Subject: Revamping Indonesia's Defence Ministry

The Straits Times Monday, February 2, 2009

Revamping Indonesia's Defence Ministry

Robert Karniol, Defence Writer

INDONESIA is likely later this year to restructure its Defence Ministry, the Departemen Pertahanan Republik Indonesia, according to internal documents seen by The Straits Times.

The plan, which has not been publicized, was outlined in an August 2008 letter from Defence Minister Juwono Sudarsono to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The letter outlined a five-step process leading up to the change. But some elements of the proposed revamp are generating vigorous debate that may yet lead to revisions of the plan.

The first three phases were due for completion last year. These involved an assessment of various options, preparation of the concept and finalisation of the plan. Mr Sudarsono's letter foresaw the ministry submitting a formal request for presidential approval this year, followed by the issuing of a presidential decree to establish the legal framework.

Jakarta's defence establishment last went through a major reorganisation in 1985. Included was the separation of the then Ministry of Defence and Security from the armed forces headquarters to assume responsibility for areas such as planning, acquisition and managerial tasks. Some changes to the ministry introduced in 2002 were little more than cosmetic.

The present initiative aims for greater substance than the fiddling of seven years ago and was presaged in broad terms by Indonesia's 2008 Defence White Paper. The paper speaks of having accommodated changes since 2003, when military reform began to take hold, including the development of Indonesia's defence system and its structure. Organisational improvement is among its priorities, together with enhanced professionalism.

The White Paper further emphasises that there is no intention to enlarge the Indonesian military. Instead it advocates redeployments that would move troops from Java to outlying regions, allowing for a more rapid response to contingencies. It also calls for the development of joint capabilities and, eventually, networked systems.

Obsolete weapons, which account for much of the Indonesian armed forces' inventory, would be replaced through a force development plan covering the period until 2024. A second phase up till 2029 would focus on introducing networked technologies. The defence budget should, meanwhile, be doubled to 2 per cent of gross domestic product and later rise again to accommodate the acquisition of advanced technologies. However, the force development and funding aims may be overly ambitious.

The Defence Ministry now has five directorates-general under the minister: strategic defence, planning, strength, development and facilities. One of these, facilities, would be downgraded under the proposed new system. It would be integrated with a new logistics body formed at a lower level of responsibility. Together with overseeing defence facilities, it would be responsible for the standardisation and approval of equipment together with procurement. Logistics planning will remain with the planning directorate-general.

Improved managerial performance appears to be the aim. A new unit at the same level as the new logistics body will address military professionalism. In a move strongly encouraged by Australia and the United States, this body will focus on military education and training.

Another new unit, again at the same layer, would see the Defence Ministry establish its own intelligence body - but this proposal is arousing controversy. The scope and focus of such a unit remain unclear, and there are concerns that it could duplicate existing capabilities.

Indonesia's current intelligence establishment is centred on three elements: those involving the uniformed services, or Tentara Nasional Indonesia (TNI); the military-run Badan Intelijen Strategis, or BAIS; and the civilian Badan Intelijen Negara, or BIN. Under a separate initiative, sources say the TNI is talking with a potential European partner about a range of programmes intended to improve its intelligence capabilities.

The final element under this proposed restructuring would see the Defence Ministry establish district offices at the provincial level. One source is dismissive, saying this suggests that the ministry does not fully understand its mandate and responsibilities. But another Jakarta-based source speculates that it may reflect an interest in 'exerting greater control over the Kodams'.

The Kodams, or Komando Daerah Militer, are the TNI's 12 regional commands. They were of particular concern among reformers because of the social/political role they played in the past. The military leadership pledged in 2000 to dismantle them, but this view has since been reversed.

Analysts point out that the military's institutional involvement in politics nevertheless ended when the Kasospol position (chief of staff for social and political affairs) at TNI headquarters was disbanded a few years ago.

The planned reorganisation of the Defence Ministry remains little known among foreign analysts and has seen no more than limited exposure within the Indonesian defence establishment. Details may yet be refined before the plan is submitted for presidential approval.

Some in Jakarta contend that greater transparency in this process could improve both the debate and the result.  

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