Indonesia's new president, Megawati Sukarnoputri,
finds herself between a rock and a hard place in the aftermath of the
September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Megawati was the first Muslim leader to travel to the White House and
pledge her support to President George W. Bush's war against terrorism.
As the leader of the world's largest Muslim nation, her visit allowed
Bush to deftly counter criticism that the new war on terrorism was a
thinly veiled war on Islam. President Megawati condemned the attacks as
"barbaric and indiscriminate" and "pledged to cooperate with the
international community in combating terrorism."
President Bush promised Megawati more than $700 million in economic
aid, including money for police training and civilian courses in
defense. He also expressed his desire to resume regular military
contact, and lift the embargo on the sale of "non-lethal" weapons to
Indonesia. This was the beginning of a valuable new partnership between
the two nations.
Megawati's support for the U.S.-led bombing of Afghanistan has led to
violent protests in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta and elsewhere in
the nation. She is now faced with the conundrum of choosing between
friendship with the United States and stability in her country.
Her alliance with the United States has already borne fruit in the form
of new economic and military aid. But, in a speech on Monday October
15th, Megawati condemned the military strikes against Afghanistan with
strong words, speaking to the anti-American protestors in the streets of
Jakarta, engaged in the familiar dance of violence, tear gas and
beatings with the police.
But the problem is Washington's tactic of using military and economic
aid as an inducement to join the war against terrorism. As President
George W. Bush builds an international coalition to fight terrorism, he
is in danger of arming and training some of the Pacific region's worst
tools of terror- namely the Indonesian military.
Bush's promise of new military and economic aid also threatens to
reverse years of work to curb human rights abuses by the Indonesian
military. In the past few years, Congress and the American public,
repeatedly horrified at how U.S. weapons and military training have been
wielded against the Indonesian people, moved to impose a series of
controls that have amounted to an almost complete embargo in the last
few years. Restoration of aid is conditioned on the Indonesian
military's progress in purging human rights abusers from its ranks,
ending impunity and respecting civilian authority. President Bush's
offer of police training and "non-lethal" weapons are the first steps
towards reversing years of important work.
The Bush administration views the Indonesian military as central to
regional economic and political stability and an essential ally in the
fight against terrorism. But, as the 17,000-island archipelago bends to
the point of breaking beneath the weight of numerous conflicts, severe
financial crisis, political volatility and violence in the streets,
stability is hard to find and terror is rampant.
Frida Berrigan is a Research Associate at the Arms Trade Resource
Center of the World Policy Institute. She is the author of a new report,
INDONESIA AT THE CROSSROADS: U.S. WEAPONS SALES AND MILITARY TRAINING on
the web at www.worldpolicy.org/projects/arms/reports/indo101001.htm