Americans, Indonesians Forging More Cooperative Military Ties
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 6, 2006 Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld met with Indonesia's leaders here today to discuss how the relationship between the United States and this South Pacific archipelago might shape up in the immediate future.
Full military-to-military ties between the United States and Indonesia were re-established in November, 10 years after a split over human rights issues.
The U.S. and other countries imposed economic sanctions and cut military-to-military relations after Indonesian forces backed anti-independence militias committing atrocities in the country's restive East Timor province, which was officially recognized as an independent nation in 2002.
Rumsfeld said today he believes close military ties are good for both countries in terms of ease of cooperation in a crisis.
"The ability for our militaries to work more closely with each other is clear when one thinks of what took place in the (December 2004) tsunami or what took place with respect to the (May 27) earthquake, and the need to know each other and be able to communicate well with each other and understand each other when there's a disaster of that type," he said in a news conference after meeting with Indonesian Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono.
Sudarsono today said he and Rumsfeld discussed ways in which the United States can help Indonesia improve management and accountability within its Ministry of Defense.
"The U.S. Defense Department is ready to support programs to include the management of the Defense Ministry, so that they may provide a credible and comfortable defense of Indonesia based on the principles of mankind," he said during the news conference.
U.S. officials also believe that closer ties with military members in the TNI -- Indonesia's armed forces are commonly known by the acronym for their name in Indonesian: "Tentara Nasional Indonesia" -- will help prevent human rights abuses in the future by working to instill a sense of respect for democratic institutions.
As the country with the world's largest Muslim population and a successful democracy, Indonesia is an important moderate voice in the war against terrorism.
"Everything we're talking about with them is about defense reform, professionalism," a senior U.S. defense official said here today. "Our training involves civil-military relations, laws of war. The training we do, a huge proportion of it, is precisely to bring them up to reasonable standards of conduct. So the whole defense-reform issue is about that."
The first step in rebuilding the military-to-military relationship is to teach Indonesian officers how to navigate the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program to purchase spare parts and repairs for the country's aging fleet of C-130 cargo aircraft and F-16 fighter jets, a senior military officer said here today.
Airlift capability is particularly crucial for Indonesia's ability to respond to natural disasters within its own borders. Indonesia is a string of more than 17,500 islands; 6,000 are inhabited.
"This is an archipelagic country," the officer said, "so to get forces around, they've got to have mobility. The C-130s give them that mobility, and getting the spare parts for them will get them back up."
This officer, speaking on background, outlined three immediate goals for rebuilding the military-to-military relationship with Indonesia: working on interoperability, building their capacity for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and improving maritime security.
"How we do that will be a function of the kinds of schools they attend, the kinds of equipment that we work with them to procure, and the kinds of training that we set up over the long term," the officer said.
He said the TNI today is a professional armed force with respect for human rights and civilian control of the military. "The younger officers really do believe in human rights," the officer said. "It's a completely different organization" than it was a decade ago when sanctions were imposed.