Indonesia's military doctrinal stagnation
01 May 2013
By: Andi Widjajanto

Military reform is one of the key issues of structural change in post-Soeharto Indonesia. From 1998 through 2008, much of Indonesia’s energy was spent on dealing with the political baggage of military reform. The character of Indonesia’s political regime has been changed from derogative, authoritarian and militarized to a more democratic and less restrictive national security system.

Despite considerable efforts to maintain the path of politically-driven military reform, Indonesia has made little progress in actually transforming its military. In 2008, the Ministry of Defense published the Postur Pertahanan Negara (National Defense Force Structure), which sets out a long-term modernization program to create a Minimal Essential Force (MEF) by 2024. The main problem in achieving this goal is the capacity to initiate doctrinal innovation.

I argue that Indonesia has failed to transform its way of warfare due to a collective belief within the military organization that Indonesia is a weak state that must rely on the doctrine of defensive warfare. This collective belief is translated into several military strategies such as territorial warfare, guerrilla warfare, people’s war and layered defense.

Internal threats are the main threat to Indonesia. Of 249 military operations launched by Indonesian military forces between 1945 and 2009, only 33 percent were aimed at dealing with external threats. The remaining 67 percent were conducted to fight internal wars.

To win its internal wars, the military successfully transformed the concept of military victory at the tactical level into the level of grand strategy. Victory was no longer only defined by a battlefield victory but also required political and ideological dominance.

To ensure the grand strategy level of victory could be achieved, charismatic military leaders such as General AH Nasution in the 1950s and 1960s and Soeharto in the 1970s and 1980s initiated internal military innovations to expand the political role of the Armed Forces and used it as the foundation to launch internal military operations.

The fact that the majority of Indonesia’s military operations are internal indicates that the country has suffered from a weak state structure. As a weak state, Indonesia’s security predicaments were caused by several factors including political instability, legitimacy crises, a weak national identity, dysfunctional social–politic institutions, poverty and vulnerability to external pressures. As a result, the political elite were constantly engaged in crisis management, better known as the politics of survival.

The politics of survival created a weak state mentality at various levels of government bureaucracy, including within the military organization. This mentality became a strategic culture that caused stagnation within the military doctrine, prohibiting any policy initiatives to develop a more advanced military force.

As a weak state, Indonesia could not develop and modernize its Armed Forces to a level that could significantly challenge major powers. As early as mid-1951, Nasution, the Army chief of staff, stated: “Bear in mind that any enemy who attacks us will have an organization more modern than ours, that in our geographic position as an island nation we are very weak, and that we will be unable to develop completely modern Armed Forces.”

This realistic view shared by military officers created a foundation for the development of a defensive strategic culture. For most military officers, the inherent character of Indonesia as a weak state prohibited the development of an offensive doctrine.

As a weak state, Indonesia always feels threatened by power struggles between major nations. Indonesia's refusal to align itself with any major power is an indication of how it always tries to escape from a realist's strategic option of balance.

This factor is rooted in the principle of the country’s “active and independent” foreign policy, which was established in 1948. This policy prohibits Indonesia from joining any military alliances. As a result, there are no structural incentives within Indonesia’s defense diplomacy to develop an offensive doctrine to honor alliance commitments.

Another example of the weak state mentality can be found at the force employment level. Since the era of the independence war against the Netherlands between 1945 and 1949, Indonesia’s defense doctrine has tried to modify the linear defense concept.

The realization that Dutch military forces were far more advanced than those of Indonesia prompted the military to develop the Wehrkreise system used by Germany in World War II. This system essentially divided war zones into several circles (kreise) that allowed military units to independently defend (wehr) their territorial compartments.

This system was first used by the 1st Division/Siliwangi in West Java, led by Nasution, who was a colonel at the time, and the 2nd Division/Sunan Gunung Jati in Central Java, led by Gatot Subroto. This new concept had been adopted by Armed Forces Commander General Sudirman, who issued Tactical Command No 1 on the establishment of territorial compartments in line with the concept of Wehrkreise.

Guerrilla warfare principles were then added to the Wehrkreise system as the operational form of military tactics in a war zone. The guerrilla tactics were widely used during Indonesia’s war of independence.

From 1945 until 1947, the backbone of the guerrilla warfare campaign was militia consisting of an irregular people’s army. In 1947, with the creation of the regular forces of the Indonesian National Army, the military started to develop more coordinated and flexible guerrilla tactics.

For Indonesia, the principle of flexible employment of a guerrilla force was adopted within the concept of a layered defense. This concept, first initiated by Nasution in 1951, introduced three phases of defensive operations: opposing an enemy attack; containment, challenge and consolidation; and counteroffensive. These phases were used by the Ministry of Defense to publish the Doctrine of National Defense in 1991.

This doctrine introduced a newer concept of layered defense: “The first layer is the deterrent zone located outside the Exclusive Economic Zone; the second layer is the offensive zone designed as the air and maritime combat compartment, located within our territorial waters; the third layer is the defensive zone, devised as a land compartment to launch a people’s war.”

However, the concept of layered defense was never implemented. The Indonesian Armed Forces never really launched campaigns in the deterrent and offensive zones. The confrontation with enemies always took place in the defensive zone in the form of territorial warfare. Between 1945 and 1949, for example, the confrontation with the Allied forces took place exclusively in phase III of counteroffensive operations.

To defend the defensive zone, Indonesia’s way of warfare relies on the concept of territorial warfare. Territorial warfare is a defensive strategy in which areas of the country are organized and equipped independently to defend themselves against foreign attacks with minimum operational direction and logistical support from the central command.

This doctrinal framework, which relies on the application of the strategies of non-linear territorial warfare, guerrilla warfare, people’s war and layered defense, is still seen in the most recent series of military doctrines published by the Ministry of Defense and Military Headquarters. In 2000, the Army, Navy and Air Force each published a military doctrine. In 2007, the Military Headquarters published its Tri Dharma Eka Karma (TRIDEK) doctrine to replace the old political warfare doctrine of Catur Dharma Eka Karma.

The publication of TRIDEK was soon followed by a similar move from the Ministry of Defense, which published a national defense doctrine, a national defense strategy and a national defense force structure. Although these new documents tried to incorporate the numerous latest developments in military technology, such as information and network centric warfare, the dominant feature of Indonesia’s military doctrine is still very much the same as the one developed by Nasution from 1946 to 1953.

This indicates that the Indonesian military has failed to initiate any significant doctrinal innovation due to the existence of a strong strategic belief that constantly portrays Indonesia as a weak state. Without any significant effort to reconstruct this strategic belief, Indonesia will continue to suffer from doctrinal stagnation and be unable to transform its military into a more advanced force by 2024.


Andi Widjajanto is a Lecturer at the Department of International Relations at the University of Indonesia.

24 April 2017
Yenny Wahid remains positive after the polarizing Jakarta gubernatorial election
by Duncan Graham | 9 February 2012 | Comments (0)
24 April 2017
Missile test casts shadow over US-China summit
by Debalina Ghoshal | 9 February 2012 | Comments (0)
12 April 2017
Education the key for closer Indonesia Australia ties
by Duncan Graham | 9 February 2012 | Comments (0)
Please login to leave a comment