• SHARE

What Indonesia needs from the United States and the rest of the West is more “carrot” and less “stick.” Devastated by an economic crisis not unlike the Great Depression, its principal requirement right now is leadership.

The endless lectures by foreigners from the International Monetary Fund and repeated World Bank threats about ending “crony capitalism” should be junked. Western embargoes should be undone, United Nations sanctions lifted and positive measures implemented. The world should give Indonesia a sweeping amnesty for its supposed transgressions and allow Jakarta a fresh start.

What is needed is no less than a revolution in the nation’s institutions. At a conference last year, former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger asked in an aside, “Why is it that the U.S. is always left with the role of rebuilding, of picking up the pieces? Where are the Europeans, the Japanese?”

One thing the U.S. could do right away — with Indonesian approval — is to restore military cooperation with the ABRI, Indonesia’s armed forces. This suggestion is bound to evoke protest on the part of those who hold the ABRI responsible for the current situation in East Timor, including a series of appalling abuses earlier this year.

Attempts to reform the military are essential because of the ABRI’s strong role in Indonesian society and the realization that further demonization of the military will only lead to “another Myanmar.” Change has to start somewhere, and the military is an excellent departure point.

The U.S should not cooperate or conduct exercises with the Indonesian special forces or paramilitary units suspected of the abuses.

“It should cooperate,” as Heritage Foundation researcher John T. Dori said recently, “with less-political branches of Indonesia’s military, like the air force and the navy. The U.S. should also praise Indonesian efforts to place the military under greater civilian control.”

One way to promote military reform would be the restoration of the U.S. International Military Education and Training program with Indonesia. This program allows foreign military officers to study in the U.S. and witness firsthand the relationship between the U.S. military and civil society.

Former President Suharto suspended Indonesian participation in the program in June 1997 because of U.S. congressional criticisms of human-rights abuses in East Timor. “Both the Clinton administration and Congress should make clear their interest in resuming this program,” Dori said.

Similar reforms should be pursued in other other areas of society, such as education and management, with the focus of assistance being know-how and butter, not guns.

Strategically speaking, East Timor is a sideshow posing as the main event. Brutal factionalism existed all during the Portuguese era of control, due partly to the Timorese’ Christian background, with incidents fanned by a vocal overseas diaspora.

Indonesia, Portugal and U.N. authorities are trying to set guidelines for an election in July to decide between independence or more autonomy within Indonesia.

Indonesia is important to the security of the U.S., Japan and South Korea. Its many islands sit astride strategic sea lanes connecting the Indian and Pacific Oceans; through them passes 40 percent of the world’s shipping, including 80 percent of Japan’s oil supply and 70 percent of South Korea’s.

Indonesia has been a welcome moderating force in the Islamic world as the world’s most populous Muslim state. As a champion of reforms in its transition to a democratic political system, Indonesia deserves to be rewarded by the U.S., particularly if progress can be made in reducing violence and cutting human-rights abuses.

An invitation for Indonesian President Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie to visit Washington would be appropriate if parliamentary elections set for June 7 go off smoothly. Habibie is at least as worthy a guest as China’s Premier Zhu Rongji, who recently received red-carpet treatment in the U.S. despite China’s shaky record on human rights.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.

SUBSCRIBE NOW