Committee on International Relations
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515-0128
Statement for Hearing on
“Indonesia in Transition: Recent Developments
And Implications for U.S. Policy”
Committee on International Relations
Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific
U.S. House of Representatives
Thursday, March 10, 2005
“Opportunities for United States Relations with Indonesia”
Alphonse F. La Porta
President, United States-Indonesia Society
Mr. Chairman and distinguished Members of the Committee, I welcome the opportunity to appear before this committee today to discuss United States relations with Indonesia – a country which you, Mr. Chairman, aptly observed is the “single largest country in the world where the U.S. remains only tangentially involved.”
My remarks today are my own and are based on over 38 years of diplomatic experience in the U.S. Foreign Service and close involvement with Indonesia. They do not necessarily reflect those of USINDO and its Board of Trustees.
Mr. Chairman, we have a tremendous opportunity before us to strengthen our relationship with Indonesia and to support Indonesia in its journey of democracy. With the recent free and open election of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono last September, and a new determination among the Indonesian government and people to pursue fundamental democratic reforms, we can truly say that Indonesia is a nation striving for democracy. Furthermore, the tragic earthquake and devastating tsunami of December 26, 2004 has provided both the United States and Indonesia with a new opportunity for positive cooperation. It is essential that the United States take advantage of these opportunities so that we can support Indonesia in its efforts at democratization and pursue our mutual interests.
I need not remind this committee of the important role that Indonesia can play in our world at this time. It is not only the largest democratic nation in the world with a predominantly Muslim population. But as an Asian nation Indonesia is a vital partner for the United States in a new century where an expanding Asia indisputably has a main economic and political role.
Today I would like to share with you some views on Indonesia’s recent efforts at democratization and in the process discuss how the United States can further support Indonesia by offering some specific policy recommendations in four key areas:
- Strengthen Indonesia’s political system and regard for human values through legislative and executive cooperation;
- Assist tsunami reconstruction in northern Sumatra, following on the crucial assistance provided by the United States in the immediate relief phase;
- Expand United States-Indonesian cooperation in education; and
- Upgrade defense cooperation to achieve real gains in Indonesian military professionalism and capabilities, together with strengthening civilian control.
Indonesia is a Nation Striving for Democracy
Mr. Chairman, the Indonesian government and people have demonstrated that they are now a nation truly striving for democracy. In the past few years, Indonesia has held three free and open political elections, has put an end to dwifungsi or “dual function,” signifying the end of direct involvement of the military in politics and society, has increased the freedom of the media and press, has created a stable macro-economic environment, and has demonstrated progress in implementing the rule of the law.
It is especially significant that the armed forces and police did not involve themselves in the three elections held in 2004, except for a very few minor localized instances. As I observed as a member of the Carter Center’s delegation for the first round presidential election last July, grassroots democracy is prospering and accountability will be further enhanced by the first-ever popular election of provincial and local officials beginning this year.
Indonesia’s democratic experience since the fall of Soeharto and the first free elections in 1999 clearly show that Indonesia is not only on the road to democracy, but that democracy and Islam can exist side by side. Indonesia exemplifies to the world how Islam can play a positive and healthy role in a society. Within Indonesia, as well as elsewhere in Southeast Asia, there exists vigorous discussion over the nature of how Islam should be practiced. Indonesians think critically about Islam and the role of religion in their lives. The positive role it has played in Indonesian society, with its strong and unique culture, far outweighs the negative consequences generated by fringe groups of the Muslim body politic.
The United States has already played a significant role in contributing to Indonesia’s progress both as a democratic nation and progressive Muslim nation. Most welcome is the continuing support that USAID is providing for the direct election of provincial and local officials beginning this year and continuing assistance to develop local government capabilities and political party effectiveness. On the national level, maintaining U.S. assistance to the Parliament (DPR), civil society organizations, and pushing forward on judicial reform and other measures to promote the Rule of Law are likewise to be applauded.
Mr. Chairman, I wish to underscore that U.S. assistance in tsunami relief has been exemplary and a strong determinant in generating support among the Indonesian people for improved ties with the United States. Indeed, there may already be a turning of the tide of public opinion as shown in a poll sponsored by a U.S. non-governmental organization, Terror Free Tomorrow, which was conducted by the authoritative Indonesian Survey Institute (Lembaga Survei Indonesia). The results, released only last Friday, March 4, indicate that the role of the U.S. armed forces in tsunami relief was viewed positively by 65% of the 1,200 poll respondents. Moreover, the poll showed that appreciation of U.S. counter-terrorist actions has increased and regard for Osama bin Laden has dropped to less than half of former levels. It is important to note however, that while this poll found overall U.S. popularity increased from 15% in 2003 to almost 34%, we still have a long way to go in establishing an overall positive opinion of the United States.
I would like now to suggest how the United States can enlarge its support of democracy in Indonesia and Indonesia’s role as a progressive Muslim-majority society by implementing policies in four key areas: legislative and executive level exchanges; continuing to assist in tsunami recovery and reconstruction; assistance to higher education; and defense cooperation.
1. Continuing to Strengthen Indonesia’s Democratic Political System
Mr. Chairman, the United States can continue to strengthen Indonesian democratization through interactions on the executive and parliamentary levels. High level dialogue not only fosters increased understanding of democracy and its global benefits, but also increases the political will and enthusiasm of elected Indonesian officials for sound democratic practices.
As you may know, last week a delegation of Indonesian parliamentarians, members of the People’s Consultative Assembly or DPR, visited Washington and had a wide range of meetings with Members of Congress. Dialogues and exchanges such as this lead to knowledge-sharing in key areas such as foreign affairs and defense, a transfer of skills in budgeting, legislative drafting and research, and the promotion of sound oversight practices. It is important that the United States continue to promote interaction through Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) mechanisms and through Indonesian participation in the new congressional Democracy Assistance Initiative. The United States Congress should also send a strong delegation to the Asian Parliamentary Union (APU) meeting to be held in Indonesia in January 2006.
The continued advancement of democracy in Indonesia depends on establishing a closer pattern of relations and mutual understanding with the Yudhoyono government. Recent visits of high administration officials and Members of Congress have been instrumental in identifying areas of common concern, and these contacts have a beneficial public impact. Consideration also should be given to establishing a high level continuing Leadership Dialogue, comprising the public sector, business and industry, academia, the media and civil society representatives, similar to the bilateral dialogues with China, Australia and others in the Asia region.
2. Earthquake and Tsunami Reconstruction
Mr. Chairman, the terrible disaster that struck northern Sumatra on December 26, 2004 has drawn an unprecedented response from the American people and around the world. The Yudhoyono government is grappling with the enormous task of reconstruction planning, the management of millions, indeed billions, of dollars in external assistance, and establishing the processes to guide the rebuilding effort. Based on my visit to Indonesia two weeks ago, reports from USINDO colleagues who have visited Aceh and other information available to us, we hope that our government will collaborate closely with and support the Yudhoyono government in the following five areas to help ensure success in the reconstruction:
- Listen to the people to ensure that reconstruction projects, planning for new human settlements and economic recovery have a sound popular basis;
- Energetically pursue efforts to achieve a political settlement of the long-festering insurgency, but also change the model. In addition to political talks with the expatriate leaders of the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka or GAM), there should also be a wide consultative process involving local leaders and the people’s elected representatives in the regional assembly and the national Parliament. A new consensus should be found to implement the special autonomy law in order to fulfill Aceh’s potential within a united Indonesia;
- Ensure that there is effective accountability and transparency in the use of external assistance flows; the United States can make special expertise available to ensure that maximum possible financial integrity is maintained and institutions are strengthened against corruption. The millions of Americans who have contributed to this northern Sumatra relief and reconstruction effort demand no less.
- Enlist the help of the Indonesian and foreign private sectors by establishing a “one-stop shop” for project approvals to rebuild schools and other public facilities, restore economic livelihoods and promote dignity and self-reliance. The projected U.S. “private sector summit,” now envisaged for May will be an important step in ensuring public and business support for long term reconstruction needs. USINDO is cooperating with the Asia Society, the Asia Foundation, the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in this private sector initiative.
- Keep Aceh open to bona fide organizations, experts and visitors assisting in reconstruction. International media coverage is also important to tell the story of Aceh reconstruction to the world, among other things to engender long term support. Although exercising prudence regarding personal security is necessary in certain areas, the people of Aceh will benefit from working closely with foreign donors in ways that will open up new choices other than siding with the GAM rebels.
Mr. Chairman, based on my experience as principal officer of the U.S. Consulate in Medan in the late 1970’s, the people of Aceh and neighboring areas are resourceful, direct and action-oriented. Aceh’s human resources should be mobilized through community development, civil society organizations and open-handedness to create a new society in the stricken areas and to strengthen the integration of reconstructed communities into the regional economy and infrastructure of northern Sumatra as a whole.
Indeed, there is already good news. A USINDO colleague who is developing our Aceh school reconstruction project visited the devastated west coast of Aceh last week. On the ruins of the flattened town of Calang, Indonesian Marines were establishing schools for orphaned and homeless children and were helping local citizens to construct temporary housing. Signs of new growth, both physical and psychological, are beginning to emerge and the always resourceful Acehnese are developing their own plans for reconstituting their communities.
I would submit that opportunities also should be found, through the wise use of external assistance, to upgrade priority national sectors, particularly tertiary education, Islamic schools and universities, and secondary schools so that no region is left behind. Creating a “gold standard” for only the hardest-hit disaster areas will not contribute in my view to national solidarity or democracy building.
3. Education, Education, Education
USINDO Co-Chair Edward Masters testified before this committee a year ago about the importance of human resource development to strengthen United States-Indonesian relations. As recommended in the National Commission report 18 months ago, there is a pressing need to expand cooperation between educational institutions of our two countries as existed in the 1970’s and 1980’s when U.S. assistance programs were better funded and centered on a web of university-level collaborations. Reductions in U.S. development assistance, public diplomacy and other programs in the 1990’s have taken a serious toll.
President Bush’s initiative to channel US$157 million into mainly basic education over the next six years is an excellent start, but U.S. educational assistance should be increased to focus especially on developing university centers of excellence to increase the numbers of Ph.D.’s, vastly upgrading tertiary-level teacher training, and enhancing English language and other academic skills. Attention should also be given to encourage the development of first-class academic research capabilities and enlarging the flow of students to the United States (presently less than 9000 Indonesians are in American colleges and universities in contrast to 60,000 Chinese and 80,000 Indians). Finally, it is important that the United States continue to assist mainstream Islamic schools, universities and civil society organizations in a balanced and non-intrusive way.
Mr. Chairman, USINDO has been very active during the past year to promote university-to-university partnerships, the development of which will be pursued further in a conference in Jakarta on March 17-18, 2005. The United States should provide additional assistance to Indonesian higher education, and it is hoped that concrete proposals for a Presidential Scholars Initiative, named for President Bush and President Yudhoyono, will emerge from these deliberations, together with expanded individual university cooperative programs. Other bi-national and multilateral donors should also contribute to this effort, which is also aimed at restoring tertiary education in badly hit institutions in Aceh where over 100 Ph.D. scholars were lost in the tsunami disaster.
4. New Cooperation in Defense Relations
Mr. Chairman, the administration of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono - still less than six months old - and its renewed commitment to democratic reforms offer unparalleled opportunities to expand bilateral defense cooperation. It is little secret that Indonesian military capabilities have suffered from nearly 15 years of constrained assistance and contacts with the United States. This was seen in command and control deficiencies, airlift and technical shortcomings, and diminished interoperability skills during the recent disaster relief operations.
The reasons for the downturn in military-to-military cooperation have also permeated the overarching U.S.-Indonesian political relationship. But let me be clear: no one is arguing for impunity in alleged abuses that have been cited over the years, whether related to East Timor, domestic insurgencies, the suppression of democratic rights in connection with the reformasi movement beginning in 1999, inter-ethnic and inter-religious strife, or the killings of Americans and others in the well known Timika incident of August 2002 in Papua. Accountability, personal and national reconciliation, new efforts to promote political accommodation, and the application of internationally accepted human rights standards should pervade the more intensive relations now manifest between our two nations.
Mr. Chairman, within this frame of reference, there are important opportunities not to be lost.
An experts’ review of United States-Indonesia defense relations, supported by a private foundation, was issued by USINDO in December 2004 and was discussed in conferences held in Washington, D.C. and Jakarta. USINDO soon will publish three monographs in the important areas of internal stability and defense reform, counter-terrorism and maritime security. The overriding conclusion of these experts (copies of their report are available) was that urgent and overlapping interests regarding maritime security and counter-terrorism in Southeast Asia require expanded U.S. assistance to the Indonesian armed forces in addition to substantial upgrading of police (POLRI) capabilities. Furthermore, access to U.S. training in order to upgrade the professionalism of middle grade officers is a cardinal requirement, combined with assistance to modernize logistical and other systems, in order to promote defense reform and contribute to internal stability, taking into account the new roles of the TNI and POLRI in a democratic society.
Mr. Chairman, my view is that future United States assistance should be addressed in two ways: first, build up TNI capabilities, and second, advance defense reform in the government and civil sectors.
Core military priorities are:
- Training: IMET, Enhanced IMET and Foreign Military Financing (FMF) should be devoted to a five-year “crash” program to retrain captains, majors and lieutenant colonels in essential military skills, the humanitarian and other roles of today’s military forces, and international standards of conduct. Improved military professionalism not only will lead to better individual performance, but also will promote interoperability with foreign forces (a need evidenced in Aceh relief operations), update international peacekeeping skills, and enhance sensitivity to the human rights aspects of military operations. This upgrading of military skills across the board is needed to fulfill the TNI’s valid internal security role until police capabilities can be considerably improved.
- Air transport and logistics: It is gratifying to know that, due to the U.S. release of impounded spare parts and equipment, 13 C-130 aircraft are operating now in contrast to 4 before the tsunami disaster. Other forms of air transport and logistical systems of the air force, navy and ground forces should be upgraded to minimum operational standards. If there is to be effective regional cooperation in counter-terrorism and maritime security, the TNI must have the support platforms necessary to sustain patrolling and interdiction operations.
- Maritime security: The full US$6 million in FMF, as proposed in 2004, should be provided for the Indonesian Navy in 2005 to upgrade its sea patrolling operations. Additional assistance should be sought from South Korea and Japan, which also have important interests in maintaining maritime vigilance in Southeast Asia. The United States should also assist Indonesia and its neighbors to develop a Common Maritime Picture, entailing the integration of information from all sources, to track ship traffic in the Malacca Strait and critical sea space in the surrounding region. Secure, compartmented and reliable communications are also required to facilitate exchanges of information relating to counter-terrorism and maritime law enforcement. Consequently, I recommend that the United States fund a modern multi-nodal communications network whereby military, intelligence and law enforcement officials in the region can readily exchange sensitive operational information.
Mr. Chairman, an essential part of the advancement of democracy is capacity building to promote effective command and control of the armed forces as well as to enhance civil society’s role in national defense and security affairs. My suggestions for priority U.S. assistance in the civil sector would include:
- National command authority: The Aceh experience showed that Indonesia’s command and control system requires upgrading and connectivity with the President’s Office, the Coordinating Minister for Justice, Political and Security Affairs, the Ministry of Defense, TNI headquarters at all levels, the Police, associated national security bodies, and disaster management agencies. Any chief executive in today’s world must have reliable and redundant means of communicating with all key elements of government. The United States is uniquely qualified to help Indonesia construct a modern command, control and communications (C3) network to provide connectivity with the top-most level of government that would also include an effective, real-time reporting system for all echelons of the national security structure.
- National Defense Council and expert staff: There already is provision in law for the creation of a National Defense Council and U.S. experience is directly applicable to Indonesia’s needs. The United States should provide advisory assistance to establish a system in the President’s Office to ensure that the chief executive is able to coordinate with his key national security advisors and that processes are in place to expedite essential advice on important policy and operational matters.
- Ministry of Defense: Training and advisory assistance, in addition to expanded technical staffs in strategic planning, management, budgeting, logistics, and force planning are needed to enable the ministry under its present farsighted and experienced leader, Minister Juwono Sudarsono (who will visit Washington next week) to fulfill its essential constitutional role. The United States should set up special programs at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterrey and elsewhere to provide intensive assistance and training on a multi-year basis. Additionally, the Center of Excellence of the Pacific Command should provide intensive training and other assistance to develop an effective national disaster management system.
- Civil Sector: U.S. assistance should not only be confined to the government and armed forces, but civilian capacities also should be built up, perhaps through a qualified non-governmental organization (NGO) or think tank, to expand academic courses and research for the study of military affairs, civil-military policy development and institutional reform. Elevating public discussion of important politico-military policy matters will enrich national policy making as appropriate in a democratic society.
- Military Justice System: In a little heralded development last September, the military justice system was placed under the Supreme Court which is undergoing its own wide-scale reform and restructuring. Targeted U.S. assistance could be provided through a qualified NGO to help mesh the military and civil systems, provide cross-training, enhance judicial accountability, and sponsor training in international humanitarian law and the law of armed conflict.
- Parliamentary Oversight: As evidenced in the visit to Washington of a parliamentary delegation last week, there is scope for improving linkages between the U.S. Congress and the DPR, as well as providing training and orientation in key defense and foreign relations subjects, international human rights law and practice, legislative drafting and research support. USAID assistance and direct Congress-DPR programs should be expanded to promote effective oversight by Indonesia’s democratically elected representatives.
- Reconciliation with East Timor: With the imminent launching of a Commission of Truth and Friendship (CTF) by Indonesia and East Timor, it should be possible for the United States to provide legal and other advisory assistance through a qualified NGO to make this process more meaningful. As the former head of the U.S. Department of State’s Cambodian Genocide Initiative, I believe that American specialists can offer a great deal to enrich the work of the commission in a non-intrusive and politically neutral fashion, while correctly upholding the responsibility of the two governments to guide this process.
- Aceh and Papua Demobilization: As done in the southern Philippines, the United States should support qualified organizations to retrain and resettle demobilized insurgents in war-torn Aceh and also in Papua. Providing insurgents with new livelihoods, reuniting them with their families, and relocating them in stable and non-threatening environments would facilitate political accommodations within the framework of Indonesia’s special autonomy law.
- Police Assistance: The United States should help marshal international assistance to increase the size national police (POLRI) to over 1 million officers, closer to the United Nations civil policing standard. Community policing should also be expanded, as should the number of indigenous police officers in Aceh and Papua taking into account special autonomy provisions. U.S. counter-terrorism assistance to the police should also be maintained.
- Privatization: The Ministry of Defense, under national law, has already begun to regularize the status of military-run businesses and to try to supplant extra-budgetary support with annual allocations from the national budget. This process should be enhanced and there is an opportunity for the United States to provide assistance, perhaps in connection with the World Bank, to bring military businesses under appropriate national surveillance, prepare them for privatization, and provide compensatory budgetary support.
Mr. Chairman, I fully realize that the foregoing menu of areas for potential U.S. engagement with Indonesia is extensive, if not overly ambitious. We at USINDO are hopeful that next week’s visit to Washington of Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono, who is a well-recognized authority on defense reform, will launch the United States and Indonesia on a path of collaborative, multi-year cooperation to address foremost professional, capabilities, structural and civil sector needs. Strong United States commitment to advance democracy is fully justified in light of developments in Indonesia since 1999. In my personal view, the Bush Administration’s decision to lift restrictions on U.S. training and assistance is timely, if overdue, in terms of pressing joint interests in maritime security and counter-terrorism as well as the recent earthquake and tsunami tragedy.
Concluding, Mr. Chairman, my assessment is that the government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono offers the best opportunity in well over a decade to deepen cooperation along a broad front for the purpose of locking in democracy for all the people within a united Indonesia. As Professor Karl Jackson of Johns Hopkins University, a prominent expert on Indonesia, remarked at a USINDO seminar last November, “If not SBY, who? If not now, when?”
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the time and attention of this eminent committee.
[Ambassador La Porta’s remarks are his own and do not necessarily represent those of the USINDO boards of trustees and advisors, corporate supporters or Friends of the Society.]