Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 07/2011

Assessing 12-year Military Reform in Indonesia:Major Strategic Gaps for the Next Stage of Reform

Leonard C. Sebastian, Iisgindarsah

April 2011

S.Rajaratnam School of International Studies


The Indonesian military remains one of the most crucial institutions in a democratising Indonesia and continues to be a key factor in any discussion regarding the future of the country. Forced to withdraw from formal politics at the end of the New Order regime, the military leadership has been embarking on a series of reforms to “professionalise” the armed forces, while maintaining their standing within Indonesian society. This paper attempts to provide an assessment of the military reform process during the last 12 years in Indonesia. To this end, it will provide an overview regarding the role of the Indonesian military during the Suharto era; analyse to what extent the process of democratisation has shaped the role and mission of the military; explore the perceptions and motivations of the actors involved in the reform process; review what has been achieved; and highlight the outstanding issues that remain unaddressed. With regard to the final point, this paper discerns three major strategic gaps that undermine the processes of military reform in Indonesia, namely: the “regulation loophole”, the “defence-economic gap” and the “shortcomings of democratic civilian control”. Considering these problems, this paper concludes that while the military officers’ interest in day-to-day politics will gradually diminish, the military professionalism will ebb and flow depending more on the behaviour of political elites and their attempts to address the major strategic gaps in the next stage of the country’s military reform.