Indonesia at the Crossroads: U.S. Weapons Sales and Military Training


Indonesia at the Crossroads: U.S. Weapons Sales and Military Training

A Special Report
by Frida Berrigan
October 2001

The Invasion of East Timor
East Timor: Free but Battered
Step by Step: Banning Weapons and Military Training
The Weapons and Training Ban: Unpopular and Slowly Unraveling
The Push to Restore Aid: Oil and Old Friends
Indonesian Military: A Stabilizing Force for Whom?
Irian Jaya
Indonesian Military and U.S. Business: A Winning Combination?
Sources for More Information


Just days after the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President George W. Bush met with Megawati Sukarnoputri, the new President of Indonesia– the world’s largest Muslim nation. She was the first Muslim leader to meet with Bush after the attack, allowing him to deftly counter criticism that the new war on terrorism was a thinly veiled war against Islam. President Megawati condemned the attacks as “barbaric and indiscriminate” and “pledged to cooperate with the international community in combating terrorism.”

President Bush promised Megawati economic aid totaling more than $700 million, including money for police training and civilian courses in defense under the E-IMET program (Expanded-International Military Education and Training). Bush also expressed his desire to resume regular military contact, and lift the embargo on the sale of “non-lethal” weapons.

The Bush administration’s plan threatens to undermine years of work to limit weapons sales and military training to Indonesia, and to hold that military accountable for its grisly history of human rights abuses. Can the Bush administration simultaneously arm and train Indonesia’s military and help usher in a new era of democracy and respect for human rights in the vast island nation? Or will human rights and democracy be a victim of the war on terrorism?

As he builds a coalition to fight terrorism, Bush is in danger of arming and training some of the Pacific region’s worst tools of terror– namely the Indonesian military.

Thus far, democracy has eluded Indonesia. Since its emergence from Dutch colonialism in 1945, Indonesia has had only five presidents. Sukarno, the founder of the modern state, ruled as “President for Life” until 1965 when General Suharto overthrew him in a military coup. Hundreds of thousands of people were slaughtered in the weeks that followed, setting the stage for General Suharto’s rule– thirty-two years of authoritarianism, corruption and military impunity. In the four years since he was deposed, there have been three presidents in quick succession. Suharto was replaced by his close ally and vice president, B.J. Habibie, who held power for a year and a half. President Abdurrahman Wahid led Indonesia for about a year and a half as well, only to be replaced by his vice president, Megawati Sukarnoputri, who became Indonesia’s fifth president on July 23, 2001.

President George W. Bush welcomed President Megawati, expressing his hope for a “united, democratic, and economically successful Indonesia.” President Megawati has been described as an enigma, both internationally and in her own country. While vice president under the erratic Abdurrahman Wahid she remained in the background. Because she is the daughter of Sukarno, she is well known, but characterized disparagingly as a housewife with little education or political savvy. This image was reinforced by reports that she attended a screening of the animated movie Shrek in the midst of the crisis that lead to President Wahid’s ouster.

But, in Washington and elsewhere, President Megawati has been applauded as a clean break from the bloody Suharto legacy. Thus it has been argued that military aid should now be restored to help her deal effectively with the myriad problems she faces– economic crisis, political upheaval, and wars.

But, her choice of military advisors, many of whom have ties to the Suharto regime, calls into question the “clean-ness” of her break from Indonesia’s violent past. Sidney Jones, Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, went so far as to describe Megawati as “sort of a mascot” of the military.[1] This dynamic should trigger questions about what role the United States– Indonesia’s principal military benefactor– should be playing.

At this critical juncture, Washington has the opportunity to forge a different sort of relationship with the fourth most populous nation in the world, and encourage economic, political and social– rather than military– stability in Indonesia. But, to begin that process, the following questions need to be answered:

  1. Can the United States effectively fight the war against terrorism by arming and training the Indonesian military?
  2. Do U.S. weapons sales and military training bestow professionalism and democratic standards as claimed?
  3. Do they allow the United States to influence and advise in times of crisis?
  4. Do they deter or enable human rights violations?

Or do they in fact exacerbate the dangerous and dysfunctional overlap of military and political power, making war more likely and more deadly while benefiting U.S. weapons manufacturers, multinational corporations and Indonesian power elites?

What follows is an attempt to answer these pressing questions and make the case for maintaining and strengthening the weapons and military training ban.

To begin, it is essential that politicians and citizens alike develop an understanding of the history of U.S.-Indonesian relations. Therefore U.S. support for the invasion of East Timor in 1975 and the military, political and economic support that continued through the massacres of 1999 is discussed. The Bush administration’s close ties to the oil and gas industry are analyzed as influential in shaping the emerging policies toward Indonesia, and a few arguments for resumption of military contact are scrutinized for vested interests and ulterior motives. The case of oil-giant ExxonMobil in Aceh and mining company Freeport McMoRan in Irian Jaya are examined in depth. Both companies benefit from close relationships with the military and have been credibly accused of human rights violations connected with the repression of local populations.

The Invasion of East Timor

In December 1975, Indonesia invaded the new nation of East Timor, which had just declared itself independent from Portuguese colonizers. Within five years, more than 200,000 people, one-third of the pre-invasion population, had been killed, leading Noam Chomsky to term it “the worst slaughter relative to population since the Holocaust.”[2] The invasion took place just hours after U.S. President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger visited General Suharto in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta. While the international community protested, the U.S. government doubled military aid to Indonesia and prevented the United Nations from taking effective action against Suharto.[3]

In 1977, reacting to public pressure, Congress held hearings to investigate the U.S. role in Indonesia’s military action against its tiny neighbor. The House International Relations Committee revealed that several major U.S. weapons systems sold to Jakarta during this period– including sixteen Rockwell OV-10 “Bronco” counter-insurgency aircraft, three Lockheed Martin C-130 transport aircraft and thirty-six Cadillac-Gage V-150 “Commando” armored cars– were used against East Timor. Other U.S. weapons linked to the occupation, and referenced during the hearing, included: S-61 helicopters, patrol craft, M-16 rifles, pistols, mortars, machine guns, recoilless rifles, ammunition, and communications equipment.[4]

From 1975 through East Timor’s referendum for independence in 1999, the United States continued its military support, transferring over a billion dollars worth of weaponry. Everything from F-16 fighter planes to military helicopters to M-16 combat rifles was used in the suppression of dissent in East Timor and throughout Indonesia. These weapons were viewed as key to maintaining good relationships with Washington’s strategic ally. The State Department and White House portrayed Indonesia as a bulwark against communism, a source of cheap labor and cheap resources, and a market for U.S. goods. One State Department official summed up the relationship by saying, “the United States wants to keep its relations with Indonesia close and friendly. It is a nation we do a lot of business with.”[5] Indeed, the president of Coca-Cola went so far as to exclaim, “When I think of Indonesia– a country on the equator with 180 million people, a median age of 18 and a Muslim ban on alcohol– I feel like I know what heaven looks like.”[6]

While this relationship was heaven for Coca-Cola executives, it was closer to hell for the Indonesian people. Human rights violations such as arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings, torture, as well as restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association were the norm. By way of endorsement, U.S. weapons, military training and support flowed in.

The Indonesian military still bristles with U.S. origin weapons and benefits from U.S. military training. The United States transferred $328 million in weapons and spare parts and almost $100 million in commercial weapons exports to the Jakarta regime in the last decade.[7] Military training has also been significant during this period– the Defense Department allocated more than $7.5 million in International Military Education and Training program (IMET) funding for Indonesian soldiers. Soldiers armed with U.S. weapons and training went on to maim, kill and torture.[8]

Indeed, Washington has been forced to break off military relations with Jakarta because of the military’s abuse of power, violations of human rights, massacres, and extrajudicial killings. In 1991, military ties were suspended following the Santa Cruz Massacre in which Indonesian security officers fired into a peaceful crowd of protestors, killing 271 people. The relationship was partially restored in 1995, only to be severed again after the brutal military and militia response to the 1999 Timorese referendum for independence. See pages 4-5 for an in-depth look at how military aid was curbed step by step.

East Timor: Free but Battered

In August 1999 the people of East Timor voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia in a United Nations-sponsored referendum. In the weeks that followed, the military and its militias went on a killing rampage throughout the territory. More than a thousand people were killed and 75% of the population was forced from their homes, streaming into the mountains or transported to West Timor. Subsequent investigations by the United Nations found that 60-80% of the property in East Timor was destroyed or damaged and estimated the death toll at 1,500-2,000, although the exact number may never be known.[9] Many of the murdered East Timorese were pushed from boats at sea and the few forensic experts sent by the United Nations arrived after the rainy season had destroyed much of the evidence.

As in the past, the United States, as a major supplier of Indonesian weapons and one of the chief political, economic and diplomatic supporters of Jakarta, bears more than a small burden of responsibility for the attacks. U.S.-origin weapons were given to the anti-independence death squads by the Indonesian government and military. Amnesty International found considerable evidence of “official involvement in the establishment of these militias and of the direct and indirect support of the military and police for their activities, including by providing weapons, training and facilities.”[10] The UN Commission of Inquiry on East Timor found that “intimidation and terror attacks…would not have been possible without the active involvement of the Indonesian army, and the knowledge and approval of the top military command.”[11]

Today, 60,000-80,000 refugees remain in West Timorese camps where they face daily intimidation and violence. The military-backed militias impede efforts at repatriation with terror and threats. UN officials estimate that two-thirds of the refugees would return to East Timor if they were permitted to do so by the militias.[12] International Organization for Migration spokesman Jean-Philippe Chauzy attributes the problems to the “ongoing ambivalence of certain Indonesian agencies toward the militias, despite their now well-documented record of crimes against humanity.”[13]

Even in the face of such obstacles, East Timor is becoming more stable. A truth and reconciliation process is under way, a defense force and judicial body have been formed, and national elections were held on August 30, 2001– the second anniversary of the referendum for independence.

But as East Timor slowly becomes it own nation, the Indonesian military continues to resist civilian control and the militias they support persist in their campaign of intimidation and violence in East and West Timor. From the fall of 1999 to the present, militias based in West Timor refugee camps repeatedly conducted cross-border raids that target East Timorese civilians and UN troops. In September 2000, a militia mob brutally murdered three UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) personnel, even though local military officers had guaranteed their safety. Indonesian police stood by and did nothing to rein in the militia killers.[14] In May 2001, the six tried for the crime were convicted of “violence against people and property,” as opposed to murder and given jail terms of 10 to 20 months— they had originally faced 34 years for multiple murders.[15]

Within this context of political instability, military impunity and the ongoing suffering of the forcibly displaced refugees in West Timor camps, maintaining the military ban is of critical importance.

Step By Step: Banning Weapons and Military Training

The United States was the largest supplier of weapons and military training to Indonesia, until a November 1991 attack changed everything. Soldiers armed with M-16s fired on a funeral procession in the Santa Cruz cemetery in East Timor, killing 271 and injuring many more. Two American reporters, both badly beaten by the soldiers, witnessed what came to be known as the Santa Cruz Massacre. Their story put the suffering of the East Timorese under Indonesian occupation, and the role of U.S. weapons, training and military support, on the agenda of activists and lawmakers in the United States.

Training Ban:

As a direct result of grassroots pressure, Congress cut off Indonesia’s International Military Education and Training (IMET) aid in October 1992. The legislation became law as part of the Fiscal Year 1993 (FY1993) Foreign Operations Appropriations Act and was re-enacted in FY1994 and FY1995.

In the FY1995 bill, the House of Repre-sentatives tried to close a loophole under which Indonesia was able to purchase military training. Members of Congress expressed “outrage” that “despite its vocal embrace of human rights,” the Clinton administration would allow Indonesia to buy military training.

In 1995, Congress continued to ban IMET (for FY1996), but Expanded-IMET, which is limited to classroom instruction, was allowed. In March 1997, the House Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee heard administration testimony that the Pentagon sold Indonesia military training without congressional notification or consent throughout 1996, causing Congress to limit appropriations to E-IMET for FY1997 through FY2000.

In March 1998, Rep. Lane Evans (D-IL) and the East Timor Action Network released Pentagon documents showing that U.S. Army and Marine personnel had trained Indonesian soldiers under the Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) program every few months since 1992. Indonesian troops were trained in air assault, urban warfare, and psychological operations thirty-six times between 1992 and 1997 without congressional knowledge or approval.[16] Much of that training went to the notorious Kopassus counter-insurgency unit, “the most feared, most hated, and most abusive Indonesia unit in East Timor” accused of carrying out torture, disappearances and extra-judicial killings.[17]

While this JCET training was technically legal, many in Congress felt as though the Pentagon had evaded the clear intention of the IMET prohibition. Responding to congressional and grassroots pressure, the Pentagon suspended the JCET program for Indonesia in May 1998.

Journalist Allan Nairn alleges that even after Congress closed many of the loopholes exploited by the Pentagon, the Central Intelligence Agency, Justice and Customs Departments, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Federal Bureau of Invest-igations, and U.S. Marshals all continued to train Indonesian officials. In the midst of the militia rampages in East Timor, he states that “there were colonels in the Indonesian National Police being trained at the New York Police Department.”[18] The U.S. State Department now has its own program to train the Indonesian police force.

As late as 1999, the State Department claimed that military training for Indonesian troops was aimed at “positively influencing” the military’s “professionalism and discipline” and heightening their understanding of “good civil-military relations and international human rights standards.”[19] But, the tactics of Kopassus units, which a leading Indonesian human rights monitor called “spying, terror and counter-terror,” contradicts the State Department’s rhetoric.[20]

Weapons Ban:

In July 1993, after years of unrestricted weapons transfers to Indonesia, the State Department, under congressional pressure, blocked a transfer of U.S. F-5 fighter planes from the Jordan to Indonesia, citing human rights concerns.

Later that same year, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously adopted an amendment by Senator Russell Feingold (D-WI), conditioning major weapons sales to Indonesia on human rights improvements in East Timor. Although the authorization bill to which it was attached never reached the Senate floor, the Feingold amendment sent political shock waves through Jakarta.

Early in 1994, the State Department banned the sale of small arms and riot control equipment to Indonesia. In 1995 and 1996, they expanded the ban to include helicopter-mounted equipment and armored personnel carriers.

And finally, in fall 1999, the Republican controlled Congress passed the Foreign Operations Appropriations Act of 2000, which stipulates that military ties will not be restored until Indonesia has met the “Leahy conditions,” named for Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy. The conditions include:

  • Allow return of East Timorese forcibly displaced to West Timor and other parts of Indonesia.
  • Use “effective measures to bring to justice” those members of the Indonesian military involved in “aiding or abetting militia groups” and members of the military and militias involved in human rights violations.
  • Assist in investigations of human rights violations by the Indonesian military and its militias, and prevent further militia attacks.[21]

Despite the fact that none of these very reasonable conditions have been met, the Bush administration and the Pentagon now want to restore military ties. Given the preponderance of U.S. hardware in the Indonesian arsenal, it is clear that even a small amount of weapons, military training, spare parts and technical assistance could have an enormous bolstering effect on Indonesia’s forces and send a strong message of approval to Jakarta. It is dangerously premature to resume military ties.

The Weapons and Training Ban: Unpopular and Slowly Unraveling

The State Department’s own 2000 Human Rights report asserts that the Indonesian military “continues to play a substantial internal security role in areas of conflict… Both the Indonesian National Army and the police committed numerous serious human rights abuses throughout the year.”[22]

Ignoring the State Department’s assessments, some in Washington would prefer robust weapons sales and military training to stability and human rights. In its most recent Pacific Rim Diversification and Defense Market Guide, the Commerce Department states that “instances of human rights abuses have given rise to concern in the U.S. from time-to-time…. But the overall relationship provides opportunities for U.S. defense companies to benefit from the pace of economic growth and concomitant defense needs of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Indonesia.”[23]

U.S. weapons manufacturers see a strong market for their wares in Indonesia and are eager to resume sales. The top six U.S. weapons manufacturers had a total of $60 million in contracts for Indonesia in FY1999 (which ended in October, only a few weeks after President Clinton imposed the ban on military transfers). While not all weapons contracts are filled, the figure gives a good sense of the stake American weapons corporations have in “normal” relations with Indonesia. Lockheed Martin topped the list at $52 million in contracts, with Boeing winning a more modest $1.4 million.[24] In FY1999 alone, the United States delivered more than $8.9 million in weapons, including aircraft and missiles, before the ban was instituted. Over the past five years, Indonesia has received an average of $11 million in weapons per year.[25]

Despite U.S. reluctance to impose the embargo and ways in which it has been undermined, it remains effective. According to Defense News, half the country’s F-16s are not operational, and many C-130s are grounded. The Army and Navy’s Bell helicopters lack adequate spare parts and only eight of the Air Force’s helicopter fleet of thirty is operational. Even the Hawk aircraft transferred by Britain need U.S.-origin avionics in order to be fully operational.[26]

Jakarta has complained loudly about the debilitating impact of the weapons ban, and is lobbying hard for resumption of military-to-military ties. Washington is not complaining quite as loud– officials limit their remarks to military training programs– but they are quietly advocating for full resumption of military ties. Paul Wolfowitz, former Ambassador to Indonesia and current Deputy Secretary of Defense, spoke in favor of lifting the ban in testimony to Congress, saying that canceling military training programs, “did nothing to improve the human rights situation in East Timor. But it did diminish U.S. influence with the Indonesian military and deprived us of the opportunity…to teach them important things about how our democratic system works.”[27] Admiral Dennis Blair, Commander of Pacific Command, expressed a similar sentiment in congressional hearings last year, saying, “I believe that the [Indonesian] police also require a lot of assistance and training… I support that and think that should be increased.”[28]

The U.S. military began direct re-engagement with the Indonesian military in May 2000, when Indonesian officers took part as observers in U.S.-sponsored Cobra Gold military exercises in Thailand. The following month, Indonesian Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard trained with their U.S. military counterparts in a joint exercise called CARAT/2000.[29]

While observing Cobra Gold exercises and participation in “humanitarian” CARAT exercises do not technically violate the congressional ban, Jakarta correctly interpreted them as a first step towards restoring full military-to-military ties. The Bush administration’s budget request for FY2002 includes some $400,000 for IMET training; twice the level that was set aside for FY2001.[30]

Jakarta was also pleased when the United States transferred spare parts for the C-130 troop transport planes, which the State Department insists can also be used for “VIP and leadership transport, transporting refugees back to East Timor, and for combating forest fires.”[31]

European allies were the first to resume military sales to Indonesia, choosing not to extend the European Union embargo when it expired in January 2001. Soon after, Holland and Britain transferred naval radar equipment and Hawk attack aircraft respectively. The same month, then-President Wahid announced his intention to break Indonesia’s military dependence on the U.S. by developing military partnerships with Russia, China, India, and Jordan, while also strengthening the country’s ability to develop weapons domestically. Jordan offered to donate and sell military material, spare parts and equipment. India and Indonesia signed a military cooperation agreement at the beginning of this year, pledging to “expand military contacts and training opportunities and to step up defense purchases.”[32]

The willingness of other nations to sell Indonesia weapons and equipment, adds urgency to the United States’ push to reestablish full military relations with Indonesia.

The Push to Restore Aid: Oil and Old Friends

Even before the war on terrorism provided a new rationale for arming and training the Indonesian military; the Bush administration was under considerable pressure from the Pentagon and the private sector to restore military ties.

Think tanks and institutions with close ties to the oil and gas industries and other corporations with interests in the region urged resumption of military ties. The U.S.-ASEAN Business Council, a private body made up of the heads of corporations with interests in Southeast Asia, released an influential report in February 2001 entitled, The Case for Strengthening American Involvement in Southeast Asia.

Weapons contractors like Boeing, United Technologies, and General Electric serve on the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council, alongside the mining companies, banks and ubiquitous corporations like Coca-Cola and Nike. The report calls on the U.S. to “lift [the] embargo on military equipment and training while reestablishing direct military-to-military contacts with the Indonesian military.”[33] While the report argues that the military plays a role in encouraging “stability” in Indonesia, companies like Boeing and GE are likely more concerned with the stability of their profit margins, as they stand to benefit directly through new weapons contracts the moment the ban is lifted.

The U.S.-ASEAN Business Council also includes oil and gas companies. This sector generously donated $1.8 million to President George W. Bush in the last election cycle.[34] While Bush himself is not well briefed on the region– his one remark about the conflict in East Timor during his campaign was an offhand and maladroit reference to the “East Timorians”– he is certainly influenced by those who are.[35]

The high concentration of oil and gas magnates in the Bush administration– from Vice President Richard Cheney, former CEO of oil services giant Halliburton, to Bush’s own connections to the industry– makes the oil-rich archipelago particularly important. ExxonMobil, which has a vast project in Indonesia, gave more than a million dollars in campaign contributions in 2000– mostly to Republicans.[36] Then-Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab, expressing his excitement about Bush’s election in January, said, “I am optimistic that the military sanctions will be lifted because the Bush government is more pragmatic and realistic.”[37]

Pragmatism and realism notwithstanding, it certainly helps that both Cheney and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz are old friends with Indonesia’s former dictator, General Suharto. Cheney was Bush Senior’s Secretary of Defense at the time of the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre and traveled to Indonesia just a few months later, meeting with Suharto and top military officials. Rather than admonishing Jakarta for the military slaughter of 271 unarmed people during his visit, he reinforced the value of strong relations with the military, saying, “we have in the past worked with the Indonesia armed forces and are eager to continue to do that in the future.”[38] Wolfowitz was Ambassador to Indonesia during the worst violence in East Timor and represented Washington’s indefatigable diplomatic, military and political support for the Jakarta regime. In 1997 testimony before Congress, Wolfowitz credited Suharto’s “strong and remarkable leadership” for Indonesia’s “significant progress.”[39]

When asked about arms sales to Indonesia during his January confirmation hearings, Secretary of State Colin Powell insisted that, “every nation has the right of legitimate self-defense, and if they don’t buy it from us, they have many other sources in which they can get such weapons.”[40] Powell’s use of the “better-us-than-them” argument for U.S. weapons sales dovetails nicely with the “stability” argument. The latest version of this well-worn line of reasoning can be found in a recent report from the Council on Foreign Relations, The United States and Southeast Asia: A Policy Agenda for the New Administration. Report chair J. Robert Kerrey, former Senator and current President of the New School University, sums up its central point by saying, “the Indonesian military remains essential to the country’s future stability.”[41] The report characterizes the current ban on military sales and training as “heavy handed,” and “short sighted,” warning that without military training the U.S. will lose the “opportunity to help shape a new attitude toward civil-military relations” in the Indonesian military.[42] Kerrey and his team conclude that “the United States must cease hectoring Jakarta and re-engage Indonesia’s army.”[43]

The report’s findings are based on a narrow and self-serving definition of the Indonesian military as guardians of big business. The composition of the panel is weighed heavily towards corporations; in fact the 27-member panel is 30% corporate representatives, including ExxonMobil and baked good giant Sara Lee, both of which have extensive investments in Indonesia. In addition, given the report’s pro-weapons sale position, it is not surprising that Dov Zakheim, former Reagan official who now serves as the chief financial officer in Bush’s Pentagon, drafted the report. Between working for Reagan and Bush II, Zakheim was a lobbyist for weapons manufacturers like McDonnell Douglas (now part of Boeing), promoting arms sales to Saudi Arabia, Israel and elsewhere.[44]

The report team was not of one mind on renewed military ties with Indonesia. Sidney Jones, Asia Director for Human Rights Watch, and other members of the team dissented from the conclusions. Their strongly worded statement, which maintained that renewed military ties “would send exactly the wrong signal,” was included in the report. They also emphasized the need to consider the Indonesian military’s “role in obstructing prosecutions for past abuses and of the serious new human rights violations taking place, most notably in Aceh.”[45] This important dissension was barely heard above the din of the pro-business, pro-military rhetoric.

In its 2000 assessment of U.S.-Indonesian relations, the State Department emphasizes the “important economic, commercial, and security interests in Indonesia.”[46] ExxonMobil, Boeing, General Electric and Sara Lee, and the other companies who put their weight behind these studies from the Council on Foreign Relations and the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council agree. Thus, it seems likely that the Bush administration will pursue a policy of close relations with Jakarta, regardless of human rights violations, corruption, and brutal repression of separatist movements, and will prioritize military sales and training, in tandem with support for U.S. corporations and their aggressive exploitation of Indonesia’s vast oil reserves. And now that he has gained President Megawati’s support in the war against terrorism, there seems to be little standing in the way of President Bush restoring weapons sales and military training programs for Indonesia. Unfortunately, these tactics will neither aid in winning the war against terrorism nor encourage political and economic stability in Indonesia.

Indonesian Military: A Stabilizing Force for Whom?

The most salient arguments for the resumption of military aid are made on behalf of Aceh and Irian Jaya. In these beleaguered provinces separatist movements, recently reinvigorated by East Timor’s hard-won success, have been struggling for decades. Thousands have been killed, tens of thousands uprooted, and whole societies disrupted. While president, Wahid blamed the U.S. weapons ban and the lack of weaponry for his inability to suppress these “bloody ethnic conflicts.”[47] But a closer look at each province reveals that the military is not a force for stability and peace. It also becomes clear that U.S.-based corporations are benefiting from cheap labor and lax environmental laws in their pursuit of profit–and working in tandem with the military to ensure their ability to perpetuate this relationship. Rather than resuming weapons sales and military training to encourage stability, the U.S. should be working to curb corporate abuses in Aceh and Irian Jaya.


This oil-rich western province is located at the head of the Malacca strait that links the Pacific and Indian oceans– one of the most strategic waterways in the world. While most Americans would be hard pressed to find Aceh on a map, its oil wealth is key to Jakarta’s power and extremely valuable for U.S. corporations. The New York Times acknowledged Aceh’s centrality when it noted that the province of 4.1 million people, “is far more important to Indonesia’s future and that of South East Asia than East Timor ever was.”[48] Aceh’s oil and other commodities contribute 20% of Indonesia’s annual budget, but only 1% is reinvested into the province.[49]

In the late 1980s, in response to the burgeoning movement for independence, Jakarta declared the province a “Military Operations Area” (known by its Indonesian acronym DOM). During the DOM era, thousands of Acehnese civilians were killed, raped, tortured, and abducted.[50] The DOM was lifted in August 1998, but the violence continues. During two days in November 2000, more than a hundred unarmed Acehnese civilians attending a rally were shot dead by security forces.[51] Last year at least one thousand people, mostly civilians and separatists guerrillas, were killed– three times the number killed in 1999.[52] The death toll for this year has already exceeded 1,100.[53]

For the most part, the war in Aceh has taken place beneath the radar screen of Western media and politics. But two brutal incidents in late 2000 brought the plight the Acehnese and the role of U.S. weapons to the front pages of American newspapers. Jafar Siddiq Hamzah, a prominent Acehnese lawyer with permanent residence in the U.S., was working for human rights and a peaceful resolution to the conflict when he was disappeared, tortured and murdered. His body was found in September 2000 along with four other unidentified bodies in an area frequently used by the military to dispose of bodies. A few months later, military death squads killed three Acehnese working for a Danish aid group.[54]

From the U.S. perspective, Aceh is important as a location for U.S.-owned oil companies, but their presence has not encouraged respect for human rights. ExxonMobil, the largest publicly held corporation in the United States, has a huge oil and gas operation in Aceh. The company was sued in June by International Labor Rights Fund on behalf of eleven Acehnese who lived and worked near ExxonMobil’s operations. The villagers contend that they and their families have been the victims of murder, torture, kidnapping and rape at the hands of Indonesian military units guarding ExxonMobil’s gas fields. The suit, filed in Washington, DC, charges that the company provided the Indonesian military with logistical and material support, including:

  • Buildings used by the Kopassus (Indonesian Special Forces) units to “interrogate, torture and murder Acehnese civilians.”
  • Heavy equipment like excavators used by the military to dig mass graves.
  • Access to ExxonMobil constructed roads to transport victims to mass grave sites.[55]

This collaboration demonstrates the interest that both the military and ExxonMobil have in maintaining Indonesian control of the province. The ILRF suit claims that the ExxonMobil fears that the “creation of an independent state for the people of Aceh as the result of a democratic uprising” would nullify their “business arrangement with the Indonesian government.”[56]

Until March 2001, when ExxonMobil suspended operations after a spate of attacks on their pipeline, Jakarta received an estimated $100 million in revenue from the company every month. In an effort to ensure their revenue stream and reassure ExxonMobil, Jakarta sent three additional battalions of troops and an armored calvary unit to beef up security in the region. ExxonMobil resumed limited production a few months later.[57]

Irian Jaya

Also known as West Papua, this Indonesian province shares an island with Papua New Guinea and is home to three million indigenous people speaking 268 languages. While blessed with astounding ethnic and biological diversity, Irian Jaya’s mineral wealth is also a curse.

The people of the province did not support Irian Jaya’s incorporation into Indonesia. In a move backed by the United States, the United Nations brokered the transfer of control over Papua from Holland to Indonesia. Jakarta’s control was formalized in the 1963 “Act of Free Choice,” a cynically termed process in which 1,025 elders hand picked by the military “voted” to be integrated into Indonesia. Under Indonesian rule, an estimated 100,000 people have been killed in Irian Jaya.[58]

The small province is dominated by Freeport McMoRan, which owns the world’s largest gold mine and third largest copper mine. The New Orleans-based company was dubbed the “most maverick American multinational in the world today” by the Far Eastern Economic Review.[59] While CEO James “Jim Bob” Moffett boasts that his company is “thrusting a spear of economic development in the heartland of Irian Jaya,” the $50 billion mine has given very little back to the people.[60]

The Freeport mine poses major health, environmental and safety threats to the people of Irian Jaya. The mine has created a wasteland in what was once a fertile river valley by dumping an average of 110,000 tons of silt and tailings into local riverways every day.[61] According to Project Diana, a human rights archive, this water contamination has caused “skin rashes, stomach problems, bloody coughs, and even death.”[62]

Like ExxonMobil, Freeport employs Indonesian soldiers as security officers, making the district of Timika, where the mine is located, one of the most militarized areas of Indonesia.[63] An American visiting the mine described the scene: “As we stood in the highest security post inside the mine, surrounded by men carrying guns, this employee told me that the only difference between Indonesian soldiers and Freeport security guards is that the soldiers carry M-16s and Freeport security carries AK-47s.”[64]

In addition to providing food, shelter and transportation to soldiers in return for guarding the mine, the company provides the Indonesian army “with helicopters and vehicles to transport troops and with funds to construct barracks and office buildings.”[65] While the company claims that the Indonesian military serves “the role that the police would serve in a more developed country,” the Indonesian military has been implicated in serious and systematic violations of human rights in and around the Freeport mine.[66]

The story of Yosepha Alomang, winner of the prestigious 2001 Goldman Environmental Prize, exemplifies what many have suffered with the complicity of Freeport McMoRan. “Mama” Yosepha, as she is known, was held for a week in a Freeport shipping container without food or water, standing knee deep in water thick with human waste. She then endured six weeks of torture and interrogation, all for the crime of allegedly giving food to Papuan resistance fighters.[67] The Irian Jayan Catholic Church found widespread use of Freeport facilities by the Indonesian military. Freeport buses, shipping containers and security posts were all used as torture chambers.[68]

In the face of such allegations and in response to international pressure, Freeport McMoRan recently signed a code of conduct agreement, promising to report and investigate abuses of human rights. The company also established a new Special Counsel on Human Rights position and their most recent annual report stated that, “we support and uphold the human rights of all people.”[69] While these are steps in the right direction, they remain meaningless gestures unless backed by economic and political change. This is unlikely given that Freeport McMoRan is the number one taxpayer in Indonesia, adding a total of $1.42 billion to the public coffers since 1991, which makes Jakarta reluctant to seriously consider Irian Jaya’s grievances towards Freeport McMoRan and their demands for independence and self-determination.[70]

Indonesian Military and U.S. Business: A Winning Combination?

The reports from the Council on Foreign Relations, the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council, and a growing consensus within the Bush administration all view the military as central to Indonesia’s stability, especially in the strife ridden provinces of Irian Jaya and Aceh. But the characterization of the military as a stabilizing force ignores the military’s strong incentives for prolonging and exacerbating conflict in Aceh and Irian Jaya.

In an exhaustive report, Trifungsi: The Role of the Indonesian Military in Business, Lesley McCulloch, a researcher for the Bonn International Center for Conversion, describes the synergistic relationship between multinational corporations wary of unrest and soldiers in need of extra money. McCulloch found that as much as 80% of the military’s budget comes from illegal activities like drug smuggling, prostitution and illegal casinos and security arrangements with corporations like ExxonMobil and Freeport McMoRan.[71]

Former Defense Minister Juwono conceded in an interview with McCulloch that “elements within the military had incited the unrest experienced by Freeport in order to highlight the benefits of their presence,” leading the company to forfeit $35 million to the military, in addition to an annual payment of $11 million.[72] In Aceh, soldiers sell their weapons to the guerillas for as little as $6, ensuring their enemies remain a potent force.[73] Many soldiers and officials go so far as to refer to the Aceh fight as a “project,” highlighting the role the war plays in filling their pockets, winning them promotions and keeping the institution as a whole powerful and relevant.[74]

While this is a winning combination for the Indonesian military and multinational corporations like ExxonMobil and Freeport McMoRan, not to mention a vital market for U.S. weapons manufacturers, the people who live and work in the areas “protected” by the Indonesian military gain nothing but more suffering. Until this dynamic can be fully outlined and understood, arguments for arming the Indonesian military in order to ensure stability and end conflict must not be taken at face value.

Resumption of weapons sales and military training will not contribute to Indonesia’s stability, and would be irresponsible and premature. In fact, given the current instability, it seems self evident that new shipments of weapons and military training from the United States would only pour gas on the raging fire of this 17,000-island archipelago.

Instead the Bush administration should press Indonesia’s new president to subordinate the military to civilian control, address the root causes of conflicts in Aceh and Irian Jaya and reconcile the legacy of human rights abuses and massacres. Only then can Megawati begin to achieve the “united, democratic, and economically successful Indonesia” that President Bush has described. Only then can the Bush administration begin to repair the damage done by U.S. weapons and military training and by U.S. corporations.


  1. Jim Lobe, “U.S. Warned Against Full Embrace of Megawati,” Inter Press Service, July 25, 2001.
  2. Noam Chomsky, “Why Americans Should Care about East Timor,” Mother Jones, Aug. 26, 1999.
  3. Matthew Jardine, East Timor: Genocide in Paradise, Odonian Press, November 1995.
  4. William D. Hartung and Jennifer Washburn, “U.S. Arms Transfers to Indonesia 1975-1997: Who’s Influencing Whom?” World Policy Institute, June 1997.
  5. Ross Waby, “Aid to Indonesia Doubled as U.S. Shrugs off Timor,” The Australian, January 22, 1976.
  6. Quote by Donald R. Keough, Dollars and Sense, May 1992, cited in Jardine, November 1995.
  7. Department of Defense, Security Cooperation Agency, “Foreign Military Sales, Foreign Military Construction Sales and Military Assistance Facts,” as of September 30, 1999.
  8. Department of Defense, September 30, 1999.
  9. Report of the Secretary General of the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor, January 26, 2000.
  10. “Indonesia and East Timor,” Amnesty International, Annual Report 2000.
  11. International Commission of Inquiry on East Timor, United Nations, January 31, 2000.
  12. John McBeth, “Jakarta’s Shame,” Far Eastern Economic Review, September 21, 2000.
  13. “Harassment By Militias Stops East Timor Repatriations,” Associated Press, March 7, 2001
  14. Anthony Spaeth, “A Rage Unchecked,” Time Asia, September 18, 2000.
  15. “UN Chief ‘Shocked’ by Timor Sentences,” CNN, May 4, 2001.
  16. “U.S. Training of Indonesian Troops Goes on Despite Ban,” New York Times, March 17, 1998.
  17. Sidney Jones of Human Rights Watch, quoted in Terry Allen, “Indonesian Army Recruits in Vermont,” Boston Globe, October 4, 1999.
  18. Alan Nairn in an interview with New Politics, October 18, 1999.
  19. “Foreign Military Training and DoD Engagement Activities of Interest In Fiscal years 1999 and 2000, Volume I,” Defense and State Department, Joint Report to Congress, March 1, 2000.
  20. Alan Nairn, “Indonesia’s Killers,” The Nation, March 30, 1998.
  21. Foreign Operations Appropriations Act of 2000.
  22. “Indonesia: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, 2000” Department of State.
  23. Department of Commerce, Office of Strategic Industries and Economic Security, “Pacific Rim Diversification and Defense Market Guide: Indonesia,” 1997.
  24. Eagle Eye Publishers, DoD and FMS contracts to Indonesia, FY99.
  25. Foreign Military Sales, Foreign Military Construction Sales and Military Assistance Facts, as of September 30, 1999.
  26. Philip Finnegan, “Jakarta Seeks Renewal Of US Military Ties,” Defense News, May 1, 2000.
  27. Testimony Of Paul Wolfowitz, Before The U.S. House Of Representatives Committee On International Relations Subcommittee On East Asian And Pacific Affairs Hearings On Indonesia, May 7, 1997.
  28. Admiral Dennis Blair, “Hearings on Pacific Issues, U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, Subcommittee on Defense, March 28, 2000.
  29. Slobodan Lekic, “U.S. Restarts Ties with Indonesia,” Associated Press, July 26, 2000.
  30. International Affairs Budget Request, April 9, 2001.
  31. Author’s conversation with Indonesia Desk Officer, June 2000.
  32. John Hasseman, “Indonesia Seeks New Sources for Equipment,” Jane’s Defense Weekly, January 31, 2001.
  33. “The Case for Strengthening American Involvement in Southeast Asia,” U.S.-ASEAN Business Council, February, 2001.
  34. “Money in Politics: Backgrounder on the Energy Industry,” Center for Responsive Politics, May 21, 2001.
  35. David Corn, “Bush gets an F in Foreign Affairs,”, November 5, 1999.
  36. Center for Responsive Politics, May 21, 2001.
  37. “Jakarta optimistic the U.S. Will Lift Arms Embargo,” Agence France-Presse, January 29, 2001.
  38. The East Timor Estafeta, Summer 2000.
  39. Testimony Of Paul Wolfowitz, Before The U.S. House Of Representatives Committee On International Relations Subcommittee On East Asian And Pacific Affairs Hearings On Indonesia, May 7, 1997
  40. Confirmation hearing statement of Colin L. Powell before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, January 17 2001.
  41. Tim Shorrock, “U.S. Called to Arms in South East Asia,” Asia Times, July 21, 2001.
  42. Robert Kerrey, The United States and Southeast Asia: A Policy Agenda for the New Administration, Council on Foreign Relations, 2001.
  43. Kerrey, 2001.
  44. Charles Sennott, “Armed for Profit, the Selling of US Weapons,” Boston Globe, February 11, 1996.
  45. Kerrey, 2001.
  46. State Department, October 2000, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs.
  47. Marianne Kearney, “Indonesian Air Display Team a Victim of Arms Ban,” The Strait Times, April 10, 2001.
  48. Calvin Sims, “War Grips an Eden That Indonesia Won’t Set Free,” New York Times, November 11, 2000.
  49. Project Ploughshares, Armed Conflict 2000 report.
  50. “A Reign of Terror: Human Rights Violations in Aceh: 1998-2000,” TAPOL: Indonesia Human Rights Campaign.
  51. “Backgrounder on Aceh,” Indonesia Human Rights Network.
  52. “Indonesia: 2000,” Human Right Watch 2000.
  53. William Nessen, “Aceh Villagers Describe Atrocities: Indonesia Moves Against Guerrillas,” Boston Globe, August 18, 2001.
  54. Lely T. Djuhari, “Indonesia-Death Squad,” Associated Press, December 13, 2000.
  55. Terry Collingsworth of the International Labor Rights Fund, Suit filed June 11, 2001 in the U.S. District Court in the District of Colombia.
  56. Collingsworth, June 11, 2001.
  57. Jane’s Defence Weekly, March 28, 2001.
  58. “West Papua Fact Sheet,” Indonesian Human Rights Network.
  59. John McBeth, “Bull’s Eye,” Far Eastern Economic Review, December 4, 1997.
  60. Eyal Press, “Corporate Predator: Freeport-McMoRan at Home and Abroad,” The Nation, July 31-August 7, 1995.
  61. Eyal Press, “Indonesia’s Misadventure: A Mining Giant’s Clash,” Pacific Journalism Review, November 1996.
  62. “Freeport McMoRan’s Poisoning of Irian Jaya, Indonesia,” Project Diana: Online Human Rights Archive at Yale Law School, April 20, 1998.
  63. “Mining Gold, Undermining Justice: Freeport and Human Rights Violations,” Corporate Watch.
  64. Press, November 1996.
  65. Michael Shari, “Freeport McMoRan: A Pit of Trouble,” Business Week Asia, July 31, 2000
  66. Press, November 1996.
  67. Goldman Environmental Prize 2000 press release.
  68. Violations of Human Rights in the Timika Area of Irian Jaya, Indonesia, Catholic Church of Jayapura, August 14, 1995.
  69. Freeport McMoRan 1999 Annual Report.
  70. Freeport 1999.
  71. Lesley McCulloch, “Business as Usual,” Inside Indonesia, July-September 2000.
  72. Lesley McColloch’s interview with Defense Minister Juwono, quoted in Trifungsi: The Role of the Indonesian Military in Business, Bonn International Center for Conversion “Soldiers in Business: Military as an Economic Factor” conference in Jakarta, Indonesia, October 17-19, 2000.
  73. McCulloch, October 17-19, 2000.
  74. Aceh: Why Military Force Won’t Bring Lasting Peace, International Crisis Group, June 12, 2001.

Sources for More Information

Indonesia Human Rights Network
1101 Pennsylvania Ave. SE
Washington, DC 20003
Phone: 202-544-1211
Fax: 202-544-6118

Arms Trade Resource Center
66 Fifth Avenue, 9th floor
New York, NY 10011
Phone: 212-229-5808 ext. 112
Fax: 212-229-5579

East Timor Action Network
P.O. Box 15774
Washington, DC 20003-0774
Phone: 202-544-6911
Fax: 202-544-6118

Human Rights Watch
Indonesia: Transition and Regional Conflict
350 Fifth Avenue, 34th floor
New York, NY 10118
Phone: 212-290-4700
Fax: 212-736-1300

International Crisis Group
Indonesia Project
400 Madison Avenue, Suite 11C
New York, New York 10017
Phone: 212-813-0820
Fax: 212-813-0825

International Labor Rights Fund
Sued ExxonMobil for abuses in Aceh
733 15th St., NW #920
Washington, DC 20005
Phone: (202) 347-4100
Fax: (202) 347-4885

Trifungsi: The Role of the Indonesian Military in Business,
a paper by Lesley McCulloch of the Bonn International Center for Conversion, October 2000

Risky Business: The Grasberg Gold Mine
An Independent Report on PT Freeport from Project Underground, May 1998.


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