Indonesia challenge.(COMMENTARY)

Article excerpt


The United States and Indonesia have spent recent days discussing how they might rebuild their military-to-military relationship that Congress severed in 1999 shortly after Indonesia military officers committed human rights abuses in East Timor.

While the congressional decision to restrict contacts between the two militaries made sense several years ago, it has become increasingly difficult to justify today as evidence mounts that international terrorist networks are active in Indonesia.

Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, is fertile ground for terrorists. This vast archipelago, which is plagued by separatist violence, rampant poverty, piracy, illegal migration, and lawlessness, is a terrorist's haven. al Qaeda may have already established links with Indonesia's radical Islamic groups.

In a country beleaguered by so many problems, there is only one entity that has the capacity to rein in terrorism, and that is the armed forces - which ruled Indonesia for three decades before the fall of legendary strongman Suharto in 1998. The United States will not find a more eager and willing ally in the war against terror than the Indonesian military, which has long lamented its isolation.

Re-establishing military ties with Indonesia does not mean the United States must abandon its demand that the soldiers responsible for atrocities in East Timor be held accountable and brought to justice.

Indeed, the education and training programs that the Indonesia military so desperately wants to resume with the United States have as their cornerstone respect for human rights and rule of law.

One of the cornerstones of U.S. engagement is the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, which promotes the principles of democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law. IMET fosters military professionalism through military education programs, which expose foreign armed forces to the principle of civilian control of the military. According to recent Defense Department testimony to Congress, IMET has contributed to a notable decline in human-rights violations in Guatemala, and helped foster civil-military cooperation in Romania.

Countering terrorism requires that the U.S. accelerate security cooperation but on a bilateral basis. After all, as President Bush stated, "If governments need training or resources to meet this commitment [removing terrorists from their soil], America will help."

Fighting global war on terrorism means the administration and Congress must work together to modify U.S. engagement policy and determine how funds can be used to deal with countries like Indonesia. …