Indonesia/USA — Gates Seeks Stronger Military Ties With Indonesia

JAKARTA, Indone­sia, July 22, 2010 — Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates arrived here today for meet­ings intend­ed to enhance defense ties between the Unit­ed States and Indone­sia.

The secretary’s first order of busi­ness here was to inform Indone­sian Pres­i­dent Susi­lo Bam­bang Yud­hoy­ono dur­ing a meet­ing at the pres­i­den­tial palace that the Unit­ed States will begin a process of re-engage­ment with Kopas­sus, the spe­cial forces branch of Indonesia’s army.

“I was pleased to be able to tell the pres­i­dent that as a result of Indone­sian mil­i­tary reforms over the past decade, the ongo­ing pro­fes­sion­al­iza­tion of the [Indone­sian armed forces], and recent actions tak­en by the min­istry of defense to address human rights issues,” Gates told reporters after his meet­ing with Yud­hoy­ono, “the Unit­ed States will begin a grad­ual, lim­it­ed pro­gram of secu­ri­ty coop­er­a­tion activ­i­ties with the Indone­sian army spe­cial forces.”

Gates said he told Yud­hoy­ono that these ini­tial steps would be tak­en with­in the lim­its of U.S. law, and that they do not sig­nal any less­en­ing of the impor­tance the Unit­ed States places on human rights and account­abil­i­ty.

“What’s more,” he added, “our abil­i­ty to expand upon these ini­tial steps will depend upon con­tin­ued imple­men­ta­tion of reforms with­in Kopas­sus and the [Indone­sian mil­i­tary] as a whole.”

U.S. and Indone­sian offi­cials have been work­ing for some time to fig­ure out how, and under what con­di­tions, the Unit­ed States can re-engage with Kopas­sus, a senior offi­cial told reporters on back­ground. “We cer­tain­ly want to,” he said, “but it’s impor­tant that this is done in accor­dance with our laws and our val­ues and our inter­ests.”

Con­gress cut off mil­i­tary train­ing assis­tance to Indone­sia in 1992 after Indone­sian secu­ri­ty forces shot and killed East Tim­o­rese demon­stra­tors in Novem­ber 1991. The restric­tion was par­tial­ly lift­ed in 1995, but mil­i­tary assis­tance pro­grams were sus­pend­ed again after vio­lence and destruc­tion in East Tim­or fol­low­ing an Aug. 30, 1999, ref­er­en­dum favor­ing inde­pen­dence from Indone­sia. Though nor­mal mil­i­tary rela­tions between the Unit­ed States and Indone­sia have resumed, the issue of pro­vid­ing train­ing for Kopas­sus remained unre­solved until ear­li­er this week, the offi­cial said.

“I think every­body can rec­og­nize that the trans­for­ma­tion that Indone­sia has made as a coun­try and that the mil­i­tary has made has been remark­able over the past decade-plus since the fall of [Pres­i­dent] Suhar­to,” the offi­cial said. “The mil­i­tary itself has great­ly improved its human rights record, and all of that has enabled us to re-engage more.”

The final break­through came when in com­pli­ance with a U.S. request, Indone­sia removed all indi­vid­u­als from Kopas­sus who had been con­vict­ed of human rights crimes asso­ci­at­ed with the vio­lence around the time of East Timor’s sep­a­ra­tion from Indone­sia, the senior offi­cial said. The num­ber was “few­er than a dozen,” he added. Pen­ta­gon Press Sec­re­tary Geoff Mor­rell not­ed that retire­ments, attri­tion and the ongo­ing pro­fes­sion­al­iza­tion of the Indone­sian mil­i­tary have changed Kopas­sus in the decade since the vio­lence took place and Unit­ed States broke off engage­ment with the unit.

“It is a dif­fer­ent unit than its rep­u­ta­tion sug­gests,” he said. “Clear­ly, it had a very dark past, but they have done a lot to change that. There is more to do. We think they’ve made steps that war­rant us begin­ning a process of hav­ing con­tact and work­ing with them once again, but there is more work to do. And we are going to help them out along the way to try and make sure this unit is as pro­fes­sion­al and respect­ful of human rights as pos­si­ble.”

The senior defense offi­cial said Indone­sia has pledged that any Kopas­sus mem­ber who is cred­i­bly accused of a human rights vio­la­tion will be sus­pend­ed pend­ing an inves­ti­ga­tion, will be tried in a civil­ian court, and will be removed from the unit if con­vict­ed.

No oper­a­tional train­ing is involved, though a plan for how the process will begin has not yet been for­mu­lat­ed, giv­en that the re-engage­ment dis­cus­sions reached this point only days ago, the offi­cial said. At first, he said, staff talks about edu­ca­tion and pro­fes­sion­al­iza­tion train­ing may take place, and human rights train­ing, med­ical engage­ments or oth­er forms of coop­er­a­tion may fol­low.

Con­gress has been briefed, the offi­cial said, and the White House and the State Depart­ment are “ful­ly sup­port­ive.” State Depart­ment offi­cials will con­duct vet­ting for any Kopas­sus mem­bers nom­i­nat­ed for train­ing, he added, to ensure Indone­sia is hon­or­ing the com­mit­ments it made that allowed the re-engage­ment process to begin. That com­pli­ance, and con­tin­ued progress in pro­fes­sion­al­iza­tion, will deter­mine how far and how quick­ly the lev­el of re-engage­ment grows, he said.

Re-engage­ment with Kopas­sus makes sense, the offi­cial said, because its mem­bers deploy over­seas for peace­keep­ing oper­a­tions, they could be called upon to act in extreme emer­gen­cies such as hostage res­cues. And since many of the Indone­sian military’s top lead­ers come from the unit, re-engage­ment allows estab­lish­ment of rela­tion­ships that will endure when cur­rent Kopas­sus mem­bers rise to top posi­tions.

“We think this is an impor­tant part to ensur­ing that we can solid­i­fy and real­ly gain bet­ter trac­tion on reform and pro­fes­sion­al­iza­tion that we all – U.S. and Indone­sian – seek from [the Indone­sian armed forces],” he said. “And to ignore an impor­tant unit … real­ly actu­al­ly hurts the process of ensur­ing that these reform efforts get insti­tut­ed through­out the armed forces of Indone­sia.”

Gates’ meet­ings with Yud­hoy­ono and Defense Min­is­ter Purnomo Yus­giantoro come at what the senior defense offi­cial called “a real­ly impor­tant time for our bilat­er­al rela­tion­ship.” Yud­hoy­ono and Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma have talked about estab­lish­ing a com­pre­hen­sive part­ner­ship, the offi­cial explained. The two nations signed a defense frame­work agree­ment in June, he not­ed, and are look­ing to advance bilat­er­al defense ties “with a focus not real­ly on what we can do for Indone­sia, but real­ly a shift in focus to ‘What can we do togeth­er to address com­mon and glob­al issues?’”

The senior offi­cial said Gates is meet­ing with Indone­sian civil­ian and defense offi­cials to dis­cuss a broad range of issues, and intends to focus on four spe­cif­ic areas: mar­itime secu­ri­ty, human­i­tar­i­an and dis­as­ter relief oper­a­tions, peace­keep­ing mis­sions and defense reform and pro­fes­sion­al­iza­tion.

“We con­sid­er this a very sig­nif­i­cant devel­op­ment in our mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary rela­tion­ship,” Gates said, “and look for­ward to work­ing even more close­ly with [Indonesia’s armed forces] in the years to come.”

Source:
U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)