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Diego Garcia: “Unsinkable Carrier” Springs a Leak

Diego Garcia: “Unsinkable Carrier” Springs a Leak

Dispatches From The Edge

April 8, 2019



The recent decision by the Hague-based International Court of Justice that the Chagos Islands—with its huge US military base at Diego Garcia—are being illegally occupied by the United Kingdom (UK) has the potential to upend the strategic plans of a dozen regional capitals, ranging from Beijing to Riyadh.


For a tiny speck of land measuring only 38 miles in length, Diego Garcia casts a long shadow. Sometimes called Washington’s “unsinkable aircraft carrier,” planes and warships based on the island played an essential role in the first and second Gulf wars, the invasion of Afghanistan and the war in Libya. Its strategic location between Africa and Indonesia and 1,000 miles south of India, gives the US access to the Middle East, Central and South Asia and the vast Indian Ocean. No oil tanker, no warship, no aircraft can move without its knowledge.


Most Americans have never heard of Diego Garcia for a good reason: no journalist has been allowed there for more than 30 years and the Pentagon keeps the base wrapped in a cocoon of national security. Indeed, the UK leased the base to the Americans in 1966 without informing either the British Parliament or the US Congress.


The Feb. 25 Court decision has put a dent in all that by deciding that Great Britain violated United Nations Resolution 1514 prohibiting the division of colonies before independence. The UK broke the Chagos Islands off from Mauritius, a former colony on the southeast coast of Africa that Britain decolonized in 1968. At the time, Mauritius objected, reluctantly agreeing only after Britain threatened to withdraw its offer of independence.


The Court ruled 13-1 that the UK had engaged in a “wrongful act” and must decolonize the Chagos “as rapidly as possible.”


While the ruling is only “advisory,” it comes at a time when the US and its allies are confronting or sanctioning countries for supposedly illegal occupations—Russia in the Crimea and China in the South China Sea.


The suit was brought by Mauritius and some of the 1500 Chagos islanders, who were forcibly removed from the archipelago in 1973. The Americans, calling it “sanitizing” the islands, moved the Chagossians more than 1,000 miles to Mauritius and the Seychelles, where they have languished in poverty ever since.


Diego Garcia is the lynchpin for US strategy in the region. With its enormous runways, it can handle B-52, B-1 and B-2 bombers and huge C-5M, C-17 and C-130 military cargo planes. The lagoon has been transformed into a naval harbor that can handle an aircraft carrier. The US has built a city—replete with fast food outlets, bars, golf courses and bowling alleys—that hosts some 3,000 to 5,000 military personal and civilian contractors.


What you can’t find are any native Chagossians.


The Indian Ocean has become a major theater of competition between India, the US, and Japan on one side, and the growing presence of China on the other. Tensions have flared between India and China over the Maldives and Sri Lanka, specifically China’s efforts to use ports on those island nations. India recently joined with Japan and the US in a war game—Malabar 18—that modeled shutting down the strategic Malacca Straits between Sumatra and Malaysia, through which some 80 percent of China’s energy supplies pass each year.


A portion of the exercise involved anti-submarine warfare aimed at detecting Chinese submarines moving from the South China Sea into the Indian Ocean. To Beijing, those submarines are essential for protecting the ring of Chinese-friendly ports that run from southern China to Port Sudan on the east coast of Africa. Much of China’s oil and gas supplies are vulnerable, because they transit the narrow Mandeb Strait that guards the entrance to the Red Sea and the Strait of Hormuz that oversees access to the oil-rich Persian Gulf. The US 5th Fleet controls both straits.


Tensions in the region have increased since the Trump administration shifted the focus of US national security from terrorism to “major power competition”—that is, China and Russia. The US accuses China of muscling its way into the Indian Ocean by taking over ports, like Hambantota in Sri Lanka and Gwadar in Pakistan that are capable of hosting Chinese warships.


India, which has its own issues with China dating back to their 1962 border war, is ramping up its anti-submarine forces and building up its deep-water navy. New Delhi also recently added a long-range Agni-V missile that is designed to strike deep into China, and the rightwing government of Narendra Modi is increasingly chummy with the American military. The Americans even changed their regional military organization from “Pacific Command” to “Indo-Pacific Command” in deference to New Delhi.


The term for these Chinese friendly ports—“string of pearls”—was coined by Pentagon contractor Booz Allen Hamilton and, as such, should be taken with a grain of salt. China is indeed trying to secure its energy supplies and also sees the ports as part of its worldwide Road and Belt Initiative trade strategy. But assuming the “pearls” have a military role, akin to 19th century colonial coaling stations, is a stretch. Most the ports would be indefensible if a war broke out.


Diego Garcia is central to the US’s war in Somalia, its air attacks in Iraq and Syria, and its control of the Persian Gulf, and would be essential in any conflict with Iran. If the current hostility by Saudi Arabia, Israel and the US toward Iran actually translates into war, the island will quite literally be an unsinkable aircraft carrier.


Given the strategic centrality of Diego Garcia, it is hard to imagine the US giving it up, or, rather, the British withdrawing their agreement with Washington and de-colonizing the Chagos Islands. In 2016, London extended the Americans’ lease for 20 years.


Mauritius wants the Chagos back, but at this point doesn’t object to the base. It certainly wants a bigger rent check and the right eventually to take the island group back. It also wants more control over what goes on at Diego Garcia. For instance, the British government admitted that the Americans were using the island to transit “extraordinary renditions,” people seized during the Afghan and Iraq wars between 2002 and 2003, many of whom were tortured. Torture is a violation of international law.


As for the Chagossians, they want to go back.


Diego Garcia is immensely important for US military and intelligence operations in the region, but it is just one of some 800 American military bases on every continent except Antarctica. Those bases form a worldwide network that allows the US military to deploy advisors and Special Forces in some 177 countries across the globe. Those forces create tensions that can turn dangerous at a moment’s notice.


For instance there are currently US military personal in virtually every country surrounding Russia: Norway, Poland, Hungary, Kosovo, Romania, Turkey, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Georgia, Ukraine and Bulgaria. Added to that is the Mediterranean’s 6th Fleet, which regularly sends warships into the Black Sea.


Much the same can be said for China. US military forces are deployed in South Korea, Japan and Australia, plus numerous islands in the Pacific. The American 7th fleet, based in Hawaii and Yokohama, is the Navy’s largest.


In late March, US Navy and Coast Guard ships transited the Taiwan Straits, which, while international waters, the Chinese consider an unnecessary provocation. British ships have also sailed close to Chinese-occupied reefs and islands in the South China Sea.


The fight to de-colonize the Chagos Islands will now move to the UN General Assembly. In the end, Britain may ignore the General Assembly and the Court, but it will be hard pressed to make a credible case for doing so. How Great Britain can argue for international law in the Crimea and South China Sea, while ignoring the International Court of Justice on the Chagos, will require some fancy footwork.


In the meantime, Mauritius Prime Minister Pravard Jugnauth calls the Court decision “historic,” and one that will eventually allow the 6,000 native Chagossians and their descendents “to return home”
















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Filed under Asia, China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Yemen, Etc, Military, Pakistan, Syria

Blundering Into A War With China

China: War On The Horizon?

Dispatches From The Edge

Jan. 27, 2017


In his Jan. 13 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson made an extraordinary comment concerning China’s activities in the South China Sea. The U.S., he said, must “send a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops,” adding that Beijing’s “access to the those islands is not going to be allowed.”


President Trump’s Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, repeated the threat on Jan. 24.


Sometimes it is hard to sift the real from the magical in the Trump administration, and bombast appears to be the default strategy of the day. But people should be clear about what would happen if the U.S. actually tries to blockade China from supplying its forces constructing airfields and radar facilities on the Spratley and Paracel islands.


It would be an act of war.


While Beijing’s Foreign Ministry initially reacted cautiously to the comment, Chinese newspapers have been far less diplomatic. The nationalist Global Times warned of a “large-scale war” if the U.S. followed through on its threat, and the China Daily cautioned that a blockade could lead to a “devastating confrontation between China and the US.”


Independent observers agree. “It is very difficult to imagine the means by which the United States could prevent China from accessing these artificial islands without provoking some kind of confrontation,” says Rory Medcalf, head of Australia’s National Security College. And such a confrontation, says Carlyle Thayer of the University of New South Wales, “could quickly develop into an armed conflict.”


Last summer, China’s commander of the People’s Liberation Army Navy, Wu Shengli, told U.S. Admiral John Richardson that “we will never stop our construction on the Nansha Islands halfway.” Nansha is China’s name for the Spratlys. Two weeks later, Chang Wanquan, China’s Defense Minister, said Beijing is preparing for a “people’s war at sea.”


A certain amount of this is posturing by two powerful countries in competition for markets and influence, but Tillerson’s statement did not come out of the blue. In fact, the U.S. is in the middle of a major military buildup, the Obama administration’s “Asia Pivot” in the Pacific. American bases in Okinawa, Japan, and Guam have been beefed up, and for the first time since World War II, U.S. Marines have been deployed in Australia. Last March, the U.S. sent B-2 nuclear-capable strategic stealth bombers to join them.


There is no question that China has been aggressive about claiming sovereignty over small islands and reefs in the South China Sea, even after the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague rejected Beijing’s claims. But if a military confrontation is to be avoided, it is important to try to understand what is behind China’s behavior.


The current crisis has its roots in a tense standoff between Beijing and Taiwan in late 1996. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) was angered that Washington had granted a visa to Taiwan’s president, Lee Teng-hui, calling it a violation of the 1979 U.S. “one-China” policy that recognized the PRC and downgraded relations with Taiwan to “unofficial.”


Beijing responded to the visa uproar by firing missiles near a small Taiwan-controlled island and moving some military forces up to the mainland coast facing the island. However, there was never any danger that China would actually attack Taiwan. Even if it wanted to, it didn’t have the means to do so.


Instead of letting things cool off, however, the Clinton administration escalated the conflict and sent two aircraft carrier battle groups to the region, the USS Nimitz and USS Independence. The Nimitz and its escorts sailed through the Taiwan Straits between the island and the mainland, and there was nothing that China could do about it.


The carriers deeply alarmed Beijing, because the regions just north of Taiwan in the East China Sea and the Yellow Sea were the jumping off points for 19th and 20th century invasions by western colonialists and the Japanese.


The Straits crisis led to a radical remaking of China’s military, which had long relied on massive land forces. Instead, China adopted a strategy called “Area Denial” that would allow Beijing to control the waters surrounding its coast, in particular the East and South China seas. That not only required retooling of its armed forces—from land armies to naval and air power—it required a ring of bases that would keep potential enemies at arm’s length and also allow Chinese submarines to enter the Pacific and Indian oceans undetected.


Reaching from Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula in the north to the Malay Peninsula in the south, this so-called “first island chain” is Beijing’s primary defense line.


China is particularly vulnerable to a naval blockade. Some 80 percent of its energy supplies traverse the Indian Ocean and South China Sea, moving through narrow choke points like the Malacca Straits between Indonesia and Malaysia, the Bab al Mandab Straits controlling the Red Sea, and the Straits of Hormuz into the Persian Gulf. All of those passages are controlled by the U.S. or countries like India and Indonesia with close ties to Washington.


In 2013, China claimed it had historic rights to the region and issued its now famous “nine-dash line” map that embraced the Paracels and Spratly island chains and 85 percent of the South China Sea. It was this nine-dash line that the Hague tribunal rejected, because it found no historical basis for China’s claim, and because there were overlapping assertions by Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and the Philippines.


There are, of course, economic considerations. The region is rich in oil, gas and fish, but the primary concern for China is security. The Chinese have not interfered with commercial ship traffic, although they have applied on-again, off-again restrictions on fishing and energy explorations. China initially prevented Filipino fishermen from exploiting some reefs, and then allowed it. It has been more aggressive with Vietnam in the Paracels.


Rather than trying to assuage China’s paranoia, the U.S. made things worse by adopting a military strategy to checkmate “Area Denial.” Called “Air/Sea Battle” (renamed “Joint Concept for Access and Maneuver in the Global Commons”), Air/Sea Battle envisions attacking China’s navy, air force, radar facilities and command centers with air and naval power. Missiles would be used to take out targets deep into Chinese territory.


The recent seizure of a U.S. underwater drone off the Philippines is part of an on-going chess game in the region. The drone was almost certainly mapping sea floor bottoms and collecting data that would allow the U.S. to track Chinese submarines, including those armed with nuclear missiles. While the heist was a provocative thing to do—it was seized right under the nose of an unarmed U.S. Navy ship—it is a reflection of how nervous the Chinese are about their vulnerability to Air/Sea Battle.


China’s leaders “have good reason to worry about this emerging U.S. naval strategy [use of undersea drones] against China in East Asia,” Li Mingjiang, a China expert at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, told the Financial Times. “If this strategy becomes reality, it could be quite detrimental to China’s national security.”


Washington charges that the Chinese are playing the bully with small countries like Vietnam and the Philippines, and there is some truth to that charge. China has been throwing its weight around with several nations in Southeast Asia. But it also true that the Chinese have a lot of evidence that the Americans are gunning for them.


The U.S. has some 400 military bases surrounding China and is deploying anti-ballistic missiles in South Korea and Japan, ostensibly to guard against North Korean nuclear weapons. But the interceptors could also down Chinese missiles, posing a threat to Beijing’s nuclear deterrence.


While Air/Sea Battle does not envision using nuclear weapons, it could still lead to a nuclear war. It would be very difficult to figure out whether missiles were targeting command centers or China’s nukes. Under the stricture “use them, or lose them” the Chinese might fear their missiles were endangered and launch them.


The last thing one wants to do with a nuclear-armed power is make it guess.


The Trump administration has opened a broad front on China, questioning the “one China” policy, accusing Beijing of being in cahoots with Islamic terrorists, and threatening a trade war. The first would upend more than 30 years of diplomacy, the second is bizarre—if anything, China is overly aggressive in suppressing terrorism in its western Xinjiang Province—and the third makes no sense.


China is the U.S.’s major trading partner and holds $1.24 trillion in U.S. Treasury Bonds. While Trump charges that the Chinese have hollowed out the American economy by undermining its industrial base with cheap labor and goods, China did not force Apple or General Motors to pull up stakes and decamp elsewhere. Capital goes where wages are low and unions are weak.


A trade war would hurt China, but it would also hurt the U.S. and the global economy as well.


When President Trump says he wants to make America great again, what he really means is that he wants to go back to that post-World War II period when the U.S. dominated much of the globe with a combination of economic strength and military power. But that era is gone, and dreams of a unipolar world run by Washington are a hallucination.


According to the CIA, “by 2030 Asia will have surpassed North America and Europe combined in terms of global power based on GDP, population size, military spending and technological investments.” By 2025, two-thirds of the world will live in Asia, 7 percent in Europe and 5 percent in the U.S. Those are the demographics of eclipse.


If Trump starts a trade war, he will find little support among America’s allies. China is the number one trading partner for Japan, Australia, South Korea, Vietnam and India, and the third largest for Indonesia and the Philippines. Over the past year, a number of countries like Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines have also distanced themselves from Washington and moved closer to China. When President Obama tried to get U.S. allies not to sign on to China’s new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, they ignored him.


But the decline of U.S. influence has a dangerous side. Washington may not be able to dictate the world’s economy, but it has immense military power. Chinese military expert Yang Chengjun says “China does not stir up troubles, but we are not afraid of them when they come.” They should be. For all its modernization, China is no match for the U.S. However, defeating China is far beyond Washington’s capacity. The only wars the U.S. has “won” since 1945 are Grenada and Panama.


Nonetheless, such a clash would be catastrophic. It would torpedo global trade, inflict trillions of dollars damage on each side, and the odds are distressingly high that the war could go nuclear.


U.S. allies in the region should demand that the Trump administration back off any consideration of a blockade. Australia has already told Washington it will not take part in any such action. The U.S. should also do more than rename Air/Sea Battle, it should junk the entire strategy. The East and South China seas are not national security issues for the U.S., but they are for China.


And China should realize that, while it has the right to security, trotting out ancient dynastic maps to lay claim to vast areas bordering scores of countries does nothing but alienate its neighbors and give the U.S. an excuse to interfere in affairs thousands of miles from its own territory.





















Filed under Asia, China, India, Indonesia, Korea, Military, Pacific, Philippines

Four More Years: The Asia Pivot

Four More Years: The Asia Pivot

Dispatches From The Edge

Dec. 26, 2012

In March 1990, Time Magazine titled an article “Ripples in The American Lake.” It was not about small waves in that body of water just north of Fort Lewis, Washington. It was talking about the Pacific Ocean, the largest on the planet, embracing over half of humanity and the three largest economies in the world. Time did not invent the term—it is generally attributed to Gen. Douglas MacArthur, U.S. Pacific commander during WW II—but its casual use by the publication was a reflection of more than 100 years of American policy in this immense area.

The Asia-Pacific region has hosted four American conflicts—the Spanish American War, the Second World War, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War—and is today the focus of a “strategic pivot,” although that is a bit of a misnomer, by the Obama administration. The Pacific basin has long been the U.S.’s number one trade partner, and Washington deploys more than 320,000 military personnel in the region, including 60 percent of its navy. The American flag flies over bases in Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, the Marshall Islands, Guam and Wake.

It is one of the most perilous regions on earth right now, and, for the first since the collapse of the old Soviet Union, two major nuclear powers are bumping up against one another. As volatile as the Middle East is, one of the most dangerous pieces of real estate on the planet are a scatter of tiny islands in the East China Sea, where China, Japan and the U.S. find themselves in the kind of standoff that feels distressingly like the Cold War.

Tension over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, however, is just one of several foreign policy challenges in the Asia-Pacific region, each with its own characteristics and history. Japan and South Korea are in a faceoff over an island that Tokyo calls Takeshima and Seoul calls Dokdo.  Moscow and Tokyo are at loggerheads over the Kurile islands, Beijing is throwing its weight around in the South China Sea, North Korea just launched a long-range ballistic missile (and is possibly considering a nuclear test), and Washington is recruiting allies against China, sometimes by turning a blind eye to serious human rights violations.

How the Obama administration responds to these issues over the next four years will go a long way toward determining whether the ocean lives up to its name—peaceful—or once again becomes an arena for tragedy. So far the record is not encouraging.

Washington has stumbled badly in the dangerous crisis over islands that China calls the Diaoyu and Japan calls the Senkaku. The dispute over these uninhabited specks in the East China Sea islands goes back to the Sino-Japan War of 1895 when Tokyo wrested them from Beijing. In 1971, the Americans—caught up in the Cold war and refusing to recognize China— made the whole matter a lot more complex by ignoring two WW II treaties requiring Japan to return its conquests to their original owners, and instead handed the islands over to Japan.

When China protested, Tokyo and Beijing agreed to kick the can down the road and delay any final decisions on sovereignty to some later date. That all changed when Japan—pressed by rightwing nationalists—purchased three of the islands this past summer and altered the status quo. To make matters worse, the U.S. declared that it would stand by Japan in any military conflict, thus raising the ante from a local confrontation between two Asians giants to a potential clash between nuclear powers.

China sees the islands as part of its defensive parameter, not an unusual point of view considering the country’s history. China has been the victim of invasion and exploitation by colonial powers, including Japan, dating back to the first Opium War in 1839. Beijing is convinced Washington is surrounding it with potentially hostile alliances, and that the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute is part of a U.S. strategy to keep China down. There is an economic dimension to the issue as well. China would like to exploit oil and gas deposits, as well as fishing grounds, in the East China Sea.

Extending the U.S.-Japan mutual support treaty to the islands is a major mistake. China has no intention of attacking its main Asian trade and investment partner, and putting Tokyo under Washington’s nuclear umbrella around this issue has helped unleash a powerful current of nationalism in Japan. For instance, Tokyo is debating whether to put Japanese Self-Defense Forces on Yonaguni Island in the Okinawa or Ryukyu chain. That would put Japanese troops squarely in the middle of China’s first line of maritime defense. Yonaguni is a long way from Tokyo, but on a clear day you can see the mountains of Taiwan from its beaches. The island’s residents are opposed to the Self-Defense Force deployment.

The new Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, has been particularly strident, openly talking of dumping Japan’s anti-war constitution and building nuclear weapons. He comes from a long line of military-minded nationalists. His grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, was a member of Japan’s wartime cabinet and considered a war criminal. Rather than going to jail, however, Nobusuke was “rehabilitated” after the war and became a prime minister in 1957. Abe has stonewalled demands by China and other countries in the region to apologize for its brutal policies during WW II.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Abe was asked if there was a “possibility that the two Asian powers could go to war.” According to the Times, “Mr. Abe just smiled and walked away.”

If that exchange does not give Washington pause, it should.

China has a strong legal case for ownership of the islands, and rather than rattling sabers, Washington should encourage the UN and the International Court of Justice to get involved. What it should not do is green light the politics of people like Abe, who might draw Washington into a confrontation with China. In 1914 Austria attacked Serbia. Russia mobilized, and Germany, bound by treaty to Austria, followed suit. That ended very badly.

The disputes in the South China Sea are very different than those in the East China Sea, although some of the actors are the same. Beijing claims that it owns a vast expanse of the Sea, that includes the Paracel Islands, the Spratly Islands, Scarborough Shoal, and numerous reefs and shallows, also claimed by Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, Brunei, and the Philippines. At stake are rich fishing grounds and potential oil and gas deposits, as well as a considerable portion of the world’s trade routes.

The Chinese have been rather heavy handed in the dispute, refusing to negotiate with the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and insisting on bilateral talks instead. China vs. Brunei is hardly a level diplomatic playing field. The standoff has given the U.S. an opportunity to intervene as a “neutral broker,” a posture that has pushed every paranoid button in Beijing. China has responded by stepping up its patrols in the South China Sea, even sabotaging joint Indian-Vietnam oil exploration near the Paracels.  New Delhi—which has its own tensions with China over its northern border—is threatening to send naval vessels into the disputed area.

The crisis is solvable, but a few things need to happen.

China must back off, because its current claim violates the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas. A place to start is for ASEAN and Beijing to work out a “code of conduct” to resolve disputes peacefully. But Washington should stay out of this fight. Given the strong military component of the “pivot,” one can hardly blame China for assuming that U.S. involvement is not aimed at resolving disputes.

“If you are a strategic thinker in China, you do not have to be a paranoid conspiracy theorist to think that the U.S. is trying to bandwagon Asia against China,” says Simon Tay, chair of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.

Washington has shifted naval forces into the Pacific and is in the process of putting 2,500 Marines in northern Australia. While 2,500 Marines are hardly likely to tip the balance of power in Asia, it seems an unnecessary provocation. The U.S. is moving air power into the region as well, including B-1 bombers, B-52s, and F-22 stealth fighters. In early November, 47,000 U.S. and Japanese forces carried out joint military exercises.

Washington is also re-negotiating its Mutual Support Treaty with Japan, which will include the deployment of an advanced anti-missile system (ABM). The ABM is ostensibly directed at North Korea, but China is unhappy because it could pose a threat to Beijing’s modest nuclear missile force. In general, ABM systems are destabilizing, which is why the ABM Treaty was negotiated between the U.S. and the Soviet Union in 1972. The Obama administration should repudiate the Bush administration’s 2002 scrapping of the ABM Treaty and instead focus on ridding the world of nuclear weapons, a promise made in 2008 but ignored ever since.

North Korea may be a threat to its own people, but it hardly poses a major danger to the U.S. or its allies, South Korea and Japan. Yes, the country has nuclear weapons, but any use of them would be tantamount to national suicide, and the North Koreans have always shown a strong streak of self-survival. What about the shelling of the South Korean island and the sinking of a South Korean warship? Certainly dangerous acts, but the North does have legitimate grievances over how its coastal waters were divided after the Korean War, and, while Pyongyang probably sunk the ship, there are some doubts. If North Korea seems paranoid, it is partly because each year the U.S., South Korea, and sometimes Japan, carry out war games aimed at intervening in the advent of “instability” in the north.  U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta threatened North Korea with nuclear weapons last year, hardly a strategy to get the Pyongyang regime to give them up.

North Korea mainly serves as an excuse for Japan and the U.S. to militarize the North Pacific and expand their ABM system. But it is a poor, backward country that has trouble feeding its own people. Hollywood’s latest version of the 1950s anti-communist classic, “Red Dawn,” features North Korean paratroopers invading Alaska. Really.

The White House should take a big deep breath, ignore the bombast, stop threatening North Korea with nuclear weapons, retire the war games, and restart aid programs. The only people hurt by the aid cutoffs are poor North Koreans.

Washington sees Indonesia is a potentially valuable ally in the alliance against China, as well as a source of valuable raw materials, and has thus given Jakarta a free pass on its human rights record. But for an administration that trumpets its support for democracy and says it has a moral view of the world, that real politique is unacceptable. The U.S. should finally own up to its role in the 1965 Indonesian coup that killed up to a million communists, leftists, trade unionists, and progressives. It should also halt all military aid to the Jakarta regime until the Indonesians prosecute those who committed atrocities in East Timor and West Papua. The U.S. should have nothing to do with training Kopassus, the Indonesian Special Forces unit that organized many of the East Timor massacres and is currently trying to crush an independence movement in West Papua.

Some of the White House’s actions have bordered on the petty. The U.S. is organizing an 11-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact that was designed to exclude China, the big dog on the Asian-pacific block. In retaliation, China is encouraging the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership that will exclude the U.S.

The U.S. is a Pacific power, but Asia is a very different place than it was two hundred years ago. You can’t dispatch “Chinese” Gordon and a couple of gunboats and get your way anymore. Nor can you deal with rivals by building alliances a’ la Cold War and threatening to use force. The world is too small, Asia is too big, and war would be catastrophic. The Pacific is no one’s “lake,” but an ocean vast enough for all.



Filed under Asia, China, India, Indonesia, Korea, Military, Pacific

Asia’s Mad Arms Race

Asia’s Mad Arms Race

Dispatches From The Edge

May 18, 2012

Asia is currently in the middle of an unprecedented arms race that is not only sharpening tensions in the region, but competing with efforts by Asian countries to address poverty and growing economic disparity. The gap between rich and poor—calculated by the Gini coefficient that measures inequality—has increased from 39 percent to 46 percent in China, India, and Indonesia. While affluent households continue to garner larger and larger portions of the economic pie, “Children born to poor families can be 10 times more likely to die in infancy” than those from wealthy families, according to Changyong Rhee, chief economist of the Asian Development Bank.

This inequality trend is particularly acute in India, where life expectancy is low, infant mortality high, education spotty, and illiteracy widespread, in spite of that country’s status as the third largest economy in Asia, behind China and Japan. According to an independent charity, the Naandi Foundation, some 42 percent of India’s children are malnourished. Bangladesh, a far poorer country, does considerably better in all these areas.

And yet last year India was the world’s leading arms purchaser, including a deal that will spend $20 billion dollars on high performance French fighter planes. India is also developing a long-range ballistic missile capable of carrying  multiple nuclear warheads, and buying submarines and surface craft. Its military budget is set to rise 17 percent this year to $42 billion.

“It is ridiculous. We are getting into a useless arms race at the expense of fulfilling the needs of poor people,” Praful Bidwai of the Coalition of Nuclear Disarmament and Peace told the New York Times.

China, too, is in the middle of an arms boom that includes beefing up its navy, constructing a new generation of stealth aircraft, and developing a ballistic missile that is potentially capable of neutralizing U.S. carriers near its coast. Beijing’s arms budget has grown at a rate of some 12 percent a year and, at $106.41 billion, is now the second largest on the planet. The U.S. budget—not counting the various wars Washington is embroiled in—runs a little over $800 billion, although some have estimated that it is over $1 trillion.

While China has made enormous strides in overcoming poverty, there are some 250 million Chinese officially still considered poor, and the country’s formerly red-hot economy is cooling. “Data on April spending and output put another nail into hopes that China’s economy is bottoming out,” Mark Williams, chief Asia economist at Capital Economics told the Financial Times.

The same is true for most of Asia. For instance, India’s annual economic growth rate has fallen from 9 percent to 6.1 percent over the past two and a half years.

Tensions between China and other nations in the region have set off a local arms race. Taiwan is buying four U.S.-made Perry-class guided missile frigates, and Japan has shifted much of its military from its northern islands to face southward toward China.

The Philippines are spending almost $1 billion on new aircraft and radar, and recently held joint war games with the U.S.  South Korea has just successfully tested a long-range cruise missile. Washington is reviving ties with Indonesia’s brutal military because the island nation controls the strategic seaways through which pass most of the region’s trade and energy supplies.

Australia is also re-orientating its defense to face China, and Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith has urged “that India play the role it could and should as an emerging great power in the security and stability of the region.”

But that “role” is by no means clear, and some have read Smith’s statement as an attempt to rope New Delhi into a united front against Beijing. The recent test of India’s Agni V nuclear-capable ballistic missile is largely seen as directed at China.

India and China fought a brief but nasty border war in 1962, and India claims China is currently occupying some 15,000 square miles in Indian territory. The Chinese, in turn, claim almost 40,000 square miles of the Indian state of Arunachai Pradesh. While Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says that “overall our relations [with China] are quite good,” he also admits “the border problem is a long-standing problem.”

India and China also had a short dust up last year when a Chinese warship demanded that the Indian amphibious assault vessel Airavat identify itself shortly after the ship left the port of Hanoi, Vietnam. Nothing came of the incident but Indian President Pratibha Patil has since stressed the need for “maritime security,” and “the protection of our coasts, our ‘sea lines of communications’ and the offshore development areas.”

China’s forceful stance in the South China Sea has stirred up tensions with Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei, and Malaysia as well. A standoff this past April between a Philippine war ship and several Chinese surveillance ships at Scarborough Shoal is still on a low simmer.

China’s more assertive posture in the region stems largely from the 1995-96 Taiwan Straits crisis that saw two U.S. carriers humiliate Beijing in its home waters. There was little serious danger of war during the crisis—China does not have the capability to invade Taiwan—but the Clinton Administration took the opportunity to demonstrate U.S. naval power. China’s naval build-up dates from that incident.

The recent “pivot” by Obama administration toward Asia, including a military buildup on Wake and Guam and the deployment of 2,500 Marines in Australia, has heightened tensions in the region, and Beijing’s heavy-handedness in the South China Sea has given Washington an opening to insert itself into the dispute.

China is prickly about its home waters—one can hardly blame it, given the history of the past 100 years—but there is no evidence that it is expansionist. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said in February “No country, including China, has claimed sovereignty over the entire South China Sea.” Nor does Beijing seem eager to use military force. Beijing has drawn some lessons from its disastrous 1979 invasion of Vietnam.

On the other hand, Beijing is seriously concerned about who controls the region’s seas, in part because some 80 percent of China’s energy supplies pass through maritime choke points controlled by the U.S. and its allies.

The tensions in Asia are real, if not as sharp or deep as they have been portrayed in the U.S. media. China and India do, indeed, have border “problems,” but China also describes New Delhi as “not competitors but partners,” and has even offered an alliance to keep “foreign powers”—read the U.S. and NATO—from meddling in the region.

The real question is, can Asia embark on an arms race without increasing the growing gulf between rich and poor and the resulting political instability that is likely to follow in its wake? “Widening inequality threatens the sustainability of Asian growth,” says Asian Development Bank economist Rhee. “A divided and unequal nation cannot prosper.”

More than half a century ago former General and President Dwight Eisenhower noted that “Every gun that is made, every warship that is launched, every rocket fired signifies…a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed…this is not a way of life at all…it is humanity hanging from an iron cross.”

Americans have ignored Eisenhower’s warning. Asian nations would do well to pay attention.



Filed under Asia, China, India, Indonesia, Korea, Military, Pacific, Philippines

The U.S., Indonesia & the NY Times

The U.S., Indonesia & The Times

Dispatches From The Edge

Jan. 20, 2012

Why is the New York Times concealing the key role that the United States played in the 1965 coup in Indonesia that ended up killing somewhere between 500,000 and 1 million people? In a story Jan. 19—“Indonesia Chips Away At the Enforced Silence Around a Dark History”—the Times writes that the coup was “one of the darkest periods in modern Indonesian history, and the least discussed, until now.”

Indeed it is, but the Times is not only continuing to ignore U.S. involvement in planning and carrying out the coup, but apparently doesn’t even bother to read its own clip files from that time that reported the Johnson administration’s “delight with the news from Indonesia.” The newspaper also reported a cable by Secretary of State Dean Rusk supporting the “campaign against the communists” and assuring the leader of the coup, General Suharto, that the “U.S. government [is] generally sympathetic with, and admiring of, what the army is doing.”

What the Indonesian Army was doing was raping and beheading communists, leftists, and trade unionists. Many people were savagely tortured to death by the military and its right-wing Muslim allies in the Nahdlatul Ulama and the Muhammadiyah. A number of those butchered were fingered by U.S. intelligence.

According to a three-part series in the July 1999 Sydney Morning Herald, interviews with Indonesian political prisoners, and examinations of U.S. and Australian documents, “Western powers urged the Indonesian military commanders to seize upon the false claims of a coup attempt instigated bu the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), in order to carry out one of the greatest civilian massacres of the 20th century and establish a military dictatorship.”

General Suharto claimed that the PKI was behind the assassination of six leading generals on the night of July 30, 1965, the incident that ignited the coup. But the Herald series included interviews with two of the men involved in the so-called September 30 putsch, both of who claim the PKI had nothing to do with the uprising. At the time, the PKI was part of a coalition government, had foresworn violence, and had an official policy of a “peaceful transition” to socialism. In fact, the organization made no attempt to mobilize its three million members to resist the coup.

The U.S. made sure that very few of those communists—as well as the leaders of peasant, women, union, and youth organizations— survived the holocaust. According to U.S. National Security Archives published by George Washington University, U.S. intelligence agents fingered many of those people. Then U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia, Marshall Green, said that an Embassy list of top Communist leaders “is being used by the Indonesian security authorities that seem to lack even the simplest overt information on PKI leadership at the time…”

The U.S. was well aware of the scale of the killings. In an April 15, 1966 telegram to Washington, the Embassy wrote, “We frankly do not know whether the real figure [of PKI killed] is closer to 100,000 or 1,000,000, but believe it wiser to err on the side of the lower estimates, especially when questioned by the press.”

Besides helping the military track down and murder any leftists, the U.S. also supplied the right-wing Kap-Gestapu movement with money. Writing in a memo to then Assistant Secretary of State McGeorge Bundy, Green wrote “The chances of detection or subsequent revelation of our support in this instance are as minimal as any black bag operation can be.”

States News Service reporter Kathy Kadane interviewed several former diplomats and intelligence agents and found that the list turned over to the Indonesian security forces had around 5,000 names on it. “It was really a big help to the Army,” former embassy political officer Robert J. Martens told Kadane. “They probably killed a lot of people, and I probably have a lot of blood on my hands, but that is not all bad. There is a time when you have to strike hard at a decisive moment.”

At the time, Washington was beginning a major escalation of the Vietnam War, and the Johnson administration was fixated on its mythical domino theory that communists were about to take over Asia. The U.S. considered Indonesia to be a strategically important country, not only because it controlled important sea passages, but also because it was rich in raw materials in which U.S. corporations were heavily invested. These included Richfield and Mobil oil companies, Uniroyal, Union carbide, Eastern Airlines, Singer Sewing Machines, National Cash Register, and the Freeport McMorRan gold and copper mining company.

At the time, Indonesian President Sukarno was one of the leaders of the “third force” movement, an alliance of nations that tried to keep itself aloof from the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The 1955 Bandung Conference drew countries from throughout Asia and Africa to Indonesia to create an anti-colonialist, non-aligned movement. It also drew the ire of the U.S, which refused to send a representative to Bangdung.

In the polarized world of the Cold War, non-alignment was not acceptable to Washington, and the U.S. began using a combination of diplomacy, military force and outright subversion to undermine countries like Indonesia and to bring them into alliances with the U.S. and its allies. The CIA encouraged separatist movements in the oil-rich provinces of Sumatra and Sulawesi. The British and the Australians were also up to their elbows in the 1965 coup, and France increased its trade with Indonesia following the massacre.

The relations between Jakarta and Washington are long and sordid. The U.S. gave Indonesia the green light to invade and occupy East Timor, an act that resulted in the death of over 200,000 people, or one-third of the Timorese population, a kill ratio greater than Pol Pot’s genocidal mania in Cambodia. Washington is also supportive of Indonesia’s seizure of Irian Jaya (West Papua) and, rather than condemning the brutality of the occupation, has blamed much of the violence on the local natives.

The Cold War is over, but not U.S. interests in Asia. The Obama administration is pouring military forces into the region and has made it clear that it intends to contest China’s growing influence in Asia and Southeast Asia. Here Indonesia is key. Some 80 percent of China’s energy supplies pass through Indonesian-controlled waters, and Indonesia is still a gold mine—literally in the case of Freeport McMoRan on Irian Jaya—of valuable resources.

So once again, the U.S. is turning a blind eye to the brutal and repressive Indonesian military that doesn’t fight wars but is devilishly good at suppressing its own people and cornering many of those resources for itself. The recent decision by the White House to begin working with Kopassus—Indonesia’s equivalent of the Nazi SS—is a case in point. Kopassus has been implicated in torture and murder in Irian Jaya and played in key role in the 1999 sacking of East Timor that destroyed 70 percent of that country’s infrastructure following Timor’s independence vote. Over 1500 Timorese were killed and 250,000 kidnapped to Indonesian West Timor.

It appears that Indonesians are beginning to speak up about the horrors of the 1965 coup. Books like Geoffrey Robinson’s “The Dark Side of Paradise” and Robert Lemelson’s documentary film, “40 Years of Silence: an Indonesian Tragedy,” are slowly wearing away at the history manufactured by the military dictatorship.

But the U.S. has yet to come clean on its role in the 1965 horror, and the New York Times has apparently decided to continue that silence, perhaps because once again Indonesia is pivotal to Washington’s plans for Asia?



Filed under Asia, China, FPIF Blogs, Indonesia, Oil, Pacific

The Obama Administration & Indonesia

Bedding Down With The Devil in Indonesia

Dispatches From The Edge

Sept. 28, 2010

Bedding down with the Devil is the only way one can describe a recent decision by the Obama administration to resume contact with the Indonesian military’s (TNI) most notorious human rights abuser, the Special Forces unit, Kopassus. Following a July meeting with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, U.S. Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates lifted the 1999 ban on any contact with the unit.

The Indonesian military has a long record of brutality toward its own people, starting with the massacre of somewhere from 500,000 to 1 million Communists and leftists during a 1965 military coup. That massive bloodletting was followed by a reign of terror against separatist groups in Aceh and West Papua and the invasion of East Timor. In the latter case, the UN estimated that as many as 200,000 died as a direct result of the 24-year occupation, a per capita kill rate that actually surpasses what Pol Pot managed in Cambodia.

But, even by the brutal standards of the TNI, the 5,000-man Kopassus unit has always stood out. It kidnapped and murdered students in 1997 and 1998, made up the shock troops for the Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor, and ruthlessly suppressed any moves toward independence in West Papua.

West Papua is the western half of New Guinea that Indonesia invaded in 1969.

“Working with Kopassus, which remains unrepentant about its long history of terrorizing civilians, will undermine efforts to achieve justice and accountability for human rights violations in Indonesia and Timor-Leste [formally East Timor],” says John M. Miller, national coordinator of East Timor & Indonesia Action Network (ETAN).

The Obama administration’s rationale for lifting the ban is that U.S. contact with Kopassus will serve to improve the unit’s human rights record. “It is a different unit than its reputation suggests,” Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morell told the New York Times. “Clearly, it had a very dark past, but they have done a lot to change that.” In any case, he said, “the percentage of suspicious bad actors in the unit is tiny…probably a dozen, or a couple of dozen people.”

The aid to Kopassus appears to violate the Leahy Law that prevents the U.S. from training military units accused of human rights violations. “Kopassus has a long history of abuse and remains unrepentant, essentially unreformed, and unaccountable” U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt) told the Times.

No one in Kopassus or the TNI accused of human rights violations has ever been tried or removed from their position. “We regret this development very much,” Poengky Indarti of the Indonesian human rights group Imparsial told Reuters. “There is still impunity in the Indonesian military, especially in Kopassus.” She added, “We are confused about the position of Barak Obama, Is he pro-human rights or not?”

According to ETAN, Kopassus—sometimes called Unit 81—helped organize the murder of five Australian journalists in Balibo on the eve of Indonesia’s 1975 invasion of East Timor. Kopassus is also accused of a 2002 ambush in West Papua that killed three teachers, two from the U.S. According to Australian intelligence, the ambush was an effort to discredit the Papuan liberation movement.

There is also suspicion that the attack was aimed at blackmailing mine owners into paying protection money. From 2000 to 2002, Freeport McMoRan paid the TNI $10.7 million in protection money, but the company shut down the payments shortly before the ambush.

No one in Kopassus has ever been disciplined for the unit’s role in organizing nationalist militias to terrorize the East Timorese into voting against independence. The TNI financed and led militias’ killed some 1500 people, displaced two-thirds of the population, and systematically destroyed 75 percent of East Timor’s infrastructure.

It was Kopassus’ involvement in forming and directing the militias that was responsible for the U.S. decision to stop military training for the unit.

And, rather than improving Kopassus’ human rights record, U.S. training appears to have had the opposite effect. The “worst abuses” by the Indonesian military, according to Ed McWilliams, a former U.S. State Department counselor in Jakarta from 1996-99, “took place when we [the U.S.] were most engaged.”

According to Karen Orenstein, former Washington coordinator of ETAN, “History demonstrates that providing training and other assistance only emboldens the Indonesian military to violate human rights and block accountability for past injustices.”

This pattern is not confined to Indonesia. A recent study by the Fellowship for Reconciliation found that Colombian army units trained by the U.S. were the troops most likely to be associated with human rights violations.

“There are alarming links between increased reports of extrajudicial executions of civilians by the Colombian army and units that receive U.S. military financing,” John Lindsay-Poland told the Inter Press Service. Lindsay-Poland is a research and advocacy director for the Fellowship and an author of the two-year study.

Called “Military Assistance and Human Rights: Colombia, U.S. Accountability, and Global Implications,” the report examined 3,000 extrajudicial executions by the Colombian military. “We found that for many military units, reports of extrajudicial executions increased during and after the highest levels of U.S. assistance,” Lindsay-Poland told IPS.

The U.S. “School for the Americas” has trained numerous Latin American leaders associated with human rights abuses and death squads.

ETAN points out that Maj. Gen. Hotma Marbun, a senior Kopassus commander, has just been appointed regional commander in West Papua. Marbun was a highly placed officer during a particularly bloody period in East Timor from 1983-86, and was also involved in military operations in West Papua in 1982 and 1994.

Human rights organizations are reporting that the INF has stepped up its counterinsurgency operations in West Papua, including numerous sweeps aimed at “separatists.” The Indonesian military tends to describe any West Papuan who objects to Indonesia’s military occupation as “separatists.”

Some 22 non-governmental organizations from Indonesia, Australia, Germany, Britain, Timor-Leste, and the Netherlands have written a letter to President Yudhoyono protesting the imprisonment of scores of Papuans arrested for  peacefully demonstrating or expressing their opinions. Some of these activists have been sentenced for “rebellion” under the criminal code that goes back to the Dutch colonial period.

According to the NGOs the use of the criminal code to imprison dissenters is a violation of the Indonesian constitution that guarantees citizens the right to “freedom of association and expression of opinion,” and the right to right to “seek, acquire, possess keep, process and convey information by using all available channels.”

Sentences have ranged from three to 15 years, and human rights groups say that the prisoners have been mistreated.

More than 50 members of the U.S. Congress recently sent a letter to President Obama stating that the Indonesian government may have committed “genocide” against West Papuans. “Genocide is usually difficult to document since leaders are often reluctant to state their intentions to destroy another nation, race, or ethnic group,” the letter stated. “Even still, in 2007 Col Burhanuddin Siagian, who was then the local commander said, ‘If I encounter elements that use government facilities, but still are betraying the nation, I will destroy them.’”

Members of the congressional Black and Hispanic caucuses are prominent in the group of 50. The Congress members urged President Obama to meet with representatives of the West Papua during his upcoming November visit to Indonesia and to make the island “one of the highest priorities of the American administration.”

West Papua groups have called for an “international dialogue” on the current situation, and Komnas Ham, the Indonesian government’s official human rights commission, recommends withdrawing military forces from the island to encourage an atmosphere for talks.

In the meantime, ETAN and the West Papua Advocacy Team (WPAC) have asked the Obama administration to reject Indonesia’s new ambassador to the U.S., Dino Djalal. The groups claim that Djalal has been a tool for the Indonesian military and that he blamed the violence in East Timor on the Timorese.  ETAN and WPAC say that Djalal was “a dogged critic of international journalists and human rights organizations who sought to report these atrocities.”

Why is the U.S. bedding down with these thugs?

According to the New York Times, Indonesian “officials dropped hints that the unit [Kopassus] might explore building ties with the Chinese military if the ban [against training] remained.” With the U.S. taking a more aggressive stance Asia—the recent U.S.-South Korean war games, and the immense pressure the Obama administration put on Japan to let it build a new Marine base in Okinawa come to mind—the U.S. clearly saw a Chinese incursion into Indonesia as a threat.

Of course, there might never have been a Chinese offer. Indonesia learned long ago that all one had to do to open the U.S. aid spigot was to become chummy with Beijing.

The U.S. has a long and sordid relationship with Indonesia’s military. According to documents uncovered by George Washington University, the U.S. fingered leftists for military death squads during the 1965 coup. During the Ford administration, then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger gave Indonesia the green light to invade East Timor. And the Americans acquiesced with Jakarta’s torpedoing of a UN-sponsored referendum on independence following Indonesia’s 1969 invasion of West Papua.

It looks like we are about to once more bed down with some pretty awful characters.


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Indonesia: U.S. underwriting terrorism?

Foreign Policy in Focus

Sept. 15, 2004

Behind a recent, highly controversial indictment by the U.S. Department of Justice, the Bush Administration is maneuvering to revive military ties with the Indonesian Army (TNI), one of the world’s most oppressive institutions.

In late June, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft convinced a federal grand jury to indict Anthonuis Wamang for a 2002 ambush in West Papua that killed two Americans, an Indonesian, and wounded 12 others. The indictment identifies Wamang as a commander in the Free Papua Movement (OPM) and, despite strong evidence to the contrary, clears the Indonesian military of charges that it engineered the incident.

Human rights groups, long-time observers of Indonesia, and even the Indonesian police say the indictment ignores evidence tying the ambush to the most notorious unit of the TNI, Kopassus. Indeed, rights groups charge that Wamang works for Kopassus, not the OPM.

The OPM has been fighting a low-key rebellion since Indonesia—with U.S. support—short-circuited a UN election and engineered the seizure of West Papua in 1969. West Papua is the western half of New Guinea and Indonesia’s eastern-most province.

The U.S. has a long relationship with the TNI, dating back to the 1965 coup that overthrew President Sukarno and led to the murder of over 500,000 Communists and leftists. According to declassified U.S. documents, American intelligence helped finger some of the coup’s victims. The U.S. also supported Indonesia’s violent takeover of East Timor in 1975.

The Bush Administration is presently pushing Congress to fund an International Military Education and Training (IMET) program for Indonesia, but Congress is holding up the monies because of Indonesia’s resistance to seriously investigate the 2002 ambush.

The U.S. first restricted Indonesia’s IMET funds following the 1991 massacre of 270 civilians in Santa Cruz, East Timor. All military ties were suspended in 1999 when TNI-organized civilian death squads ravaged East Timor following that country’s independence vote. IMET funds were suspended after the 2002 West Papua ambush.

While the TNI blamed the OPM for the attack, not even the local police agree. Two months after the Aug. 31 ambush, a police report found that the OPM was an unlikely suspect because the group “never attacks white people.” It concluded that TNI involvement “was a strong possibility.”

At the time, U.S. officials concured with the charge of TNI involvement. A “senior (Bush) administration official” told Raymond Bonner of the New York Times, that “there is no question there was military involvement. There is no question it was premeditated.”

Two vans were ambushed leaving Freeport McMoRan’s Grasberg mine, the largest gold and copper mine in the world. The attacker, or attackers, used M-16s, a weapon that has never been associated with the OPM, many of whose members use bows and arrows. OPM spokesperson John Ondowame denied any involvement in the attack. “I can say with assurance that the incident did not involve the Free Papua Movement,” he told the press in Melbourne, Australia.

According to a November, 2002 story in the Washington Post, Australian intelligence intercepted phone calls from Indonesian Commander-in-Chief, Endriartono Sutarto, discussing carrying out an ambush as a way to discredit the OPM and get the U.S. to designate it a “terrorist organization.”

It would hardly be surprising that the TNI, in particular Korassus, would engineer such an incident. In 2001 seven low-level members of the unit were jailed for murdering Papuan independence leader, Theys Eluay.

The seven are appealing their two to three year sentences which, given the track record of such appeals for war crimes committed in East Timor, are likely to be overturned. Out of 18 Indonesians charged with war crimes for their behavior in East Timor, Indonesian courts acquitted 12, and convicted six. Of the six, four had their sentences overturned, and one had his sentence halved. The one civilian charged, the former governor of East Timor, was sentenced to three and a half years. The minimum for such crimes is 10 years.

In the meantime, Indonesia has ignored the UN-sponsored court in East Timor, which has charged almost 400 people with war crimes, including former presidential candidate, General Wiranto. Indonesia has refused to hand over any of the defendants.

Besides discrediting the OPM, the military had a financial stake in the ambush. Freeport McMoRan paid the TNI $10.7 million in protection money from 2000 to 2002, and provided military officers with free airline tickets. The company stopped the payments shortly before the ambush because a new American corporate responsibility law required disclosure of such payments. One intelligence analyst told Bonner it was “extortion, pure and simple.”

But the stakes are much bigger than bribes and free airline tickets.

Re-starting the lucrative Indonesia-U.S. arms pipeline and roping in a potential ally against what some in the Bush Administration see as their future competitor—China—overshadows greasing the palms of local Indonesian military commanders. Indonesia could be an important link in the chain of bases and allies the U.S. is forging in Asia. Australia, the Philippines, Japan, and India have already signed up for the U.S. anti-missile system. The Bush Administration says it is directed at North Korea, but the Chinese are convinced it targets their small missile fleet.

The U.S. Defense Department (DOD) has lobbied to end the ban on arms sales and cooperation with the Indonesian military, in spite of the latter’s horrendous human rights record in the rebellious province of Aceh, the Malukus, East Timor, and Papua. “I think it is unfortunate that the U.S. today does not have military-to-military relationships with Indonesia,” says Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Rumsfeld’s right hand man, DOD Assistant Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, argues, “More contact with the West and the United States and moving them in a positive direction is important both to support democracy and support the fight against terrorism.” Wolfowitz was Ambassador to Indonesia during the Reagan Administration.

But others argue the opposite.

According to Karen Orenstein, Washington coordinator for the East Timor Action Network (ETAN), “History demonstrates that providing training and other assistance only emboldens the Indonesian military to violate human rights and block accountability for past injustices.”

The Indonesian military’s “worst abuses,” says Ed McWilliams, former State Department political counselor in the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta from 1996-99, “took place when we (the U.S.) were most engaged.”

“Abuses” is a mild term for what the IMT has inflicted on places like East Timor and Aceh.

According to the UN, Indonesia’s 24-year occupation of East Timor resulted in 200,000 deaths, a higher kill ratio than Pol Pot managed in Cambodia. Following the vote for independence, TNI-sponsored militias went on a rampage, killing up to 1,500 people, forcing another 250,000 into concentration camps in West Timor, and destroying 70 percent of East Timor’s infrastructure.

In May, 2003, Indonesia broke a cease-fire with the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), sent in 40,000 troops and 10,000 police, and sealed off the oil-rich province of Sumatra from journalists, human rights groups and even international aid organizations like UNICEF, the Red Cross, and the World Health Organization. Much of Aceh’s civilian population has been moved into strategic hamlets and, according to Amnesty International, there is “widespread…torture of detainees in both military and police custody.”

As in East Timor, the military, with the blessing of Indonesian President, Magawaiti Sukarnoputri, has organized “civilian defense groups” that are little more than death squads. According to the government-run National Commission on Human Rights, the military has been recruiting, training and arming such groups, which are then unleashed on the population.

The TNI has also been accused of aiding the right-wing Muslim organization, Laskar Jihad, which is associated with widespread violence in Maluku and is increasingly active in West Papua.

Ashcroft’s indictment has stirred outrage among human rights groups, both in West Papua and the U.S.

An Aug. 4 joint press statement from three Papuan rights groups, ELSHAM, LEMASA and YAHAMAK, expressed “grave concern over the actions of U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft” and accused Ashcroft of “suppressing evidence” that the groups had supplied FBI agents investigating the ambush.

The groups say that Wamang, the target of the indictment, was “a business partner of Kopassus.” The groups also charge that the Indonesian military “routinely uses civilians to stage attacks,” and that the former Police Chief of West Papua, General Made Pastika, concluded the TNI was behind the attack. According to the three groups, none of this evidence was presented to the grand jury.

In his statement announcing the indictment, Ashcroft said, “The U.S. government is committed to tracking down and prosecuting terrorists who prey on innocent Americans in Indonesia and around the world. Terrorists will find they cannot hide from U.S. justice.”

But according to a 2002 study by the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, the TNI’s links to groups like Laskar Jihad has made it ” a major facilitator of terrorism.”

As John Miller of ETAN points out, the Indonesian military carries out and sponsors terrorism throughout the huge archipelago. “Who,” he asks, “are the terrorists here?”

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Reforming Repression

Dispatches From The edge


Behind the hunt for Al Queda terrorist cells, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld recently called for rebuilding military relations with the Indonesian Army. In a joint May 13 press conference with his Indonesian counterpart, Matori Abdul Djalil, Rumsfeld said the Bush Administration intended to work with Congress, “to reestablish the kind of military-to-military relations which we believe are appropriate.”

This is hardly a new development. Shortly after Sept. 11, the White House, led by Dep. Sec. Of State, and former ambassador to Indonesia, Paul Wolfowitz, began maneuvering to loosen restrictions on military aid to Jakarta. The latter was cut off by the Clinton Administration during the Indonesian Army’s 1999 rampage in East Timor that killed thousands of civilians and destroyed 70 percent of the tiny country’s infrastructure.

But now Bush Administration officials argue that the Indonesian Army has “reformed” since the bad old days (two years ago) and needs our help in its struggle against “terrorism.” U.S. intelligence says Osama bin Ladin and Al Queda are active with extremist groups in Java. These days all you have to do is mention “Al Queda” and the Marines start tooling up. But if we aren’t careful, the US is likely to find itself in the middle of several very nasty civil wars, which have little to do with jihad, but quite a lot to do with very worldly things like gold, copper, and oil.

The Indonesian Army, while small by regional standards, has done a stunningly efficient job of massacring its own people over the years. A little history about the outfit we are about to sell helicopters and communication equipment to seems in order.

The Army got off to a good start on the business of killing its own when it suppressed an uprising in 1965 by murdering some 500,000 leftists. According to declassified documents published Aug. 1, 2001 by the George Washington University National Security Archive, the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta fingered some of those leftists.

The U.S has supplied Indonesia with over 90 percent of its military hardware over the past 30 years, and Indonesia put those weapons to deadly use in 1975 when it invaded tiny East Timor, a former Portuguese colony on Indonesia’s eastern edge. That invasion, according to the same documents, had the full blessing of then President Gerald Ford and Sec. Of State, Henry Kissinger.

According to the United Nations, Indonesia’s 24 years of occupation resulted in the deaths of over 200,000 Timorese, or one third the pre-invasion inhabitants. In terms of percentage of the population, not even Pol Pot managed that kill ratio.

When Timor voted for independence in a1999 UN-sponsored referendum, the Indonesian Army and its militia allies systematically destroyed the country, killing at least 2,000 people and forcing 250,000 more into concentration camps in West Timor.

The Indonesian Army is presently engaged in suppressing two other independence movements, one in Sumatra’s Aceh Province and the other in Irian Jaya on the country’s eastern edge.

The campaign in Aceh has killed over 6,000 people, 1,500 in the last year alone. In Irian Jaya, which makes up the western side of Papua New Guinea, the Army has been jailing pro-independence supporters, and firing on demonstrators. In November, Kopassus, an Indonesian Army unit accused of widespread human rights violations, invited one of Irian Jaya’s independence leaders to a dinner. He ended up strangled to death on the side of the road,

From all indications, that violence is likely to escalate. In a Dec. 29, 2001 speech to military cadets, Indonesian President Magawati Sukanoputri told them “You can do your duty without being worried about human rights,” a green light to unleash the full fury of the Army’s repressive skills. No more Mr. Nice Guys?

While Jakarta says its civil wars are about terrorism, what’s really at stake are billions of dollars in raw materials. The siezure of East Timor allowed Indonesia to claim part of the Timor Gap, a channel between Timor and Australia, estimated to contain anywhere from 1 to 6 billion barrels of oil. While the Indonesians have finally left East Timor, they are hanging onto a section of the Gap.

In Iryan Jaya (recently renamed West Papua) the Army is deep into logging, as well as protecting the investments of the US operated Freeport-McMoran gold and copper mine and the Atlantic Richfield oil company.

Both Aceh and Iryan Jaya’s independence movements were peaceful until Army repression sparked a violent response. As Sidney Jones, the Asia Director of Human Rights Watch put it, “The brutality of the army created the mass base for separatist movements.”

In the name of fighting “terrorism,” the Bush Administration is about to reestablish ties with a particularly brutal bunch of military thugs. Bad idea the first time around, bad idea the second,

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Of Dogs & Fleas

SF Examiner

Feb. 8, 2002

The problem of lying down with dogs, goes the old saying, it that you end up with fleas. Over the years, the US has run with some nasty brutes, from the Congo’s Mobutu to Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. One would think we learned a few lessons from those kind of alliances, but in its worldwide crusade against terrorism, the Bush Administration is about to bunk down with the Indonesian Army, a pack of junkyard canines with a record of murder and mayhem second to none.

Shortly after Sept. 11, the White House, led by Dep. Sec. Of State, Administration super hawk, and former ambassador to Indonesia Paul Wolfowitz, began maneuvering to loosen restrictions on military aid to Jakarta. The latter was cut off by the Clinton Administration during the Indonesian Army’s 1999 rampage in East Timor that killed thousands of civilians and destroyed 70 percent of the tiny country’s infrastructure.

But Bush Administration officials argue that the Indonesian Army has “reformed” since those bad old days (two years ago) and now needs our help in its struggle against “terrorism” by separatist movements in several provinces. In any case, they claim, U.S. intelligence says Osama bin Ladin and Al Queda are active with extremist groups in Java. These days all you have to do is mention “Al Queda” and the Marines start tooling up. But if we aren’t careful, the US is likely to find itself in the middle of several very nasty civil wars, which have little to do with jihad, but quite a lot to do with very worldly things like gold, copper, and oil.

The Indonesian Army, while small by regional standards, has done a stunningly efficient job of massacring its own people over the years. Since the press these days has been imitating a bunch of stenographers with amnesia, a little history about the outfit to which we are about to sell helicopters and communication equipment seems in order.

The Army got off to a good start on the business of killing its own when it suppressed an uprising in 1965 by murdering some 500,000 leftists, many of them fingered, according to recently declassified documents, by the US Embassy in Jakarta. Oh yes, we’ve run with these guys before, supplying them over 90 percent of their military hardware over the past 30 years.

Indonesia put those to deadly use in 1975 when it invaded tiny East Timor, a former Portuguese colony on Indonesia’s eastern edge. That invasion, according to the same documents, had the full blessing of then President Gerald Ford and Sec. Of State, Henry Kissinger.

According to the United Nations, Indonesia’s 24 years of occupation resulted in the deaths of over 200,000 Timorese, or one third the pre-invasion inhabitants. In terms of percentage of the population, not even Pol Pot managed that kill ratio.

When Timor voted for independence in a1999 UN-sponsored referendum, the Indonesian Army and its militia allies systematically destroyed the country, killing at least 2,000 people and forcing 250,000 more into concentration camps in West Timor.

The Indonesian Army is presently engaged in suppressing two other independence movements, one in Sumatra’s Aceh Province and the other in Irian Jaya on the country’s eastern edge.

The campaign in Aceh has killed over 6,000 people, 1,500 in the last year alone. In Irian Jaya, which makes up the western side of Papua New Guinea, the Army has been jailing pro-independence supporters, and firing on demonstrators. In November, Kopassus, the Indonesian Army’s equivalent of the SS, invited one of Irian Jaya’s independence leaders to a dinner. He ended up strangled to death on the side of the road,

From all indications, that violence is likely to escalate. In a recent speech to military cadets, Indonesian President Magawati Sukanoputri told them “You can do your duty without being worried about human rights,” a green light to unleash the full fury of the Army’s repressive skills. No more Mr. Nice Guys.

While Jakarta says its civil wars are about terrorism, what’s really at stake are billions of dollars in raw materials. The siezure of East Timor allowed Indonesia to claim part of the Timor Gap, a channel between Timor and Australia, estimated to contain anywhere from 1 to 6 billion barrels of oil. While the Indonesians have finally left East Timor, they are hanging onto the Gap.

In Iryan Jaya (recently renamed West Papua) the Army is deep into logging, as well as protecting the investments of the US operated Freeport-McMoran gold and copper mine and the Atlantic Richfield oil company.

Indonesia’s problems are caused by greed, not terrorism, and by the nature of its own army. Both Aceh and Iryan Jaya’s independence movements were peaceful until Army repression sparked a violent response. As Sidney Jones, the Asia Director of Human Rights Watch put it, “The brutality of the army created the mass base for separatist movements.”

In the name of fighting “terrorism,” we are about to bed down with this outfit. Bad idea the first time around, bad idea the second,

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Indonesia & the U.S.: A Shameful Record

Foreign Policy In Focus

Conn Hallinan

Aug. 3, 2007

This is a tale about politics, influence, money and murder. It began more than 40 years ago with a bloodletting so massive no one quite knows how many people died. Half a million? A million? Through four decades the story has left a trail of misery and terror. Last month it claimed four peasants, one of them a 27-year old mother.

It is the history of the relationship between the United States and the Indonesian military, and unless Congress puts the brakes on the Bush Administration’s plans to increase aid and training for that army, it is likely to claim innumerable victims in the future.

Speaking alongside Indonesia’s Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsone in Singapore last month, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the White House intends “to deepen the strategic partnership between Indonesia and the USA.” (U.S. Department of Defense Press Release, 6/2/07)

Given what that partnership has led to over the past four decades, it a profoundly disturbing statement.

The Washington-Jakarta narrative begins in 1965 with the Tentara Nasional Indonesia’s (TNI)—the Indonesian Army— massacre of Indonesian leftists, a bloodletting in which the U.S. was a partner How many died is unclear, certainly 500,000, and maybe up to a million or more. According to the U.S. National Security Archives published by George Washington University, the U.S. not only encouraged the annihilation of Indonesia’s left, it actually fingered individuals to the military death squads. (National Security Archives, 8/1/01; Public Integrity, Andreas Harsono, International Consortium of Investigate Journalists)

When Suharto, the dictator who took over after the 1965 massacres, decided to invade the former Portuguese colony of East Timor in 1975, the Ford Administration gave him a green light. Out of a population of 600,000 to 700,000, the invasion killed between 83,000 and 182,000, according to the Commission of Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (Chega;

“As a permanent member of the Security Council and superpower,” the Commission found, “the U.S… consented to the invasion and allowed Indonesia to use its military equipment in the knowledge that this violated U.S. law and would be used to suppress the right of self-determination.” Peace or Justice? East Timor’s Troubled Road, Japan Focus, 12/27/05)

The U.S. was not alone in abetting the invasion. Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam “encouraged” the invasion, according to the Jakarta Post, and Japan, Indonesia’s leading source of aid and trade, stayed on the sidelines. France and Britain increased trade and aid in the invasion’s aftermath, and in an effort to protect Indonesia’s Catholics, the Vatican remained silent. (Ibid)

It was not the first time the U.S. and its allies had rolled for Jakarta. When the Suharto dictatorship short-circuited a 1969 United Nations plebiscite on the future of West Papua, no one raised a protest.

Through six presidents—Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Bush and Clinton—the TNI had carte blanche to brutally suppress autonomy movements in Aech, Papua, and East Timor, murder human rights activists, and—according to the U.S. Department of Defense, the Justice Department and the State Department—engage in violence and oppression against women, threats to civil liberties, child exploitation, religious persecution, and judicial and prison abuse.

After more than 30 years of either encouraging or turning a blind eye to the savagery of the TNI, the Clinton Administration and the UN finally intervened to stop the rampage unleashed on the Timorese when they had the effrontery to vote for independence in 1999. However, before the force of mostly Australian troops could land, TNI-sponsored and led militias killed some 1500 people, destroyed 70 percent of East Timor’s infrastructure, and deported 250,000 Timorese to Indonesian West Timor.

Indonesia has refused to hand over any of the TNI officers currently charged for crimes against humanity for leading the 1999 pogrom or taking part in the brutal suppression of East Timor from 1975 to 1999. Indeed, many have been reassigned to places like West Papua, where Indonesia is attempting to crush a low-level independence insurgency.

Col Burhanuddin Siagian, indicted for crimes against humanity for his actions in East Timor, was recently appointed a sub-regional military commander in Papua.

“It is shocking that a government supposedly committed to military reform and fighting impunity would appoint an indicted officer to a sensitive senior post in Papua,” Paula Makabory, spokesperson for the Institute for Human Rights Study & Advocacy—West Papua told the Australian Broadcasting Company. A coaltion of human rights organizations is demanding that Indonesian President Susilo Yudhoyono withdraw the appointment and suspend Siagian from duty. (Australian Broadcasting Company, 6/14/07)

Several other commanders, all under indictment for human rights crimes, have also been appointed to military posts in Papua and the province of Aech.

And how does the TNI continue to get away with this?

Starting in 2001, Indonesia began a multi-million dollar lobbying campaign— abetted by the White House—to lift the ban on military aid to Indonesia. A leading force in that campaign is Paul Wolfowitz, disgraced former head of the World Bank and ambassador to Indonesia from 1986 to 1989.

The lobbying worked and sanctions were gradually relaxed. Military aid more than doubled from 2001 to 2004. In 2005, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, “A reformed and effective Indonesian military is in the interest of everyone in the region,” and lifted the last restrictions on military aid. (Publicintegrity, org 5/31/07)

Part of the “reforms” Rice referred to require the TNI to divest itself of its vast economic network, which, according to the International Relations Center, accounts for 70 to 75 percent of the military’s funding. The TNI runs corporations, mining operations, and cooperatives.(Ibid)

A 2004 law requires the TNI to divest itself of its holdings by 2009, but a loophole allows the military to keep “foundations” and “cooperatives.” According to Defense Minister Sudarsone, 1494 out of the TNI’s 1500 businesses are “foundations’ or “cooperatives.” (Australian Broadcasting Company, 6/14/07)

“The core problem for addressing impunity [of TNI commanders] is that civilian government has no control over the military while they do not control their finances,” Human Rights Watch Chair Charmin Mohamed told Radio Australia, “and on this key issue Yudhoyono has clearly failed.” (Ibid)

While the military continues to resist efforts to reform, there is growing anger at the TNI’s penchant for violence.

In late May, Indonesian Marines opened fire on East Java demonstrators protesting the TNI’s claim to land the protestors say was taken illegally. Four people were killed and several others wounded, including a four-year old child whose mother was among the dead. (Asian Sentinel, 6/8/07)

The shootings have angered some important political figures. Djoko Suslio, who sits on the powerful Defense Committee, accused the military of using “weapons, brought with money from the state budget to kill their own brothers,” and the important Islamic Crescent Star Party denounced the killings. Abdurraham Wahid, a former president and the leader of the National Awakening Party, says his organization intends to filie civil suits against the Navy. The Missing Person and Victims of Violence organization is petitioning the government to move the case from military to civilian courts. (ETAN rewlease, 6/28/07)

The TNI’s track record has also angered some in the U.S. Congress. Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY) and Chris Smith (R-NJ) are currently leading a campaign to cut the Bush Administration’s proposed aid package because of Jakarta’s failure to prosecute human rights violations.(Jakarta Post 6/12/07) Arrayed against that is the Bush Administration’s campaign to surround China with U.S. allies and more than 40 years of cooperation or acquiescence to the brutality of the Indonesian military.

For further information, see East Timor and Indonesian Action Network (


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