- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 30, 2002

The United States and Indonesia have spent recent days discussing how they might rebuild their military-to-military relationship that Congress severed in 1999 shortly after Indonesia military officers committed human rights abuses in East Timor.
While the congressional decision to restrict contacts between the two militaries made sense several years ago, it has become increasingly difficult to justify today as evidence mounts that international terrorist networks are active in Indonesia.
Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, is fertile ground for terrorists. This vast archipelago, which is plagued by separatist violence, rampant poverty, piracy, illegal migration, and lawlessness, is a terrorist's haven. al Qaeda may have already established links with Indonesia's radical Islamic groups.
In a country beleaguered by so many problems, there is only one entity that has the capacity to rein in terrorism, and that is the armed forces which ruled Indonesia for three decades before the fall of legendary strongman Suharto in 1998. The United States will not find a more eager and willing ally in the war against terror than the Indonesian military, which has long lamented its isolation.
Re-establishing military ties with Indonesia does not mean the United States must abandon its demand that the soldiers responsible for atrocities in East Timor be held accountable and brought to justice.
Indeed, the education and training programs that the Indonesia military so desperately wants to resume with the United States have as their cornerstone respect for human rights and rule of law.
One of the cornerstones of U.S. engagement is the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, which promotes the principles of democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law. IMET fosters military professionalism through military education programs, which expose foreign armed forces to the principle of civilian control of the military. According to recent Defense Department testimony to Congress, IMET has contributed to a notable decline in human-rights violations in Guatemala, and helped foster civil-military cooperation in Romania.
Countering terrorism requires that the U.S. accelerate security cooperation but on a bilateral basis. After all, as President Bush stated, "If governments need training or resources to meet this commitment [removing terrorists from their soil], America will help."
Fighting global war on terrorism means the administration and Congress must work together to modify U.S. engagement policy and determine how funds can be used to deal with countries like Indonesia. U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz has noted that the key to this decision is to encourage reform of the Indonesian military. In fact, the administration has already expanded some military ties to Indonesia through defense appropriation provisions associated with counterterrorism. The next step should be to allow Indonesian military staff officers to attend professional U.S. military education programs. They have not done so since 1992 and, consequently, the U.S. has lost an opportunity to influence an entire generation of Indonesian staff officers. This approach would plant the seeds for potential reforms, an approach that seemed to have worked elsewhere in the past.
Another approach would be to partner with the International Committee on the Red Cross (ICRC). That is, IMET might be resumed through collaboration with the ICRC program on international humanitarian law and principles to conduct joint education for Indonesian military staff officers in order to prevent or limit violence. The ICRC activities in this area currently focus on working with the Indonesia police, so far successfully. Partnering to coordinate education programs for Indonesian military staff officers would plant another seed that could blossom into potential reforms and accountability. Over time the U.S. may well help the Indonesian military leadership move toward respecting human rights.
As the global war on terrorism expands beyond Afghanistan, it is critical that U.S. engagement policy proactively focus on strengthening security cooperation through programs, like IMET, that provide training in concepts of civilian control of the military, conflict resolution, and sound defense resource management. These are relatively small investments that can yield disproportional benefits for the United States, benefits that often mitigate the need for more costly responses later. Moreover, these programs promote regional stability by supporting democratization and enhancing transparency through mutual understanding as participating countries become more familiar with each others' militaries while working together with the United States.
History has aptly demonstrated that challenges and animosities are seldom overcome when involved parties are not working together. As Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and a strong critic of human-rights abuses in Indonesia, states, "[American] ideals, far more than our military power, are our country's greatest strength." So let's use education programs to promote those values to help reform the Indonesian military and fight terrorism at the same time.

Theophilos C. Gemelas is associate director of studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

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