Security vs. Militarization: The Debate Over Kodam Expansion

With the projected expansion of Kodams from 15 to 37, is there a need and urgency for it? Credit:

Organization Restructuring: Indonesian National Armed Forces Project to Establish 22 New Military Commands

The Indonesian National Armed Forces Headquarters (Mabes TNI) plans to add 22 new Military Regional Commands (Kodam) across Indonesia. The plan to increase these 22 Kodams was announced by the TNI Commander General Agus Subiyanto during the 2024 TNI-Polri Leadership Meeting at Indonesian National Armed Forces Headquarters (Mabes TNI), Cilangkap, East Jakarta, on Wednesday, February 28, 2024. This statement was also affirmed by the Head of the Indonesian Armed Forces Information Center (Kapuspen), Major General Dr. Nugraha Gumilar at Headquarters of the Indonesian National Defense Information Center in Cilangkap, East Jakarta, on Thursday, February 29, 2024, confirming that the addition will bring the total number of Kodams in the country from the current 15 to 37. 15 of them will be reinforced by military resort commands (Korem), while the other 22 will not be reinforced by Korem.

Moreover, the Chief of Staff of the Army (KSAD), General Maruli Simanjuntak, stated that the establishment of 22 new Kodams is aimed at achieving balance in each province, matching the number of regional police headquarters (polda). Currently, some provinces only have Korems led by TNI officers with the rank of colonel and brigadier general. In contrast, each province has a regional police chief (Kapolda) holding the rank of a two-star general. This maybe intepreted as the military presence in some provinces is less robust when compared to the police.

The TNI Commander emphasized that the plan to add Kodams is part of the TNI’s efforts to enhance its organization to meet the evolving challenges of future tasks, including the development of an integrated defense system in the Nusantara Capital (IKN) area. This includes establishing Air Force bases (Lanud) TNI AU, Marine Corps units (Pasmar) TNI AL, special military regional commands (Kodam), and two new Army battalions. The creation of new TNI headquarters from the three branches is part of the overall organization management of the TNI to align with the relocation of Indonesia’s capital from Jakarta to IKN. General Maruli also disclosed that a total of 2,820 soldiers from Mabes TNI, the Army, Navy, and Air Force, will be stationed in the National Capital Region by 2024. However, the specific timing of the deployment of these soldiers, including whether it will coincide with the construction of special military regional command headquarters, air bases, and Marine Corps headquarters in IKN, was not specified.

However, the plan to add Kodams is still under further study, considering budget, salary projections, facilities, and personnel numbers. Various structural change plans are being designed in line with the TNI’s PRIMA vision, which stands for Professional, Responsive, Integrative, Modern, and Adaptive for effective organizational management. Additionally, the TNI Commander has revealed plans to change the organizational structure in the three TNI branches. Apart from constructing 22 new Kodams in the Army, there are also plans to modify the organizational structure in the other two TNI branches. This includes elevating the status of the main naval bases (Lantamal) to main operational commands (Kotama) and changing the supervision with the nomenclature of class A maritime regional commands (Kodamar) for eight Lantamal and six Lantamal to class B Kodamar. In the Air Force branch, there are plans to upgrade the status of five type A air bases and two type B air bases, as well as establish a type C air base and new squadrons.

Short History of Kodam: From Independence Guerrilla to Modern Defense

In the structure of the TNI, Kodam is the top military organization in a region within the territorial concept that operates under the territorial command of the Indonesian Army (TNI AD). Kodam has several subordinate units, including the Korem at the provincial level, which oversees specific regions, the Military District Command (Kodim) at the district/city level, and the Military Sub-District Command (Koramil) at the sub-district level, with the Village Development Officer (Babinsa) operating at the village level. The Kodam is led by the Commander of the Kodam (Pangdam) with the rank of Major General (Mayjen).

The concept of Kodam in Indonesia is unique and not commonly found in other countries. Developed nations typically have a centralized defense system with a structured command chain, rather than being divided by regions. Additionally, these countries often have smaller territories compared to Indonesia, which is an archipelagic nation. This allows them to maintain a centralized defense system without the need for territorial command structures like Kodam. In developed countries, the military’s primary focus is usually on external security rather than internal conflicts.

The Kodam concept in Indonesia originated from guerrilla warfare tactics used during the Indonesian National Revolution (1945-1949) against Dutch colonial forces. At that time, there was no centralized military structure, and regional commands were based on guerrilla units. This strategy eventually led to the establishment of the People’s Security and Defense System (sishankamrata) to address both external threats from the Netherlands and internal challenges such as rebellions and regional unrest. This context highlighted the necessity for a more organized defense system.

After gaining independence, the newly established People’s Security Army (TKR) lacked a formal territorial structure. General A.H. Nasution, who was the Chief of Staff of the Army at the time, recognized the need for a more organized military and initiated reforms in the 1950s. The concept of Kodam was introduced to divide Indonesia into military regions with specific commands, enhancing operational efficiency and enabling the swift deployment of troops nationwide. In the early 1950s, regional rebellions and security threats were prevalent, prompting the establishment of the first 7 Kodam, including Kodam Siliwangi (West Java), Kodam Diponegoro (Central Java), Kodam Brawijaya (East Java), Kodam Sriwijaya (South Sumatra), Kodam Bukit Barisan (North Sumatra), Kodam Garuda (South Sulawesi), and Kodam Pattimura (Maluku). This illustrates the effectiveness of the territorial military concept of Kodam, which is utilized during military emergencies or internal unrest. The number of military regions (Kodam) in Indonesia has changed over time to meet the country’s needs. In 1963, there were 17 Kodam, which increased to 20 by 1965. Subsequent reorganizations, such as the one in 1985, reduced the number to 10. Presently, there are 15 Kodam located throughout Indonesia.

Reviewing the Need and Urgency of Adding a Military Command

The expansion of Kodams in every province as a defense strategy is outdated. While it was effective during guerrilla warfare when the risk of physical invasion was high, it is no longer relevant in today’s context. Upon examination, the current number of Kodams in Indonesia (15 Kodams) seems sufficient to cover the entire territory. The addition of Kodams in 22 regions, thus, seems unnecessary for maintaining national security and stability. The relevance and significance of territorial commands have also diminished in the face of contemporary threats. In today’s VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity) world, threats have evolved beyond traditional inter-country warfare to include non-conventional forms like cyberwarfare. The establishment of 22 new Kodams lacks urgency and suggests inertia to modernize in addressing global challenges. Enhancing national defense now requires modern, adaptable, and effective strategies that incorporate defense technology and non-military elements, rather than relying solely on traditional methods in the VUCA world.

Furthermore, the decision to increase the number of Kodams requires a nuanced approach that considers various factors. A comprehensive analysis of current and future threats, along with a cost-benefit analysis, is crucial. Moreover, expanding the number of Kodam would entail a substantial budget for infrastructure development, including command headquarters, barracks, weapon storage facilities, equipment procurement, operational vehicles, communication devices, and personnel expenses such as salaries, allowances, and pensions. These aspects must align with the TNI’s strategic plans and force posture to prevent straining the state budget and diverting funds from critical sectors like education, health, and public infrastructure.

To simply equate the structure of Kodam with the Regional Police (Polda) within the Indonesian National Police is a flawed mindset. The formation of Polda in each region is based on legal jurisdictions following autonomous regions, while defense functions are the responsibility of the central government and are organized based on a strategic assessment of potential threats from outside. Decisions on adding Kodam should not be influenced by accommodation politics but should be based on mature strategic analysis. Adding Kodams without careful consideration further strengthens the impression of accommodation politics by President Joko Widodo, who changed the retirement age of the military from 55 to 58 years in the TNI Law, resulting in an excess of over 500 mid-level officers equivalent to colonels without positions. This appears to turn Kodam into a means of accommodating these officers.

The introduction of Kodams in various regions may also introduce layers of bureaucracy that could slow down the chain of command and hinder the effectiveness of the Indonesian National Armed Forces (TNI). Many countries have actually eliminated territorial command systems to enhance efficiency, as seen in the Bundeswehr (German armed forces) to improve military operations, the Armée de Terre (French army) to bolster central control and readiness, and the Jieitai in Japan, which has also abolished territorial command structures to enhance flexibility and adaptability to evolving threats.

The government should reconsider its plan to add Kodams in every province in Indonesia, especially if there is no urgent need. Territorial commands with rigid structures may struggle to adapt to evolving threats. Furthermore, it would be more effective if the placement of Kodam is focused on border and outermost areas to ensure national defense and sovereignty. This should be in line with Article 11 (2) of the TNI Law, especially the explanation of paragraph (2) stating that the development and deployment of TNI forces must consider and prioritize security-prone areas, border areas, conflict-prone areas, and remote islands according to geographical conditions and defense strategies. Instead of focusing on adding Kodams, it would be more beneficial to address key priorities for improvement within the TNI. This includes ensuring the fulfillment of defense and security equipment (alpalhankam) and providing adequate supporting facilities. These factors are crucial for the operational readiness of the TNI and for the training and empowerment of soldiers.

Interestingly, the existence of Kodam has even been debated. The structure of Kodam has been argued to represent a non-democratic legacy that persists to this day. Lieutenant General TNI (Ret.) Agus Wirahadikusumah, as cited in Marcus Mietzner’s book “The Politics of Military Reform in Post-Suharto Indonesia,” sharply criticized the territorial concept during a parliamentary session in December 1999. He argued that the lower-level command structure is a relic of the authoritarian past and serves no practical purpose: “Why do we need a territorial unit in Wonosobo? Will the enemy attack us there? No, we have those units because lazy, inflexible officers have become complacent playing politics, making money, and retiring to cushy civilian positions. That has nothing to do with defense.”

Militarization and Echoes of the New Order in Indonesia

The expansion of Kodams in Indonesia is raising concerns about a potential return to the New Order era, where the military had significant influences on political and civil life. This move could undermine the 1998 TNI reform and have negative implications for democracy. The focus on strengthening TNI posture through the addition of Kodams suggests a more inward-looking approach, with an emphasis on internal threats rather than external ones. Integrating Kodams into the government’s administrative structure at the regional level could blur the line between military and civilian roles, contradicting the TNI’s primary function of addressing external security threats.

The significant expansion of Kodams would serve political interests and lead to greater military involvement in civilian affairs, contradicting the principles of the TNI Law. The historical context of the dual function doctrine during the New Order regime highlights the risks of military interference in politics, such as the dual function doctrine of the Indonesian Armed Forces (ABRI) and the military’s social-political role in governance, which was abolished with the enactment of MPR Decree Number 6 of 2000 on the Separation of TNI/Polri and MPR Decree Number 7 of 2000 on the Role of TNI/Polri. This prompted the need for reforms to separate the military from civilian governance. The expansion violates the spirit of Article 11(2) of the TNI Law, which discourages military structures used for political gain. The explanation of this article emphasizes the need to avoid forms of organization that could serve practical political interests in the deployment of TNI forces. With the upcoming 2024 Pilkada, prioritizing reform becomes even more crucial to prevent the TNI from re-entering the political sphere and to ensure military neutrality in the elections.

Expanding Kodams could potentially violate international human rights principles. These principles promote demilitarization (reducing military influence) and emphasize strong civilian oversight of the military. By empowering regional military commands, there is an increased risk of military interference in political activities. The proliferation of territorial commands under Kodam could deepen military influence in local governance, allowing military leaders to influence local policies and engage in political affairs. This organizational structure may blur the distinction between military and civilian roles, potentially undermining democratic principles of civilian control over the military. The establishment of a Kodam is always accompanied by the creation of territorial structures below it, such as military Korem, Kodim, Koramil and Babinsa. However, the establishment of military area commands in each province may contribute to the prevalence of a militaristic culture. This concern is not unfounded, as recent actions and attitudes of territorial commands have shown signs of militarism. For example, in 2017, Kodam Iskandar Muda initiated a program to expand rice fields and construct roads, which was perceived as a militaristic intervention in civilian affairs. Additionally, in 2020, Kodam Jayakarta deployed around 6,000 TNI soldiers to maintain security during labor and student protests against the Omnibus Law on Job Creation, which was seen as an excessive use of military force in a civilian matter.

The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of STRAT.O.SPHERE CONSULTING PTE LTD.

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  • Jane Rosalina Rumpia is a human rights advocate currently serving as the Head of the Impunity Monitoring Division at the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS), a human rights non-governmental organization based in Jakarta. Her work focuses on seeking to promote accountability for past atrocities, notably from the violent era of Soeharto's authoritarian "New Order" regime.