Disaster Could Mean Closer U.S.-Indonesia Military Ties
Disaster Could Mean Closer
U.S.-Indonesia Military Ties
By Kathleen T. Rhem,
American Forces Press Service.
Washington D.C. -- (AFIS) January 18, 2005 -- U.S. officials are looking at
ways to help Indonesia deal with the effects of the Dec. 26 tsunami without
violating sanctions imposed on the country over human rights abuses in East
Timor from 1999 to 2001.
The United States and other countries imposed economic
sanctions and cut military-to-military relations after Indonesian forces backed
anti-independence militias in East Timor, which was officially recognized as an
independent nation in 2002.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz addressed some of
these issues during a visit to Indonesia and other tsunami-damaged countries
Jan. 15-16. He said the United States has sent technicians and spare parts to
Indonesia to help repair the country's aging fleet of C-130 transport planes.
These planes, which can land on relatively short and unimproved runways, are
needed to deliver humanitarian aid to the Aceh province, where the damage was
Only nine of Indonesia's 24 C-130s were in working order
before this most recent U.S. assistance, Wolfowitz said.
"I think everybody recognizes that the most important thing
right now is to meet the needs of the people of Aceh," he said at a news
conference Jan. 16 in Jakarta. "There's been no controversy whatsoever in my
country about the fact that we are now providing spare parts to get Indonesian
In October 2004, Indonesia held its second democratic
elections after four decades of authoritarian government. The president, Susilo
Bambang Yudhoyonoa, is a retired general who had attended the U.S. Army's
Command and General Staff College. Wolfowitz said this is a positive sign
because Yudhoyono understands the role of the military in a democracy.
Recent reforms in the country's military and close
cooperation since the Dec. 26 tsunami could lead to building
military-to-military ties with the United States –- or, as Wolfowitz put it,
"Defense Department to Defense Department."
"One of the things we'd like to help with," he said, "is to
strengthen the civilian capacity to manage defense and security matters."
After meeting with Indonesian Defense Minister Juwono
Sudarsono, Wolfowitz said he is impressed with "the importance that this new
Indonesian government attaches to military reform."
The deputy secretary said that perhaps it's time to re-evaluate
the current status of military-to-military training with Indonesia. "Everybody
loses a great deal when a long period of time goes by with severe limitations on
the ability of our military -- with deeply imbued democratic values, with a very
strong sense of what it means to be a military in a democracy, a very strong
sense of what it means to take orders from civilians -- when you cut off their
contact with (our) military," Wolfowitz said.
"I think it is not supportive of the very goals that these
restrictions are meant to achieve," he continued. "So I think if we were
interested in military reform here – and certainly this Indonesian government is
and our government is – I think we need to reconsider a bit where we are at this
point in history going forward."
Still, Wolfowitz said, any changes in the current framework
of relations with Indonesia need to be approved by the U.S. Congress. "The
reasons for those restrictions we understand," he said. "It's not-inconsiderable
concern about human rights abuses in the past and about the conduct of the
Indonesian military in the past."