For Indonesian Military, Optimism Is Curbed by Constraints

7:18:00 PM
JAKARTA, -- As Indonesia enters 2015, it is evident that the government of Joko Widodo continues to stress the importance of finding better and more effective ways to upgrade the country’s military forces in line with the changing strategic environment around the country.
A series of policy steps to boost the country defense force have been evident as Indonesia enjoyed the progress in its economic development. This is to say that economic development has to some extent been instrumental in helping the military to enjoy certain degree of progress in its defense program. Former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was reported as saying that stable economic development contributed to the country’s confidence in its own defense program.
Constant weapons procurement, enhancing the soldiers professionalism, a  steady increase in the defense budget, extending defense partnerships and employing better ways of developing threat assessment are within the realm of defense and security the government has been focusing on so far.
What we actually saw throughout 2014 was the government’s constant move to strengthen and enhance the role of the country’s military forces in defending the archipelago nation.
The government’s policies for the realm of defense clearly reflects what I see as three significant strategic steps: adaptation, collaboration and investment.
Adaptation here is referred to the economic progress’ contribution to the constant increase in the defense budget and where perceived external threats has also driven the increase in the defense spending. It is against such a background the chief of the Indonesian Military (TNI).
Gen. Moeldoko was reported as saying that the increase in the defense budget was inevitable due to perceived external threats.
The minister for political and security affairs Purdijatno said the government aims to boost defense spending from 0.8 percent to 1.5 percent of gross domestic product over the next five years, putting it on par with Indonesia’s neighbors, including Malaysia.
The competing territorial claims in the South China Sea between China and four Southeast Asian countries continues to create regional tension. Purdijatno raised the possibility that Indonesia, which is not involved in the disputes and under the previous government remained neutral, could play a greater role if requested.
Meanwhile, collaboration points to the government’s continued efforts to expand its defense links with foreign countries in an attempt to provide more resources for the country’s defense program. 2014 saw a series of memorandums signed between Indonesia and its defense partners.
Investment in defense reflects the government’s commitment to pour huge amounts of money to maintain the high level of capability of its defense forces.
Yudhoyono once said that the growth in the defense budget was intended to strengthen the military posture, so that the mission to safeguard the sovereignty and integrity of the Indonesian territory can succeed.
The unprecedented show of force at the Eastern Fleet Command base in Surabaya, East Java, to mark the 69th anniversary of the TNI, was indeed a display of how increased investment in the area of defense has been instrumental in not only keeping up the capability of the military, but also in gaining the public’s trust and support for the government’s  aim to build a defense force that can fully protect the country’s sovereignty.
Military chief Moeldoko said the show of force was the biggest ever since the TNI — then called the Indonesian Armed Forces, or ABRI — was established in 1945.
Newly acquired weapons systems were revealed to the public for the first time at the Surabaya show, attesting to the TNI’s continued commitment to defend the nation in times of peace and war.
Indonesia’s defense policy has seen its dynamism as ever as before, particularly when the government shows its unprecedented commitment to developing a formidable defense for the country. Moeldoko praised the government for its policy in bringing the level of Indonesia’s defense posture to an elevated level the military has never enjoyed before.
This year saw Indonesia procure the most sophisticated weapons systems the country has ever had — for the Air Force, the Navy and the Army. These three services need to equip themselves with the latest technology that would boost their roles in defending their respective areas of responsibility.
Air Force Chief Marshal Ida Bagus Putu Dunia said that the Air Force would have the leverage to protect the  nation’s air space only if it is supported by more sophisticated aircraft. The same sentiment was also expressed by the Navy and Army’s chief of staff.
Modernizing the military is not only crucial for Indonesia at the time when the country is exposing itself to a much more challenging strategic environment, but it must also reflects the TNI’s capacity to defend the Indonesian archipelago and contribute to regional security.
When it comes to threat and risk perception, TNI remains very much focused on internal security challenges.
However, this year we heard statements made by the Indonesian defense planners to consider the nation’s external environment more seriously. Trends in military modernization in Southeast Asia are a source of concern in Jakarta as are China’s ambitions in the South China Sea.
When Moeldoko was in Beijing last October he said the TNI would fight to achieve its end in defending areas impacted by conflict should a crisis occurred by investing in maritime and aviation capabilities. The message to  China was clear: do not to make a move that might lead to a severe action and reaction process.
In spite of the new profile Indonesia’s armed forces have enjoyed the past year, they continues to face a paradox. Threats to peace — domestically and abroad — are precisely the challenges to which a democratic Indonesia must respond.
There is no doubt that the military’s possession of the most technologically advanced weapons systems will strategically contribute to the strengthening and enhancement of the TNI’s role in defending Indonesia’s sovereignty.
However, the possession of newly acquired weapons and pronouncements about the integrity of the Indonesian Military in defending the country will be meaningless if the TNI fail to comprehensively address the source and nature of future strategic challenges characterized particularly by what I see as vulnerability, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA).
The concept of VUCA here can be best used to explain why the Indonesian military should be as strategic and tactical as possible in responding to the rapid changes in the strategic environment. Unless the force displayed is mission essential, Indonesia may run the risk of inadequate national will to apply the resources needed.
I have to admit that Yudhoyono demonstrated a great deal of effort to boost the country’s military force, though it may not have been his only policy priority. His legacy in the realm of defense has raised a great deal of optimism on the part of the military to move on par with the defense force of other regional countries.
The government of Joko’s perspective on the issue of defense runs parallel with that of Yudhoyono. Joko’s handling of defense matters starts where Yudhoyono left off. What Joko see as the most important aspect in the realm of defense is how the defense force maintains its public trust and credibility in defending national territory.
On many occasions, Joko said that when economic growth reaches 7 percent, the military budget could be increased two to three fold. His government is also committed to increasing the welfare budget for its soldiers. This has added to further optimism that the TNI will received even better attention and treatment from the new government.
Under Joko, defense spending will grow to $20 billion a year by 2019 to protect its sovereignty. Joko emphasized that the military was an integral part of Indonesia and was not only used for national defense but also as a pillar for uniting the nation.
Joko cleverly links the country’s economic growth of about 7 percent to the national defense budget.
However, it is not at all clear whether such a large defense budget is in the long term sufficient to secure and perpetuate Joko’s ambitions in making Indonesia a world maritime fulcrum.
The maritime fulcrum Joko introduced carries in itself important elements of defense and security. Meaning that huge investment to support such a policy is not only imperative if Joko is to be seen successful in realizing such an idea, but it also needs a much better and more effective strategy developed by the three services of the military.
The receptivity of Indonesia as a maritime fulcrum by the world community after all will depend on the cooperative relationship between the Navy, Army, Air Force and even the National Police and other related security agencies.
The Indonesian Military will not be seen as credible, reliable and effective in supporting Joko’s maritime fulcrum, unless its ranks are highly capable of maintaining both the intangible and tangible components of national power.
That is to say that the effect of a maritime fulcrum will only be felt nationally and regionally, if not globally, if the TNI is not smart and effective enough in utilizing the country’s existing tangible as well as intangible national power.
The current profile of Indonesia’s defenses looks quite impressive, at least when compared to the start of the reformasimore than a decade ago. Joko wants his concrete policy steps in the realm of defense to clearly reflect the country’s readiness to face future strategic challenges.
Perhaps, it is against such a background that he, in his first international exposure, introduced series of plans to upgrade Indonesia’s position in the global security and political landscape.
However, optimism in developing a formidable defense may be short lived due to the structural constraints the military is facing now and will face in the future.
A structural constraint here refers to the level of restriction placed on the country’s strategic options by its mandated role in defending the nation, or by the lack of access to strategic resources the military might need to boost its role.
One of the real constraints is related with how the military will be able to win the support of the legislative body for such a huge defense budget. Not only that: Another constraint is whether the TNI’s leaders are able to address the military moral force and discipline in using its allocated defense budget.
Maintaining the current level of readiness in our weapons systems is another constraint as the military would need a secure budget to achieve that aim. Minimum budget allocation will not only result in the gradual corrosion of the weapons, but also lowers the intention, if not weaken the spirit, of the soldiers using them. Minimum fuel supply, mostly suffered by the Navy, is another structural constraint.
It has been stated that Indonesia’s defense budget has increased significantly, but it has never constituted more than one percent of GDP. One consequence may be that the military would be unable to perform even its basic functions.
Indonesia has recently purchased technologically advanced weapons system. The problem is whether leaders of the Indonesian Military are able to address the incoherent strategic doctrine, if any, which may impose severe constraints on the military’s modernization.
Another structural constraint is whether the government decision to achieve a so called Minimum Essential Force by 2024 will do very much to address structural problems the military is facing, such as inter-service coordination.
The failure of the Joko’s government to effectively address those structural constraints may lead to the emergence of centrifugal forces which may in the end weaken the performance of the military in defending the country.
The future of the Indonesian Military under Joko’s administration depends on how credible they appear in their pledge to provide stability and strength in Indonesians’ fight to preserve their way of life — and prevent the emergence of elements of entropy that will destabilize, weaken and divide the state.
In short, a high level of  optimism on the part of the military in developing a credible and respected defense force is a strategic necessity, but it will do very little to produce a reliable defense force unless the government and the military can systematically and effectively address several important structural constraints.
Bantarto Bandoro is a senior lecturer at the School of Defense Strategy at the Indonesian Defense University in Sentul, Bogor

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