Jakarta – The United States needs a strong security partner in Southeast Asia and Indonesia is well-placed to play the role, says a study that will be published in March.
The study, entitledEnhancing the US-Indonesian security relationship: An opportunity not to be missed,recommends that theUSremove its restrictions on the Indonesian military. It is sponsored by the United States-Indonesia Society (USINDO).
Mr Eduardo Lachica, one of its four authors, saidIndonesiais the best choice for the Americans because of its strategic location and also because it is the world's largest Muslim country.
"Indonesiacould be a major argument for democracy in the Muslim world," the former Asian Wall Street Journal correspondent said.
Mr Lachica argued thatthe Indonesian military, TNI,could not be blamed entirely for its poor human rights' reputation. He said the country's civilian government should take some of the blame because it had under-funded the TNI.
According to the study, the TNI needs a budget of about US$3 billion a year, but receives only around US$1 billion a year.
By punishing the TNI, the US Congress – where resistance to a resumption of military ties is strongest – is recognising the sovereignty of the TNI as an entity separate from the Indonesian state, he argued.
TheUS“should deal with the Indonesian government because we believe in the supremacy of the civilian government ofIndonesia," Mr Lachica added.
The study recommends that theUSrestore the International Military Education and Training (IMET) programme withIndonesia. IMET allowed Indonesian officers to attend military courses in theUnited States.
The programme was stopped following the 1991 killings of protesters in Dili,East Timor.Mr Lachica said IMET had become a symbol of the TNI's pariah status and now, the military wants to get its status back.
He argued that the more TNI officers are exposed to American military training and culture, the more they would accept the idea of civilian supremacy of the armed forces.
The study also recommends that the US helpIndonesiawith counter-terrorism efforts, maritime security and peacekeeping missions.
The study’s sponsor, USINDO, is a non-government organisation that aims to promote better understanding between the two countries. Its members include former foreign service officers from both countries and big corporations such as Freeport McMoran, Exxon-Mobil, and Coca Cola.
The study comes at a timewhenthe newUSSecretary of State, DrCondoleezza Rice, is planning to report to Congress thatIndonesiais cooperating with theUSauthorities in the investigation of the killings of two American teachers in Papua. The move is seen as part of a Bush administration campaign to have restrictions on the TNI eased.
*US urged to restore military cooperation with RI (The Jakarta Post, Feb 5)