Joko Widodo with the army dudes (Japan Times)

The Conundrum of Compulsory State Defence Education

Wait, so we’re all gonna be conscripts? Hold that thought.

Amidst the talk of Indonesia becoming a Southeast Asian global maritime axis, there seems to be other measures directed towards increasing the nation’s overall resilience level. On October 13, 2015, Indonesian Defence Minister, Ryamizard Ryacudu, announced an initiative aimed towards young people. The initiative would make state defense education “mandatory” for all citizens, from kindergarten to varsity. It is expected that in ten years, a staggering 100 million Indonesians will have been trained in state defense.

Though details of the initiative remain scarce, an examination of the program and its released details raises several questions regarding the direction of Indonesian defence policy. Surely, there are more important issues than compulsory state defense education for all walks of life in Indonesian society?

The legal basis for compulsory state defence education comes from the Constitution, specifically Article 30 regarding the duties of a citizen in times of military aggression. It is further specified in Law no. 3/2002 regarding National Defence. The law stipulates that Indonesia’s national defence is formulated around a “universal defence” strategy which involves all elements of the nation, including civilians. There are three important aspects, or “components”, to national defence: the main component (includes the armed forces), a reserve component (includes trained civilians), and a support component (includes civilians skilled in supporting both the main and reserve components). To manage these resources, three methods are used: citizenship education, compulsory basic military training, and service in the Armed Forces. The idea of compulsory state defence education is to bolster the reserve component to further strengthen the main component. The end goal is the strengthening of the “universal defence” strategy, making Indonesia ready to face any kind of security threat, both traditional and nontraditional. As further justification for the program, the Defence Minister cites the many security threats that Indonesia faces in an ever-changing international system. Indonesia faces both traditional and nontraditional security threats

To provide a democratic legal umbrella for this move, the legislature is currently discussing a draft bill titled “Management of National Resources for State Defence” (RUU Pengelolaan Sumber Daya Nasional Pertahanan Negara). Details of the bill are scarce as it is still being discussed, and it is planned to be a part of the National Legislation Program (Prolegnas) in 2017.

The announcement caused mixed reactions. There are parties against and for the program. Head of Setara Institute, Hendardi, criticized the program as “irrational” and “non-contextual”. Furthermore, Hendardi criticized the idea as “absurd”, as it fails to address the real roots of the problem, which is the educational system that has failed to create model citizens and the lack of political role models. Director of Imparsial, a non-government organization in human rights, Al Araf, also expressed disagreement regarding the Defence Ministry’s idea, stating that it would be better to focus on strengthening the main component (the Armed Forces) in state defence rather than training civilians. Mufti Makarim, a military observer from the Institute for Defense and Peace Studies (IDPS), is concerned that a military-oriented state defense education would serve to “indoctrinate” civilians to serve the interests of the state.

On the other hand, some were positive of the idea. Tjahjo Kumolo, Home Affairs Minister, compulsory state defense education is “essential” to foster nationalism and strengthen all components of Indonesia’s universal defence strategy. Vice President Jusuf Kalla also expressed agreement regarding the proposed program, as it will help foster “patriots in their respective fields”. A similar argument was proposed by Basuki Tjahja Purnama, governor of Jakarta. However, Basuki also raised concerns regarding the budget for the program. Moreover, Basuki also reminds that the program should be free from coercion; that candidates should only join the program if they do so of their own volition.

In summary, those against the program mainly raise the issue of priorities; that the budget should be allocated towards the strengthening of the Armed Forces as the main component rather than the reserve component; and also the unnecessity of the program; as in, more focus should be given on education as a means for character-building. While those for the program state the urgency of security threats that Indonesia faces and the necessity to strengthen all components of national defence.

While both sides present valid arguments and concerns, compulsory state defence education should not be one of Indonesia’s top priorities at the moment. Let it be clear that I do not deny the existence of potential security threats in Indonesia. Religious extremism, illegal fishing, illegal logging, illicit trade, a potential flashpoint in the South China Sea; these are all legitimate security issues that Indonesia faces. However, compulsory state defence education should not be a top priority in the face of these problems.

A much better response in preparation for the aforementioned security threats would be focusing on the main component as the front line of defense. It is estimated that the Armed Forces will reach the Minimum Essential Force (MEF) in 2024, assuming that there are no changes to defence equipment procurement plans. The Armed Forces urgently require tremendous spending on the modernization of Indonesia’s defence equipment. The Navy requires more naval vessels in the face of Jokowi’s global maritime axis vision and to safeguard Indonesian waters. These conditions should be of more importance than compulsory state defence education.

Instead of immediately implementing the program on all tiers of education, it should be implemented selectively. A military-oriented state defence education program would be more suitably implemented in higher education, or starting from high school, where candidates are already mentally developed and suitable for physical training. As for the younger population, state defence education should be “softer”, in a sense that it involves minimum military-based training and more towards development of nationalistic sentiment. In developed countries, the Armed Forces connect with the people on a regular basis through military parades and other mass activities. These events could be emulated in Indonesia by allowing civilians to understand the work of the Armed Forces by allowing field trips to military bases. Thus, rather than “telling” civilians to develop nationalistic sentiment, it is better to let them develop it on their own through cooptation. Make people actually appreciate the military, then they will gladly support the military.

It could be that compulsory state defence education is what Indonesia needs to develop its human resources and organize its defence strategy. However, it has been untimely announced, causing negative reactions from the public. The details of the bill and budgeting should be made clear first, then transparently conveyed to the public to avoid confusion and speculations. It is possible that this program may be a step towards a more secure Indonesia, but before that, everything needs to get organized first.

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