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Action Alert 

Between a Rock and a Hard Place: President Megawati and US Military Aid and Training

16 October 2001

Indonesia's new president, Megawati Sukarnoputri, finds herself between a rock and a hard place in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Megawati was the first Muslim leader to travel to the White House and pledge her support to President George W. Bush's war against terrorism. As the leader of the world's largest Muslim nation, her visit allowed Bush to deftly counter criticism that the new war on terrorism was a thinly veiled war on Islam. President Megawati condemned the attacks as "barbaric and indiscriminate" and "pledged to cooperate with the international community in combating terrorism."

President Bush promised Megawati more than $700 million in economic aid, including money for police training and civilian courses in defense. He also expressed his desire to resume regular military contact, and lift the embargo on the sale of "non-lethal" weapons to Indonesia. This was the beginning of a valuable new partnership between the two nations.

Megawati's support for the U.S.-led bombing of Afghanistan has led to violent protests in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta and elsewhere in the nation. She is now faced with the conundrum of choosing between friendship with the United States and stability in her country.

Her alliance with the United States has already borne fruit in the form of new economic and military aid. But, in a speech on Monday October 15th, Megawati condemned the military strikes against Afghanistan with strong words, speaking to the anti-American protestors in the streets of Jakarta, engaged in the familiar dance of violence, tear gas and beatings with the police.

But the problem is Washington's tactic of using military and economic aid as an inducement to join the war against terrorism. As President George W. Bush builds an international coalition to fight terrorism, he is in danger of arming and training some of the Pacific region's worst tools of terror- namely the Indonesian military.

Bush's promise of new military and economic aid also threatens to reverse years of work to curb human rights abuses by the Indonesian military. In the past few years, Congress and the American public, repeatedly horrified at how U.S. weapons and military training have been wielded against the Indonesian people, moved to impose a series of controls that have amounted to an almost complete embargo in the last few years. Restoration of aid is conditioned on the Indonesian military's progress in purging human rights abusers from its ranks, ending impunity and respecting civilian authority. President Bush's offer of police training and "non-lethal" weapons are the first steps towards reversing years of important work.

The Bush administration views the Indonesian military as central to regional economic and political stability and an essential ally in the fight against terrorism. But, as the 17,000-island archipelago bends to the point of breaking beneath the weight of numerous conflicts, severe financial crisis, political volatility and violence in the streets, stability is hard to find and terror is rampant.

Frida Berrigan.
Research Associate,
Arms Trade Resource Center, World Policy Institute.

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