Thursday, June 08, 2006

Becoming An Ally or A Friend?

On Tuesday, June 6, 2006, the embattled U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visited Jakarta en route to a NATO meeting in Brussels. He came with a message from his boss President G.W. Bush that Washington seeks to have a long-term military relationship with Jakarta. He said that the United States is to develop a relationship with the government of Indonesia from a military-to-military standpoint, in a manner that is comfortable to the people of Indonesia and the United States.

Having lifted its military embargo on Indonesia last November, the U.S. proposal of a long-term military cooperation with Indonesia is understandably acceptable for both countries. The proposed military cooperation would cover the areas of military assistance, weapons sales and training that would enable the two countries to work together as partners in military exercises and trainings for military personnel. This cooperation would also allow Indonesia to rebuild its military capability that suffered a major set back due to the imposed embargo by the U.S. in early 1990s. Indonesia’s dependency on American military technology contributed to this setback.

The U.S. proposal can also be seen as an effort by the current administration to expand its international alliance in its effort to fight the terrorism menace and to woe Indonesia to join the alliance. The fact that Indonesia is a country with the biggest number of moderate Muslim population in the world would give special benefits for the U.S. in this front. This view has been stressed again and again by the visiting US administrations to Jakarta as well as in the several meetings between President Bush and President Yudhoyono.

With this offer of military cooperation from the U.S., Indonesia would achieve lots of benefits as well as possible problems in the future. By having a closer military tie with the U.S., Indonesia would be able to rebuild its military and upgrade its defense technology to a level where Indonesia would be capable of using it to control and patrol the vast region the archipelago. Military trainings and assistance from the U.S. would enable the Indonesian military personnel to be more professional and efficient. They would be exposed to advance military technology and strategy to tackle any form of future danger in the archipelago.

However, this imminent benefit to be gained by Indonesia in the face of a close military cooperation with the U.S. is not without any possible long-term problems. One very imminent problem that might come up in the future is a possible repeat of a military setback in the face of any military embargo by the U.S.. The heavily Americanized Indonesian military was crippled to the core once the U.S. government imposed a military embargo in the early 1990s for an alleged human right abuses by the Indonesian military in East Timor.

Secondly, the negative record of the current U.S. administration vis-à-vis the Muslim world could possibly affect the legitimacy of the Indonesian government at home. Even though the majority of Muslims in Indonesia are moderate but many of them feel that the US behavior against the Muslim populace is unacceptable, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. A close alliance between Indonesia and the U.S. would affect the sentiment of the majority population in Indonesia as well as the already dwindling political legitimacy of the current Indonesian government.

To avoid these possible problems, the Indonesian government should realize that a close military cooperation with the U.S. does not mean that Indonesia does not have any other opportunity to build similar cooperation with other military power in the world. At the same time, the proposed military cooperation should look more into the possibility of transfer of military technology from the U.S. to Indonesia and not just a mere transfer of military equipments without knowledge to develop it indigenously.

This process of transfer of knowledge and technology would, in the future, enable Indonesia to build its own capability to manufacture and produce its own indigenous military equipments for security and national purposes. Thus in case there is an imposed military embargo, it would not affect Indonesia’s military capability. This process would also reduce the economic cost of importing all military equipments and spare parts in case there is damage or a need for an upgrade. India is a perfect example for this process. India builds much of its current indigenous military capability and equipment through the process of transfer of military technology from the erstwhile Soviet Union. Any military embargo imposed to India would not affect its military because it has the capability to build it indigenously.

Similarly, in the face of possible erosion of its political legitimacy and arousing the sentiment of the majority population due to Indonesia’s proximity with the U.S., the Indonesian government should be able to project its independency in matters of international policy. The editorial in The Jakarta Post on 7 June 7, 2006 has rightly said that, “At least morally, the U.S. is no longer in a position to preach about how we should conduct our war on terror. We also hope the U.S. administration will consider the sensitivity here when it comes to issues related to Islam, and at least not create new problems for the Yudhoyono administration in eliminating the roots of terrorism.”

In the end, in this globalized world, Indonesia should become a friend of the United States, but not an ally, and gain maximum benefits from this proximity. The Indonesian government should protect and follow its independent foreign policy so as not to fall into the trap of being an ally to the U.S..

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