United States Department of Defense United States Department of Defense

DoD News

Bookmark and Share

 News Article

Wolfowitz Says U.S. Must Encourage Moderate Muslim States

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 5, 2002 – East Asia's history of religious and ethnic tolerance can be a model for the Muslim world, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said today at the Hoover Institute Symposium here.

Wolfowitz particularly addressed Indonesia and the Philippines in his talk to the group. The deputy secretary has just returned from a trip to East Asia.

"One of the striking facts about Indonesia is that it is one of only two countries, Turkey being the other, with a Muslim majority in which Islam is not the state religion," Wolfowitz said. Turkey is strictly secular while Indonesia recognizes five official religions.

He said Indonesia's long and strong tradition of religious tolerance is "something not to be taken for granted anywhere in the world and, particularly after Sept. 11, not something to be taken for granted in the Muslim world."

He said Indonesia's future and its success in democratization is important to the United States. "An Indonesia that is successful in establishing a Muslim- majority country that is tolerant, that is democratic and that is progressing on free-enterprise principles could be a very important model for the rest of the Muslim world," he said.

"Conversely, an Indonesia that fails, an Indonesia that becomes open in different places to providing sanctuaries for terrorists, an Indonesia that degenerates into communal conflict between Christians and Muslims, or Muslims and other minority groups, is an Indonesia that would, I believe, have a seriously harmful influence not only on East Asia but in many ways on the world as a whole."

Given this premise, the United States should renew military-to-military contacts with Indonesia that ended following human rights abuses the Indonesian military committed in East Timor. Since then, Wolfowitz said, the country has worked to reform the military.

"One can't have a successful democracy in Indonesia unless the security forces are disciplined and stop some of the past practices of abusing their own people," he said. But the military still must have the ability to provide security for all the people. Religious strife has broken out in a few places in Indonesia, notably Sulawesi and Maluku -- Christian areas with large Muslim minorities.

"You can't contain that violence without an effective military, and you need to contain that violence in order to preserve the stability of the country and to keep it from becoming a place where terrorists can find it easy to hang out," he said.

Military-to-military contacts between Indonesia and the United States would give the Indonesian military a model to follow. He said the Defense Department would work with Congress to get the permission to resume these contacts and the money to fund them.

In the Philippines, he told the group, the United States is working with the military to deal with some small, "but very ugly," terrorist groups. The U.S. effort is to aid the Philippine military to do the job itself. He said the Philippine government had trepidations about inviting the U.S. military to help in the train-and-assist effort in the southern part of the country.

"Everywhere we went, we encountered gratitude that the American assistance to the Philippine armed forces was producing a climate of security that was improving in important and dramatic ways the daily life of ordinary people," Wolfowitz said. "When these terrorists start to work, they disrupt everything that people care about. They disturb security; in the course of disturbing security, they disturb people's livelihood. They make it difficult to build roads or to dig wells."

The operations on Basilan Island, the scene of the fight against the terrorist groups, are due to end July 31. The United States must assess whether scarce resources should continue and expand cooperation on Basilan or commit the money and personnel to other fields.

"Our cooperation with the Philippine government will not end at that point, but we need to think through what makes sense going beyond," Wolfowitz said. "We've had a lot of success on Basilan Island, indeed, so much success that some of the terrorists have fled the island to other places."

Wolfowitz said the larger issue beyond success on Basilan is how to help the country succeed. The Philippines has a lot of problems, he said. One is that the open nature of Philippine society allows native and foreign-born terrorists to operate in the country.

"We have a great deal at stake in this war on terrorism in helping the Philippines deal successfully with Muslim terrorists within their own country," he said. In the context of President Bush's larger objective of building a just and peaceful world, he said, helping Filipinos build a country that stably integrates a Muslim minority and predominantly Christian majority is as important as helping Indonesia do the same vice versa.

Part of the U.S. war on terrorism has to be encouraging moderate Muslims and helping states that are trying to establish democracies and free enterprise. "It is as critical in the long run, I believe, as arresting and capturing and killing terrorists is important in the short run," he said.

Contact Author

Additional Links

Stay Connected