COMMENTARY: Disaster relief & the interests of the U.S. national security
state and of ExxonMobiil
[Given their global reach, it was inevitable that the interests of the U.S.
national security state and the deeply intertwined interests of the global oil
industry should play an important part in the current struggle to get aid to
the tsunami victims on the shores of the Indian Ocean. -- Abigail Abrash
Walton and Bama Athreya, longtime observers of the Indonesian scene, are now
reporting that “the Indonesian government and military have facilitated the
movement of . . . extremist groups into Aceh” in order to justify their own
activities in the region, and that U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld,
in the neo-Orwellian fashion so dear to him, is attempting under the cover of
the “war on terrorism” in Indonesia to reinforce much-criticized U.S. ties
with the notorious Indonesian military. -- For more on the subject of the
TNI (the acronym by which the Indonesian military is known), see a chapter by
ace *Washington Post* Pentagon reporter Dana Priest on U.S.-Indonesian
military relations in her recent book, *The Mission*. -- “Indonesia became
[in the 1990s],” writes Priest, “a case study in how persistent CinCs in the
Pacific, and their supporters in the Pentagon, worked around congressional and
State Department roadblocks to maintain military ties” (*The Mission: Waging
War and Keeping Peace with America’s Military* [W.W. Norton, 2003], pp.
218-19). -- The piece below was first posted on the Foreign Policy in Focus
web site and was reposted Friday on Asia Times Online. -- Thanks to Mark
Nagel for sending this report. --Mark]
FPIF Policy Report
U.S. TIES AND CHALLENGES TO PEACE IN ACEH
By Abigail Abrash Walton and Bama Athreya
Foreign Policy in Focus
http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Southeast_Asia/GA21Ae01.html (Jan. 21, 2005)
Aceh, so long isolated from international view by the Indonesian government
and military, is now -- tragically -- at the center of world attention.
Members of the U.S. Congress and their staff, United Nations officials,
journalists, and humanitarian aid workers have arrived on the scene after
years of blocked access. These shifts offer the administration of U.S.
President George W. Bush and other actors an unprecedented opportunity for
peace-building and enhancement of human security and stability in a region
dominated by violent conflict for decades.
This report analyzes three key factors in responding effectively to the
challenges of emergency aid and reconstruction efforts as well as long-term
sustainable development and conflict resolution: 1) the role of the
Indonesian military (TNI) in aid delivery and in ending the ongoing conflict;
2) the differences between Aceh's indigenous insurgents (Free Aceh Movement or
GAM) and newly arriving extremist Islamic militias; and 3) the role of
ExxonMobil in the province.
SHORTSIGHTED U.S. OPPORTUNISM IN THE FACE OF DISASTER?
In the aftermath of the massive earthquake and tsunami that devastated much of
Aceh, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is pushing yet again the Bush
administration's frustrated desire to strengthen ties with the Indonesian
military over the well-grounded objections of the U.S. Congress, as cemented
in U.S. law. In his trademark Orwellian rhetoric, the secretary argues that
such a move is essential to winning the "global war on terror." This myopic
logic ignores the numerous reports documenting the Indonesian military as a de
facto terrorist entity with a long track record of undermining human security
in Aceh and other parts of Indonesia as well as near-daily news reports about
the TNI's control-happy undermining of emergency relief efforts.
Indeed, the U.S. State Department's 2003 Indonesia country report notes,
"Security-force members murdered, tortured, raped, beat, and arbitrarily
detained civilians . . . Human-rights abuses were most apparent in Aceh . . .
however, no security-force members have been prosecuted for unlawful killings
in Aceh . . . Retired and active-duty military officers who were known to have
committed serious human-rights violations occupy or have been promoted to
senior positions in both the government and the TNI."
The TNI is also a massively corrupt institution, relying on its private
business interests for an estimated two-thirds of its annual budget. The
TNI's businesses include illegal logging, drug production and trafficking, and
prostitution, as well as "security" payments, viewed by many as extortion,
from Indonesian and U.S. businesses. ExxonMobil reportedly pays the military
about US$6 million per year for "security" at its Aceh natural-gas operations;
Louisiana-based Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold Inc paid the Indonesian
military and police at its West Papua mines $10.7 million during a recent
two-year period. These relationships with the TNI have cost U.S.
multinationals and their shareholders both in terms of reputation and
financial liabilities resulting from associated TNI human-rights abuses.
New legislation requires the TNI to abandon its economic activities within the
next five years -- a crucial yet challenging undertaking that will require
consistent backing by the international community to Indonesia's civilian
reformers, not the business-as-usual stance proffered by normalization of
When will policymakers grasp the common-sense wisdom "With friends like these,
who needs enemies?" Attempting to build working relationships with
human-rights abusers with agendas and interests of their own is a long-failed
policy that costs lives rather than saves them. U.S. support and assistance
-- financial and political -- are best channeled to civilian-led emergency
aid, good governance, and development programs.
THE POLITICAL LANDSCAPE AND THE THREAT TO AID DELIVERY
Because of its territorial command structure, which gives it bases of
operation from the village level up, the TNI would in theory be the
best-placed Indonesian institution to provide disaster relief. However, the
TNI cannot play an effective leadership role in disaster relief and
reconstruction for numerous reasons. Its brutal reputation, gained during
years of unfettered human-rights atrocities against Aceh's civilians, has
hindered the TNI's effectiveness by casting grave and well-founded suspicion
on the military playing any sort of unsupervised or managerial aid role.
By severely restricting the movements of aid workers and unilaterally setting
an arbitrary March 26 deadline for the departure of U.S. and other foreign
troops assisting with disaster relief, the TNI has further lost credibility as
an institution capable of meeting the needs and challenges confronting
disaster survivors. Instead, the TNI's overriding mission of destroying the
estimated few thousand GAM fighters in the region -- and the TNI's interest in
sustaining the conflict so as to continue to profit from the region's war
economy -- constitute a conflict of interest that irreparably undermines aid
In recent days, the international press has reported that foreign aid workers
to Indonesia will be restricted to two areas: Banda Aceh and Meulaboh. The
Indonesian military has claimed that it cannot guarantee the safety of
foreigners in any other part of the province, alleging GAM might at any time
attack foreigners in other parts of the province. The alleged GAM threat is a
red herring, meant to prevent foreign aid workers, journalists, and other
observers from witnessing the TNI's ongoing military offensive in Aceh's inner
regions even since the disaster of December 26 or from hearing the stories of
survivors of pre-disaster human-rights abuses.
GAM has issued statements declaring a unilateral ceasefire (though fighters in
the field say they will return fire if the TNI strikes first) and also
declaring its intent not to fire on civilian aid workers of any nationality.
Adding to the credibility of these statements is the simple fact that GAM
members believe that a foreign presence throughout Aceh ultimately benefits
their cause. While GAM has indeed engaged in violence against Indonesian
forces and, on occasion, civilians in the past, the group has no record of
aggression against foreigners.
It is important for international audiences to understand that anti-foreign,
violent Islamic elements do exist in Indonesia, but these forces are not GAM.
There are a number of other extremist Islamic groups that operate in
Indonesia, although historically these groups have had no presence in Aceh.
However, within the past several weeks, the Indonesian government and military
have facilitated the movement of these extremist groups into Aceh. It is
crucial for the international donor community to recognize the past role of
the Indonesian military in aiding and abetting such groups, and the present
interest the military may have in maintaining such groups' presence in Aceh as
a proxy base for its military operations against GAM.
In fact, the TNI has a documented record of using proxy militia groups to
engage in violence in East Timor and elsewhere. A 2002 study for the U.S.
Naval Postgraduate School notes that the Indonesian army has become "a major
facilitator of terrorism" due to "radical Muslim militias they . . .
organized, trained, and financed." The study adds that the military gave one
terrorist group an estimated $9.3 million "embezzled from its defense budget."
According to a Congressional Research Service report first released in 2002
and updated in 2004, "Radical groups such as Laskar Jihad and the Islamic
Defenders Front . . . received assistance from elements within the Indonesian
military in organizing [and] securing arms and transport to locales throughout
the Indonesian archipelago."
The Islamic Defenders Front -- known for its violent attacks on Jakarta
nightclubs -- as well as Laskar Mujahidin, the security wing of the Majelis
Mujahidin Indonesia (MMI), have established a presence in Aceh reportedly to
support Islamic law and tradition in the region during aid relief efforts
there. MMI once was headed by Jemaah Islamiah (JI) leader Abu Bakar Ba'asyir,
who is currently on trial for his alleged role in the 2002 bombing of a Bali
nightclub in which 202 people were killed and a 2003 blast that killed 12
people at the JW Marriott hotel in Jakarta. JI reportedly also is responsible
for a 2004 bombing at the Australian Embassy in Jakarta.
In maintaining a coherent position in promoting peace in the region,
governments and other institutions providing disaster aid should not shy away
from protesting the entrance into Aceh of outfits with a documented history of
CORPORATE GOOD CITIZENSHIP: ExxonMobil IN ACEH
Multinational corporations based in Indonesia, including ExxonMobil, Newmont
and Unocal, have given generously to assist relief efforts in the region.
However, in view of the unparalleled and, in many ways, destabilizing role
that ExxonMobil has played in Aceh over the years, it is incumbent on the
corporation to do more.
ExxonMobil currently faces a multimillion-dollar lawsuit, filed by the
Washington, DC-based International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF) on behalf of
Acehnese villagers who were tortured and murdered by the TNI on ExxonMobil's
premises. Concerned about its investments, the city of New York has filed a
shareholder resolution with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
calling on ExxonMobil management to report on the details of the company's
financial relationship with the TNI.
What did ExxonMobil do? The Arun gas field in North Sumatra is one of the
world's largest sources of liquefied natural gas (LNG), and ExxonMobil Corp.
(originally Mobil Oil Corp) has had a contract with the government of
Indonesia since 1969 to process LNG from this site.
There have been credible reports that ExxonMobil Corp, along with its
predecessor companies, hired TNI military units to provide "security" for the
company's Arun project. The result has been TNI-perpetrated torture, murder,
rape, and other acts of terror against the local population. In some cases,
the TNI used ExxonMobil equipment or facilities to conduct the torture and to
dispose of those killed. For example, one of the plaintiffs in the ILRF case
was "disappeared" for a period of three months, during which time he was
repeatedly beaten and tortured with electric shocks. He was then taken to an
open pit where he was shown a large pile of human heads. He was told that he
would be killed and his head would be added to the pile. He was eventually
released, but soldiers burned down his home thereafter. Another plaintiff,
who was several months pregnant, was raped and beaten by a soldier who forced
his way into her home. These examples are typical of the stories of dozens of
innocent civilians living around the ExxonMobil area of operations.
The ExxonMobil facilities were not significantly damaged by the tsunami,
thanks to concrete barriers that had been erected long ago to protect the
site. The company's gas-extraction operations are ongoing, and ExxonMobil
personnel reportedly are continuing to work in the area without problems.
However, despite the announcement of a $5 million donation to relief efforts,
the company has been silent regarding its own role in facilitating relief
operations in the Lhoksumawe area. The Indonesian military has denied access
to Lhoksumawe to foreign relief workers, supposedly on the grounds that the
TNI cannot protect foreigners' safety in that area, but no such restrictions
have been placed on ExxonMobil employees. ExxonMobil owns its own airstrip at
the site, but it is unclear whether the company has offered to make it
available to facilitate aid delivery by humanitarian workers or whether
ExxonMobil intends to provide meaningful assistance to reconstruction efforts.
The company owes far more to the people of Aceh than a mere $5 million
donation. ExxonMobil reportedly has extracted some $40 billion from its Arun
gas operations during the past decade alone, including earnings of an
estimated $2 billion annually in recent years. ExxonMobil's role as a major
player not only in Aceh, but also in terms of Indonesia's national economy and
the other U.S.-based multinationals operating there, makes the company a
stakeholder with unmatched clout. (ExxonMobil executive Robert Haines serves
as chairperson of the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council's Indonesia subgroup and led
a high-level delegation to Jakarta early last month to meet with Indonesian
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and other top-ranking government
officials.) The company should use its resources and influence to advocate
that foreign aid workers be given access to the area, facilitate their
transport and delivery of aid and, on a broader scale, encourage the
Indonesian government to move toward a ceasefire and resumption of peace talks
with GAM as an absolutely vital condition to aid delivery and long-term
security throughout the province.
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
To ensure that the response to the tsunami contributes to both short-term
relief and long-term peace and security for the people of Aceh, the Bush
administration must support Indonesian efforts at strengthening the country's
civilian democratic governance and military reform. Above all else, this
means ensuring that in the immediate and near term, the TNI plays a limited,
non-managerial role in relief efforts. For example, Indonesian military
personnel could usefully employ the TNI's logistical infrastructure to provide
transport of aid under the direction of local civilian government and
Indonesian and international humanitarian organizations.
The Bush administration should support efforts by the UN as well as
international and local humanitarian organizations to provide long-term
reconstruction assistance in Aceh. For recovery and reconstruction to be
effective, fighting in the region must end. The task of building peace in
Aceh is complex but, at a minimum, the U.S. and other members of the
international community must prioritize a ceasefire between the TNI and GAM,
insist on demilitarization of the province, and once again vigorously support
peace talks. Indeed, Germany has explicitly linked its massive aid pledge to
President Yudhoyono's stated commitment to pursue a peaceful solution to the
conflict in Aceh.
As the largest debtor among the countries hit by the tsunami, Indonesia puts
roughly 25% of its annual revenues toward debt repayment to the International
Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and wealthy countries such as the United
States and Japan. The Bush administration should support an immediate,
interest-free debt moratorium and the convening of an International Debt
Conference. A moratorium will enable the Indonesian government to undertake
emergency aid and reconstruction planning; a conference is needed to develop
an effective and comprehensive approach to Indonesia's massive $132 billion
external debt burden, much of it accrued during the corrupt, 32-year regime of
ousted military dictator Suharto. Coordinated by an independent institution
such as the U.N. Development Program, and based on independent research, the
conference would assess the sustainability of current debt repayments with
respect to immediate disaster relief as well as the country's overall poverty
reduction and development goals. These measures should enable the Indonesian
government to meet the new challenges of effective emergency aid and
reconstruction without having to enter into more debt slavery or by escalating
exploitation of Indonesia's unique and sensitive natural environment.
To combat terrorism effectively, the US arguably needs the friendship of
Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation. Aceh's natural disaster
offers an unprecedented opportunity for enhanced long-term human security.
The way to achieve these goals is not by building ties with the very elements
that engage in destructive violence there. It is by demonstrating that the
United States is ready to contribute materially to peace-building, sustainable
development and democratic reform.
--Abigail Abrash Walton is on the faculty at Antioch New England Graduate
School and has monitored conditions in Indonesia since 1993. Bama Athreya is
deputy director of the International Labor Rights Fund. Both are regular
contributors to Foreign Policy In Focus.