to this shift in priorities by deferring major weapons purchases and tasking all its service branches to assist the government in handling civil emergencies. It will instead concentrate on restoring the readiness of its existing aircraft fleets that support these missions, particularly the aging C-130 transports and a variety of transport helicopters.

The U.S. is assisting these efforts. Among the highest priority are programs to upgrade the readiness and maintenance standards of the Indonesian Air Force C-130 fleet, which is vital for effective response to natural disasters and civil emergencies. Similarly, the Indonesian Army’s helicopter fleet needs extensive upgrading.

These projects will be primarily funded by Foreign Military Sales (FMS) and Foreign Military Financing (FMF) programs.[iii] Indonesia is paying its way too – it has committed $50 million to new and existing FMS cases that provide spare parts and technical assistance for U.S.-made aircraft. Indonesia has also expressed interest in purchasing additional C-130 aircraft from the U.S. in accordance with the new emphasis on better strategic mobility.

Support for United Nations Peacekeeping Operations

The partnership supports the TNI’s vigorous reentry into United Nations peacekeeping missions. It has more than 1,650 personnel deployed on U.N. peacekeeping operations in Lebanon, Congo, Liberia and Sudan. Their value to the U.S. – along with that of other U.N. peacekeepers – is in serving where the U.S. won’t send its own soldiers for policy or cost-saving reasons.

To support Indonesia’s robust return to peacekeeping operations the Bush administration utilized funds from the Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI) to pay for the transport of the vehicles of an Indonesian battalion serving with other UN peacekeepers in southern Lebanon. The Obama administration continued this policy by supporting Exercise Garuda Shield 09, the largest multilateral peacekeeping training event ever held in Indonesia, as well as the follow-on Garuda Shield 10, held this past June. The multinational Garuda Shield exercises include troops from several participating nations as well as the U.S. The U.S. has also earmarked $3.3 million in GPOI funding to support the construction of a 300-man barracks at Indonesia’s planned Peacekeeping Training Center.

Maritime Security

The Obama administration is continuing one of its predecessor’s key initiatives – the installation of coastal and ship-borne radar surveillance along key Indonesian waterways. These installations are useful in deterring the movement of terrorists and human traffickers, and the smuggling of resources.

The Major Challenge:  Regaining Mutual Trust and Respect

The partnership cannot attain its full potential until a decades-old U.S. policy restricting cooperation with Kopassus is fully resolved. Although the new DCA provides an opening for Kopassus personnel to participate in PACOM-sponsored seminars and conferences and engage in limited training with the U.S. Special Forces, it has not completely rescinded the effects of a law barring the command from benefiting from IMET training and other congressionally-funded programs.

Kopassus has been singled out for ostracism because of the violent behavior of some of its personnel in East Timor and elsewhere in the 1990s. Most of the individuals involved in these incidents have already left the service, or served sentences for misconduct. The command has maintained a good record over the past five years. Yet, the ban is still invoked against all active Kopassus personnel, even though a great number of them are too young to have served during the abuses of the Suharto era.

The TNI has gone to great lengths to raise human rights consciousness in Kopassus and other units. Human rights training is now standard throughout the TNI, including all its tactical units. Several countries and respected organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) regularly conduct human rights courses for the TNI. And all U.S. education and training courses include instruction on human rights. The recent decision to resume contacts with Kopassus was based on significant improvements in its human rights record, and is strongly conditioned on continuing good conduct on Kopassus’ part – and on that of the entire TNI for that matter.

For this partnership to succeed, the parties have to deal with each other with trust and goodwill. Continued focus on the actions of officers that did the bidding of a long-gone authoritarian regime only invites comparison with the U.S.’s own unfortunate record of violations of rules of engagement in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Congress could address this issue by a simple change of wording – by targeting the actions of individuals rather than units. Because of the continuous turnover of personnel in any military unit, the makeup of that unit changes almost completely over a period of three to five years. Punishing Kopassus as a unit today imposes unwarranted penalties on personnel with no history of abusive conduct. It would be far better to impose restrictions on those individuals with a questionable background, no matter wherever they had served or still serve. Another possible solution to the issue is to establish a statute of limitations so that units with a clean record for 10 years are not subject to restrictions under current law.

With a good head start over other working parts of this partnership, the security sector already has a record of accomplishments to show, including a large bag of terrorist suspects, a reduction in piracy, Indonesia’s robust return to international peacekeeping and a higher level of cooperation and interoperability between the U.S. and Indonesian militaries. The work is not easy but with dedication and patience the partnership can truly become a model for the region.


[i] Entitled “Framework Arrangement on Cooperative Activities in the Field of Defense between the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Indonesia and the Department of Defense of the United States of America,” the document was signed on 10 June 2010 by U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia Robert M. Scher and Indonesian Ministry of Defense Director-General for Defense Strategy Major General Syarifudin Tippe.

[ii] Evan A. Laksmana, “Thinking Beyond Kopassus: Why the US Security Assistance to Indonesia Needs Calibrating,” Asia-Pacific Bulletin, Number 68, December 17, 2010.

[iii] Indonesia received approximately $20 million in FMF grants in FY2010.

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