|Vol. 3, No. 2 - Spring 1997|
|No U.S. F-16 fighters or Military Training Aid to Indonesia!
By Charles Scheiner and Lynn Fredriksson
ETAN has been campaigning against the proposed sale of F-16 fighter jets to Indonesia since we learned about it in 1995. We have opposed U.S. taxpayer-funded training of Indonesian soldiers. In early June, we were able to declare victory on both!
In a letter from President Suharto to President Clinton delivered on June 2, the Indonesian dictator expressed his displeasure with "wholly unjustified criticisms in the United States Congress against Indonesia which are linked to its participation in the (E-IMET) program and the planned purchase of the F-16 planes." Suharto rejected both forms of U.S. support for the Indonesian military.
Foreign Minister Ali Alatas was optimistic that removing these controversies would facilitate future cooperation with the United States on "the many economic, political and security issues that have to be faced in the years to come."
Indonesia is purchasing jets from Britain (although the new Labour government is less pro-Suharto than its predecessor), and is considering buying some from Russia. They are exploring obtaining military training from Canada, Australia, and other countries. ETAN hopes that our victory here will spur East Timor's supporters elsewhere to step up their efforts.
The blocking of the F-16 sale and military training aid came with no help from the Clinton White House. Every few weeks this spring, a U.S. administration official would reiterate the intention to go ahead with this sale. On May 16, one official noted: "We remain committed to the sale of nine F-16s to Indonesia, but we don't plan to notify Congress formally at this time." Asked why notification hasn't been given, the official said: "Because we don't think we have the votes to win." They have carefully explained that the problem is congressional concerns about human rights, and is not related to the Riady/Lippo/Clinton/Suharto campaign finance scandal.
The Administration has also consistently pushed for unrestricted military training aid (International Military Education and Training - IMET). This program, which has brought hundreds of Indonesian soldiers to the United States for training at U.S. taxpayer expanse, was banned by Congress in 1992, following the Santa Cruz massacre in East Timor. The Clinton Administration has evaded Congressional intent by selling the training formerly provided as aid. Congress renewed the aid ban every year since 1992 (over administration objections), although since 1995 aid for training in non-military subjects (known as Expanded or E-IMET) has been provided. Suharto rejected the E-IMET; there could be efforts in the future to restore military IMET or other forms of U.S. support for Indonesia's brutal army.
Grassroots pressure on Congress and the Clinton administration, and congressional pressure on the administration held up the F-16 sale for more than a year, but the U.S. has continued to seek purchasers for the outdated planes, which are part of an order Lockheed sold to Pakistan a decade ago. The Bush and Clinton administrations did not allow them to be shipped to Pakistan because of nuclear proliferation concerns, and Pakistan now wants their money back. In May, they threatened to sue. In spite of this increased motivation for Washington to proceed, Suharto's tolerance came to an end. The U.S. is now looking to sell the planes to Chile or other Latin American or Southeast Asian countries.
But another F-16-related sale to Indonesia is still being considered. Defense News wrote in April that "Turkey and Indonesia are nearing agreement on a 12-aircraft F-16 upgrade deal intended to extend the life and enhance the combat capabilities of the Indonesian Air Force front-line fighter fleet." This agreement is "dependent on U.S. government approval." In other words: we need to keep the pressure on!