When General Suharto resigned from the Indonesian presidency last
month, the politics of the armed forces suddenly and fundamentally
changed. Throughout the 32-year history of the New Order, the label
given to Suharto's regime, the president had been firmly in control
of the military.
Many people are puzzled today why, after Suharto resigned and the
political situation has become increasingly chaotic, military
leaders seem not to be taking any initiative. Indeed, they are
tending to let things get worse.
The military's long role as the "military party" subordinate to
Suharto left it too dependent on the president to be able to play a
pioneering role in the birth of the post-Suharto order.
Despite the military's paralysis in the final days of Suharto, it
remains a major, if not the most important, force in Indonesian
politics. And the more divided the civilian forces become - with the
proliferation of new parties - the stronger the relative position of
the military becomes.
There are two possible explanation for military inaction. The
first is based on a conspiracy theory. The second is that the
military after so many years under Suharto's thumb is slowly
how to engage on its own in politics.
Conspiracy theorists believe that the Army is deliberately
allowing conditions to worsen, so that it will have an excuse for
seizing power in the name of security and stability. This
explanation fails to take into account changes in the international
strategic environment after the end of the cold war, plus shifts in
domestic politics caused by 30 years of economic development under
the New Order.
During the cold war, military governments in the developing world
were tolerated by the West, but this is no longer the case.
Domestically, economic development has created a substantial
intelligentsia throughout the country. These critics are relatively
few compared with the Indonesian population of 200 million, but
constituency is world opinion, due to the spread of sophisticated
communications technology. These factors prevent the armed forces
from playing the dominant political role they played in the past.
The lack of aggressiveness of the post-Suharto military is a
direct result of the length of time that the top officers were
controlled and depoliticized by Suharto. During the New Order, the
military's political role - sanctified in armed forces doctrine as
one of their "twin functions" - was performed by Suharto without
involving the officers. …