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A promising new generation of TNI leaders

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COMMENTS

6 March 2013 10:48

Gary Hogan was the first foreigner to graduate from Indonesia's Institute of National Governance (Lemhannas) and was Australia's Defence Attaché to Indonesia from 2009 to 2012.

The leaders now in the process of assuming command of Indonesia's defence forces (TNI) are a different kind of officer: more sophisticated, worldly, and conscious of the wider implications of military actions for Indonesia's international image and reputation. A generational transition appears to be underway as command of TNI passes from the New Order academy graduates of the 1970s to 1980s-trained senior officers who have spent as much of their careers under Reformasi as under Suharto.

This is good news for Australia. The ability of Australia's senior military leaders to communicate effectively with their TNI counterparts is the key determinant of a constructive defence relationship. It is important to rounding out whole-of-government engagement and important too when discussing sensitive issues like Papua. 

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) and retired general Bambang Darmono, who played an important role in the successful Aceh peace process and is SBY's senior envoy in troubled Papua province, are symbolic of the '70s generation' of TNI leaders.

They graduated from Indonesia's military academy in the early years of General Suharto's New Order, in the classes of '73 and '74 respectively. As teenagers, they lived through the tumult of Indonesia's bloody 1965 anti-communist pogrom. Many of their military peers still recall the widespread atrocities committed in the name of suppressing a coup d'etat.

In the early 1970s, the idea of free-thinking military officers with a Westernised world view was anachronistic. Only over time did Yudhoyono become one of Indonesia's great reformist generals. Others might include Agus Widjojo and the late Agus Wirahadikusumah. The three were treated as pariahs by many of their TNI peers. Rumours persist that Wirahadikusumah, a classmate of Yudhoyono, was assassinated by forces loyal to a powerful general who viewed him as treacherous. It is no coincidence that all three reformers spent part of their professional training and education in the US.

But for all their merit, Yudhoyono, Darmono and their peers belong to an era where TNI felt it was the ultimate guardian of Indonesia's territorial integrity (from internal rather than external threats) and the custodian of the spirit of the 1945 anti-colonial revolution. It was an organisation that distrusted civilians and their ability to run the country. Although more enlightened, perhaps, Yudhoyono and Darmono are still the product of a military culture that was wary of liberal democratic rights, the motives of foreign powers and anything that hinted at a challenge to a unitary republic of Indonesia, stretching from Sabang in Aceh to Merauke in Papua.

Today, TNI is facing a decisive break with the past. As Yudhoyono prepares to leave office next year, changes at the top of the military are paving the way for a new era of TNI commander. In August this year, the current military chief, Admiral Agus Suhartono, will retire. He will be the last TNI commander to have completed his cadet training in the 1970s.

In a shift to a new style of commander, Suhartono will almost certainly be replaced by General Moeldoko, who graduated from the military academy in 1981. Moeldoko is currently deputy chief of the Indonesian army. While his overseas training (in New Zealand) has been minimal, he is described by academy classmates as an 'ideas man'. His record of academic achievement is impressive, having come first in every career course he has attended, starting with the military academy. 

The current army commander is the president's brother-in-law, Pramono Edhie Wibowo, the son of one of Indonesia's most distinguished generals. Despite speculation that Pramono could be extended past his retirement date to become TNI chief, parliamentary approval would be needed and parliament appears in no mood to do Yudhoyono family members any favours. When Pramono reaches the retirement age of 58 in June, Moeldoko will likely replace him for just two months as army commander before his elevation to the top post of TNI commander. This will be one of the fastest promotions ever to TNI chief.    

Meanwhile, the chief of the Indonesian navy, Admiral Marsetio, and the chief of the air force, Air Marshal I Bagus Putu Dunia, are also 1981 graduates of the academy. Like Moeldoko, they represent a new breed. Marsetio is the product of extensive professional experience outside Indonesia, including in Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK and the US. This is reflected in his acute appreciation of the need for TNI to project and engage internationally. Dunia too is a product of senior-level military education in Canberra, which augurs well for continuing the close cooperation between the air forces of Indonesia and Australia.

There are many reasons for this generational transition. The violence of the 1965 counter-revolution does not exist in the living memory of TNI's current leaders. Indonesian officers increasingly embrace the study of English, seen as both the language of the internet and as a prerequisite for overseas training. 

Globalisation and the influence of technology have brought the world closer to all Indonesians over the last ten years. Extensive TNI involvement in UN peacekeeping operations and other interaction with armed forces like Australia's have enhanced the process of TNI professionalisation. Indonesia's free press has made the military more accountable for its conduct than under the New Order, just as other democratic institutions in Indonesia continue to take root and mature. Finally, the 2002 de-linking of TNI from the Indonesian National Police has seen public opprobrium directed less at the army and more at the constabulary, particularly its paramilitary mobile brigades.

Admittedly, Indonesia's current crop of senior commanders shares some of the TNI bloodline. The new leadership does have memories of East Timor. Although fading as a source of contention in the relationship with Australia, passions over East Timor can still be easily stirred. Like their predecessors, TNI's leaders remain vigilant against separatism and any signs that outside powers have designs on undermining Indonesian unity and integrity. 

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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