Sam in Indonesia: Security Reform’s Shortfalls, Successes


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Indonesian-U.S. army exercise. U.S. Army photo.


The shortcomings of Indonesian military reform are clear enough: military self-financing persists, human rights violators at the highest levels have not been held accountable and the controversial territorial command structure remains. For some, particularly in the human-rights community, the Indonesian military cannot escape its reputation for routine human-rights violations. It is, and for the foreseeable future will be, a marked institution.

Nevertheless, a number of sources in civil society and business indicated to me that by at least some measures, the Indonesian military is not the dominant force it once was. In response to my questions about the military, one businessman told me, “I don’t know the answers to your questions. I haven’t bothered to think about it in a while.” Whereas internal military politics might have shaped the business environment in the past, today there is no need to pay attention.

Another long-time military observer described the army as boring, not even worth writing about. Repeatedly, I was reminded of the following examples: First, when the military could have installed its own man to head the government in 1998, it didn’t. Second, despite its best efforts to shape the 1999 East Timor referendum, East Timor voted to secede — and the military let it happen.  And third, when civilian leaders began negotiating with insurgents in Aceh, the military had to sit by and watch.

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