INDONESIA: U.S. RELATIONS WITH THE INDONESIAN MILITARY
CRS Report for Congress
Indonesia: U.S. Relations
With the Indonesian Military
August 10, 1998
Specialist in Asian Affairs
Foreign Affairs and National Defense Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
This CRS Report describes the history and the issues involved in the longstanding
differences between Congress and the executive branch over U.S. policy toward the
Indonesian military (ABRI). The report describes two past episodes when these differences
broke out: the period of Indonesian radicalism under President Sukarno in the early 1960s
and the initial years of the Indonesian military occupation of East Timor in the late 1970s.
It outlines the different views of the Indonesian military between its congressional critics
and executive branch officials who have promoted close U.S. relations with it. The issues
between Congress and the Bush and Clinton Administrations in the 1990s are discussed
within this framework, culminating in American policy toward the ABRI in 1998 as
Indonesia’s economic-political crisis led to the downfall of President Suharto. Specific
issues of the 1990s discussed in the report, including U.S. training of Indonesian military
personnel and U.S. arms sales to Indonesia, likely will come to new legislative attention in
the near future. This report will not be updated. For more from CRS, see the Guide to CRS
Products under “East Asia.”
Indonesia: U.S. Relations With the Indonesian Military
Differences between the U.S. executive branch and Congress over U.S. policies
toward the Indonesian military have persisted since the early 1960s. In the early
1960s, Indonesian policies under President Sukarno, including aggression against
neighboring countries and a political alliance with the Indonesian Communist Party,
led Congress to cut military and economic aid to Indonesia. The Kennedy
Administration opposed this action. In the late 1970s, the policies of the Indonesian
military in East Timor drew criticism from U.S. human rights groups and Members
of Congress, who accused the military of violating the human rights of the people
of East Timor. The Carter Administration, on the other hand, sought to deal with the
issues of East Timor and political prisoners through dialogue with the Indonesian
government and military.
From these episodes until the present, the executive branch has believed that
good relations with the Indonesian military are necessary to promote U.S. strategic
interests, especially U.S. naval access to the Indonesian straits connecting the Pacific
and Indian oceans. Executive branch officials also argue that the United States needs
close contacts with the military in order to influence Indonesia’s political evolution.
Critics in Congress, conversely, argue that the United States should deal with the
Indonesian military on the basis of the day to day actions of the military and should
penalize the military when its actions violate human rights or jeopardize U.S.
interests in other ways. In the 1990s, new differences arose between Congress and
the Bush and Clinton Administration over the Indonesian military’s massacre of
civilians in East Timor in November 1991. Congress pushed for terminating U.S.
military training of Indonesian military personnel and greater limits on arms sales to
Indonesia. The Clinton Administration took an initial cautious approach to the role
of the military in Indonesia’s economic-political crisis of 1998, but reports of new
human rights violations led it take several actions to pressure the military, including
suspension of training exercises. Some Members of Congress had criticized the
Administration for continuing the training.
Background of Congressional-Executive Policy Differences over the Indonesian
Executive Branch View of Military Relations............................2
Views of the Military Relationship by
Executive Branch Critics........................................4
The Tumultuous Military Relationship of the 1990s.......................5
IMET Restoration and F-16 Sale Initiatives.............................7
U.S.-ABRI Relations in the Fall of the Suharto Government................9
Indonesia: U.S. Relations
With the Indonesian Military
Background of Congressional-Executive Policy
Differences over the Indonesian Military
The current policy differences between the Clinton Administration and the
Department of Defense, on the one hand, and some Members of Congress and
human rights groups over U.S. relations with Indonesia’s military are the latest in
a pattern of such disputes since the early 1960s. Two earlier periods stand out:
(1) The early 1960s: Indonesia under the Sukarno regime adopted a foreign
policy of quasi-alliance with China and waged military aggression against Dutch
New Guinea (the western half of the island of New Guinea) and the newly formed
Federation of Malaysia (defended by U.S. allies, Great Britain and Australia).
President Sukarno also built a political alliance with the Indonesian Communist
Party (PKI). By 1965, the PKI was the largest communist party outside of
communist countries, with three million members and 20 million in front
organizations.1 The Indonesian military (known by its Indonesian acronym, ABRI)
acted as Sukarno’s instrument in his aggressive actions, but its relations with the PKI
appeared to be cool.
The Kennedy Administration and Congress disagreed over whether to continue
military aid to Indonesia. Congress cut military aid and economic aid to Indonesia
in 1963, citing Sukarno’s growing radicalism and aggressive acts. The Kennedy
Administration opposed this action.2 After the military took power from Sukarno
after September 1965, the United States gradually normalized relations with the
“New Order” government under General Suharto, who became President in 1967.
(2) The late 1970s: President Suharto ordered the military to invade East Timor
in 1975 after Portugal, East Timor’s colonial master, withdrew and civil war broke
out. Indonesia formally annexed East Timor in 1976. A guerrilla resistance to
Indonesian rule, led by the Fretilin party, soon broke out. The Indonesian
government committed large numbers of troops to East Timor and repressed civil
liberties. Famine developed in East Timor in 1978 and 1979; at least 100,000 out of
1Gardner, Paul F. Shared Hopes, Separate Fears: Fifty Years of U.S.-Indonesian
Relations. Boulder, Westview Press, 1997. P. 173; American University, Foreign Area
Studies. Area Handbook for Indonesia. Washington, U.S. Government Printing Office,
2Gardner, Paul, Shared Hopes, Separate Fear: Fifty Years of U.S.-Indonesian
Relations, p. 172-202; Stebbins, Richard. The United States in World Affairs, 1963. New
York, Council on Foreign Relations, 1964. P. 206.
an estimated population of 650,000 reportedly died.3 Another controversial issue
arose regarding nearly 35,000 political prisoners whom the military had incarcerated
in the 1965-1967 period and were still in custody ten years later.
U.S. human rights groups and critics in Congress accused the ABRI of violating
the rights of the East Timorese people through suppression of civil rights and
physical abuse of political prisoners. They asserted that the U.S. government gave
tacit support to the ABRI’s policies through the extension of military assistance
programs to Indonesia. The Carter Administration responded to the criticism by
initiating discussions with the Indonesian government and the ABRI, seeking
measures to open up East Timor to outside aid and monitoring and a program to
release the 35,000 Indonesian political prisoners.4
Executive Branch View of Military Relations
In these episodes and in the 1990s, the executive branch has argued that U.S.
policy toward the Indonesian military should be based on two considerations:
(1) Strategic: The maritime passages between the Pacific and Indian oceans are
solely or partly Indonesian waters. Thus, the U.S. Seventh Fleet requires Indonesian5
cooperation to move ships between the two oceans in times of crisis. Indonesia has
asserted a legal right to control passage through the straits connecting the two oceans.
The ABRI exercises operational control of the straits. The Pentagon and the ABRI
reportedly negotiated arrangements in the early 1970s for the passage of U.S. surface6
warships and submarines through the Indonesian straits. The contents of the
arrangements have never been disclosed. However, in 1986, President Reagan and
Suharto exchanged letters in which the United States acknowledged Indonesian
sovereignty over the straits and Indonesia pledged to uphold the right of innocent
3Jenkins, David. A New Ordeal for East Timor. Far Eastern Economic Review,
November 16, 1979. P. 25; Kamm, Henry. War-ravaged Timor Struggles Back from Abyss.
New York Times, January 28, 1980. P. A1.
4For a description of these issues, see the following congressional hearings: U.S.
Congress. House. Subcommittees on International Organizations and Asian and Pacific
Affairs. Human Rights in East Timor and the Question on the Use of U.S. Equipment byth
the Indonesian Armed Forces. Hearings. 95 Congress, First Session. Washington, U.S.
Government Printing Office, 1977; and U.S. Congress. House Subcommittee on Asian andth
Pacific Affairs. Famine Relief for East Timor. Hearings. 96 Congress, First Session.
Washington, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1979. See also: Gardner, Shared Hopes,
Separate Fears: Fifty Years of U.S.-Indonesian Relations, p. 284.
5Bateman, Sam. Indonesia’s Archipelagic Sea lanes--pros and cons. Asia-Pacific
Defence Reporter, July-August 1996. P. 15-18; McBeth, John. Water of Strife. Far Eastern
Economic Review, February 29, 1996. P. 30.
6Safeguarding the Strategic Straits. Far Eastern Economic Review, May 20, 1977. P.
71; Awanohara, Susuma and Tasker, Rodney. Indonesia’s Golden Pond. Far Eastern
Economic Review, January 6, 1983. P. 12-15.
passage through the straits under the Law of the Sea.7 Another round of high level
U.S.-Indonesian military negotiations reportedly occurred in 1995 and 1996 over
proposed Indonesian rules regarding foreign naval passage.8
The importance to the Pentagon of U.S. naval passage through the Indonesian
straits grew after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Islamic revolution in
Iran at the end of the 1970s. As a result, the Pentagon formulated a strategy to enable
the United States to fight two wars simultaneously in the Persian Gulf and the
Western Pacific, predicated on the ability to shift U.S. forces between the Indian
Ocean and the Western Pacific.9 These events also created a new factor influencing
Indonesian attitudes toward U.S. naval access: the willingness of Indonesia, as a
predominantly Muslim state, to tolerate U.S. security policy in the Persian Gulf
region. In the 1988 oil tanker flagging crisis in the Persian Gulf and during the 1990-
1991 Persian Gulf conflict, a majority of the U.S. warships deployed to the Gulf
traversed the Indonesian straits into the Indian Ocean.10 In March 1996, one of the
two U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups that the Seventh Fleet deployed near Taiwan
during the Chinese-instigated military tensions passed through the straits from the
Indian Ocean into the South China Sea. When tensions with Iraq rose in early 1998,
the Navy deployed the aircraft carrier, the USS Independence, from Japan through
Indonesian waters to the Persian Gulf.11
(2) The political role of the ABRI: Executive branch officials and many
academic experts on Indonesia have argued that the Indonesian military is the arbiter
of Indonesia’s political system. Only the ABRI, it is argued, can either affect
political change or can thwart change. Thus, this argument goes, the United States
needs close contacts with the military leadership in order to influence Indonesia’s
political evolution and ensure that any significant political change does not affect
U.S. interests adversely. The Kennedy and Johnson Administrations argued these
points during the tumultuous 1962-1965 period in defending continued U.S. military
aid to Indonesia. They viewed the ABRI as the best defense against the PKI and
Sukarno’s radicalism.12 Officials of the Carter Administration and the State
Department preferred a strategy of negotiation with the ABRI over the issues of
7Chanda, Nayan and Holloway, Nigel. Troubled Waters. Far Eastern Economic
Review, November 10, 1988. P. 18.
8McBeth, Water of Strife, p. 30.
9U.S. Congressional Research Service. Naval Forward Deployments and the Size of
the Navy. CRS Report 92-803F. By Ron O’Rourke. November 13, 1992. P. 8, 15;
Sustained Strategy. Washington Times, March 9, 1998. P. A7.
10U.S. Department of Defense. Conduct of the Persian Gulf War. April 1992. P. 45;
Brand, Robert A. Maritime Imperatives in a Changing Scene. Asia-Pacific Defence
Reporter, March 1991. P. 16-17; U.S. Congressional Research Service. Philippines Under
Aquino. CRS Issue Brief 86104. By Larry A. Niksch. June 24, 1992. P. 4.
11USS Independence Departs Persian Gulf. Washington Post, May 25, 1998. P. A19;
Priest, Dana and Havemann, Judith. Second Group of U.S. Ships Sent to Taiwan.
Washington Post, March 11, 1996. P. A4.
12Gardner, Paul. F., Shared Hopes, Separate Fears: Fifty Years of U.S.-Indonesian
Relations, p. 172-202.
access to East Timor and the release of political prisoners.13 In more recent years,
U.S. officials have viewed the Indonesian military as a counterweight to the
emergence of Islamic radicalism in Indonesia.14
Views of the Military Relationship by
Executive Branch Critics
The critics of a cooperative U.S. relationship with the ABRI include human
rights organizations, some academics, and some Members of Congress. They do not
dispute the executive branch’s view of the political power of the Indonesian military.
Their criticism stresses the power and authority of the ABRI in East Timor, Aceh
province, and other situations where violations of human rights occur or reportedly
occur. The Executive Director of Asia Watch referred to “the unchecked power of
the military” in East Timor.15 The critics argue that the United States should base its
policy toward the ABRI on the day to day actions and conduct of the military rather
than on future scenarios of the ABRI’s role in a political crisis. They also contend
that the executive branch gives too much weight to strategic considerations and
inadequate priority to the ABRI’s treatment of East Timorese and Indonesian
Thus, the critics of U.S. military aid in the early 1960s viewed the ABRI as an
instrument of Sukarno’s radicalism and aggression against Indonesia’s neighbors.
Congress cut military and economic aid to Indonesia in 1963.17 After Indonesia’s
invasion of East Timor in 1975, the critics accused the Ford and Carter
Administrations of allowing the ABRI to use U.S. weapons in East Timor, which
Indonesia had received under U.S. military aid programs. In the 1990s, critics
extended these accusations to the ABRI’s actions toward Indonesian political and
labor dissidents and the killing of civilians.18 Such accusations have been
documented in the State Department’s annual human rights reports.
13As an example, see the testimony by U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia, Edward
Masters, in: U.S. Congress. House. Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs, Famineth
Relief for East Timor, Hearings, 96 Congress, p. 20-27.
14U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Foreign Relations. Crisis in East Timor and
U.S. Policy Toward Indonesia. Hearings. 102nd Congress, second session. Washington,
U.S. Government Printing Office, 1992. P. 83. Testimony of Kenneth Quinn, Acting
Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.
15Ibid., p. 23.
16Ibid., p. 2-51.
17Gardner, Shared Hopes, Separate Fears: Fifty Years of U.S.-Indonesian Relations,
p. 181, 198; Stebbins, Richard. The United States in World Affairs, 1963. New York,
Council on Foreign Relations, 1964. P. 206.
18Shorrock, Tim. East Timor Groups Slams US Policy, Not Party Funds. Journal of
Commerce, November 27, 1996. P.A4; Zunes, Stephen. Reassessing America’s Policy
Toward Indonesia. Christian Science Monitor, October 17, 1996. P. 19; Goozner, Merrill.
Indonesia’s Big Crime: Oppressing Workers. Chicago Tribune, November 3, 1996. P. 7.
Critics of the ABRI have argued that, because of its unique political role, the
United States must exert direct pressure on it in order to bring about a change in its
behavior. Indirect influence through cooperative programs will not work, they insist,
and may send the wrong message. Over the years, critics of the executive branch
have proposed penalties on the ABRI. These proposals have included reductions
and/or suspensions in cooperative programs with the Indonesian military. They have
targeted Foreign Military Sales (FMS) financing of U.S. weapons sales to Indonesia
and U.S. military training of Indonesian military personnel. They also have proposed
restrictions on commercial sales of weapons to Indonesia.
The Tumultuous Military Relationship of the 1990s
The differences between the executive branch and Congress over policy toward
Indonesia reached new heights in the 1990s. In the wake of the Persian Gulf War and
the expulsion of the United States from military bases in the Philippines in 1992, the
Pentagon sought closer relations with Indonesia. The Navy negotiated with the
Indonesian government in 1992 to gain access to ship repair facilities at Surabaya,
a port city on Java.19 This initiative collided with the congressional reaction to the
Indonesian military’s massacre of civilian demonstrators in Dili, the capital of East
Timor, in November 1991.20 Representatives of the U.S. human rights community
called for the United States to terminate the ABRI’s participation in the U.S.
International Military Education Training program (IMET). Under the IMET
program, the U.S. executive branch had allocated over $2 million annually for
Indonesian officers to attend U.S. military training schools. Representatives of Asia
Watch argued that a termination of the program for Indonesia would put pressure on
the Indonesian government and military to provide a full accounting of the Dili21
killings and punish military personnel responsible. Congress legislated a
termination of funding for Indonesian participation in the IMET program in 1992
(P.L. 102-391, foreign operations appropriations for fiscal year 1993, approved in
The Bush Administration opposed the ban on IMET funding for Indonesia. The
Administration criticized the killings. The Administration called for the Indonesian
government to investigate and inflict "appropriate punishments" on individuals22
responsible for the massacre and "to ensure that no such incident recurs." On the
other hand, U.S. officials stressed that the killings were not part of a deliberate policy
of the Suharto administration. (This assertion constituted a significant difference in
views between the Administration and its critics; the critics argued that the Dili
19Richardson, Michael. Indonesia Opens Commercial Door to US. Asia-Pacific
Defence Reporter, October-November 1992. P. 35.
20For background on what has been called the Santa Cruz massacre, see: Indonesian-
U.S. Relations and the Impact of the East Timor Issue. CRS Report 92-983F. By Larry
Niksch. December 1992.
21U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Foreign Relations, Crisis in East Timor and
U.S. Policy Toward Indonesia, p. 29.
22Ibid., p. 80-81.
massacre was part of a pattern of human rights abuses by the ABRI in a number of
regions of Indonesia.) These officials argued that the IMET program was a means
of influencing the Indonesian military and exposing it to U.S. views of human rights.
They warned that a termination would undercut moves by President Suharto and the
Indonesian government to investigate the killings.23 The Administration stressed the
broad range of U.S. interests in Indonesia, arguing that "our engagement with
Indonesia needs to be sustained, not hindered."24
The Bush Administration’s arguments were partially undercut by the actions of
Indonesian courts and military tribunals that investigated the massacre. President
Suharto established an investigating commission, which issued an interim report in
late December 1991. The commission disputed the ABRI’s claim of 19 killed, saying
that the death toll was at least 50. It concluded that military units, though provoked,
had used excessive force. The commission called for the prosecution of people who
violated the law. President Suharto subsequently replaced the two senior
commanders with responsibility for East Timor and ordered the creation of tribunals
to try military personnel. However, the tribunals handed out more severe sentences
to Timorese demonstrators than to military personnel. According to figures provided
by the State Department, sentences given to 13 civilians involved in the Dili
demonstrations of November 12, 1991, ranged from six years to life imprisonment.
Sentences of eight military personnel ranged from eight months to 18 months. The
Senate Appropriations Committee stated in its report on foreign aid for fiscal year
The Clinton Administration initially did not oppose the IMET ban. It also
imposed two East Timor-related sanctions against the Indonesian military: a July
1993 veto of a Jordanian sale of U.S.-made F-5 fighters to Indonesia and a
prohibition of U.S. sales of lethal crowd control equipment to Indonesia. However,
the Administration took a more sympathetic position toward military training and
arms sales. The Administration allowed the Indonesian government to finance
Indonesian officers’ participation in the IMET program.26 The Administration
supported the Pentagon’s resort to another program to train the Indonesian military.
Using a Joint Combined Exchange and Training program (J-Cet), specialized U.S.
military units trained Indonesian counterparts like the Kopassus (special forces),
Kostrad (the Indonesian military command for Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital), and
President Suharto’s presidential guard unit.27 The Administration and the Defense
23Congressional Record, June 25, 1992. P. H5247-H5259.
24Ibid., p. 83, 86-87.
25U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Appropriations. Foreign Operations, Export
Financing and Related Program Appropriation Bill, 1993. Report. 102nd Congress, second
session. Washington, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1992. P. 34.
26Wu, Irene. House vs. White House: Clinton Clashes with Congress on Indonesian
Policy. Far Eastern Economic Review, June 30, 1994. P. 18.
27Weiner, Tim. U.S. Training of Indonesian Troops Goes On Despite Ban. New York
Times, March 17, 1998. P. A3; Mann, Jim. U.S. Risking Ties to Indonesian Military. Los
Angeles Times, April 1, 1998. P. A5.
Department reportedly also encouraged Australia to enlarge its training programs for
the Indonesian military.28
The Administration also decided to oppose congressional attempts to restrict
U.S. arms sales to Indonesia. In 1993, the Administration successfully worked
against a proposed amendment in the Senate to the foreign operations appropriations
bill that would have made all U.S. arms sales to Indonesia conditional on a reduction
of the Indonesian military presence in East Timor.29 In 1994, the Administration
opposed attempts in the Senate to bar U.S. military equipment purchased by
Indonesia from being used in East Timor.30
Nevertheless, in August 1994, the 103rd Congress passed H.R. 4426, the Fiscal
year 1995 foreign operations appropriations bill (P.L. 103-306). The legislation
banned the export to Indonesia of light arms and crowd control equipment until the
Secretary of State reports to Congress “significant progress” on human rights in East
Timor and elsewhere in Indonesia. When the 104th Congress convened in 1995, the
Administration acted to prevent a re-enactment of similar legislation. It assured
congressional committees that the Administration would continue to ban such
IMET Restoration and F-16 Sale Initiatives
The start of the 104th Congress triggered two Clinton Administration initiatives
to strengthen relations with the Indonesian. The Administration announced in March
1995 that it would seek a restoration of U.S. funding for Indonesia’s participation in
the IMET program in fiscal year 1996 foreign operations appropriations legislation;
it requested $600,000 for Indonesian military participation. The Defense
Department, especially the Navy, promoted the Administration’s request. Admiral
Richard Macke, Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, and Admiral
William Owens, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with American and
Indonesian journalists in Washington and Jakarta and testified before congressional
committees in order to advocate a resumption of IMET funding. Both of the
Admirals voiced the need for “personal and professional contacts” with Indonesian
officers to enhance future cooperation and U.S. influence. Civilian Administration
officials said that the views of Owens and Macke "reflect the overwhelming view in
the U.S. military" and that the U.S. Military had pressed the Administration to31
propose the IMET renewal.
28Clark, Bruce. Pentagon Strategists Cultivate Defence Ties with Indonesia.
Financial Times, March 23, 1998. P. 4.
29Borsuk, Richard. Proposed Amendment to Link U.S. Arms Sales to Human Rights
Could Hurt Ties With Jakarta. Asian Wall Street Journal Weekly, September 13, 1993. P.
30Wu, Irene. House vs. White House. Far Eastern Economic Review, June 30, 1994.
31Smith, R. Jeffrey. U.S. Officials Exhibit Dichotomy in Policy on Indonesia and
The 104th Congress restored IMET funding but with conditions. Congress
stipulated in H.R. 1868 (P.L. 104-107, the FY 1996 foreign aid appropriations
measure) that Indonesia would receive an Expanded-IMET (E-IMET) that should
address human rights concerns, military justice, and civilian control of the military
and that courses should include individuals from the Indonesian parliament and non-
government groups. On June 11, 1996, the House of Representatives rejected by a
vote of 272 to 149 an amendment to the fiscal year 1997 foreign operations
appropriations bill (H.R. 3540) that would have prohibited IMET funds for
The second Administrative initiative was a proposal to sell F-16 aircraft to
Indonesia. Indonesia made several military purchases from the 1970s into 1990-
16 A-4 fighters in 1981; 12 F-16 fighters in 1986; and 13 shipboard Harpoon missile
systems in 1990. However, after 1991, the Indonesian government shifted purchases
away from the United States to Great Britain, Australia, and Western Europe,
reportedly in reaction to congressional criticisms of U.S. arms sales.32 Purchases
from the United States since then have been spare parts or servicing contracts for the
previously acquired F-16 fighters: technical assistance for F-16s and structural
modifications of the F-16s. Indonesia reportedly is interested in future purchases of
U.S. parts for its C-130 transport aircraft, F-5 fighters, Boeing maritime patrol
aircraft, Bell helicopters, and armored fighting vehicles.33
The origin of the Clinton Administration’s initiative to sell new F-16s to
Indonesia lay in the aborted sale of 28 F-16 aircraft to Pakistan. The collapse of the
deal with Pakistan led the Administration to seek other countries to purchase the
aircraft. Presidents Clinton and Suharto reportedly discussed an F-16 sale at their
October 1995 White House meeting. The United States and Indonesia reached an
agreement by the summer of 1996 for Indonesia to buy nine of the fighters.
However, in late July 1996, an anti-government riot took place in Jakarta, Indonesia’s
capital, following a government-orchestrated ouster of the leader of the Indonesian
Democratic Party (PDI), one of Indonesia’s two non-government political parties.
ABRI officials played a role in the government manipulations. Indonesian authorities
responded to the riot by arresting a number of PDI officials and leaders of dissident
organizations.34 The Clinton Administration protested the arrests and began a review
of the F-16 sale, reportedly amidst divided opinions over whether to proceed with the
Human Rights. Washington Post, March 18, 1995. P. A23; Bertha, Annie. With or Without
the IMET Program. Suara Pembaruan (Jakarta), April 5, 1995. P.1; The Deputy Chief of
the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Optimistic over Resumption of IMET Assistance. Suara
Pembaruan, September 20, 1995. P. 1.
32Indonesia: Market Overview. Foreign Military Markets: Asia and Pacific Rim.
November 1997. P. 2.
33Ibid., p. 1.
34For background on the Jakarta riot and the government’s response, see McBeth, John
and Cohen, Margot. Streets of Fire. Far Eastern Economic, August 8, 1996; p. 14-15; and
McBeth, John. Hunting Season. Far Eastern Economic Review, August 15, 1996. P. 14-15.
sale.35 The Administration announced in September 1996 a postponement of the sale,
citing congressional objections because of the Indonesian government’s crackdown
on dissenters. Administration officials indicated that they would proceed with the
deal, including notification of Congress, in early 1997. However, by June 1997 no
action had been taken.
On June 6, 1997, the Indonesian government announced that it was canceling
the F-16 purchase and that the Indonesian military would cease participation in the
IMET program. President Suharto stated in a letter to President Clinton that his
decision was based on the “wholly unjustified criticisms in the United States
Congress against Indonesia. . . .”36
U.S.-ABRI Relations in the Fall of the Suharto
The Indonesian financial crisis of 1997-1998, which led to President Suharto’s
resignation on May 21, 1998, brought U.S. attention to the ABRI in two respects.
The first was the traditional human rights issue of how the military would deal with
critics of the government and protestors. The second was how the ABRI would
respond to mounting pressure for political reforms that emerged from economic
hardships. The Clinton Administration took a cautious approach at first. It
concentrated decision making in a special White House task force.37 It stressed
economic reform issues in its dealings with the Suharto government. U.S. missions
to Indonesia in early 1998 avoided raising the political reform issue. Secretary of
Defense William Cohen visited Indonesia in January 1998. He reportedly
emphasized the need to strengthen security cooperation with the Indonesian
government and expand U.S. military ties with the ABRI, including a resumption of
Indonesian participation in the IMET program. He apparently did not raise the
political reform issue or the ABRI’s role in dealing with the emerging social
By April 1998, the ABRI’s treatment of civilian dissenters prompted the
Administration to broaden its strategy. Reports of disappearances of dissenters and
the reports of involvement in the disappearances by Indonesia’s Special Forces
(Kopassus) drew U.S. attention. Kopassus, commanded by Suharto’s son-in-law, Lt.
General Prabowo Subianto, had participated in several of the U.S. C Jet training
exercises. Moreover, ABRI units in Jakarta and other cities were confronting a
35Erlanger, Steven. U.S. May Halt Sale of Jets to Indonesia. New York Times, August
21, 1996. P. A7
36Richburg, Keith B. Indonesia Drops Plans to Buy U.S.-F-16s. Washington Post,
June 6, 1997. P. A1.
37Mann, Jim. U.S. Backs Suharto Despite Calls for Reform. Los Angeles Times,
March 1, 1998. P. A1.
38Myers, Steven Lee. As Asia’s Economic Turmoil Deepens, Pentagon Chief
Reassures Indonesia. New York Times, January 15, 1998. P. D8; Radio Jakarta, January 14,
mounting campaign of student protests, which demanded President Suharto’s
resignation. Megawati Sukarnoputri, one of Indonesia’s opposition leaders,
complained of U.S. military training in a letter to President Clinton.39 Assistant
Secretary of State Stanley Roth pressed the Indonesian government on the
disappearances when he visited Jakarta in April 1998; he urged the government to
deal with student demonstrations "with restraint." State Department officials in
Washington and U.S. Embassy officials in Jakarta reportedly made similar
representations to Indonesian counterparts and to General Wiranto, the ABRI
Commander-in-Chief.40 U.S. officials said their overtures resulted in the release in
late April of some of those who had disappeared.41 However, key Members of
Congress criticized the Administration for the continuing training of ABRI units. In
early May 1998 canceled a scheduled joint training exercise with Indonesian
Until May 12, 1998, the ABRI had avoided the use of violence against mounting
anti-Suharto protests led by college students. General Wiranto had endorsed
proposals for political reforms. On that day, however, security forces fired at
students at Trisakti University, killing six. The Clinton Administration’s immediate
response was to organize a high level military delegation to Jakarta to appeal to the
ABRI not to use violence against civilians. Administration officials said the planned
mission had “no political agenda” related to the status of President Suharto.42 The
mission was canceled on May 14, however, after massive rioting erupted in Jakarta,
creating dangerous conditions for foreigners.
Department of Defense officials continued to stress the need for contacts with
the ABRI, and Administration officials generally voiced this theme after President
Suharto resigned on May 21. The New York Times (May 22, 1998) quoted a "senior
Administration official" as indicating little confidence in Indonesia’s new President,
B.J. Habibie, and asserting that the Administration now would have a political
agenda with the ABRI: "We want to encourage the military commanders to move
toward democracy, toward new elections as soon as feasible. At this point we don’t
know these guys well and we don’t know if they’ll listen. But they are our best
In interviews after Suharto’s resignation, Lt General Susito Bambang
Yudhoyono, the ABRI’s chief of socio-political affairs, outlined the military
command’s thinking on political change. Yudhoyono, who received U.S. training
during his career, advocated early elections after a change in elections laws and said
39Mann, U.S. Risking Ties to Indonesian Military, p. A5.
40Robinson, Gwen. Student Protests Gain Momentum in Indonesia. Financial Times,
April 18-19, 1998. P. 3; Robinson, Gwen. Beijing Offers Jakarta $200m Aid. Financial
Times, April 14, 1998. P. 3; Cohen, Margot. The Vanishings. Far Eastern Economic
Review, May 7, 1998. P. 24.
41Blustein, Paul. U.S. Urges Suharto to Show Restraint. Washington Post, May 2,
42Shenon, Philip. U.S. to Appeal to Indonesia to Stop Crackdown. New York Times,
May 14, 1998. P. A6.
that the ABRI would be willing to reduce its overt political role (but apparently not
give it up entirely). He cautioned against a proliferation of political parties, which
he said, had produced in the past religious and ethnic "passions and hostilities." He
said that "the government, the parliament, and the armed forces” would “reach a new
consensus on how many parties are acceptable in the near term." General
Yudhoyono asserted that "we can talk about a new status for East Timor. . .based on
history, based on culture, based on the actual needs of the East Timorese people."43
However, prospects for future U.S.-Indonesian military relations have been
affected negatively by the demands in Indonesia for investigations of human rights
abuses allegedly committed by the ABRI in the weeks leading up to Suharto’s
resignation. The demands, from the press and elements of the public, focus on three
incidents. The kidnapings of over 20 political dissidents, mainly in March and April
1998; the killings of four students at Trisakti University on May 12, 1998; and the
rioting of May 14-15, 1998 in Jakarta and other cities, during which scores of women
were raped and property were destroyed by organized gangs of men. Another
complication arose in July 1998 when mass graves were uncovered in Aceh province
in northern Sumatra, raising another issue of possible abuses by the military. General
Wiranto has said that the ABRI high command did not order military units to commit
human rights abuses in the cases of the kidnapings, the Trisakti killings, and the riots.
However, public suspicions have focused on units commanded by Lt. General
Prabowo Subianto, Suharto’s son-in-law. Wiranto removed Prabowo from his
command of security units covering Jakarta following Suharto’s resignation. In July
1998, the ABRI high command announced a finding that members of Kopassus, the
Special Forces (also commanded by Prabowo), were involved in the kidnapings.
Seven Kopassus members were arrested. On August 3, 1998, the ABRI command
announced that an Officers’ Honorary Council would investigage General Prabowo’s
role in the incidents. President Habibie has created a task force to investigate the
rapes, many of which were committed against ethnic Chinese women.44
Secretary of Defense Cohen alluded to these allegations when he visited Jakarta
in early August 1998. Cohen stated that the Defense Department wanted to resume
cooperative programs with the ABRI “in the coming months,” and he praised the
Indonesian withdrawal of 1,000 troops from East Timor. However, he also stressed
the need for a credible Indonesian government investigation of the alleged human
43Richburg, Keith B. Indonesian Army in Political Retreat. Washington Post, June
Christian Science Monitor, May 28, 1998. P. 1.
44Mydans, Seth. New Threats Reported as Rapes in Indonesia Are Investigated. New
York Times, July 20, 1998. P. A9; McBeth, John. Shadow Plan. Far Eastern Economic
Review, July 23, 1998. P. 23-27.
45Shiner, Cindy. Cohen “Encouraged” by Indonesia but Pressed Human Rights Issue.
Washington Post, August 2, 1998. P. A32; Shenon, Philip. U.S. Officials, in Indonesia,
Warn Rulers to Respect Rights. New York Times, August 2, 1998. P. 3.