How and why oppose Australian military ties with Indonesia

Fred Feldman ffeldman at
Sun Jul 6 07:58:00 MDT 2003

I want to thank Nick Fredman for his useful comments, and for not
mentioning such things as the idiotic typos (Ache for Aceh, how

I knew that what I had to say -- responding directly to a headline
viewed in passing on the list -- was bound to be said partly in
ignorance.  That's why I considered it a question despite the
argumentative form I gave it.

Of course, we should loudly oppose any Australian military presence in
Indonesia and explain its character and purposes, placing it in the
context of the rising imperialist threats to semicolonial nations.

However I have now read the article, and I think my suspicions that
the political axis was off was basically legitimate.  The article is a
statement by 90 signatories under the headline "Solidarity call to end
military ties with Indonesia."

Here is the part that is most relevant to my argument:

"We are organisations and groups concerned about human rights in
Indonesia and about the adverse impact on human rights of Indonesia's
military relations with other countries. This statement arises out of
our alarm at the complete deterioration of conflict resolution and
military reform efforts in Indonesia and the concurrent rise in the
Indonesian military's lawlessness and brutality.

"Recent developments include:

" the massive military offensive in Aceh following the Indonesian
government's declaration of martial law on May 19, 2003;

" an ongoing military campaign currently underway in the Central
Highlands of Papua;

" the Indonesian military's failure to cooperate with independent
investigations into its suspected involvement in the August 31, 2002,
killing of one Indonesian and two American schoolteachers inside the
Freeport copper-and-gold mining project area in West Papua;

" the military's well-documented assassination of respected and
non-violent community leaders and its perpetration of numerous
massacres in Papua, East Timor and Aceh and its failure to engage
constructively in peace initiatives such as the establishment of Papua
as a Land of Peace;

" military training and funding of violent militias in Aceh and

" [the military's] non-cooperation with Indonesia's ad hoc human
rights court on East Timor;

" draft legislation prepared by the Indonesian military (TNI) that
grants it authority to carry out operations without prior presidential
order; and

" the TNI's continuing resistance to budgetary transparency and
proper civilian oversight of its finances."

The call to end Australian military ties with Indonesia is motivated
not on the imperialist character of the Australian government and the
threat it represents to the oppressed peoples of the region, but on
the character of the Indonesian government and the need for Australia
to take action to assure human rights standards are met.  It is
precisely, as I suggested was possible, a "Human Rights Watch"
approach to demands on the imperialist powers, not an
anti-imperialist, working class internationalist approach.  I do not
think socialists should support such statements today when
sanctimonious crusades against human rights violations in semicolonial
countries (and the violations are most often real, not imaginary) are
a central component of the war drive.

The assumnption is that the Indonesian military is the main source of
the problems in that country and that, with the correctly motivated
interventionist policy, democratic Australian imperialism can be part
of the solution.  I know the Australian comrades don't think this, but
if they publicized this statement, I think they should have commented
on it accordingly.

The statement also declares: "The TNI, which has not needed to defend
Indonesia against an external attack for 40 years, has regularly used
weaponry and combat skills obtained, in part, through foreign training
and military assistance programs against civilians, including
Indonesians, East Timorese, West Papuans, Acehnese and others."

This statement seems to suggest that Indonesia has no need for a
national army since noone is threatening its sovereignty and
independence.  This argument would be better directed at the
Australian government and its military buildup and interventionism
(and I know that Green Left makes such points quite often).

The fact is that Indonesia very much needs an army to defend its
sovereignty and independence, and will need one as long as Australian,
New Zealand, and Japanese imperialism exist in the broad region, and
as long as US and European imperialisms exist in the world.  Of
course, the army they need is not the one they have, but creating that
is the work of a genuine national revolution, not of imperialist
powers under the "pressure" of human rights advocates.

I am going to quote again the sections of my post that Nick responded
to, so that the line of argument will be available in one place:

I want to question a headline I saw recently in
Green Left Weekly.  This was the demand that Australia stop military
aid to Indonesia.  I completely support the fight for national rights
of the people of East Timor, Aceh,  and other small nations.  As Lenin
said early in the century, there can be no real people's revolution in
today's world without uprisings of "small nation" (and I don't think
he meant just oppressed nations like China or India but really small
nations that might experience national oppression at the hands of
larger oppressed nations). How could a real national revolution take
place in Indonesia without such movements, including independence
movements in some cases?

However, I think that, despite intentions to the contrary, a demand
that Australia cease sending arms to Indonesia amounts in the current
world situation to a demand for economic and military sanctions
against the Indonesian government and helps prepare Australian
imperialist actions against the oppressed nation of Indonesia that are
also in preparation today.  I know of course that the arms shipments
serve imperialist interests, not the Indonesian people. It is not a
question of supporting them or calling for them but of not making
demands for economic or military sanctions against Indonesia or
imperialist pressure against Indonesia into a center of our demands on

I think this kind of demand can foster a Human Rights Watch
type approach toward demands on the imperialists, rather than the
working class, anti-imperialist, internationalist approach  that
starts with unconditional defense of the oppressed nations against
their imperialist oppressors.  And the oppressed nations include not
only East Timor, Aceh, Bougainville, and other small nations, but
very importantly Indonesia (I think it is also wrong in general to
characterize oppressed nations as "oppressor nations" or as a "prison
house of nations"-- I don't know whether Green Left does this -- even
when the semi colonial states
carry out national oppression of small nations.

The issue is not the same when we discuss imposing imperialist
economic and diplomatic isolation on settler colonial states, which
are basically extensions and fortresses of the imperialist powers in
the semi colonial regions  (apartheid South Africa and Israel are the
primary examples).

In these cases, demands for international sanctions are wholly
appropriate and necessary.

I first had doubts about demands for imperialist sanctions on a
country in the case of Haiti back in the mid-1980s when the US SWP
called for
them against the military regime that had ousted Aristide in Haiti.
This was not some "Barnesite" oddity but was a widely held demand on
the left that originated with the pro-Aristide opposition inside
Haiti.  I was troubled by the feeling that such demands were
inevitably part of imperialist preparations to impose their will on
Haiti.  In the end Washington occupied the country, and acceded
conditionally to the demand that Aristide return to office, but I
believe that the Haitian people ended up paying a high price in terms
of their freedom of action because of this method of accomplishing the
return of the popular Aristide.

I didn't press my concern because I feared I was being sectarian, but
subsequent developments have heightened my suspicion that the
imperialist sanctions on Haiti should have been opposed even though
they were favored by fighters inside Haiti -- fighters who were
counting on US imperialism to help them impose their will, which I
think was a mistaken orientation. So I am raising the issue now with
regard to Indonesia.

 Fred Feldman

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