The Indonesian military (Tentara Nasional Indonesia, TNI) in 2016 may intensify pressure for a broader remit in internal security affairs as its warm relationship with President Jokowi deepens and its credibility with the public soars. Several factors continue to drive the push for power: conviction that the country is facing many dangers that only the TNI can address; distrust of civilian politicians and political leaders; resentment of the police; and a sense of opportunity in the current political situation.
These factors were analysed in a May 2015 IPAC report, “The Expanding Role of the Indonesian Military”, but several developments since that report was issued warrant a renewed look at how well the pressure for an increased role is progressing.
A new defence White Paper due out soon – its main points were conveyed to foreign defence attachés in January 2016 – highlights the danger from internal and non-traditional threats, including terrorism. In May 2015, counter-terrorism seemed to be the area where the military was making the greatest push to expand its role, including by playing up the police failure to arrest Santoso, the pro-ISIS commander of a small band of armed men in the hills of central Sulawesi. More than eight months and several joint police-military operations later, the military have fared no better than the police in capturing the elusive extremist. At the same time, effective police work in handling the 14 January 2016 terrorist attack in Jakarta has helped mute – temporarily – the TNI demand for more operational engagement.
The military acknowledges that there is no imminent conventional external threat. Nevertheless, TNI military commander General Gatot Nurmantyo, appointed in July 2015, continues to talk up the dangers of “proxy war”, a concept suggesting that unidentified hostile foreign states are trying to weaken Indonesia from within through non-military means that include everything from support for separatism to advocacy of gay rights. The fear that underlies the concept is shared by many in the officer corps and beyond and serves as an ideological justification for an increased role in internal security.
The TNI left significant unfinished business behind in 2015, much of it aimed at giving a legal basis for a broader mandate. A draft presidential decree on TNI structure, submitted by then commander General Moeldoko in June 2015, remained unsigned at the end of the year. It would highlight the role of the military in both defence and security; expand the kinds of “military operations other than war” that the TNI was authorised to conduct; and remove the need for parliamentary approval for these operations. While the decree seems to have been temporarily shelved, it could be revived at any time, especially if other legal efforts stall.
It will be important to watch how efforts proceed to push through a strengthened anti-terrorism law in the wake of the Jakarta attacks. While the government draft submitted to parliament in late February does not include any enhanced powers for the military, the TNI’s role could still be strengthened as a national counter-terrorism strategy, mandated by the draft, is worked out. Meanwhile, force modernisation gathers pace as Jokowi promises defence budget increases that will replace obsolete combat systems and add new ones. The object is to gradually improve external maritime defence capacity without diminishing the TNI’s actual and potential political role through the priority it continues to accord internal security.