Demilitarization And Its Discontents

Feb 2nd, 2009, in News, by

Demilitarization in Papua, Aceh, and Maluku, the difficult process of removing military influence in politics.

A new paper from three Indonesian researchers has been published by Oxford University’s Centre for Research on Inequality, Human Security and Ethnicity (CRISE).  It examines the changing role of the military in Indonesia, focusing on the dismantling of the territorial administration, and involvement by military and police in recent problems in Papua, Aceh and Maluku.  The ethnicity of security personnel is a significant factor, it is claimed.

The authors, Ikrar Nusa Bhakti, Sri Yanuarti and Mochamad Nurhasim, are researchers in the Centre for Political Studies at the Indonesia Institute of Sceinces (LIPI).

They note:

Given the historical dual roles of the military, it has been able to set agendas and perpetrate violence without civilian oversight. In Papua, this has led to various acts of violence perpetrated by the military and the police, often tapping into local ethno-religious relations. However, this has been less overt than the violence occurring in Aceh.

The third case study is that of Maluku, where:

…clashes between the military and police, as well as bias on the part of different sections of the armed forces towards each of the warring communal groups, increased the levels of violence and prolonged the conflict.

The authors suggest that the continuing demilitarization of the political sphere will be a difficult process:

Today, the role of the military in politics has been significantly reduced by disbanding the political sections of the military in the regions and a number of other reforms. However, many of the original principles of the functions of the military remain, whereby they can still be involved in politics and elections by resigning from their military posts.

A copy of the paper can be accessed at

3 Comments on “Demilitarization And Its Discontents”

  1. David says:

    Interesting read, although I think they’re looking at things in a kind of odd way, on the one hand they’ve got the military’s general role in politics and then they’re looking at conflict zones, where it’s inevitable there’s going to be a lot of military involvement….might have been more interesting to look closely at the military’s role in politics in peaceful areas, and try to see whether things have really changed much on the ground since Suharto – although, bearing in mind that Suharto’s rule was not a “military dictatorship”, some of top brass were often infuriated with him and thought they were being pushed further and further out of power, but….still the interesting question is whether things have changed much at all.

  2. Burung Koel says:

    Yes, I was struck by the odd approach – case studies of three ‘ethnic’ conflicts and then trying to generalise to the broader national picture. However I thought the paper brought out the tension between elements of the military in moving to a role with less involvement in regional politics. I suspect it will not be an easy or simple transition. As the paper points out, there has never really been what you could call ‘civilian control’ of the military at any point in Indonesia’s history.

  3. Chris says:

    I agree that the practise of drawing broader conclusions from three special cases is odd. The research also seems outdated.

    I think this has led to conclusions that are outdated (certainly in the case of Aceh)

    The fact that military officers must retire/resign prior to holding political positions is a testament to the depth of reform not an indication of difficulties in the process. The likes of SBY, Sutiyoso, Agum Gumelar etc may be ex Generals but they are hardly puppets of the military and have proven to be reasonably able civilian administrators/ politicians.

    A number of other significant bills that limit the military are currently in process:

    i) Handover of military businesses to civilian control.
    ii) Jurisdiction of civilian courts over off duty military personnel.

    In other large states with a history of militarisation (Pakistan, Turkey, Thailand) such bold reform steps would not even be under serious discussion for fear of a coup.

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