On the 67th anniversary of Indonesian Military (TNI) on Oct. 5, many might wonder whether the modernization of the armed forces has lived up to expectations. The truth is our soldiers still risk their lives, but not fighting the nation’s enemies on the battlefield, instead they are prone to accidents when using obsolete military equipment.
In terms of the regional security outlook, while our neighbors have already deployed their modern armaments as active defense systems, the TNI is far from achieving a high-profile.
Despite the BJ Habibie-driven programs to develop several promising strategic industries, such as an aerospace industry, during the New Order era, the country’s military modernization did not make significant progress.
In that case, a critical problem was identified in the gap between development plans as revealed in official statements and the actual national capacity (technology, human resources), as well as the government’s commitment to realize the plans. The Asian monetary crisis which swept the region in 1997-1998 left the TNI modernization bid hanging in the balance.
In the early part of the reform era, the modernization plans seemed to be forgotten. Proponents of reform, be they NGOs, activists, students or the media, raised the pressure to investigate alleged human rights abuses involving security actors, particularly military officers, and for an end to the military’s political role. Amid the repercussions of democratization, it was difficult for the TNI to carry out military modernization.
Only in 2005, did a serious discussion in relation to the future of the TNI and concrete steps to realize military modernization begin to emerge. Unfortunately, it was a bit too late. The development of weaponry, particularly defense technology, had moved ahead fast and left Indonesia lagging behind.
Those facts do not undermine Indonesia’s quest to catch up with other countries in terms of military modernization. Indeed, the government’s grand strategy on the minimum essential force (MEF) is a constructive policy that needs to be realized.
The defense budget has been increased in accordance with the MEF, but so far, the biggest spending, around 70 percent, goes on soldiers’ welfare.
However, MEF should not be treated as the final, or once-and-for-all, solution. There are many challenges and constraints that potentially impede the application of MEF.
We are fully aware that the international defense industry is a competitive business in nature. It is not easy for Indonesia to acquire all the manufacturing supports available on the international market. There is a high degree of protectionism of technology related to strategic and defense systems.
Every arms supplier, either private companies or state-owned enterprises, wish to maintain their competitive advantages. Although difficult, the chance of ensuring transfers of technology to Indonesia is therefore an alternative that deserves consideration.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution for that. Every country develops its own strategy based on national interest and capabilities. But we need to underline the point that in regard to military modernization in the 21st century, quantity, or possession of vast amounts of weapons, is no longer valid in determining whether one country has greater capability vis-á-vis others.
What matters is quality, or the level of use of high technology and qualified soldiers. Of course, a country that lacks both quality and quantity of arms cannot compete with others.
The best possible policy the government and other defense stakeholders need to forge is to set a strong commitment and arrange a clear and visible strategy to develop a national defense industry. The road will be long and winding, yet worthwhile pursuing in the long run
According to Defense Ministry, the development of defense posture will be conducted in four phases. Phase I (2010–2014) will focus on the improvement of defense posture and defense structure.
Barring unforeseen obstacles, the ministry will publish the newest document package containing three items: Defense Posture, Defense Strategy and the Defense White Book.
From the Defense White Book, at least the public can assess and get to know how Indonesian defense will be managed in the foreseeable future. Regarding Defense Posture and Defense Strategy, the ministry seems to want to restrict those to a limited audience.
Phase II (2015–2019) will be aimed at increasing the professionalism of state defense institutions, improving soldiers’ welfare and empowering national defense industries. Afterwards, in phase III (2020–2024), the ministry will try to achieve the establishment of a defense capability, the realization of a professional TNI and a reliable defense industry. Last but not least, in phase IV (2025–2029) Indonesia will have a professional TNI, with high living standards for soldiers and modern national defense industries.
Observing the 67th anniversary of TNI, the public hopes that Indonesia will at last build a strong yet professional and modern military institution. Plans have already been written and the next and most crucial step is to ensure that the government and broader security community will implement all of those policies and achieve their objectives. Non-state security actors, including NGOs concerned with security, need to safeguard the process as well.
Supporting military modernization doesn’t necessarily mean turning a blind eye to human-rights violations or illicit business practices implicating the TNI in the past. The modernization itself requires internal consolidation and an outward performance to show that essential steps have been taken to address both concerns. If the TNI succeeds in overcoming these two issues, modernization will be far more substantial.
The writer, a graduate of the defense studies program, Bandung Institute of Technology — Cranfield University, is a researcher with the Centre for Political Studies at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), Jakarta.