Jakarta - Stymied by a lack of funds and a US arms embargo, it is no secret that the 400,000-strong Indonesian military, once a formidable institution during the Suharto years, is in a bad shape.
But the Dec 26 tsunami disaster has demonstrated just how ill-equipped the TNI, as the military is known, is in coping with a major national crisis. The armed forces did not have enough helicopters and other equipment to distribute large amounts of relief to the tsunami victims and had to rely heavily on help from foreign troops.
To redress the situation, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a former army general, plans to increase defence spending to an “ideal level” of 3 to 5 per cent of the gross domestic product from the current 1 per cent. Mr Yudhoyono, who was speaking at a seminar on developing the national defence industry on Jan 26, described Indonesia’s defence system as “under-strength, under-funded and under-capacity” to confront the various threats facing the country, such as the separatist war in Aceh.
“Poor weapons systems are also causing difficulties for our soldiers in quelling the guerrillas in Aceh. If we had more sophisticated military, I’m sure our security operations would be more effective there.” It is time for Indonesia “to have sophisticated weapons system”, Mr Yudhoyono said without giving any time frames.
“Political will alone is not enough, because the aim of achieving an ideal defence system will also depend on the availability of funds, which in turn will depend upon the country’s economic performance,” he added. For 2005 fiscal year, the government has allocated 21 trillion rupiah (US$2.3 billion) for defence expenditure. The budget is considered low even when compared to smaller neighbouring countries such as Malaysia and Thailand. The two countries have been spending more than 2 per cent of their GDP for defence in the past few years.
Apart from the lack of funds, the military must also grapple with an arms embargo imposed by the United States after Indonesian troops rampaged through East Timor after its people voted for independence in 1999. The embargo remains in place. Mr Yudhoyono said Indonesia must improve its capacity to produce military equipment so as to reduce its dependency on foreign armaments.
*SBY seeks to boost defence spending (The Jakarta Post, Jan 27)