Military Aid to Indonesia: Helping, or Hindering Terrorism?
By Frida Berrigan
Global Beat Syndicate
NEW YORK--Can President George W. Bush give billions in military foreign aid and weapons to repressive and brutal governments and make strides in the war on terrorism? The 9-11 Commission says no.
Buried in the Commission's final report is a single-sentence critique of U.S. foreign policy that should be central to our presidential contest and any serious discussion of Washington's approach to terrorism. It says, "One of the lessons of the long Cold War was that short-term gains in cooperating with the most repressive and brutal governments were too often outweighed by long-term setbacks for America's stature and interests."
Indonesia is a sobering example of how these recommendations are being ignored. Terrorists are active in Indonesia, as the September 9 bombing outside the Australian embassy in Jakarta illustrates. But tracking down the perpetrators of this attack, and those responsible for the Bali bombing in October 2002 and the attack on the Marriott Hotel in August 2003, will involve traditional police work, not the Indonesian military. Despite this, Washington is seeking to restore military ties with Indonesia in the name of fighting the war on terrorism.
The State Department reportedly plans to restore two military aid programs cut off from Indonesia for years because of their military's long track record of brutal repression. Military training assistance will pay for U.S. soldiers to train the Indonesian military in everything from close-quarter combat to human rights. Additional spending will provide loans and credits to buy new U.S. weapons and technology.
In December 1975, Indonesia invaded neighboring East Timor, which had just declared itself independent from Portuguese colonizers. Over the next five years, the Indonesia military killed more than 200,000 people, one-third of the population. Washington signaled its approval by doubling military aid to Jakarta. In the years that followed, we were Indonesia's largest weapons source, transferring over a billion dollars worth of weapons ranging from F-16 fighter planes to M-16 combat rifles.
Ultimately, Washington was forced to break off relations because of the military's abuse of power, violations of human rights, massacres, and extra-judicial killings. Congress established set of criteria Indonesia must meet before military ties can be resumed. But none of these criteria--including the transparency in military budget and the prosecution of soldiers involved in human rights violations--has been fully met.
After 9/11, Indonesia sought to revamp its international image. With help from friends in the Pentagon and White House, it donned the mantle of "moderate Islam" and is being heralded as the world's largest Muslim democracy. Jakarta vowed cooperation in the war on terrorism, and as a reward the Bush administration sought to restore military ties, turning a blind eye to the Indonesian military's long track record of human rights abuses, brutal repression of independence movements, involvement in sectarian violence and relationships with terrorist networks.
Washington's embargo on commercial sales of non-lethal defense items to Indonesia has been lifted and Indonesian security forces are benefiting from the Regional Defense Counter-terrorism Fellowship Program, a $17.9 million military training program for Asian militaries. Through the "Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program," we are arming and training SWAT-like police teams in Indonesia.
In July, the Pentagon announced the resumption of bilateral defense dialogue with Jakarta. In its request for military aid for Indonesia, the White House said, "Indonesia has demonstrated its resolve to fight terrorists and violent extremism." But regional experts paint a different picture. John M. Miller of the East Timor Action Network, says, "The Indonesian military continues to terrorize Indonesia's residents; the military's human rights record remains atrocious....Who are the real terrorists here?"
The people of Aceh, an oil-rich province in Western Indonesia, could answer that question. For 27 years, Jakarta has been trying to quash the Acehnese's quest for independence in a war that cost 12,000 civilian lives and forced tens of thousands more to leave their homes. In May 2003, Indonesia launched a military campaign involving about 45,000 troops backed by warships and fighter planes to "strike and paralyze" separatist rebels in the Aceh province. Paratroopers invading the island jumped from six C-130 Hercules transports manufactured by Lockheed Martin, the largest U.S. defense contractor. Most of the military hardware was purchased with U.S. military aid before 1991 when those programs were cut off. So far, 2,000 Acehnese have been killed in the invasion.
The Bush administration has the power to force the Indonesian military to leave Aceh, making them answerable to the rule of law. And as the 9-11 Commission points out, that task is part of the war on terrorism. If we offer new weapons, military training and aid to Indonesia's brutal and lawless military, we will be ignoring recent history and the conclusions of counter-terrorism experts--and we will be helping, not hindering, the work of terrorists.