US, Indonesia almost back in
step By David Isenberg
Officials in Washington are increasingly
confident the United States will restore full
military relations with Indonesia, despite past
human rights violations by that country's
Just last week, the countries
began a two-week military exchange program in the
field of planning and decision-making, according
to a US Embassy statement. The program is aimed at
increasing cooperation and exchanging experience
between the two countries, it added.
White House has been working hard to persuade
Congress to fully lift the military embargo
imposed on Indonesia. It cites as the main reason
cooperation between the armed forces of the two
countries in the wake of last year's tsunami as
proof of improved military ties.
Indonesian military very much wants the embargo
ended, given its own of shortage spare parts. For
example, on July 21 two Indonesian Air Force
planes crashed in separate incidents.
Earlier this month,
Minister of Defense Juwono Sudarsono expressed
confidence that the embargo would eventually be
lifted "because of the post-tsunami cooperation
and good reputation of President Susilo Bambang
Yudhoyono in Washington".
can point to the government's efforts to rein in
the military's corruption-tainted businesses and
improved human rights training for combat units in
Aceh as evidence that it is no longer business as
It doesn't hurt that Yudhoyono has
made himself many new friends in the US since he
came to power in October.
administration wants the ban lifted, arguing
Washington should support Indonesia, the world's
most populous Muslim nation and a key battleground
in its anti-terrorist efforts.
suspended military cooperation with Indonesia in
1999 after accusations that soldiers deployed in
the country's former province of East Timor
committed rights abuses before, during and after
the 1999 vote of independence.
shooting of two American teachers in Papua
province has also complicated ties between the two
countries, with human rights groups alleging rogue
Indonesian soldiers were behind the shootings.
Nevertheless, the US government has
revived several joint military training exercises
and endorsed limited sales of military equipment
In late July a US Navy task
force with about 800 personnel arrived in the
Indonesian town of Surabaya to hold annual
military exercises with the Indonesian Navy after
a two-year delay. The Cooperation Afloat Readiness
and Training (CARAT) was the ninth since it was
initiated in 1995. The annual exercises were
canceled in 2003 and 2004 at the request of the
Indonesian Navy. And the United States has
allocated millions of dollars to equip and train
Indonesian police's strike force, Brimob, along
with police from the Philippines and Thailand.
But a US Government Accountability Office
report noted that the US violated its own law by
training 6,900 Indonesian, Filipino and Thai
police without determining beforehand whether they
had a history of human rights violations.
The Southeast Asian police were trained by
the US Justice Department with State Department
law enforcement assistance between 2001 and 2004
at a cost of US$265.7 million, the report said.
Among the 4,000 Indonesians trained in
civil-military relations and human rights issues
were 32 trainees "from a notorious special-forces
police unit previously prohibited under State
(Department) policy from receiving US training
funds because of the unit's prior human rights
abuses", the report said, referring to Brimob. The
administration of President George W Bush resumed
the training program in February.
July the United States Agency for International
Development announced it had agreed to provide
US$20 million worth of assistance to help the
Indonesian government reform the country's weak
On August 2, US ambassador
to Indonesia B Lynn Pascoe spoke at the start of a
two-day security dialog between senior US and
Indonesian defense officials in Jakarta. He said,
"You can be sure that the executive branch is
working to open the way for the normalization of
military to military relationships."
forum was the third round of talks between
Indonesia and the US. The first dialog was held in
Indonesia in 2002, the second in 2004 in
Brigadier General John Allen,
a director for Asian and Pacific Affairs at the
Pentagon, led the US delegation, while the
delegation from Indonesia was led by Major General
Dadi Susanto, who is also director general on
defense strategy at the Ministry of Defense.
Toward the end of the forum Allen said,
"The restoration of the cooperation is proof of
the growing positive atmosphere." Allen also
expressed the appreciation of the US government
over President Yudhoyono's commitment to step up
military reforms, civil control and
On the basis of these
considerations, Allen said the US government will
soon normalize its military relations with
Indonesia including the lifting of the embargo on
At the same time that
the forum was concluding Allen said the United
States supports a plan by Malaysia, Indonesia and
Singapore to start coordinated air patrols next
month over the pirate-infested Malacca Strait.
The plan is seen, in part, as helping to
quell foreign jitters about security in the
world's busiest shipping lane, seen by many as a
prime target for terrorists.
to be the successor to the Regional Maritime
Security Initiative (RMSI) for Southeast Asia,
(with a particular focus on the Malacca Strait),
which the United States proposed in the spring of
2004, an extension of the Proliferation Security
Initiative. The initiative proposed the use of US
special forces to police sea traffic on the
strait. But the initiative was not acceptable to
Indonesia and Malaysia.
On July 20 the
Senate approved its version of the fiscal year
2006 Foreign Operations Appropriations bill. The
bill would continue restrictions on Foreign
Military Financing (FMF) and export of "lethal"
military equipment to Indonesia until certain
conditions are met.
The Senate bill,
however, would provide $1.5 million in FMF for the
Indonesian Navy. International Military Education
and Training funds would not be made available
until the Secretary of State submits a detailed
report on US and Indonesian efforts to bring to
justice those responsible for the ambush and
murder of two US citizens and an Indonesian in
West Papua on August 31, 2002.
House version would remove all restrictions on
military assistance. When the House passed its
version, only a reporting requirement introduced
by Democrat Representative Patrick Kennedy, who
supports legislated restrictions blocked by the
Republican leadership, referenced the poor human
rights and justice records of the Indonesian
A conference committee with
representatives from both chambers must reconcile
the two versions of the bill after Congress
reconvenes before it is sent to the president for
But it is unclear when that
might happen. Currently, Congress has a full
agenda and not much time left. Only two of the 13
annual appropriations bills have been finalized
and sent to Bush for his signature. Legislatively,
Congress has many higher priorities than
Indonesia. These include the defense
appropriations bill, Iraq, the nomination of John
Roberts as the next chief justice of the Supreme
Court, all of which will take up substantial
Senate floor time, as will various domestic
Reached by phone, one senior
congressional defense specialist said: "There are
so many moving parts in the budget and
appropriations cycle that one cannot blow off the
prospect of budget reconciliation between the
Senate and House as a mere technicality. In fact,
it is a virtual certainty that the foreign
operations bill will not be finished by the
October 31 deadline."
That means that the
foreign operations bill will be funded by a
continuing resolution, which is legislation in the
form of a joint resolution enacted by Congress,
when the new fiscal year is about to begin, to
provide budget authority for federal agencies and
programs to continue in operation until the
regular appropriations bill is enacted.
David Isenberg, a senior analyst
with the Washington-based British American
Security Information Council (BASIC), has a wide
background in arms control and national security
issues. The views expressed are his own.