Tuesday, August 9, 2016


The Defense Ministry proposed to implement the Bela Negara program of compulsory state defense education. The proposal was further consolidated in the 2015 Defense White Paper (DWP), released several months ago, which dedicated a whole chapter to the issue.


Defending the nation-state is not only about being able to fire a live rifle at outsiders. It should also be about educating citizens to appreciate the states of peace and war themselves.

Carl von Clausewitz was one of the most prominent philosophers of war. His work remains one of the essential readings for militaries worldwide. In its entirety, Clausewitz's On War is not only a manual describing the intricate mechanisms of war, but also a guideline on what one should expect at the end of a war.

At the risk of oversimplifying Clausewitz's message, the adage Si vis pacem para bellum captures his idea of the ideal war. To achieve peace, one must prepare for war.

Like many great ideas, Clausewitz’s ideas on strategy can be made to fit the situation of the government of the nation-state. Indonesia’s grand defense strategy is not an exception.

Last year, a hot-button issue emerged in public discourse. The Defense Ministry proposed to implement the Bela Negara program of compulsory state defense education. The proposal was further consolidated in the 2015 Defense White Paper (DWP), released several months ago, which dedicated a whole chapter to the issue.

The ambitious program, which somehow outshined the acclaimed Global Maritime Fulcrum, is concerned with two things. First, instilling values of “patriotism, national awareness, belief in Pancasila as the country’s ideology, willingness to sacrifice for the nation [sic] and having the basic capability to defend the nation.” Second, the program aims to bolster reserves by 100 million cadres over the next decade.

The DWP does not specify exactly how and in what values the cadres are expected to be educated. This ambiguity gave rise to controversy the previous year, with people, from citizens to politicians, arguing whether or not the education of values would be akin to the late president Suharto’s Pendidikan Moral Pancasila indoctrination program. Additionally, the program was also suspected to be an attempt to increase the military’s grasp on civilian life, a move which could strain Indonesia’s civil-military relations.

We have passed the point where debate on the effectiveness or urgency of the program is relevant. Bela Negara has already begun and it is likely to continue. However, that does not mean we cannot improve on it. Thus, I would propose Bela Negara to not only consist of marching drills, physical training and listening to lectures about the importance of nationalism. Keeping the physical aspect intact, Bela Negara should rather educate cadres on the importance of war and peace.

Forget the traditional indoctrination of nationalistic values consisting of hours of sitting in class during PPKN listening to the schoolteacher drone on about the importance of being a patriot. What Bela Negara cadres should be taught is the important role of strategy — specifically, military strategy — in war and peace. Cadres should be taught briefly of past wars and the essential discourse on war to establish an understanding of the nature of war. It is only fair that cadres, who have willingly signed up for the Bela Negara program, should know the situation that they might (and will) end up in, at least within the possible limits of the artificial environment of the training room.

Cadres should be taught that wars are fought for a political reason - in this case, the integrity and sovereignty of the nation-state. To such an end, the facilitators of Bela Negara should be able to clearly define and convey what constitutes the Indonesian national interest during peacetime and wartime. Having such knowledge would at least provide the cadres with an inherent sense of responsibility; they would know what and why they were fighting, should the need to do so arise.

Drawing on Clausewitz, cadres should be well equipped to know that war is inherently chaotic and a situation to be avoided if possible. War in itself is a mess of violence. The fog of war and friction further complicate the conduct of war. Preparedness for war lies not only within the physical and tactical realms, but also in the mind and in strategy.

Furthermore, teaching cadres strategy and military history would also equip them with the necessary tools to form their own thoughts and opinions, which would be beneficial for democracy. Emerging from Bela Negara, a cadre should not only be able to recite by heart the five principles when prompted, but also be a more critical and active citizen in society. This is essential for a functioning and enlightened democracy.

The ideal Indonesian Bela Negara cadre would be one who is physically and mentally equipped to fight a war and also sustain peace.

One needs only converse with a Singaporean who has completed his two-year national service. Aside from being physically fit, he is capable of appreciating the current state of peace. Knowledge of the nation’s political interests that would be at stake during a war increases his determination to fight for the nation-state, effectively increasing his effectiveness. However, just because one can fight a war does not mean one should go looking for one.

Bela Negara may still be an undercooked program. But that does not mean we can improve on it. It can — and should — be used as a means to form citizens that are not just able to shoot on command, but also think and appreciate the state of war and peace.


IGB. Dharma Agastia  (Antara Foto/Kornelis Kaha)

The writer is a postgraduate student at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Singapore, majoring in strategic studies. His research interests are maritime security, civil-military relation, and future warfare

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