Interview with LTG (Ret) Agus Widjojo, Class of 1994

LTG (Ret) Agus WidjojoLieutenant General (Ret) Agus Widjojo

General Agus Widjojo is the former Vice Chairman (Deputy Speaker) of the National Assembly of the Republic of Indonesia and Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) Chief of Territorial Affairs.  He is regarded as one of the TNI’s leading thinkers. During his appointment as Commandant of the Armed Force’s staff college, the TNI think tank, he was responsible for restructuring the political and security doctrine of the TNI.  Currently, Gen. Agus Widjojo also serves as a member of the Indonesia-Timor Leste Joint Truth and Friendship Commission. He is a Senior Fellow of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Indonesia, and was a Visiting Senior Fellow of the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies in Singapore. He has written numerous articles on security issues in the Asia-Pacific Region.

Q:  I understand there was significant political change occurring in Indonesia in the late 1990s. How did this change come about and how is it reflected in Indonesia today?

A:  The political change started on May 25, 1998, with the resignation of President Soeharto by handing the power over to the Vice President Habibie. The resignation of President Soeharto actually began as a financial crisis in 1997, which developed into a multi-dimensional crisis. The political change implies a systemic transition from an autocratic, authoritarian centralized political system supported by a military through a subjective civilian control, to a democratic, transparent and accountable political system shifting the military to a professional military focusing on the role of national defense through an objective civilian control.

We see Indonesia now as more democratic characterized by better checks and balances and control. Members of The House of Representatives and public officials are all elected info office through direct election by the people. In the past the legislative body consist of elected and appointed member of the coalition of government party, including the military, forms the majority. The military and National Police, which in the past were represented in the legislative by appointed members, now have withdrawn fully from any involvement in politics. New institutions have been established to allow better quality of checks and balances and control, such as the Constitutional Court, the National Commission of Human Right, and the Commission for The Eradication of Corruption. Wider autonomy has been given to the regions, and conflicts have been resolved through peaceful means, such as the termination of the Aceh Issue through the Helsinki Negotiation by the good offices of a third party. The National Police is now an independent institution separated from the Defense Force.  The military is being transformed to move away from internal security and focus on the role of national defense.

Although Indonesia has now experienced 14 years of her transition to democracy, by all means it is far from completion. Indonesia is still in the process to progress from democratic transition into democratic consolidation where ‘democracy is the only game in town’. We still see the unavoidable characteristic of a democratic transition such as the struggle to establish an effective government which is able to deliver its promises and move from procedural democracy to a more substantive democracy. In this transition Indonesia is still in the process to establish an effective function of the rule of law.

Q:  You were a prominent leader of TNI at the time. How did the Armed Forces play a role in the democratic as political changes taking place in your country?

A: To understand the role played by the Indonesian Armed Forces we have to understand first the role and influence of TNI in Indonesian politics before the democratic reform. Before President Suharto resigned in 1998, TNI was playing its role under the Dual Function Doctrine, which stipulated that TNI exist not only as defense and security forces but also as a socio-political force. The function also meant that TNI encompass not only external defense but also internal security. This was reinforced by the structural integration of the Police into the Armed Forces. The extended TNI role was actually a situation Indonesia inherited from the arrangements of the military forces during the struggle for independence in 1945 by adoption of the guerrilla strategy. With this background we can imagine how much influence and political power the TNI had under The Dual Function Doctrine, and subjective civilian (Presidential) control over the military.

Efforts and discourse to enhance TNI professionalism had begun since the early 1990s, exploring the role of TNI in a more educated and open society. By that, some TNI officers who had been educated in professional military educations and saw the trend of global democratization were ahead in the process to prepare TNI to be a professional military in the context of a democratic political system. When President Soeharto resigned as a result of the multi-dimensional crisis and was abandoned by his cabinet ministers, politicians were caught by surprise by de-facto vacuum of power.  They consolidated themselves to react to the surprise political change. It was then agreed that the democratic transition had to start by amending the 1945 Constitution, which was perceived to be the foundation of the practice of President Soeharto’s authoritarian and centralized administration.

It was during those years of de-facto absence of effective civilian control over the military that the military, rather than involving itself and taking over political power, initiated its own reform, hence it is known as TNI Internal Reform. Basically the TNI Internal Reform was the transformation of a freedom fighter’s army designated from the struggle for the Indonesian Independence in 1945 into a professional military focusing on the constitutional role and authority of national defense under civilian supremacy in a democratic political system. The yardstick of TNI’s role in the democratic and political changes was based on the principle TNI would leave the democratic transition process to the civilian politician, and that the less TNI involved itself in the democratic and political transition the more TNI contributed to the democratic and political transition.

From 1998 to 2004, TNI was able to accomplish the most important reforms, although it was not able to complete the entire process then. These changes included, amongst other, the separation of the National Police form the structure of the Armed Forces, the termination of the Dual Function Doctrine, meaning the withdrawal from TNI’s socio-political role; disbanding the National Police and military representative function in the central and regional parliament, withdrawal of active duty military officers occupying civilian position, termination of TNI’s involvement in supporting the Functional Group (Golongan Karya) as the government’s single majority ruling party, and other partisan politics. TNI also contributed to the legislation of new defense bill stopping away the characteristics of the Dual Function, and containing new terminologies and concepts of a professional military in a democratic political system. The 6-year span of time period seemed insufficient to complete the transition, but at least the most fundamental role and authorities have been changed to transform the extended role of TNI practically as the guardian of the nation into a professional military, under objective civilian control. It was not after the 2004 general election that the civilian political authority was fully consolidated.

Q:  I understand you have also been involved in the Indonesia-Timor Leste Commission of Truth and Friendship. What is the purpose of this commission and how have its result been seen in Java regions?

A:  The Commission of Truth and Friendship Indonesia-Timor Leste (CTF) is a commission established jointly as agreed upon by the government of The Republic of Indonesia and The Democratic Republic of Timor Leste, to look into one of the important residual issues related to the reported violations of human rights in 1999 in Timor Leste. The CTF constitutes a new and unique experience whereby two countries, with a shared history, agree with courage and vision to look at the past as a lesson and embrace the future with optimism. The CTF has the objective to establish the conclusive truth in regard to the events prior to and immediately after the popular consultation in 1999, while further promoting reconciliation and friendship, and ensuring the non-recurrence of similar events. Essentially CTF was the first of such commission to be established between two countries.

Although friendly bilateral relation between the two countries have been established since the inception of the independent and sovereign state of The Democratic Republic of Timor Leste, the findings and recommendations of CTF have enhanced and promoted the friendship between the two peoples and countries. Practically all obstacles to peace have been removed as a result of reintegration on both sides of the society.

The model of CTF is also seen to provide an alternative for a peaceful solution to past violent conflict, whether at an international or national level. Indonesia and Timor Leste have established various institutions to the implementing agency of cooperation in various aspects. The two states also have established cooperation in their bilateral relations, including implementation of CTF recommendations to include joint border patrol, family reunion and reparations to victims of violence as a result of past conflict.

Q:  In your estimation, what are enduring threats in Southeast Asia to peace and stability, and what can be done?

A:  I define Southeast Asia in the scope of those member states of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) comprising of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, and Myanmar. Although non-territorial threats are becoming more common, states should not dismiss the possibility of major conflicts between states. We should not undermine major flashpoints outside Southeast Asia such as the nuclear issue of North Korea, which may have ramifications in the security of Southeast Asia. Other sources of conventional conflicts may be found in the various issues of overlapping territorial claims, whether outside Southeast Asia between Republic of Korea and Japan, and between China and Japan, or within the region of Southeast Asia itself in the South China Sea, involving China, Vietnam and the Philippines.

These conventional threats may in turn have implication to spill over into other dimensions of security. Amongst these are the guarantees for safe passage, which may pass conflict area such as the South China Sea, or posing as an objective in itself such as the security of the Malacca Strait, as the security of the Indian Ocean especially there adjacent to the control areas of Somalia.

The process of expanding the concept of traditional security into a concept of human security also adds to the complication of defining what threats are. It can make the boundary between benign situation and open conflict become blurred. Such non-territorial and non-state but transnational security threats can take the form of illegal migration, piracy, drug and people trafficking, and terrorism.

Internal instability in certain nations can also develop into regional ramification. Finally, in the long term, we should not undermine to competition for access to strategic natural resources. The competition could in turn form as a fatal attraction in the wake of a weak regional checks and balances of the international system. Due to the transnational and non-state nature of many of the threats we face, it will not be sufficient for a state to respond to these threats by its own natural capacity. Multilateral security forums and arrangement should be developed in the regions as well as a network of bilateral defense and security relationship.

A destabilizing strategic competition between major powers in the region should be avoided, to develop a security environment in which the region’s economic development can proceed unhindered by threats to trade.

An international system, especially through the United Nations in cooperation with various regional institutions such as ASEAN, should be made effective. The United States with its unique strategic influence can still play a constructive balancing role in the region as part of the role that supports a generally stable global strategic environment. The challenge to a more stable future is to draw as many states as possible to be a constructive and contributive member of the International System, through the building blocks of regional sub-systems.

Q:  How has the education you received at NDU helped you in our career?

A:  The value of the education I received at NDU to my career can be divided into three broad categories. There are first those courses which has introduced me into process of strategic thinking. These courses have made me confident in carrying out my tasks at the Strategic level by familiarizing myself with the nature of strategic thoughts, and policy-making processes at the strategic level. Second, were The Courses of the Foundation of National Security Strategy that were very useful when I have to deal with those tasks related to the formulation and implementation of national security strategy.  And third, are the courses related to the conduct of the function of national defense in a democratic political setting.