Building U.S.-Indonesia Mutual Understanding Since 1994

Luncheon Speech by the Minister of Defense of Indonesia, H.E. Juwono Sudarsono

Introduction: Minister Sudarsono visited Washington, D.C., with the purpose of expanding the bilateral relationship of the United States and Indonesia in the defense field. At this luncheon sponsored by USINDO, the Minister made his only public policy address. Trusted by five Indonesian presidents, Minister Sudarsono was the first civilian to be appointed as Minister of Defense under President Abdurrahman Wahid (1999-2000). His previous ministerial appointments included serving as Minister of Education and Culture under President Habibie (1998-1999) and State Minister of Environment under President Suharto (1997-1998). Under the recent administration of President Megawati Sukarnoputri, Minister Sudarsono served as Ambassador to the United Kingdom. An academic as well as a leading political scientist, Minister Sudarsono has taught at the University of Indonesia and was dean of its school of social and political sciences (FISIP-UI). He has also taught as a visiting professor at Columbia University in New York. Minister Sudarsono holds a Ph.D. from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

The Minister began his address by discussing the future of democracy in Indonesia. “With the prevailing presidential system, Indonesia has to consolidate political and economic democracy. Indonesia claims to be the third largest democratic nation in the world. However, democracy in Indonesia will not be sustainable without equitable economic reform. A firm commitment to provide economic growth for the poor is necessary to ensure democracy will be long lasting,” expressed Minister Sudarsono.

Minister Sudarsono elaborated on the past accomplishments and difficulties of pursuing political and economic reform. He said political reform has progressed in a positive direction in the past few years since the fall of President Suharto’s regime under the redesigned political policies and government decentralization efforts, but that economic recovery has been hard to achieve since the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

Regarding the U.S.-Indonesian defense relationship, he said: “I hope to gain the understanding of lawmakers in the United States and to persuade them to vote in favor of restoring U.S. military programs with Indonesia.” The United States, he added, should understand that the Indonesian military is committed to strengthening the country’s nascent democracy.

Democracy and Its Challenges

According to the Minister, economic development presently poses the greatest challenge for democracy, particularly in linking “the invisible hand” and “the helping hand.” Indonesia needs a system of governance that promotes its economic recovery. He singled out the court system as an area where reform is urgently needed to provide legal certainty for investors. “A check and balance system is important to have sustainable economic reform. In Indonesia, there are too many checks and not enough balances,” said the Minister.

Social development is another current challenge for Indonesia. “To work toward economic and political recovery, we need to deal with this transition period and tackle the ethnic, communal, religious hatred and violence that are evident in the community,” stated the Minister.

Acknowledging that Indonesia is a country geographically separated by sea space, Minister Sudarsono also brought up the issue of national unity as a crucial component of sustaining democracy. He proclaimed, “We need to embrace Indonesia, from Aceh to Papua, because people feel betrayed and that their real needs, real cultural needs, and sense of participation are not recognized. We need to replenish the sense of Indonesian-ness and connect Indonesia. In this way, we can substantiate the notion of Indonesia as the third largest democracy in the world.”

Civil Governance and Role of the Armed Forces

In supporting the practice of democracy in Indonesia, Minister Sudarsono emphasized the role of civilian governance and the military until full civil responsibility can be achieved. “Civilian governance can enable a nation like Indonesia to become stable and prosperous and to ensure access to democratic processes. However, civilian governance in Indonesia is still weak and has a long way to go, which is why the military’s role in governing the country is still strong. Because of the weakness of civil society, the only institution holding the country together is the military,” explained the Minister.

Fourteen million people in Indonesia live on less than US$2 a day, 10 million of whom live on less than US$1 per day. The role of civilian governance is increasing to look after the poorest in society. Minister Sudarsono proposed that one way to reduce the military’s involvement in national governance is to increase the role of civil society and reform the traditional political parties, a process that is proceeding slowly.

Role of the State

State organization is the key to political reform and economic and social stability. Minister Sudarsono claimed that underdeveloped state organization in the country was inherited from pre-independence times. When Indonesia was still under the Dutch administration, there was a small number of indigenous professionals leading the country. During Habibie’s presidency, there were only 400,000 Indonesian professionals in the country. Today, the total number of Ph.D.s in Indonesia is only 4000 individuals. This represents a much too small base for national development and creating a fully-functioning civil administration for the entire country.

In President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s administration, Minister Sudarsono explained, there are two main targets for Indonesia’s development. The first is good governance as previously discussed. The second is reform of the police and court system, both of which currently require substantial financial support and technical assistance. Regarding official corruption, he observed, it is difficult to obtain evidence that will stand up in court, but that nevertheless gains in tackling corruption are being made.

Role of the United States and Congress

Concluding his main remarks, Minister Sudarsono asked audience participants and the United States in general for their assistance, support, and understanding for Indonesia’s national development. He directed his request especially to Congress which he believes has the power to impact many nations around the world, not just the United States. In his words: “At the end of the day, it is the U.S. Congress that decides the fate of nations. I therefore ask for your support and assistance.”

In this way, he maintained that full civilian control of the military services, combined with effective civilian governance throughout Indonesia, could only be established by improving public funding of the TNI (Indonesian national armed forces). He explained that his Defense Ministry, based on laws approved by Parliament (the DPR), is working to bring TNI headquarters and 250 military-related businesses fully under the purview of the cabinet and national agencies. Although the defense and security budget is the largest in the government, it is still meager and inhibits effective management by the Defense Ministry.

Minister Sudarsono sought U.S. understanding of the difficult task that Indonesia faces in the next 10-15 years. He also urged the United States to be patient when evaluating the progress of military reforms. Referring to the appallingly low wages of ordinary soldiers and policemen, he asked rhetorically: “How do you get professional performance without professional pay? If you pay peanuts, you will get monkeys. And for the past 20 years, there has been a lot of monkey business going on.” Thus the armed forces’ current small budget hinders efforts to tackle corruption and real reform, he concluded.


Q: How do you view the future of army’s territorial system in relation to human rights abuses and military businesses?

A: The army in Indonesia is a descendant of the guerrilla force in wars against the Dutch. The army’s territorial structure that existed in the 1960’s and 1970’s was abused under the pretense of implementing President Suharto’s strategic doctrine of strengthening national unity. The military command system was abused for the benefit of a small subset of elites in the country. However, the recent tsunami disaster has redirected the public perception of the army in another direction, specifically humanitarian and relief assistance. The Indonesian army, air force and the navy were the first to reach Aceh and provided the immediate relief assistance. Many Indonesians now feel that the military is a part of them rather than opposed to them.

Q: In dealing with Papua and Aceh regional issues, are you committed to a peaceful resolution? And would you comment on the human rights abuses by the Indonesian military issues in these places? Do you and the President accept personal responsibility for the actions of the armed forces?

A: “I am very committed,” asserted Minister Sudarsono. Referring to the human rights violations by the military, Minister Sudarsono expressed, “We accept responsibility for what happens on the ground,” but at the same time he and the President cannot direct or prevent every action by Indonesian soldiers. He offered a different perspective of human rights concerns, namely from the standpoint of lower-ranking soldiers. According to him, soldiers also suffer from a lack of human rights, when they are sent to work without the proper training and equipment, and when they and their families lack decent living conditions.

He reiterated several times that he recognizes the past human rights abuses that have been publicized. But he cannot take the appropriate measures to make significant changes within the military without adequate budgetary resources. The lack of budgetary resources also contributes to the ineffectiveness of the judicial infrastructure and ability to pursue individual human right’s cases. In conclusion, he suggested that economic reform and improvements must occur first in order to resolve human rights problems in Indonesia.