Ed McWilliams posted a comment on The Asia Security Initiative’s March
29 post, “The Kopassus Kerfuffle” by Catharine Dalpino, who mostly
agrees with his points which she says “primarily expand on brief
mentions I had made of other points (e.g., Indonesian human rights NGO
concerns over Kopassus). ”
Here is McWilliams comment in full:
The Asia Security Initiative’s March 29 post, “The Kopassus Kerfuffle”
by Catharine Dalpino, is a timely and thoughtful analysis regarding the
U.S. decision whether to provide training or other assistance to
Indonesia’s Special Forces Kopassus.
This issue is important, as indicated by Ms. Dalpino, not only for the
future of U.S.-Indonesia military relations, but also for the future of
U.S. observance of the 1997 Leahy law which prohibits foreign military
units from participating in military training or receiving assistance
for weapons purchases if unit members have committed human rights
violations for which they have not been brought to account. The
decision whether or not to skirt provisions of the Leahy law is a
litmus test of whether the Administration respects U.S. Congressional
mandates not to provide assistance to corrupt, human rights abusing
forces that remain unaccountable for their crimes.
Ms. Dalpino’s piece fails to place the U.S. debate over assistance to
Kopassus in the broader context of U.S. assistance to the Indonesian
military (TNI). For many years, a bipartisan, bi-cameral majority in
the U.S. Congress insisted that the prospect of U.S. assistance to the
TNI be used as leverage to exact real reform. This consensus was based
on the recognition that this key institution had not been a part of the
transformative reform movement that followed the 1998 overthrow of the
military dictator Suharto. Instead, the TNI has remained the single
greatest threat to democratization in Indonesia, eluding civilian
control and insisting on impunity before the courts for its personnel
who violate human rights or engage in illegal activities, including
U.S. observance of the Leahy law suffered serious erosion during the
Bush Administration. In 2005 the administration used a “national
security waiver” to remove remaining restrictions and U.S. assistance
ceased to serve as a key incentive for reform. Unsurprisingly,
faltering TNI reform stopped. Since then, the TNI failed to meet
legislative requirements that it disburse its business empire which
includes both legal and illegal businesses. That action, mandated by
the Indonesian Parliament in 2004 was to have been completed by 2009.
Failure of that key reform has enabled the TNI to maintain access to
non-Indonesian government budget resources and to evade civilian
control. The TNI also remains unaccountable for human rights violations
and other crimes, enjoying impunity before an Indonesian justice system
that is deeply corrupt and easily intimidated. Despite this the Obama
administration has continued to pursue a broad military-to-military
relationship with the TNI (but not its special forces).
Ms. Dalpino’s article also fails to emphasize that the debate over U.S.
assistance to Kopassus is not simply a U.S. debate. Many Indonesian
NGO’s and individual Indonesians are opposing U.S. assistance to
Kopassus, and have urged U.S. and international NGOs and observers to
join them. These Indonesian voices have been especially important and
noteworthy given the risk they face for their criticism of the
Indonesian military which has regularly targeted its Indonesian critics.
Finally, Ms. Dalpino raises the “osmosis” theory which conjectures that
Kopassus could become a human-rights respecting organization through
collaborative contact with U.S. forces. Yet, the Kopassus awful record
was indelibly established during decades of close association with U.S.
forces during the Suharto era. The reality is that Kopassus contact
with rights-respecting Australian and other foreign forces has had no
impact on the essential criminality of the Kopassus. The “osmosis”
argument does not wash.
President Obama ultimately faces a choice on principle. Inevitably,
that choice will reveal the level of importance he attaches to respect
for human rights, accountability and civilian control of the military.