Time to reawaken’ military ties with US, says Jakarta
Move will benefit both sides, say TNI officials.
Terrorism and piracy were on the agenda but a restoration of full military ties with the United States was uppermost among Indonesia’s concerns, with its military chief calling for cooperation to be ‘reawakened’.
Senior armed forces officers also conceded that the military had been badly hit after the US Congress banned military sales, training and aid to Indonesia after allegations that the army sponsored the outbreak of bloody violence in East Timor in 1999.
‘One aspect which has hit us most as a result of that ban is the operational readiness of equipment we acquired from the US,’ a three-star general told The Straits Times. ‘We need their military hardware.’
As senior-level talks got under way here yesterday, Indonesia also indicated that both sides stood to lose much more in the longer term by not working together.
For Jakarta, this includes being unable to secure critical hardware. On Washington’s part, it stands to lose a symbolically important Muslim ally in its terrorism war.
‘The Indonesian military would like to have good military-to-military relations with every country in the world, including the US,’ Indonesian armed forces (TNI) chief Widodo Adisutjipto told reporters here.
‘We hope military cooperation between Indonesia and the US will finally reawaken.’
The talks here are the first of regular consultations which President Megawati Sukarnoputri and President George W. Bush agreed to when the Indonesian leader visited Washington just after the Sept 11 attacks on America.
Although maritime piracy and stamping out terrorism are the main agenda items, senior Indonesian military sources suggested that the talks here could be a first step towards rapprochement given the growing realisation about the need to cooperate.
A ban on all commercial military sales imposed by the Clinton administration has since been revoked by Mr Bush and private US firms can now sell non-lethal products to the TNI.
Analysts said that while the Bush administration might be able to make symbolic gestures, these were limited in scope given that the congressional ban remains in place.
Said Mr Ken Conboy of the Control Risks Group, a Jakarta-based political and security consultancy: ‘Congress holds the purse strings.
‘They are still not convinced that the military has done enough to address their concerns on East Timor human-rights violations.’
But while some US legislators remain firm against any easing up on Indonesia, senior officials in the US administration and the Pentagon have been lobbying quietly for ties to be normalised.
After all, close military links with Indonesia would help the US in its war against terrorism.
Said a high-level military official: ‘The Bush administration realises that the military still has a role to play in Indonesia and that it is wrong to push us into a corner given that they need our help, especially to weed out terrorists.
‘In the short term, we lose out on their hardware. But in the long run they stand to lose out most if nothing is done to repair the relationship.’
The TNI has already indicated that it would secure military equipment from countries like Russia and China through barter trade if the US continued its arms embargo.
But reflecting Washington’s cautious position until Congress makes a final decision, US Ambassador to Indonesia Ralph Boyce said that normalisation of military ties still had some ‘way to go’.
‘I think both sides realise that. And we know that these things take time and I think with good intentions on both sides we ought to be able to get to what I would consider as a more normal military relationship,’ he said.