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Indonesia: National Security
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security


The armed forces of the Republic of Indonesia (ABRI; for this and other acronyms, see table A) play a role in national society that is perhaps unique in the world. The military establishment in the early 1990s was involved in many affairs of state that elsewhere were not normally associated with military forces and acknowledged as the dominant political institution in the country. Yet, in comparison with countries with a similar background and state of national development, ABRI has been cautious in its exercise of power. Indonesia since the mid-1960s has been truly a nation with military personnel in government, not a nation with a military government. The difference is crucial to understanding the role of the armed forces in Indonesia in the 1990s.

The armed forces establishment, led by the dominant branch, the army, has been the country's premier institution since 1966 when, in its own view, it answered the summons of the people and moved to the center stage of national life. Comprising the three military services and the police, the armed forces operated according to dwifungsi, or dual function, a doctrine of their own evolution, under which they undertook a double role as both defenders of the nation and as a social-political force in national development. In the role of defenders of the nation, the armed forces performed those traditional national defense duties common to most nations. The unique element of dwifungsi is the military's second role as a social-political force. This very broad charter formed the basis by which military personnel were assigned throughout the government to posts traditionally filled in other countries by civil servants or politically appointed civilians. Most prevalent of these assignments for active-duty and retired military officers were as provincial governors, district heads, legislative members, numerous functionaries within civilian governmental departments, and as ambassadors abroad.

However, the government cannot properly be characterized as military in nature. Not all top national, provincial, regional, and district jobs are held by the military and the number of military personnel assigned to dwifungsi civilian positions at all levels of the government was probably fewer than 5,000 officers in 1992 and had declined throughout the 1980s and 1990s. In 1992, approximately half of the country's district heads (bupati) and one-third of the twenty-seven provincial or region governors were military officers. Still, under the dwifungsi doctrine, legitimizing its performance of both military and nonmilitary missions, ABRI became a dominant factor in the political life of the country and has acted as a major executive agent of government policies, with which it has been in firm agreement.

The close personal relationship between President Suharto, who served constitutionally as the supreme commander of the armed forces, and ABRI dominated leadership dynamics at the beginning of Suharto's New Order government in 1967. By the 1990s, the personal tie between Suharto and his generals had diminished somewhat as a result of the growing age gap between them and an increasing desire on the part of the new armed forces leadership to resist a personal tie to the presidential office. Nevertheless, the tie between the president and the military leadership remained close in 1992, and the armed forces remained loyal to the institution of the presidency and to Suharto and his policies as he prepared to enter a sixth five-year term of office in 1993.

Since the beginning of Suharto's rise to power in 1965, the armed forces have accepted and supported the foundation of his regime, namely, the belief that economic and social development was the nation's first priority and that social and political stability was absolutely essential if that goal were to be achieved. The primary mission of the armed forces has therefore been to maintain internal stability. They have been eminently successful in this regard, leading the nation out of a period of political and social upheaval in the mid-1960s into a period of relatively long-lasting domestic order and unprecedented economic growth, with an increasingly diversified economy that must maintain a growth rate sufficient to absorb a large annual increase in the work force (estimated in 1992 to be approximately 2.4 million new workers each year).

Because the Suharto government viewed national and regional stability as essential to maintaining the pace of national development, the maintenance of internal security was considered an integral part of national defense itself. Indonesian doctrine considers national defense within the broader context of "national resilience," a concept that stresses the importance of the ideological, political, economic, social, and military strength of the nation. Like dwifungsi, this concept has also legitimized activities of the armed forces in areas not ordinarily considered belonging to the military sphere.

The absence of a perceived external threat since the mid1970s in Southeast Asia has been widely credited with allowing Indonesia to concentrate on its internal defense and national development priorities. Although the internal security mission has always been paramount, by the late 1970s greater attention began to be paid to development of a credible conventional defense capability against potential foreign threats. This defense capability had previously been neglected under Suharto for both economic and doctrinal reasons and because the nation had not faced a serious external threat. Neglect of a conventional defense capability resulted in deteriorated equipment throughout the armed forces and raised doubts about the military's capability to confront either a foreign or a severe domestic threat. Under then ABRI Commander General Mohammad Jusuf, the armed forces initiated extensive retraining and reorganization programs that culminated in a major reorganization of the armed forces in 1985. Since then, the armed forces have gradually upgraded their military capability, particularly that of the navy and the air force. Both had been seriously weakened by national spending priorities that -- with the full support of the armed forces -- continued to stress economic development and relegated defense spending to a much lower priority than found in most developing nations. Although the world's fourth most populous nation, Indonesia in the late 1980s ranked only 48th in total military expenditures and, at about US$8 per capita, 115th in per capita military expenditures. The low priority given to defense spending continued into the early 1990s. In 1991, with its large population, Indonesia fielded only 1.5 military personnel per 1,000 inhabitants, ranking it 122d in the world. For comparison, the United States, at nine military personnel per 1,000, ranked forty-second.

Crime and the administration of criminal justice continued to be important issues as the nation entered the 1990s. Although political offenses had always been viewed as threatening the social order and national stability, for the first time the government also came to view the rising rates of ordinary crime in the same manner. Lack of reliable data made it difficult to determine the actual scope of the problem, but it was taken very seriously in official circles. This concern culminated in a covert military action against ordinary criminals in the early 1980s, an action that was officially disclosed only in Suharto's 1989 autobiography.

A long-promised revision of the law governing criminal procedure was passed after much debate in late 1981. All concerned agreed that it represented a considerable improvement over the old code, which dated from the Dutch colonial era Provisions excluding the law's application over economic and political offenses, however, raised some criticism from those who wished to bring under regular legal constraints the activities of the internal security organization that often dealt with these offenses.

Data as of November 1992

Last Updated: November 1992

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Indonesia was first published in 1993. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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