Rendi A. Witular, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Headlines | Wed, January 22 2014, 8:54 AM
As the Indonesian Military (TNI) begins to perceive the growing threat from other nations, it is accelerating efforts to strengthen deterrence by overhauling its structure to allow for faster troop deployment, expanding the Marine Corps and procuring long-range offensive weaponry.
In what is expected to be among President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s most far-reaching military policies, a regulation is planned for June on the formation of defense groups under joint-command, locally abbreviated as Kogabwilhan.
The plan will integrate the regional resources of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force into multi-service groups that will be positioned in certain defense flashpoints integral to preserving the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.
“But the function of the Kogabwilhan will not be limited to that. It will also serve as a deterrence to other countries as the command will have the flexibility and the needed resources for rapid deployment,” said Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro recently.
Each Kogabwilhan group will be equipped with its own fleet of warships, jet fighter squadron and Army units. Each group’s commander, a three-star general, will be given the authority to respond without having to go through the red tape at the TNI headquarters in Jakarta.
Under the existing structure, the TNI cannot immediately respond to, for example, a foreign incursion into the eastern territory until its central command assigns a three-star commanding officer and drafts deployment and logistics orders.
“We’re always on alert over future threats from other countries. But our existing structure and command are not sufficient to promptly respond. The Kogabwilhan will patch up the holes,” said Defense Ministry’s director general for defense planning Rear Marshall FX Bambang Sulistyo.
The government is planning to have four Kogabwilhan groups cover several flashpoints, which according to the ministry officials, are Aceh, Natuna in Riau Islands, Papua and Attambua in East Nusa Tenggara.
Aceh was included due to fears another separatist movement could emerge, and also because of its strategic location at the mouth of the busy Strait of Malacca.
Meanwhile, Natuna sits near the South China Sea, where China is in border rows with several ASEAN nations that are mostly backed by the US. Indonesia is not involved in the territorial disputes. Papua was chosen because of its separatist conflict and Attambua for its proximity to East Timor (Timor Leste) and Australia.
The headquarters of each Kogabwilhan group will not necessarily be at the deployment location. For example, to cover Natuna, the command could either be set up in the West Kalimantan provincial capital of Pontianak or in Riau’s capital of Pekanbaru.
“We have not decided whether to have three or four Kogabwilhan groups. If we have four then it should cover the areas of eastern, western and central Indonesia. The command for Java should be a stand-alone,” said Purnomo.
To support the policy, the ministry is undergoing a so-called “right-sizing” in its personnel assignments, in which priority will be given to strike units rather than to support ones.
“There will also be no expansion in the number of troops. What we are doing is reassigning personnel to priority divisions,” said Purnomo.
Indonesia has around 460,000 military personnel, as of 2013, and every year around 13,000 retire.
As part of the restructuring, Purnomo said that the ministry was in the process of expanding the Marines, with the latest addition being the 10th Marine Battalion in Setokok Island, some 4 kilometers southeast of Batam Island in Riau Islands province.
President Yudhoyono is scheduled to inaugurate the battalion, initially commissioned with 600 personnel, in March.
In a sign that the TNI is serious in setting its sights outward, it recently agreed to the purchase of a dozen Russian Kilo-class submarines. A team is scheduled to fly to Moscow at the end of the month to process the purchase through Russia’s export credit facilities, which carry low interest rates.
“What will be the game changer is not the Kilo-class subs themselves, but the Club-S cruise missiles onboard,” said Purnomo, adding that the missiles could hit a target 400 km away.
The country is also waiting for the deliveries of 30 refurbished F-16 fighters and a dozen Apache attack helicopters from the US starting this year, as well as 103 refurbished Leopard main battle tanks from Germany.
House of Representatives defense, intelligence and foreign affairs committee member Susaningtyas Handayani Kertopati said the TNI should strengthen its “outward-looking” approach at a time when there were signs of escalating threats.
“The greatest threat will obviously be from Australia,” she said.
Just recently, Australia apologized to Indonesia after its border patrol boats entered Indonesian territorial waters without permission in their bid to stop migrants.
A Defense Ministry official has warned that Australia’s “tow-back” policy may soon ignite conflict.
The policy involves the Australian navy intercepting and forcing back to Indonesia boats crowded with undocumented migrants heading to Australia.
“Now that we have three frigates on the border, a clash could be imminent as our Navy will prevent the towing back,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.
The TNI has been occupied for more than four decades with quelling domestic threats — primarily, separatist conflicts in Aceh and Papua, as well as communal and sectarian violence in Kalimantan and Maluku. Its resources and command structure have been mostly tailored accordingly.
But as domestic threats have receded in the past eight years, the TNI has gradually shifted its focus to building deterrent capabilities, and has taken a more serious approach regarding foreign coercion than before.
A COLLECTIVE sigh of disappointment went out last week as news came out that the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG) delegation on a fact-finding mission to Tanah (West) Papua was in fact going to spend only one day in the province and go no further than meeting the Indonesian Government, which claims sovereignty over the territory it calls "Irian Jaya", a mainly Melanesian and Christian part of Indonesia comprising the western half of the island of New Guinea.
According to The Guardian newspaper, West Papuan activists claim that the Indonesian military and police blocked them from meeting the delegation when it arrived in the Tanah Papuan capital of Jayapura. Dozens of people were arrested and an elderly woman manhandled by police when West Papuans gathered in the streets to protest against their exclusion from the meeting.
At last June's MSG leader's summit in Noumea, it was agreed that "the MSG fully supports the inalienable rights of the people of West Papua towards self-determination as provided for under the preamble of the MSG constitution", and that "the concerns of the MSG regarding the human rights violations and other forms of atrocities relating to the West Papuan people be raised with the government of Indonesia bilaterally and as a group". The leaders had also called for a ministerial mission at the foreign minister level to be led by Fiji's foreign minister to Jakarta and then to West Papua in 2013.
However, even before the delegation including foreign ministers of Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands arrived in Jakarta, the visit had become controversial with Vanuatu withdrawing from the visit. In an interview with Radio Australia, Vanuatu Foreign Minister Edward Natapei claimed the visit was hijacked by the Indonesian Government.
"Just one day before we were to depart Vanuatu to travel to Indonesia, we got the program of the visit, which neglected, it did not involve a meeting with civil society, it did not involve a meeting with the West Papuan people, the leadership in West Papua," he said. "We realised that in fact it was being hijacked by the government of Indonesia to work on another issue, which was to promote economic ties and development co-operation with the government of Indonesia," he said.
According to Mr Natapei, as part of the mission was to assess what support there was from indigenous groups there for the Vanuatu-based West Papua National Coalition for Liberation to be given MSG membership, it was made clear to the MSG leaders and the Indonesian Government that Vanuatu would only participate if the delegation was given the opportunity to meet civil society groups, pro-independence groups, church leaders and other groups concerned with alleged human rights violations in West Papua.
However, a meeting with the Indonesian president in Jakarta on, the foreign ministers of Fiji, PNG and the Solomon Islands signed a pledge of "non-interference" in Indonesia's "internal affairs". The joint statement committed the parties to supporting each other's "sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity", and pledged greater trade and development co-operation between Indonesia and the MSG countries.
One of the early objectives behind the establishment of the Melanesian Spearhead Group in 198 was to help the Melanesian people of New Caledonia, the Kanaks — get their independence from France. While this is still an continuing process, the French Government allowed the Kanak Independence Movement — the FLNKS — to take up full membership of the Melanesian group. However, it seems to be a different attitude in the case of Tanah Papua's request to join.
Speaking to the Solomon Star, Pastor Alan Nafuki, the chairperson of the Vanuatu Free West Papua Association, said he believed Indonesia was trying to divide members of the Melanesian Spearhead Group and weaken their stance on West Papua. Pastor Nafuki said other MSG countries should have followed Vanuatu's lead and stayed home.
"We want to see Fiji, Papua New Guinea, and Solomon Islands to really talk with Vanuatu and New Caledonia, and at least appreciate what we Melanesians see for the betterment for our future, we do not depend on Indonesia, it's a powerful country, we should not affiliate with Indonesia."
Prior to the visit, columnist Graham Davis described the mission as walking "a tightrope between the intense sensitivity of their Indonesian hosts and the equally intense expectations of their Melanesian brothers and sisters in West Papua".
The issue of respecting the sovereignty of a nation that is accused of systematic human rights abuse against a group of people seeking self-determination is not an easy one to address, especially for a country whose government has sought to have its own sovereignty respected on the issue of return to democracy. Yet being respectful of another nation's sovereignty does not mean ignoring the plight of the marginalised and victimised. Concern about human rights abuse, indigenous rights abuse and socio-economic rights abuse can be raised, must be raised. Respectfully of course. After all these rights are enshrined in Fiji's new constitution, even if they are limited in some aspects.
As human beings first, and also as Pacific islanders, we are called to be in solidarity with those who experience injustice and legitimated oppression. As a soon to be "true democracy" perhaps we will be able to challenge our soon-to-be-elected leaders to ensure that as a nation we are not only sovereign and democratic, but also compassionate and just towards our neighbours.
"Simplicity, serenity, spontaneity".
* The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of this newspaper or any organisation that Reverend James Bhagwan is associated with.