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Pilots of the Dutch colonial air force. After the Dutch retreat from Java in 1942, these pilots received training and aircraft from the United States.
Courtesy Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

The Dutch colonial period (1602-1949), the Japanese occupation (1942-45) during World War II (1939-45), and the National Revolution (1945-49) provided a diversified experience from which the Indonesian armed forces evolved. During the colonial period, until the expulsion of the Dutch during the Japanese conquest of Indonesia in 1942, a small number of Indonesians, virtually all in the enlisted ranks, were recruited into the Royal Netherlands Indies Army (KNIL). Subsequently, the Japanese occupation forces recruited Indonesians for use as auxiliaries (heiho), supply and support personnel attached to the Japanese army and frequently sent to the front in the Pacific, the Philippines, and other war zones. In 1943 the deteriorating military situation led the occupation authorities to organize a native militia, the volunteer army called Defenders of the Fatherland (Peta). Some 37,000 Peta enlisted personnel and officers were given training in combat tactics and, along with the heiho and some KNIL personnel, provided the emergent Indonesian state in 1945 with a ready source of trained military personnel. This force was supplemented by large numbers of youths having experience in various paramilitary youth corps organized by the Japanese to mobilize the population and to provide a recruiting base for Peta.

These elements became the nucleus of the nation's embryonic military organization, the People's Security Forces (BKR), which was formed on October 5, 1945, after the proclamation of independence by the government of revolutionary leader Sukarno in August. From the beginning, the Western ideal of a politically neutral military had few proponents. Many of those who joined the new force, renamed the National Army of Indonesia (TNI) in 1947, were nationalists who sought both military victory and political change for their nation. They were aided in the resistance struggle against the Dutch by several locally based, irregular units that were often politically aligned to dissimilar causes or loyal to prominent local figures.

Experiences during the struggle against the Dutch generally strengthened the military's concern for political involvement. Faced with better trained and better equipped Dutch forces, the Indonesians conducted a guerrilla war in which fighters had to rely heavily on the support of the local population. This tie to the populace formed the basis for the military ideology of perjuangan--the struggle--which stressed that the military must rely on the people for support against both external threats and internal divisiveness, and which is at the core of modern Indonesian military thought.

In many areas, military commanders came to exercise wide powers in both civilian and military affairs. Under these circumstances, many armed forces personnel came to believe that the military had at least as much right as--and perhaps more ability than--the civilian leadership in determining the course of the nation. This experience led directly to the dwifungsi concept of direct involvement in nominally civilian governmental functions. Many members of the military also felt that civilians had made unnecessary concessions to the Dutch in the negotiations over independence in 1949, and they accepted the authority of the civilian government only reluctantly.

During the war for independence, struggles among national political factions surfaced within the military, influencing the character of the armed forces that emerged from the revolutionary period. Conflict between regular army units and irregular doctrinaire Muslim forces as well as separatist units from the Outer Islands (see Glossary) eventually led to a conscious effort to weed out the more militant followers of Islam and separatists from the armed forces. This left the military relatively free of internal conflict, but keenly attuned to the dangers of such destabilizing influences. An attempt by communists to seize power in East Java in September 1948 resulted in much resentment toward the communists. Political and military leaders charged that the armed rebellion--it came to be called the Madiun Affair--had occurred at a time when the Dutch could have taken military advantage of it and had endangered the existence of the republic. The Madiun Affair has been widely credited with eliminating most communists from the army and with instilling in many in the armed services a long-lasting anticommunist orientation.

At the end of the war in 1949, the government had as many as 500,000 armed fighters at its disposal. These men served primarily in the TNI--which also included rudimentary air and naval elements--but some were attached to guerrilla bands and irregular forces under the control of local leaders. Widespread demobilization reduced this number to 200,000 by 1950, however, when the armed forces were given their official designation as the Armed Forces of the Republic of Indonesia (ABRI). A large majority of these personnel were poorly trained and undisciplined. The first priority of the military leadership, therefore, was to form some semblance of a united, structured military out of these disparate elements and to establish central control over them. Progress was made in this direction under the leadership of General Abdul Haris Nasution, army chief of staff. Nasution, a native of Sumatra, had served in KNIL before joining the republican army in 1946. Within two years, Nasution had risen to deputy commander and chief of operations. He was a key person in making plans for "rationalizing" the armed forces, a move to establish better administrative control by confirming the army, the navy, and the air force as separate services. Operational units in all three services were reorganized in accordance with organizational tables borrowed from Western armed forces, and formal training was instituted. Similar changes were made in the structure of the national police.

The efforts of the military leadership under Nasution, who was army chief of staff throughout most of the 1950s, to "reorganize and rationalize" the defense establishment quickly met with resistance, however. Several primarily Peta-trained officers feared that the leadership's plans to centralize command, stress "professionalism," and pare even further the size of the military would downgrade their own status. These officers, who strongly opposed the "professional" faction, wanted to maintain regionally decentralized forces, a revolutionary spirit, and a minimum of hierarchy. In their view, a "professional" military meant one strictly attuned to traditional military missions and skills, formed as a primary arm of a strong central government, and kept separate from involvement in the political development of the country. In what became an intra-army struggle, these officers gained the support of some sympathetic members of parliament who demanded that the central army leadership be dismissed and the defense department reorganized. Nasution and his supporters deeply resented the injection of civilian authority into the military domain. They considered the legislature to be meddling in purely army affairs. On October 17, 1952, supporters of the military leadership staged demonstrations in Jakarta to support demands that Sukarno dissolve the legislature. When Sukarno, who cared little for Nasution's scheme, refused to do this and encouraged the faction of the army resisting the reforms, mutinies occurred in several units. By the end of the year, Nasution and several of the most influential members of the "professional" faction were forced to resign.

In the following two years, factionalism in the decentralized army contributed to its increasing politicization. As soon became clear to most officers, factionalism also seriously weakened the military's position relative to the civilian authority. In early 1955, in what one observer of the Indonesian military has called a "watershed" meeting, officers from both factions resolved to support the unity of the army and to heal its internal rifts. Whereas before 1955, politicians had "intervened" in what the military considered to be its internal affairs, after that meeting the military played an increasingly assertive role in civilian matters. Later in 1955, members of both factions joined to reject the appointment by the cabinet of a relatively junior officer to the position of army commander, an action that led to the resignation of the cabinet and eventually to the reappointment of Nasution as army chief of staff, after a three- year period of inactivity.

After 1955 Nasution initiated a series of personnel transfers and instituted several reforms aimed at establishing the army commander as a real authority over local commanders. The internal military crisis that resulted as the military again broke into factions had profound effects on both the military and the nation. Between 1950 and 1958, several opponents of Nasution's policies joined local rebellions in the Outer Islands against the central government, creating conditions that threatened the existence of the nation (see Guided Democracy , ch. 1). These disparate movements, such as the Universal Struggle Charter (Permesta) rebellion in central and western Sumatra and Sulawesi, the separatist movement in northern Sulawesi, the Darul Islam rebellion in Sulawesi, and the establishment of the short-lived Republic of South Maluku (RMS) based in Ambon, could have fatally splintered the young republic had they all not failed. As a result of these revolts, the army continued to maintain a disproportionate troop presence in those regions well into the 1980s.

The army's moves to restore order and to reestablish government control in dissident areas thrust its leadership into successively higher levels of political influence. In March 1957, after the DPR, which had been seated a year earlier, and the cabinet proved unable to cope with the crisis, Sukarno declared martial law throughout the country, assigning the army wide powers over the national administrative apparatus. In December the army was given the additional task of managing newly nationalized Dutch enterprises and agricultural estates, propelling the military into a position of economic influence.

In the period of Sukarno's Guided Democracy (1959-65), the army's position in the government was institutionalized. Vowing that it would neither be a "dead tool of the government" nor assume total control of the nation, the army took what Nasution referred to as the "middle way," working cooperatively with the civilian leadership through its representation in the cabinet, parliament, and the civil service. It became, along with the PKI, Sukarno's "junior partner" in ruling the nation. Its uniformed personnel held positions throughout the country down to the village level, both in the administration of martial law and management of economic enterprises (mostly nationalized former Dutch properties) and in regionally deployed cadre units assigned to mobilize local resistance in the event of a threat to the national security. During this period, Nasution became minister of defense (1959-66) and chief of staff of ABRI (1962-66).

To support the activist foreign policy of this period, especially with regard to the 1962 campaign against Dutch forces in West New Guinea (also called West Irian or Irian Barat, and renamed Irian Jaya--Victorious Irian--in 1972 by Jakarta), and the 1963-66 policy of armed Confrontation (Konfrontasi--see Glossary) with Malaysia, Sukarno rapidly enlarged the armed forces. The buildup most affected the formerly negligible air force and navy, which were greatly expanded and given advanced arms and equipment acquired through military credits from the Soviet Union and allied East European countries. By the mid- 1960s, Indonesia had one of the largest and best equipped armed forces in Southeast Asia.

In the early 1960s, as part of his policy to contain the army's expanding political influence, Sukarno encouraged the air force, navy, and police--the last was designated one of the nation's armed forces in 1960--to act independently of the army. The army leadership viewed the resulting divisions between the services, the growing influence of the PKI in all four, and Sukarno's increasing support for the PKI with considerable alarm. It was also less than sanguine concerning the ability of the country's armed forces to prevail in the Confrontation with Malaysia should Britain intervene on the side of Malaysia, and displayed a reluctance to commit troops to the campaign when the domestic situation appeared unstable. Tension among and within the armed forces increased following proposals by the PKI in early 1965 to place political advisers in each military unit (similar to the Chinese and Soviet systems) and to establish a "fifth force" of armed peasants and workers outside the control of the existing armed services.

The 1965 attempted coup d'état--the September 30 Movement (Gestapu)--by so-called communist sympathizers in the military was the seminal event in the evolution of the modern Indonesian armed forces. The rise to power of General Suharto--to whom Sukarno was obliged to relinquish de facto authority in March 1966 and who was appointed acting president one year later-- completed the process of the unification of the armed forces and the centralization of command begun in 1950. Nasution, who had fostered these changes, unlike many of his senior ABRI colleagues, escaped being murdered during the coup. Along with the unrestrained violence and wave of arrests that followed the coup attempt and led to the eradication of the PKI, widespread purges in all services produced an army leadership unified in purpose as never before. The expansionist military doctrine of the Sukarno era was ended, and national expenditures began to be focused exclusively on national economic development.

An army seminar was held in August 1966 to develop and legitimize the role ABRI should play in Suharto's New Order. Its conclusions, which were disseminated throughout all four services in a second seminar held in November, implicitly rejected Nasution's "middle way" concept of sharing national decision making with civilian authorities. ABRI saw itself as a major institution with a role far greater than that of a military organization. It claimed that it must function also as a social force. These two seminars were credited with revitalization of the military's political role in national development and institutionalization of the dwifungsi concept. By 1969 the armed forces had emerged as the nation's dominant political institution. With the end of confrontational actions against the Dutch and Malaysia that dominated the early 1960s, ABRI's primary mission and focus changed to ensuring internal security and political stability so that political and modern economic development could proceed uninterrupted.

By the late 1970s, defense decision makers realized that emphasis on the civic and internal security missions of the armed forces had allowed the nation's defense capability to deteriorate to an unacceptable level. Serious weaknesses in training and discipline of personnel, in logistics and planning capabilities, and in the equipment inventory were reflected in a mediocre performance against Fretilin guerrillas in East Timor (see The New Order under Suharto , ch. 1).

Communist victories in South Vietnam and Cambodia prompted national authorities to reconsider both the external threat the nation faced and how best to meet it. Consequently, the new minister of defense and security, General Mohammad Jusuf, directed a major upgrading of armed forces military capabilities. This upgrade included increased training and procurement of sufficient equipment and personnel to establish a core of some 100 fully ready combat battalions. Successive ABRI commanders stressed military readiness and training even as economic constraints reduced new equipment purchases. The last major acquisition for the ground forces as of 1992, for example, was the 1981 purchase, through the United States Foreign Military Sales program, of new 105mm towed howitzers. Other new equipment purchased during the late 1970s and early 1980s included F-5 and A-4 fighters for the air force and the purchase of used but still serviceable ships for the navy. The purchase of twelve F-16 aircraft, not delivered until 1989, was designed primarily to keep up with rapidly developing defense technology until the armed forces acquired sufficient capital funds to purchase a new generation of fighter-bombers to replace its aging air force fleet.

Data as of November 1992

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Indonesia Table of Contents