Asia Defense | Security | Southeast Asia

Indonesia’s Military Gets New Reserve Component

The creation of a new reserve component, KOMCAD, will have significant repercussions for political violence in Indonesia.

By Luke Lischin for
Indonesia’s Military Gets New Reserve Component

Indonesian soldiers march in a show of force during a parade marking the 74th anniversary of the Indonesian Armed Forces in Jakarta, Indonesia, Saturday, October 5, 2019.

Credit: AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana

On January 12, 2021 Indonesian President Joko Widodo, better known as Jokowi, issued Government Regulation (Peraturan Pemerintah) Number 3 of 2021 implementing National Law 23 on the Management of National Resources for Defense of the Nation (Undang-Undang Nomor 23 Tahun 2019- Pengelolaan Sumber Daya Nasional Untuk Pertahanan Negara). Among the implementing provisions of the regulation, the creation of a reserve component, Komponen Cadangan (KOMCAD), of the Indonesian Armed Forces (Tentara Nasional Indonesia-TNI) is the most consequential and controversial. 

In its haste to create KOMCAD, the Ministry of Defense largely overlooked the costs of creating a new defense institution, while failing to reconcile KOMCAD with fundamental national security statutes. Further, the creation of KOMCAD risks functioning as a means of extending the TNI’s influence over civilian politics while exacerbating divisions and conflicts between paramilitary organizations. In this way, the creation of KOMCAD conforms with the militarist ideology of National Defense (Bela Negara) that aims to restore much of the political power once wielded by the TNI before Reformasi. 

Reviewing the content of the regulation, basic details on key aspects of the force are thin. According to Section V, KOMCAD will consist of reserves for the land, sea, and air services who will undergo three months of basic military training and periodic additional training. Reservists are not salaried, but will be given a stipend (uang saku) to be determined by the ministry, health care, and an additional allowance when mobilized. KOMCAD funding will be drawn from national and regional budgets, in addition to other sources not specified in Section VII of the text. Regarding command authorities, paragraphs 87 and 89 state that the president must seek the permission of the legislature, except during a state of emergency or a state of war. Lacking from this regulation and the 2019 National Law are explanations of the core duties and mission sets of KOMCAD, explanations regarding how KOMCAD will operate under current military institutions and national security law, as well as any clear justification for its existence. Nevertheless, the Ministry of Defense is pressing ahead with a plan to recruit 25,000 reservists.

Much like the Jokowi administration’s 2018 Counterterrorism Law, KOMCAD’s creation provoked considerable anxiety from civil society organizations like the Setara Institute, which worries that the institution could militarize society and violate the rights of both civilian volunteers and objectors whose eligibility for prosecution under the military justice system remains unclear. Imparsial, another Indonesian human rights monitor, warns that the recruitment and militarization of civilians was a common factor in the commission of human rights abuse and breakdown of civil-military barriers during pivotal moments in Indonesia’s history. Imparsial also argues that by enabling KOMCAD to be financed through regional budgets, the regulation and its supporting legislation violate the principle of centralizing national defense financing at the state level per Law no. 3/2002 on National Defense and other legislation. Even defense analysts are skeptical of KOMCAD’s practical merits, arguing that KOMCAD’s funding would be better spent upgrading defense systems and otherwise improving the military’s primary component’s capabilities. 

In addition to these criticisms, the creation of KOMCAD will have significant repercussions for political violence in Indonesia. As scholars such as Ian Douglas Wilson have observed, paramilitary organizations occupy a liminal space in Indonesian politics between legitimate and illegitimate violence; a position normalized under the governance of President Suharto before the Reformasi period fragmented government authority and the use of proxy violence along with it. 

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Civilian paramilitaries still play an important role in formal politics, with youth groups and partisan task forces (Satuan Tugas-Satgas) offering security, activism, and protest services to their respective political parties. After Jokowi’s reelection in the 2019 presidential election, protests launched by supporters of Prabowo Subianto from May 21-22 quickly descended into violence that killed nine individuals and wounded over 200 others. The riots constituted the largest episode of political violence in recent history, and were instigated by paid rioters suspected to be in the employ of paramilitaries with connections to Subianto’s campaign.

Despite the wave of arrests following the May 2019 riots, the state response to civilian paramilitaries has alternated between appeasement and persecution. After the ultra-conservative preman/vigilantes known as Fron Pembela Islam (FPI) united civil society groups and protestors to demonstrate against the alleged blasphemy of then-Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, also known as Ahok, in 2016, the Jokowi administration became understandably concerned about the ability of the FPI to influence politics. The FPI has a long history of influencing local and national politics, often working on the behalf of politicians. The Jokowi administration cracked down on the group, first sending its chairman Habib Rizieq Shihab into exile in Saudi Arabia following charges of distributing pornography, and more recently banning the FPI on December 3  and arresting Shihab upon his return to Jakarta for violating COVID-19 quarantine protocols. The government’s efforts to rein in the FPI turned violent this past December when Jakarta police shot and killed six members of Habib Shihab’s entourage for allegedly resisting arrest.

As the Jokowi administration continues to coerce organizations like the FPI, Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, and other groups, it has simultaneously reached out to similar organizations for their support. In February 2020 the president’s chief of staff, Moeldoko, stated that Nahdlatul Ulama’s Banser youth group should become an official reserve unit by virtue of their training structure and organizational presence at the local, regional, and national levels. For the Jokowi administration and its partners in the military, paramilitary groups are still viewed as a valuable base of support and stabilizing force in society. In this vein, TNI Territorial Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. (Purn) Agus Widjojo argued that KOMCAD would prevent the emergence of unruly militias in conflict zones by providing a regulatory framework for arming civilians and thus preventing violations of human rights.   

Viewed through the lens of militia-state relations, KOMCAD’s design resembles an “incorporative” arrangement that neutralizes the threat posed by sub-state violent actors by folding them into the state security sector, where they will likely be granted access to public largess in the form of funding, training, and official backing. While KOMCAD can potentially centralize key players in Indonesia’s paramilitary space, it is more likely that TNI control of paramilitary organizations will remain fragmented in the face of competing political and economic incentives provided by actors outside of the official chain of command. A reservist’s stipend is not likely to meet their basic needs, especially when they are not on active duty and are otherwise un- or underemployed. Additional compensation to supplement reserve payment can come from regional budgets, but rendering reservists financially dependent on regional budgets and the politicians and civil servants that control them risks creating conflicts of interest that could compromise the loyalty of reservists to the state.

Viewed alongside other initiatives – including the repression of Indonesian civil society as well as efforts to revive defunct and controversial security institutions such as PAM Swakarsa under the ideological banner of Bela Negara – KOMCAD’s creation bodes poorly for the future of Indonesian democracy. The Jokowi administration’s attempts to incorporate paramilitary groups into the state additionally risks provoking violent confrontations between the state and society in the years to come. Paramilitaries thrive in a competitive space due to often flexible loyalties and operate in idiosyncratic local environments beyond the reach of the national capital, creating principal-agent problems on a societal scale. Under these conditions, Indonesia’s next political crisis, be it another contested election or government scandal, could result in violence from state paramilitaries forced to pick sides between government factions divided by partisan interests.  

Luke Lischin is an assistant research fellow at the National War College, Washington D.C., and an independent consultant on political violence in Southeast Asia. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National War College.