Hybrid Wars 6. Trick To Containing China (VI)

(Please read Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V prior to this article)

All of the insular ASEAN states aside from Indonesia have already been discussed, but there’s so much to analyze about the organization’s largest member that only its own separate chapter will properly suffice. As the archipelagic gatekeeper between the Pacific and Indian Oceans and a country whose geographic, economic, and demographic characteristics portend quite well for future regional leadership status, unparalleled attention will be given to introducing the reader to Indonesia and helping them acquire a full understanding of the country. As such, this portion of the work begins by presenting a general overview of Indonesia’s history and landmark developments, followed by a strategic summary of the Indonesian state and its vulnerabilities. Afterwards, those said weaknesses are they investigated in-depth in order to raise awareness about the extreme susceptibility that Indonesia has to Hybrid War, provided of course that the US chooses to aggravate any of these given factors in order to incite it. Even if that’s not the case, it’s the author’s sincere hope that the reader will come away after perusing this publication a lot more educated about the country and able to hold a conversation about it the next time it enters the global headlines.

Big Country, Bigger History

Indonesia is both the largest country in ASEAN and the most populous majority-Muslim state. Numbering around 250 million people, it’s also the fourth most populous country in the world. As can be expected, such a gigantic state also has an extraordinarily rich history, and it’s integral for observers to acquire a general understanding of this in order to grasp the nature of the Indonesian story. Once one has a better idea of how modern-day Indonesia came to be, they will then be in a better position to forecast where it’s headed and in predicting how it may respond to forthcoming challenges along the way.

Ancient Civilizations:

Prior to the over three hundred year long period of Dutch colonization that commenced in the early 1600s, modern-day Indonesia was an eclectic mix of varied polities. The island chain was strongly influenced by the Hindu and Buddhist religions, and many of the earlier kingdoms identified with these larger civilizations, either culturally and/or in terms of the ruling dynasties. Two of the most influential of them were the Srivijaya and the Majapahit. The Srivijaya was mentioned earlier in the research when discussing Malaysia, and to remind the reader, it was a powerful naval kingdom situation on both sides of the Malacca Straits. Ruling from the 7-14th centuries, the entity played a critical role in facilitating Indo-Chinese trade, a possible foreshadowing to Indonesia’s future geopolitical position. As for the Majapahit, this upstart power came to age between the late-13th and early 16th centuries, during which it amassed a network of tributary states stretching almost throughout the entirety of Indonesia’s modern-day boundaries. If Srivijaya set the precedent for cultural and economic transfusion between India and China in the Malay-Sumatra-Java population centers of Southeast Asia, then Majapahit flexed this out to its maximum geopolitical extent and shaped the contours of the modern archipelago-civilization.

Spread Of The Sultanates:

mataram1700Indonesia is nowadays a predominantly Muslim state, with its former Hindu-Buddhist identity being largely relegated to the past and existing in small ethno-geographic communities. The process began in the 13th century with the arrival of Islam, which was thought to have been brought by traders from the Indian subcontinent. It became the majority religion a few centuries later and gave birth to a scattering of sultanates, the most important of which were the Mataram and Banten. Both of them were formed in different periods of the 1500s, but the first one was concentrated solely on Java and existed until the mid-1700s, while the second one was split between western Java and southern Sumatra and stayed around until the early 1800s. What’s important to note here is that these sultanates were located in the most populous portions of Indonesia, while the outlying islands scarcely were influenced by the religion. Later on this would become an important differentiating factor that would create identity tension and result in communal violence, but it wouldn’t be until the tail end of the 20th century that such conflicts arose (or as one could cynically say, were actually provoked).

Colonial Captivity:

Moving closer to the modern era, Indonesia eventually came under the dominance of the Dutch, beginning with the Dutch East India Company in the early 17th century and eventually transitioning directly to the Dutch Empire itself in 1800. The Portuguese had actually preceded the Dutch via their trade ties with the Spice Islands (contemporarily referred to as the Maluku Islands), but they weren’t formidable enough to hold on to their conquests. Also, Dutch control in Java was briefly interrupted during the Napoleonic Wars but it was quickly returned in the subsequent peace negotiations between London and Amsterdam. Although the Dutch formally claimed what would correspond to the borders of modern-day Indonesia, they weren’t able to establish firm control over all of it until the early 1900s with the end of the Aceh War. This conservative sultanate in the northern tip of Sumatra fiercely resisted the colonizers and fought tooth and nail for their independence, only to later reinitiate their struggle in 1976 against what they considered to be the occupying Javanese authorities (which will be discussed later).

Another important aspect of Dutch rule was that Amsterdam proselytized Protestantism to the eastern isles, with some Catholic missionaries being involved as well. All told, they succeeded in turning most of the people living in the contemporary provinces of West Papua and Papua, East Nusa Tenggara, North Sulawesi, and a near-majority of the people in the (South) Malukus into loyal Christian subjects. Their identity separateness and loyalty to the crown would become a problem in the immediate years after World War II and will be discussed in the subsequent section, but in order to be realize why they felt this way, it’s necessary to speak a few words on the policy of transmigration. This ultra-controversial act started in the early 1800s and dealt with the incentivized and forced population transfers of Javanese Muslims to the outer isles of the Dutch East Indies colony, ostensibly in order to ease the overpopulation problem on their home island and provide labor for the far-off plantations. When this policy was continued and actually accelerated for some time during the post-independence era, it reactively led to accusations of “internal colonization”, especially among the Christian natives of the east that were opposed to overwhelming Javanese Muslim migration (whether via the transmigration program or carried out independently). Like the Aceh conflict that was mentioned in the above paragraph, this issue will also be discussed later on when it’s relevant to do so in depth.

pacwarWorld War II:

The Japanese invasion of the Dutch East Indies was a monumental turning point in the islands’ history, as it quickly crippled the European colonialism of centuries’ prior and irreversibly set Indonesia on the course of independence, albeit after a brief but extraordinarily brutal occupation by Tokyo. The Japanese Empire had long been eyeing the islands due to their copious export of oil, but it wasn’t until the Dutch embargoed its sale to Japan in July 1941 that the later seriously considered militarily intervening to seize this crucial resource. The invasion began in December of that year and continued until the end of the war, since the Allies pretty much ignored most of the colony in their regional liberation operations. This was much to the woe of the local population, however, as they had to endure a disastrous famine that killed over two million people, suffer under physical hardships such as forced labor and summary executions, and put up with the Japanese’s large-scale resource plundering.

If there was any silver lining to this dark cloud, it’s that the Japanese worked hand-in-glove with pre-war nationalist and independence leader Sukarno in order to keep control, but this ironically had the effect of the purported ‘puppet’ using his patrons in order to cleverly create the conditions for an independent state. Sukarno’s collaboration with the Japanese is well-documented and the reader can research the specifics of how he manipulated his country’s occupiers to develop and expand the institutions necessary to guide Indonesia to independence after the war, but in short, the Japanese had earlier envisioned granting the islands independence at some undetermined time and were thus amenable to his structural suggestions. The Allied advance had a lot to do with why Tokyo sped up their implementation and granted Sukarno and his country considerably more freedom in the latter days of the conflict, as they didn’t want to fight a stay-behind occupation war at the same moment as they were confronting the Allied surge. These later factors combined in such a way so as to set the stage for Sukarno’s declaration of Indonesian independence on 17 August, 1945, two days after the Japanese formally surrendered.

From Colony To Outright Independence:

Indonesia’s path to independence wasn’t as clear-cut as unaware observers might have assumed. The island nation had to fiercely fight back against their Dutch re-occupiers in the immediate post-war aftermath, with their struggle being referred to as the Indonesian National Revolution. The Dutch gained international notoriety for undermining the various peace accords that were signed, while at the same time some of the Indonesian revolutionaries earned a fear-inspiring reputation for the wanton violence that they unleashed during the Bersiap period. For the most part, global opinion stood on the side of the Indonesians, and even the Netherlands’ Western allies eventually abandoned it in favor of siding with Jakarta.

As Amsterdam reluctantly lurched towards granting its long-held colony independence, it attempted one last hurrah in the form of thrusting the federalized United States of Indonesia format onto the fledgling state. The freedom-fighting Republic of Indonesia was a constituent entity of this arrangement and comprised most of Sumatra and half of Java, while the rest of the colony was broken up into 15 other states, the most notable of which was “East Indonesia”. This unit was comprised of all of the islands east of Java and Borneo, with the exception of West Papua which remained under direct Dutch rule until 1962. Geographically speaking, East Indonesia was the largest territorial unit in the nascent country and also had a comparatively separate identity, being heavily Christian, non-Javanese, and relatively loyal to the previous colonial authorities.

The United States of Indonesia, and consequently, the state of East Indonesia, only existed from December 1949 until August 1950. Sukarno understood the divisive intentions of the Dutch when they foisted the federalist form of government onto his country, and despite the certain strategic benefits that this may have bequeathed the constituent states, it was seen as largely being contrary to the country’s overall unity. Accordingly, he took steps to centralize control of Indonesia step by step, absorbing the federal states nearest the Republic of Indonesia until only the state of East Indonesia remained. It, too, was eventually dissolved and a unitary state was proclaimed in its place, but not before a minor rebellion in the South Maluku islands.

smoluccmpThe self-proclaimed Republic of South Maluku rose up in opposition to what they proclaimed was a blatant violation of the autonomy clauses inherent in the constitution, and despite this movement having the support of the Dutch, it did somewhat encapsulate legitimate concerns in that part of the country. Nonetheless, it was quickly defeated and the federalist structure was replaced. To this day, however, the idea of a specific region and/or ethnic group agitating for broader autonomy or outright federalization (to say nothing of the independence movement in West Papua) has been a perennial fear in the minds of the country’s decision makers, as they’re acutely aware of the degree to which uncontrollable decentralization or outright devolution could impact on national cohesion. While it will later be seen that the government is open to pragmatic cooperation with such movements like in the case of Aceh, it is resolutely opposed to granting regions independence (e.g. West Papua) or ever returning to the federal structure that was temporarily in place during the United States of Indonesia.

Cold War Challenges:

Ideological Consolidation

One of the first things that Sukarno after the success of his unitary consolidation was to promote the ideology of Pancasila, the five-point “embodiment of basic principles of an independent Indonesian state” formally enshrined in the Constitution. It stipulates the unofficial ideology of Indonesia as being a monotheistic, nationalist, just, welfare state that practices representative democracy. Another tactic that Sukarno attempted was to tacitly ally himself with the Communist Party of Indonesia in order to strike a balance between the nationalist and Islamist opposition in the country, which woefully had the effect of making the US highly suspicious of his motives.

Early Revolts

This led to Washington covertly supporting the 1958 dual destabilizations caused by the so-called Revolutionary Government of the Republic of Indonesia (PRRI, based in Sumatra) and the Permesta Rebellion in North Sulawesi, both of which were defeated rather quickly. While the PRRI was more of an outright coup attempt, the Permesta had the carefully constructed veneer of representing local grievances that had lingered since the dissolution of the East Indonesian federal unit. These sentiments, however widespread they may or may not have been among the locals, likely wouldn’t have resulted in anything of notice had it not been for the CIA’s supportive involvement, but it’s still worthwhile to draw attention to the fact that the center-periphery divide still existed to a certain degree. This – the divide between the capital and the provinces, and the potential for foreign intelligence agencies to incite and aid anti-government rebellions there – will later come back to reemerge as a defining theme when the research analyses the contemporary Hybrid War threats facing Indonesia.

Islamist Fears

Even prior to the PRRI and Permesta revolts, there was some contained tumult brought about by a sporadic Islamic insurgency fought by Darul Islam. This group was the progenerator of mostly all other Islamic movements in the country, including the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiya, and it was specifically agitating for the nationwide imposition of Sharia law. It sparked disturbances in Aceh, Central Java, and South Sulawesi before it was put down in 1962. Up until that time, it played a role in inspiring the “Islamist opposition” to Sukarno and actively proliferated its militant ideology throughout the country. As a result, the general concept of creating an Islamic State in Indonesia continued to persist even after the group’s dissolution, which correspondingly makes it the godfather of the radical Islamic threat that’s currently facing the country today.

201010-map-ap-indonesia-enThe West Papua Problem

To simplify a complex, long-running, and still ongoing issue, the Dutch retained control of West Papua after granting Indonesia independence and only relinquished it to the UN in 1962 per the New York Agreement. This understanding maintained that a vote would have to be held on its ultimate status before 1969, which culminated in the hyper-controversial “Act of Free Choice” that formally incorporated the mineral-rich former Dutch colony into the Indonesian state. Critics of the process allege that the latter vote was nothing more than a highly pressured intimidation campaign against local leaders and that a popular referendum (which wasn’t ever held) would have unequivocally granted the territory independence.  Despite largely falling out of the global consciousness, an abroad-based independence movement still vocally agitates for West Papuan independence, and there are still rebel groups active on the island itself.

In response to this, the Indonesian authorities have taken what can mildly be described as a heavy-handed crackdown in the province, enforcing extensive restrictions on foreign visitors (aside from energy- and mining-related employees) and placing thousands of troops in the region. The military has also been accused of killings and even genocide, and while this has been difficult to prove because independent journalists are mostly prohibited from reporting there, it still raises alarming questions about the form of control that the Indonesian government exercises over the far-flung and resource-wealthy province. Similarly, in what is suspected to be a means of weakening regional identity and further splitting the independence movement there, Indonesia decreed in 2003 that the western portion of Papua Province should be separated to form its own entity called West Papua. According to reports, there are plans to further subdivide the previously unified province into a constellation of other Papuas such as Central and Southwest Papua, adding credence to the theory that the sparsely populated province is being administratively cut up for political and not practical purposes.


Just as it sounds, this was a policy of confrontation that Indonesia practiced against Malaysia from 1963-1966 in the island of Borneo. Sukarno didn’t believe that Malaysia should attain ownership over the formerly separate British colonies of Sarawak and North Borneo, and he thus initiated a low-intensity jungle conflict aimed at weakening its control over these territories. No territorial changes occurred either during or after the confrontation, but the Malaysians did receive pivotal support from the British that likely made all the difference in why they were ultimately able to hold their ground. As hated as the two sides were to one another during the heat of the moment, they’d later bury the hatchet and come together in forming the ASEAN bloc in 1967, with Suharto’s overthrow of Sukarno playing a major role in Jakarta’s foreign policy reversal.

Suharto’s CIA-Assisted Coup Against Sukarno

As was described at the beginning of this subsection, the US was alarmed by Sukarno’s tacit political alliance with the Communist Party of Indonesia, and Washington grew progressively fearful that Jakarta’s non-aligned and pragmatic foreign policy in bettering ties with the USSR and China would turn his country into one or the other’s implicit ally with time.  In response, they sought to overthrow him via a calculated and still rather nebulous coup d’état brought about via the events provoked by the still-mysterious 30 September Movement. This group kidnapped senior military officials ostensibly in order to preempt what they said was a CIA-inspired coup against Sukarno, but General Suharto (who by that time was a very high-ranking and influential establishment individual) reacted by using the situation as a pretext to sideline Sukarno and place himself into power.

It’s not universally agreed upon what exactly happened during that time, but the author believes that that either the 30 September Movement may have been a truly pro-Sukarno supportive organization that prompted Suharto and his cohorts to initiate their coup before schedule or a group of useful idiots or outright anti-government operatives that were provoked or contracted into initiating the events in order to create a semi-plausible public pretext for Suharto’s power grab. No matter where the truth lies, it’s indisputable that the CIA had not only a history of interest in overthrowing Sukarno (e.g. the PRRI and Permesta Rebellion), but that it strategically supported Suharto’s faction prior to their successful coup attempt.

Indonesian soldiers watch suspected communists held at Tangerang, a suburb of Jakarta, 1965
Indonesian soldiers watch suspected communists held at Tangerang, a suburb of Jakarta, 1965

After they seized power, they accused the 30 September Movement of wanting to have installed a communist government and consequently unleashed a bloody purge of all suspected communist elements in the country. The death toll was at least half a million people but is suspected to reach as high as two million, with the CIA having gave the new authorities the names of thousands of Communist Party of Indonesia members and supporters so that they could be hunted down and slaughtered. After the orgy of bloodshed slowed down and the coup authorities attempted to exercise governance over their country, Suharto initiated what he termed the “New Order”. He intended for this to represent a radical split from Sukarto’s policies in all ways, and being the opposite of the deposed president, the new leader engaged in a pro-corporatist economic policy, militant anti-communism, and a stridently pro-Western foreign policy. All of these proved advantageous for the US’ Cold War strategy in the region though they came at the obvious expense of the USSR’s and China’s, further presenting circumstantial evidence that the US purposefully engineered the coup against Sukarno.

East Timor Invasion

The most controversial foreign policy move that Suharto engaged in was the December 1975 invasion of East Timor (officially Timor-Leste), a former Portuguese colony on the eastern part of Timor Island. Due to the Carnation Revolution of 1974 that had earlier resulted in a dramatic change of government in Portugal, Lisbon abandoned all claims to its overseas colonies (with the exception of Macau) and allowed them to pursue independence.  East Timor entered into a transitional political phase and was eventually thrown into civil war between two competing factions, with the leftist-affiliated FRETILIN unilaterally declaring independence at the end of November 1975.

A little over a week later, Indonesia invaded the territory and forcibly occupied it, killing almost a third of the population via violence and famine. The US and Australia secretly welcomed the invasion because they saw it as an effective deterrent to stopping any communist government from taking root in the nascent country. They would eventually betray their regional proxy after throwing their weight behind the UN-supervised independence referendum that would later be conducted in 1999, one year after Suharto’s own Western-engineered overthrow, but at the time, all Western and pro-Western forces saw a confluence of strategic interest in Indonesia’s invasion and subsequent occupation of East Timor, no matter the human cost that this would entail and whether or not they voiced this publicly.

Aceh Insurgency

The northwestern tip of Sumatra has long been recognized as the country’s most conservative Muslim bastion, and its people have historically be fighting against all manner of outside invaders. Be it the Dutch, the Japanese, or even, as some of their proponents allege, the Javanese occupiers, the Acehnese have traditionally put up a formidable resistance in the name of their own state or autonomy. The latest conflict being referred to began in 1976 and didn’t end until 2005, but to describe this three-decade-long insurgency in as concise of a manner as possible, it can be summed up as the dedicated efforts of the Free Aceh Movement to establish an independent Sharia-guided state in their natural resource-rich area of Indonesia.

Women soldiers of the Free Aceh Movement with GAM commander Abdullah Syafei'i, 1999
Women soldiers of the Free Aceh Movement with GAM commander Abdullah Syafei’i, 1999

According to the WorldWatch Institute, Aceh provided 1/3 of Indonesia’s LNG in the early 1970s and helped the country become the number one exporter of the world for this resource, despite only 5% of the revenue being given to the regional government. Even by 2005, the Council on Foreign Relations figured that the province was accounting for around a quarter of all of the country’s oil and natural gas output. While the disparity in resource revenue sharing was the main catalyst for the insurgency, another growing problem was the locals’ irritation at Javanese transmigration, which some of them felt was infringing on their local cultures. Faced with these pressing issues, the Acehnese ethnicities (of which there is a handful) banded together under the banner of regional nationalism and Islam to oppose the central government in Jakarta.

Part of the reason that this region always felt separate from the unified Indonesian state is because it used to have its own 400-year-old independent sultanate prior to the conclusion of the Dutch colonization war in 1903. The Javanese transmigrants were seen as internal colonizers and Banda Aceh (the regional capital) didn’t want to be given the ridiculously low share of 5% of all energy revenues that originate from its jurisdiction. The Islamic factor was also an influence as well. Tengku Hasan Muhammad di Tiro, a former high-ranking member of Darul Islam, was actually the founder of the Free Aceh Movement, so it’s little wonder that he eventually negotiated for Sharia law to be the official judicial model for his province, despite this not having anything to formally do with the energy and transmigration grudges that the region held against the central authorities. When the conflict finally came to a close via a 2005 peace agreement, Sharia law was recognized per an earlier 2003 accord and the province was allowed broad autonomy under which one of the privileges was to retain 70% of all energy revenues.

Post-Cold War Crisis Chain:

Indonesia adapted to the end of the Cold War in a pretty stable and prosperous manner, not being negatively affected by any of the immediate aftermath. In fact, the end of the Cold War actually increased its regional standing through the expansion of the ASEAN trade bloc to the countries of Indochina and Myanmar. Jakarta was able to gain a certain amount of asymmetrical clout through being the largest country of the enlarged organization, and seemingly also one of the most politically stable. All in all, Indonesia superficially appeared to be in quite an enviable position, although deep undercurrents of disaster were violently churning just below the surface.

1997 Asian Economic Crisis Provokes Anti-Suharto Riots

The 1997 Asian economic meltdown that was discussed at the very beginning of the ASEAN section of the research had the effect of catalyzing these destabilizing processes and creating the social preconditions for a forthcoming regime change maneuver. The Indonesian currency was hit hard by the regional effects of this financial conflagration, which in turn led to explosive inflation and rampant unemployment. The economic boom that characterized the earlier part of the decade had abruptly stopped and begun to reverse itself with equal force, creating a panic among many whereby a craze-inducing run on the stores was set in motion. The social chaos that this induced prompted the opposition to step up their anti-government activities, which in turn led to a state backlash. Through a cascading series of grassroots events, Medan, Jakarta, and Surakarta erupted in violence in May 1998 and hundreds of people were killed, arrested, and injured. Chinese businesses were particularly targeted by the rioters due to the assumption that this supposedly ‘better off’ demographic had access to critical food and supplies that the rest of the population didn’t. The ensuing chaos was too much for Suharto to handle and he decided to resign at the end of the month, ending over thirty consecutive years in power and leaving the country on the brink of disaster at the end of the “New Order”.

_244390_demo150The chain of destabilizing regime change events that were first set off by the regional economic crisis may have portended a new wave of asymmetrical post-modern warfare that had yet to be mastered, a sort of trial run for a forthcoming and more focused attempt. This was spoken about earlier in the work, but to conceptually simplify the specifics of what’s being directly referred to at this time, a regional economic crisis was the trigger for anti-government protests in Malaysia and Indonesia. The former had behaved relatively independent under the leadership of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed (and therefore was seen as a potential threat vis-à-vis the Wolfowitz Doctrine) while the latter was a promising economic giant presided over by an aging and unpopular leader that would inevitably be replaced in the coming years. From the strategic perspective of American policy makers, a regime change in both countries would be preferable – in Malaysia because its independent policies prevented it from coming under Western tutelage, and in Indonesia because the stale “New Order” was bound to be replaced sooner or later and it was thought to be more advantageous for the US to have a guiding role in this transition by ‘wiping the plate clean’, completely getting rid of the ‘old guard’, and working to place a new and fresh generation into power via pro-Western “liberal-democratic” means.

The latter objective of ‘spreading democracy’ is always preferable for American intelligence agencies because it provides them an easily manipulatable format with which to ‘democratically’ enact changes in an existing government, be it to support their desired candidate for whatever particular office it may be or to disrupt an opponent’s campaign, both of which can be done via ‘plausibly deniable’ and internationally recognized ‘legitimate’ ways. Indonesia was obviously forecast to play a growing role in the future world order due to its geostrategic position, enormous population, and well-endowed natural resource wealth, and the US establishment interminably maintained a fear that the rise of another Sukarno could wrest the country away from their grip and undermine Washington’s grand strategy. It’s better for the US to have a weakened, albeit still strategically aligned, partner with which to do business and whose model is susceptible to the CIA’s ‘democratic engineering’ than to allow it to uninterruptedly continue its existence as a potentially strong and stable state with a difficult-to-influence leadership transition model that might somehow fall under or choose to side with a non-Western power. Indonesia’s post-independence historical model was such that only a dramatic event could alter the traditionally strong role of the President and spearhead the constitutional changes necessary for limiting the leader’s power.

As assessed from this angle, it makes perfect sense why the US would be interested in Suharto’s violent overthrow, which not only produced the required legal amendments after the fact and for these exact reasons (and ushered in the period of “Reformasi” to go along with it), but also provided more valuable field testing for the CIA’s region-wide situational preconditioning model, which had up to then been used against the Soviet Union, the Communist Bloc, and the former Yugoslavia. Utilizing economic warfare as a means for ‘justifying’ ‘democratic’ multistate (or multi-unit in the case of previously unified Yugoslavia) regime change operations would later become the US’ favored coup method, with forthcoming applications in the ‘traditional’ Color Revolutions in Serbia and the former Soviet space (Georgia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan), the failed ‘Central Asian Spring’ of 2010, and then the “Arab Spring” of 2011.

Ethnic Conflicts Explode

The situationally engineered overthrow of Suharto created a governing void that decreased the authorities’ hold over the ethnically diverse and identity-conflicting peripheral provinces. Deeply rooted animosities between locals and their transmigrant neighbors came to the fore in the aftermath of the state’s unprecedented weakening, and as a result, large-scale and geographically broad violence began to break out. The beginning of 1999 saw conflict erupting in the Maluku islands, where the Muslim and Christian communities started killing one another due to long-bubbling tensions. For the most part, the Christians were native to Ambon island and the surrounding areas that were affected, while the Muslims were transmigrants or their descendants. Violence started in the first quarter of the year then returned in the late summer/early fall and continued to the end of the year. In North Maluku, a new majority-Muslim province that was just created that year out of Maluku proper, a wave of rolling religious and ethnic conflicts crested from August until November, sometimes overlapping, sometimes not. For example, Christians and Muslims of the same ethnicity were slaughtering one another, but at other times the conflict was between different regional ethnic communities and had nothing to do with religion.

In 2001, Dayaks launched another massacre of several hundred Madurese in the Sampit conflict.
In 2001, Dayaks launched another massacre of several hundred Madurese in the Sampit conflict.

A similar sort of conflict had also broken out in mid-March in West Kalimantan, the official designation for the western part of Indonesian-administrated Borneo. Around 3,000 Muslim Madurese transmigrants were killed by local Dayaks during the Sambas Riots, in what was sadly just the latest in a chain of violence that had periodically been sparked off since the 1960s. The saliency of it occurring in 1999 is that it proves that the self-evident weakening of the state after Suharto’s overthrow gave the impression to various identity groups that they now had the ‘opportunity’ to exact their local vengeances. The situation once more boiled over in 2001 with the Sampit Conflict, during which 100s were killed and around 100,000 Madurese had to flee Central Kalimantan. It’s notable that if one looks at a map of Indonesia and locates these conflict zones, then they’d see that it really does ring around the entire periphery. If one counts the ethno-religious tensions in Sulawesi island that culminated in the May 2000 Walisongo Christian-on-Muslim school massacre and factors in the near-constant threat of violence in West Papua (kept under control chiefly due to the heavy military presence in the province), then almost all of the former “East Indonesia” and its adjoining territories (West Kalimantan and West Papua) were affected by some type of ethno-religious conflict during this time.

It makes one wonder whether or not the US had stoked any of these conflicts or had advance premonitions (if not outright intentions) that something like this would happen after Suharto’s manipulated departure. It conceivably looks to be the case that American intelligence was testing the theory of managed chaos and observing its ‘natural’ spread throughout the archipelago, monitoring which latent conflicts were successfully aroused and which dodged the bullet and remained dormant. From a strategic vantage point, the socio-demographic feedback that the US would have received simply by watching this process unfold would have been invaluable in helping to craft forthcoming region-wide destabilization plans, to say nothing of the value that such information would have acquired if the US had a role in instigating any of the said conflicts and ‘testing’ their given variables. In hindsight, it certainly appears as though this was one of the US’ objectives (whether it was a primary, partial, or tangential one is moot in this context), and the surrounding and pre-scheduled events in East Timor, around which the aforementioned ethno-religious violence may have been timed, convincingly make it seem as though this was indeed the case.

East Timor Independence Referendum And The Potential Unravelling Of Indonesia

Suharto’s briefly tenured successor, Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie, initiated an historic feat by putting Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor up to a democratic vote in the besieged province, announcing his intentions in late-January 1999 to hold a referendum on whether the territory should be independent or receive heightened autonomy from Jakarta. It was later agreed that the vote would be held on 30 August of that year. The reasons for this decision are aplenty, but they’re broadly understood as being part of the “Reformasi” period of change that was initiated after Suharto’s overthrow, whereby the new authorities began brainstorming ways to transform (or as they termed it, ‘reform’) the country. It’s not at all to infer that this particular decision was necessarily negative and shouldn’t have been made, but that it should be seen as being part of the basket of changes that the US wanted the post-Suharto government to initiate. In this instance, it was one that was welcomed by the international community after awareness about the illegal and ultra-violent Indonesian occupation began to gradually attract increased worldwide attention after the Cold War.

If the reader accepts the author’s main thesis about the US testing and deploying the new ‘superweapon’ of ‘managed chaos’ all across the world in the post-Cold War era, then it’s natural to conclude that it had an ulterior strategic motive for going along with what otherwise seemed like a conventionally humanitarian move. The reader would do well to remember that the US never evokes ‘human rights’ and ‘international justice’ without some cynical sort of reason, and this despite whether or not others are even aware of what it’s ultimately up to. Interestingly enough, as viewed in the context of the event timeline of domestic destabilization earlier elaborated upon, there’s a possibility that East Timor’s warranted independence later in the year could have been exploited by the US to create a pretext for other troublesome islands to secede as well, albeit this time ones which were formally and historically a part of Indonesian and not technically occupied by it.

The violence in Maluku and North Maluku certainly raises this intriguing prospect, and it’s curious to wonder whether or not the rioters on either side of the conflict there (but more so in Maluku than North Maluku [which began to be destabilized right when the East Timor referendum was to be held]) were inspired by the forthcoming vote and may have thought they could use its precedent to push for their own autonomy or independence. It also can’t be discounted that any potential organizers of the island violence and their affiliated ‘narrative writers’ in the international mainstream media may have also had this in mind at the time as well, especially if one considers the earlier theory that the US was using the post-Suharto environment as a tropical testing ground for various degrees of chaos theory implementation and/or ‘natural’ field observance.

Under this specific branch of scenarios, Washington may have wanted to stretch the limit of public opinion and see how far it could take the recently unveiled media stratagem of “humanitarian intervention” in the event that something ‘went wrong’ with the vote (as would later happen). It should be recalled that it was in March 1999 that the US began its War on Yugoslavia ostensibly under the publicly presentable and totally fabricated pretext of ‘preventing genocide’. With East Timor, at least such claims would have historically been true, and in both instances (Yugoslavia and Indonesia), the information operations necessary for convincing the general public of the potential need for a militant intervention had already been prepared in advance.

INTERFET230102For a brief moment of time, however, it looked as though the US was actually ready for a militant intervention in East Timor, albeit under less conspicuous anti-state grounds than ones used against Yugoslavia earlier that year. When the referendum resulted in over three-quarters of the population voting for independence, frenzied pro-Indonesian mobs and military-affiliated militias wracked havoc throughout the occupied territory and started randomly killing the locals. Some estimates state that around 1,400 people died in the under one-month period between the referendum and the introduction of an Australian-led force on 20 September. Referred to as International Force for East Timor (or INTERFET), it wasn’t UN-sanctioned and was more of a ‘coalition of the willing’ that also included Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, the UK, France, Germany, and a handful of others. The US “Led From Behind” via intelligence and logistical support but didn’t actively take part in the operation, but the fact that it was playing coy about doing so until about one week before the mission was formally launched may indicate that it understood the strategic value of implicitly threatening to do so.

The once-strong Indonesian state, which previously would never have allowed a multinational coalition to ‘liberate’/re-occupy its own occupied territory (no matter how wrong and unjust it was for it to do so in the first place), had now been reduced to scrambling all of its allied militias out of the zone and holding its breath that the East Timorese island foothold wouldn’t be used for launching other formal or asymmetrical destabilization operations further into the peripheral insular interior. This fear never fully panned out, but strategically speaking, it was definitely a risk that the Indonesian military accounted for and had prepared a contingency response if need be. After all, it’s was commonly understood among experts that Indonesia was “damned if they do, damned if they don’t” leave East Timor after having occupied it for so long, since the thinking went that the liberation of this territory might set off a chain reaction in the former lands of “East Indonesia” that might lead to a rapid unravelling of the unitary Indonesian state (whether in terms of formal secessionism or a return to federalism).

In the situational context of what was unfolding in that part of the country at the moment (the North Maluku and Maluku ethno-religious clashes and the foreign intervention in East Timor), the disintegrative processes could have been taken to their conclusion if the US had mustered the political will to do so, but it opted instead to remain passive after the fact and gain valuable field data about its new asymmetrical weapon of chaos. Additionally, it may have been that influential forces in Washington realized that the cost-benefit analysis (in terms of the military resources necessary for procuring a given natural resource or strategic end) wasn’t acceptable for the necessary commitment, especially as plans were already underway for tightening the noose around Russia and re-instigating a hot war in the Mideast. Rather, it may have been assumed, it was decided that the strategic goal of weakening the structure of the Indonesian state was already accomplished and that the final ethno-religious centrifugal hit could indefinitely wait to be unleashed until later, perhaps if necessary to pull Indonesia away from China in a forthcoming scenario. For the time being, a weakened, subservient, but still-unitary Indonesia that was firmly in the pro-Western orbit and outfitted with a rotating ‘liberal-democratic’ government was seen as the most preferable strategic ‘solution’ for the US’ pre-Pivot to Asia policy in ASEAN.

The Dawn Of Wahhabist Terrorism

The last of the post-Suharto crises to rock Indonesia was the emergence of Wahhabist terrorism as a major source of instability, especially in the sense that it was one which captivated worldwide attention after 9/11. Jemaah Islamiyah is perhaps the most notorious ‘homegrown’ terrorist group in the country, although it does have sizeable ties with Al Qaeda and other likeminded foreign organizations. The group skyrocketed to international attention after it staged the 2002 Bali bombings, but it had earlier become infamous in Indonesia for the 2000 Christmas Eve bombings that targeted churches and other soft targets in nine separate cities, including Jakarta. Seeing as how Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim country, it has a greater risk than any other that even a statistically insignificant proportion of terrorist-supporting citizens could wrack disproportionate damage on the country.

For example, if even 0.5% of the people are susceptible to the violent Wahhabist ideology (which is a conservative number, if anything), then that means that 1.25 million people out of the total 250 million citizens in the country could become potential terrorists, terrorist financiers, or supportive operators. With the massive population density present in Java and most of Sumatra, it means that this ultra-minority percentage of the population could inflict terrible harm to the rest of the country throughout the coordinated targeting of multiple soft areas such as cafes, churches, and schools. Worse still, they may not even have to go abroad for their training, as Al Qaeda, ISIL, and their affiliated groups could easily train in one of Indonesia’s thousands of islands, most of which are uninhabited, or even in tense Sulawesi, if not in nearby Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago. Indonesia is frankly much too populous and geographically large for the government to fully monitor, and it’s inevitable that certain blind spots will be or are already being exploited by Wahhabist terrorist groups, be they Jemmah Islamiyah, Al Qaeda, ISIL, their affiliates, a new organization, and/or a hybrid combination thereof.

The View From Jakarta

At this point, quite a lot of history and other national specifics have been laid out in the research, and it’s a given that the reader might feel slightly overwhelmed with everything they’ve encountered so far. The inclusion of so much information was necessary in order to create the strategic backdrop for exploring the Hybrid War threats to Indonesia, the primary purpose of this text. Before getting to that point, however, it’s beneficial to summarize everything that’s been learned up until this time and present it from the perspective of Jakarta’s decision makers. This will help the reader to better comprehend the strategic imperatives of the state and more wholly understand how the forthcoming Hybrid War scenarios pose the direst of dangers to the country’s existence.

The Core Basics:

Indonesia is a geographically broad country filled with thousands of islands and thousands of square miles of seas, but at the end of the day, its core concentration lies in Java and the southern part of Sumatra. If one includes the entirety of the latter island, then these two pieces of land combined comprise around 80% of the country’s total population and economy. Looked at in this way, what may have initially seemed like a staggeringly large country is reduced instead to the study of the two largest islands entirely under Jakarta’s domain, with the rest of the space essentially being relegated as the literal and figurative periphery of Indonesian affairs. Ironic as it is, these two islands constitute only 31.5% of Indonesia’s total landmass, further highlighting just how densely populated and economically productive they are when compared to the rest of the country.

Therefore, from a security standpoint, Wahhabist terrorism on either of these two islands appears to warrant the greatest urgency for the state. As was mentioned just earlier, a small number of radicals could inflict an exponentially destructive amount of force with relatively minimal effort, which of course necessitates that this threat be taken as seriously as possible and a large number of security resources directed towards tackling it. There’s no disputing the logic in this decision since it’s obvious that any country should place a heightened priority towards defending 80% of its population and economy more so than the other 20%, especially if this is densely concentrated enough as to make it practical to do so (being only 31.5% of the given physical territory), but one mustn’t forget the festering problems in the periphery that could easily get out of hand and endanger the entire state’s stability.

If religious tension (in the sense of co-confessional moderates versus misguided radicals) is a threat in the core territories of Java and Sumatra, then the periphery must confront not only this problem (as it has threatened to arise in Sulawesi), but also ethno-religious conflict between disparate identity groups. In some cases there’s an overlap of religion and identity such as when a certain ethnic group largely practices a given religion and these combined ethno-religious factors of differentness form a source of conflict (e.g. the Javanese transmigrants are overwhelming Muslim whereas their recipient host population is mostly Christian and of a different ethnicity), but in the other instances there’s no such double-layered  difference between the antagonists and the only element of separateness is solely religion or ethnicity (e.g. the 2010 Muslim-on-Muslim riots between the Tidung natives and Bugi migrants in Tarakan, North Kalimantan). Both situations present a dilemma for decision makers to rectify, with each having their respective challenges standing in the way of communal reconciliation.

Garuda_Pancasila_Poster_(color)Pancasila As Indonesia’s Panacea?:

The multisided identity conflicts that Indonesia faces have been known about for a long time, and the godfather of the state, Sukarno, was wisely aware of them as well. He knew that no polity had managed to formally unify the region’s islands to the extent that the Dutch had been able to with their East Indies colony, and that the only way to maintain the unified state that he envisioned was to employ an inclusionary and effective ideology, ergo the pronouncement of the Pancasila. To refresh the reader’s memory, the work earlier described this as being Indonesia’s constitutionally incorporated unofficially ideology that stipulates that the country must remain a monotheistic, nationalist, just, welfare state that practices representative democracy. Having been made aware of just how deep Indonesia’s identity divisions run, it should make sense to the reader why the government would need to resort to ideology to keep the peace and sustain nominal unity.

In the absence of a strong state (like had happened after the situational preconditioning that made Suharto’s overthrow possible), there’s no authoritative entity to enforce the existentially necessary ideology that had kept Indonesia together for so long, which is why identity conflicts exploded in the years after his political demise. As an individual man, Suharto himself didn’t have any particularly commendable leadership characteristics that played a decisive role one way or another in maintaining the country’s unity (except, one could cynically say, his penchant for overbearing state-directed violence), but what’s important to realize is that he represented the national strongman, of which there have only been two in Indonesia’s modern history. The structural stability that came with a long-serving leader presiding over the ethno-religiously and geographically divided state is what’s chiefly important when discussing Suharto’s role over Indonesian affairs, and his abrupt resignation at the heat of the unprecedentedly violent protests on Sumatra and Java (recall that this the national core) shook the system to its foundations and exposed it to its most vulnerable state since the brief federalist United States of Indonesia period.

In the post-Suharto period of “Reformasi”, it’s been all but compulsory for the country’s leadership to espouse and physically practice one or two of Pancasila’s principles in order to maintain the country in its present governing-administrative and physical form. The two ideals that were most commonly exercised after 1999 were nationalism (as in a unified Indonesian identity transcending religion and ethnicity) and representative democracy. As could be expected, nationalism took the form of enforcing the country’s unity and putting down the chaotic riots that broke out in North Maluku and Maluku, whereas representative democracy could most clearly be seen by the series of constitutional amendments that were passed in the following years, most of which broke Indonesia closer to fulfilling this ideal in a more substantial manner than its symbolic practice in the past decades. Related to this idea has been the systemic decentralization of administrative responsibilities in spearheading the establishment of 8 new provinces since 1999, in one case in order to dilute Papuan nationalism (hence the creation of West Papua Province), but in the others in order to more effectively govern the given states and appease concerns that had arisen or had the potentially to destabilizingly do so in the future. Regardless of whatever tactical reason is being employed at a certain time, viewed in sense of the general picture, it appears as though the “Reformasi” governments in Indonesia have been even more dependent on Pancasila’s precepts (in whatever form they’re practiced or symbolically evoked) than their two pre-1999 predecessors were.

The Fine Line Between Decentralization And Devolution:

Having expanded on the role of Pancasila in recent Indonesian history, it’s now time to speak a bit more specifically about the last aspect of its practice that had been described, the decentralization of certain administrative regions into new governing entities. It’s true that this is an effective solution to stymying certain identity conflicts and paying preemptive token service to any nascent but possibly one day effective independence or regionalist movements, but there’s also a dual side to this practice that observers may not be aware of. If taken to too far of an extreme, decentralization can cross over into the slippery territory of devolution, whereby the unitary government grants or is pressured to grant autonomy or de-facto privileges thereof to certain regions, which could thus set off a chain reaction of copy-cat movements if it’s not kept tightly under control. The threat of Wahhabist violence is also pronounced, but the nature of that particular danger is less of a geo-demographic issue that can be rectified via an administrative reform than an ideological virus that must be fought against in a completely different manner.

East Timor

East Timor, West Papua, and Aceh are perfect precedents for this, but thus far the government has succeeded in convincing the citizenry that they were isolated cases that called for exceptional solutions. Portugal’s prior possession had never been integrated into the Dutch-unified East Indies space, and thus was an historical-regional anomaly in many ways. Even so, after the government decided to put its decades-long occupation up to a democratic vote there, it still offered residents what would have at that time been an unprecedented autonomous regime. Although they didn’t agree to it, the government set its own precedent by proposing such a measure.

West Papua

Afterwards, the former colony of Netherlands New Guinea was granted autonomy in 2001, but this still hasn’t been enough to placate the people’s yearnings. Also, the supposed autonomy was never granted in practice to the substantial extent that Indonesia routinely tries to present it as on both the world and domestic stages. Nevertheless, even if one cynically sees it as only being a symbolic public relations gesture, then it’s still much more than other beleaguered provinces have received, particularly North Maluku and Maluku after their identity destabilizations (which, it must be noted, never took a particularly anti-government and/or separatist/autonomist platform).


The same can’t be said for Aceh, which like the work earlier described, had fought against Jakarta since right around the time of East Timor’s struggle, but ended up agreeing to and consequently receiving actual broad-based autonomy. To reference what was mentioned before, Aceh is the only region in Indonesia that implements Sharia law to all of the people within its territory (both Muslims and non-Muslims alike) and for every kind of crime. Additionally, it also has the right to receive 70% of all energy revenue that the state derives from the province, which makes it doubly unique in the country in terms of its administrative privileges.

Structural Summary

To reiterate the pattern that’s been explicitly expressed so far, the only regions that have been offered autonomy (whether of the symbolic or substantial forms) have been the ones that seriously rebelled against the government at one time. Intercommunal bloodletting like the kind present in North Maluku, Maluku, Sulawesi, and Kalimantan, while undermining state stability due to the contagion effect of identity conflict that it could spark elsewhere in the country, doesn’t explicitly pose as much of a threat to Indonesia’s unity as the anti-state rebellions/liberation campaigns (however the reader personally describes them) in East Timor, West Papua, and Aceh.

Going Too Far

Proposing autonomy in one form or another may seem like or actually has been the proper solution in each case, but the central government can’t continue to do this each and every time an anti-government insurgency sprouts up. If it did, then the end result would be that the most of the country would end up “autonomous”, essentially setting the stage for a federalized entity quite similar to the fleeting United States of Indonesia period, albeit likely without the geographically large and nominally unified “East Indonesia” administrative entity.

There’s always the risk that the government could be pressured to go too far, too fast, and this in turn could unintentionally (or purposefully so, if it’s engineered from abroad and for this very reason) create a semi-uncontrollable momentum towards what would in effect be a state-breaking federalization that could administratively undermine the entire country if implemented clumsily enough like in Bosnia. The difference between the Federation of Bosnia & Herzegovina and any theoretical Indonesian Federation is that the second one is the geo-maritime gatekeeper between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, the two littoral areas predicted to be the engines of the 21st-century global economy.

Jakarta’s Worst Nightmare:

indonesia_admin_mapThe last thing that Indonesia’s leaders want to have happen is that the governing-administrative model devolves to the point of becoming unmanageable. The federalization fear that was described above could likely only come about via a series of nationwide destabilizations, whether synchronized with one another or separately carried, and only in the scenario that the country and its military are too weak to propose anything other than autonomy as a solution. The catalyst for debilitating the state to the point where it’s largely helpless in effectively defending its integrity and/or is distracted with a swarm of crises is to manufacture another economic meltdown similar to the one from 1997, whether or not it goes regional or global in its aftershocks or originates outside of or inside of Indonesia. It’s also not clear at this point whether it would be more effective for the autonomist-federalist cause if this happens before or during a series of nationwide identity clashes (be they coordinated with others or independently carried out), but either way, this is the decisive scenario development that would need to take place in order to actualize Jakarta’s greatest fear.

In the eventuality that this occurs for whatever the strategic reason may be (even if the scenario spirals out of control and negates its intended objectives), an incoherent and semi-functioning failing state at this key global junction would create a disastrous and easily manipulatable situation which could predictably impact quite negatively on the global economy. The external actors that hold sway over the federalized remnants of the once-unified country would be in a major position to influence trade between these two oceans, alternatively obstructing their competitors’ routes (e.g. blocking the Straits of Malacca and Sunda with calculated ship sinkings) while securing their own heavily defended detours (e.g. via the ‘island-fortresses’ that they may occupy in “East Indonesia”) in order to tax and control the trade that resultantly passes by them.

This reality would have been preceded by a scramble for maritime influence unseen before in history, with the only relative comparison being the Scramble for Africa which took place over a much larger space and decades-long period. Instead, the ‘Scramble for (Former) Indonesia’ would be a lot quicker and concentrated in a much tighter space, possibly even set off by a rapid Yugoslav-like dissolution of the unitary Indonesian state and/or its autonomous-federal entities in this scenario. Conceivably, the ‘rationale’ of “humanitarian intervention” could be called upon by outside powers in intervene in any of the given quasi-independent island states or chains there, modeled off of the approach that was utilized in East Timor in 1999 and 2006, and conceptually even in the footsteps of the 2003 Solomon Islands operation (all three of which were led by Australia, one of the US’ Lead From Behind partners). Each of the presumed rival actors partaking in this scramble would eventually seek to consolidate their gains after some point, which might lead to unexpected alliances between various parties, either of the formal nature or something more tacit such as limited anti-piracy missions that belie deeper cooperation.

The Seven Pressure Points

All told, there are seven pressure points inside Indonesia that could be organically activated or externally provoked either separately or in synchronization in order to destabilize the authorities and move the country ever closer to the autonomy-federalization model. The CIA’s history of anti-government activity in Indonesia bodes particularly worrisome for what the country’s future may hold if it doesn’t assuredly enough commit to the TPP and other Chinese Containment Coalition measures in the coming years. Other than situation-specific Color Revolution attempts that could be unleashed against the authorities, the rest of the Indonesian research will read as a curated summary of the conflicts that have been discussed thus far, conclusively putting them in the context of Hybrid War and explaining the nature of their danger to the state.

Wahhabist Terrorism In The Javanese and Sumatran Cores:

This threat is the most obvious to all observers and with fair reason. Like it was earlier explained, these two islands form the core of Indonesia’s population and economy, and the high density of both (especially on Java) makes them extremely vulnerable to large-scale and highly effective attacks. The domestic Muslim community has been very useful in preaching the true tenets of the faith and dispelling foreign-proselytized (Saudi) misinterpretations, but it lamentably appears almost inevitable that sooner or later the country will be struck by a global headline-grabbing terrorist attack. If the state is caught off balance by this and/or if security shortcomings are later revealed to have been partly responsible for the magnitude of the tragedy, then it could provide a calculated spark for Color Revolution elements to begin their anti-government destabilization. Even if the scenario coordination isn’t taken to that far of a level, the perception that Indonesia has turned into a Wahhabist battleground could augur negatively for foreign investment and tourism, which by themselves could quickly lead to a compound effect of economic damage that might circuitously result in the said anti-government demonstrations after some time.

The worst thing that can happen in this possible eventuality is if an urban-rural caliphate is forcibly carved out in or near one of the main densely populated centers of Sumatra and/or Java. The government will do whatever it can to prevent this from happening, but if it comes to pass even for a brief period of time such as a day or two, then it would crucially illustrate the state’s weakness and might irreversibly encourage other terrorist groups (religiously and/or ethnically affiliated) to do the same elsewhere in the country. There is no solution more fitting for the government to apply in such a situation than the imposition of martial law, whether in the targeted areas or as further afield as the whole country itself, and although initiated in the interests of national security, it would undoubtedly damage the country’s economic security with time per the pullout/suspension of foreign investment and tourism as was earlier described.

Although this possible prognosis may seem unduly pessimistic for some observers, the symbiotic relationship that exists between the (media-influenced) international public’s perception of a given state’s security and that country’s external economic interactions is hard to deny, and just as it’s been the case with other previously stable states that have befallen regular large-scale terrorist violence (e.g. Algeria in the 1990s, Libya post-2011), the same will likely happen to Indonesia as well in such an event, no matter that it’s much larger in both economic and demographic metrics. Approaching the situation from the position of cautious optimism, investment and tourist flows might be diverted to other parts of Indonesia if the demand is high enough that Java- or Sumatra-based terrorism can’t severely curtail it, and while this would surely be a welcome change of economic priorities that could definitely benefit the distant and deprived provinces, it also comes with its own set of situational vulnerabilities. Chief among these is the state’s concern over whether or not it would be able to adequately defend any rapid influx of foreign soft assets (physical capital and tourists) from his part of the country’s own unique destabilization threats (i.e. becoming collateral damage or being outright targeted in ethno-religious riots), especially given what by that time and in the presumed context could be an already tense security situation in the prioritized western core.

The Anxiety About Aceh:

In the present, it superficially appears as though all worries pertaining to Aceh have ceased and that there’s nothing left to be concerned about. In a sense, that’s technically true if one is speaking about the traditional separatist conflict that had been raging there for nearly 30 consecutive years, but over a decade afterwards a new type of threat has the potential to emerge. The population and provincial government seem content to remain part of Indonesia so long as they can maintain their 70% share of the natural resource revenue coming from their territory and implement Sharia law as they see fit, so there’s close to little or even no chance that they’ll reinitiate their anti-government insurgency.

Instead, the new threat paradigm has to do with the selective exploitation of these administrative privileges by domestic and international Wahhabist-sympathizing actors. These terrorist enablers may have their own non-state objectives of exporting their regions governing model throughout the rest of the country, just as Darul Islam did before them and Jemmah Islamiyah currently endeavors for. Whether affiliated with the latter group or not, these local individuals, newly founded organizations, and/or foreign actors could use the province’s broad autonomy as a cover for evading the watchful gaze of the Indonesian central authorities and training terrorist groups and/or facilitating terrorist financing. For example, supposedly “local” ‘Islamic’ charities could become conduits for processing terrorist payments all across the world following the Saudi model, and the jungles and mountains of this small province could obscure covert training exercises.

Aceh’s territory could thus become an economic and militant node in a worldwide terrorist network, whether with the complicity of some of its governing figures or not, and Wahhabism could be exported from here either further into Indonesia or to the countries abutting the Bay of Bengal (India, Bangladesh, Myanmar [with particular attention paid to the ‘Rohingyas’’ Rakhine State], Thailand, and Malaysia). In all probability and from the Aceh-based terrorists’ ‘safest’ operational standpoint (as in delaying the neutralization of their operations as long as possible), they may opt to direct their focus away from Indonesia itself and in destabilizing comparatively weaker targets abroad such as Bangladesh and Myanmar. Additionally, if their actions serve some of the foreign policy goals of the US, Washington may enact pressure on Jakarta to delay its punitive operations there for as long as possible, perhaps even unearthing the buried threat that any central crackdown could revive the separatist threat. It may even be so that an Indonesian military response to a Wahhabist terrorist attack in Java and/or Sumatra (per the aforementioned scenario above) that turns out to have been planned or facilitated in any fashion from Aceh could also lead to the return of separatist tensions, thus embroiling Indonesia in two major and interconnected destabilization scenarios.

Identity Cracks In Kalimantan:

Moving along in an eastwards direction, the next pressure point in Indonesia is its administered part of Borneo, formally called the “Kalimantan” provinces by Jakarta. It was previously touched upon only briefly how there has been long-running animosity between the local Dayaks and the Madurese transmigrants, with large-scale violence breaking out in 1999 and 2001 with the Sambas Riots and Sampit Conflicts in West and Central Kalimantan, respectively. The Dayaks’ grievances that Muslim transmigrants from Madura are elbowing them out of their own communities is still present, and it’s this retained resentment that can easily bubble over whenever the next structural opportunity presents itself (e.g. another 1997-like economic crisis that drastically weakens the state).

Since most of the Madurese escaped Central Kalimantan in 2001, it’s not likely that this province would be the scene of any forthcoming identity violence between them and the Dayaks, but their continued presence in West Kalimantan might one day form the basis for a continuation conflict, and if it does, then it could conceivably spread into Malaysia or even be sparked by events there. The reason this could happen is because the Dayak are very closely related to the Iban people who form the greatest plurality in Sarawak state, and statistically speaking, both native groups are gradually being sidelined by the non-native populations that have migrated into their region. Dayak and/or Iban violence on either side of the border, especially if it dramatically gets out of control, could lead not only to cross-border refugee flows, but might even have a destabilizing copy-cat effect.

Another notable incident and possible scenario to discuss when examining Kalimantan’s identity ‘combustibility’ is the 2010 Tarakan Riots between the native Tidung and the Sulawesi-originated (but not governmentally transmigrated) Bugi people. This conflict killed only a handful of people but led to the displacement of 32,000 others over the couple of days in late-September that it transpired. To add some context to the situation, the Tidung are also related to the Dayak and have a native presence in Malaysia’s Sabah state, which as was earlier elaborated upon, is strategically vulnerable to Sulu-based terrorist groups or Filipino “refugee” uprisings. Provided that either of these two scenarios occurs and Tidung find themselves caught in the crossfire, some of them may either fight back or flee towards their ethnic brethren in Indonesia. Similarly, a repeat of the Tarakan scenario between the Tidung and Bugi or any other non-Borneo-based migrants could lead to a similar situation of simultaneous fight and flight. Both instances, there’s a chance that the cross-border Tidung community would be affected, whether it be through housing refugees (which they may or may not have the capability to do), supporting their ethnic brothers-in-arms, or starting their own anti-migrant uprising.

Should Kalimantan’s stability crack and the Dayak, Iban, and/or Tidung engage in some form of cross-border destabilization, the Malaysian and Indonesian militaries would be forced to respond in their respective areas of control. If the disturbances spread from the city to the countryside and into the jungled interior, then the conditions would be met for a possible guerrilla insurgency, provided of course that the political willpower is present, supplies and ammunition are available, and the either government is weak enough to not extinguish this movement right away. Projecting a bit further, this scenario might lead to jungle raids by both the Malaysian and Indonesian militaries that place both of them within operable distance of the other, potentially even resulting in (unintended) cross-border fire. If there were reason for one of the sides to believe that the other was benefiting from or might have even provoked the original destabilization using their cross-border counterparts, then bilateral trust would be damaged and the deterioration of political relations might even lead to a revived period of Konfrontasi.

Sulawesi Slides Into Instability:

The oddly shaped island of Sulawesi might become the next hotbed ofethno-religious destabilization in Indonesia, and its crucial position between Borneo/Kalimantan, Mindanao, and the minor isles of “East Indonesia” means that its conflict potential could certainly radiate outwards to other territories that are already primed for unrest. To concisely summarize the Hybrid War situation in Sulawesi, it’s advisable that the reader reference this short report that describes the violence that broke out between 199-2005. The issue comes down to local conflicts between Christians and Muslims that have routinely taken on an ethnic cleansing tilt, and the 21st century has seen an upsurge in Wahhabist terrorism here, which has sometimes taken the form of gruesome beheadings.  Most of the attacks have taken place in Central Sulawesi province around the coastal town of Poso (such as bus bombings in 2002 and 2004), but the terrorists’ presence has also begun to spread to other parts of the island such as South Sulawesi. While the current dynamic of the conflict is overwhelming that of Muslim-on-Christian violence, it mustn’t be forgotten that the 2000 Walisongo school massacre outside Poso was a noticeable outlier of Christian-on-Muslim terrorism, and that similarly motivated hate groups once more form in the future, potentially as a symmetrical response to rising Wahhabism.

It’s impossible to completely predict the exact nature and location of whatever forthcoming terrorist attacks might happen in Sulawesi, but judging by the trend of Muslim-on-Christian violence, it might be tempting for the Wahhabists to attack North Sulawesi, the only Christian-majority province on the island. If the ‘caliphate’-creating influence of ISIL is ever transplanted onto Sulawesi by Jemmah Islamiyah or any other similar group, then it can be assumed that they’d inevitably put the North Sulawesi Christians in their crosshairs out of a matter of jihadist ‘principle’. Christians are an influential plurality in Central and West Sulawesi provinces, but attacking the territory where they’re the majority of its citizens would send a strong and fear-inspiring message to the rest of the world that the terrorists are serious in implementing their un-“Islamic State” agenda in the region. It would also place immediate global pressure on Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country, to take immediate action in safeguarding the livelihood of its religious minorities, thereby abruptly putting it on the spot and potentially forcing the military’s hand before it’s ready to properly act.

Other than the possibility of lone wolf attacks disconnected from any larger jihadist movement, there are two distinct forces that could carry out this destabilization, especially on the level of organizational planning necessary in order to make it as bloody, large-scale, and globally news-inviting as possible. The first one is endemic to Indonesia and it’s the terrorist Santoso and his Wahhabist clique from the “East Indonesia Mujahidin”. He’s presently the most wanted man in the country, and the government had earlier devoted over 3,000 troops in trying to eradicate them from the Poso region back in March 2015. The operation was motivated in part by fears that Santoso’s group had become ISIL’s Indonesian affiliate, but regrettably the authorities were unable to catch him and he’s since remained elusive. They tried a second large-scale attempt at bringing him to justice in September by deploying over 1,100 personnel, but this too was in vain, as was the latest attempt in December. The longer that this high-value and ultra-violent terrorist remains at large, the more likely it is that he and his group will plot and eventually carry out more anti-Christian violence, although they could strike against their fellow Muslims as a fear-inciting gesture or as a distraction to divert the attention of government forces.

The second militant possibility for attacking majority-Christian North Sulawesi province comes most realistically from the Abu Sayyaf group in the southern Philippines. This organization was discussed earlier in the research when examining the Hybrid War scenarios facing Manila at the moment, but as a refresher, it claims to be ISIL’s partner in the Philippines and is the most extreme Islamic group fighting against the government. In early January 2016 they even declared part of the country a province of the un-“Islamic State”, though their ties with the group still remain unclear. Nevertheless, it’s not for naught that a Filipino representative spoke about the terrorist threat of a “Mindanao-Sulawesi Arc” at the 2015 Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, and considering this and what was earlier researched previously in this work, it’s possible that Abu Sayyaf may not only expand their operations to Malaysia’s Sabah state, but perhaps even to Sulawesi island (whether to attack North Sulawesi and/or link up with Santoso). Being sandwiched between two ravenous groups of Wahhabist terrorists, North Sulawesi might end up being attacked sooner than later, but even if it’s not, the link-up potential between the self-proclaimed ISIL-affiliates of Abu Sayyaf and the “East Indonesia Mujahidin” is enough to make Jakarta’s military and strategic leaders spend many a sleepless night.

The Maluku Mess:

The dual crises in North Maluku and Maluku in 1999 were earlier identified as two of the most dramatic events of the immediate post-Suharto era, and it’s presumable that the destabilization they engendered could one day return. Looking at the causes of each respective conflict, it’s evident that their causes still remain in play today. Both spates of violence stemmed from local grievances brought about by the ethnic and religious differences of their transmigrated neighbors, and the resultant identity tension hasn’t gone away after 17 years. To a visible extent, it’s definitely been kept out of the streets, but that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t re-erupt the moment the ‘opportunity’ arises, which as the author expects, could either be the ‘right’ set of circumstances or more probably a repeat of the 1997 economic crisis that drastically weakens Jakarta’s central authority. Just as a gun without ammo won’t fire when the trigger is pressed, socio-political disturbances have difficulty breaking out unless there’s a destabilizing factor present on the ground already (whether naturally occurring or externally arrived), with the same principle holding true for the Malukus. An economic crisis by itself wouldn’t have been enough to spark the bloodshed of 1999 had there not be preexisting socio-political tensions just waiting for the right moment to burst, and a near-identical situation is thought to exist to this day.

The Malukus are important not so much because of the number of people present within them (which amounts to no more than 3 million between both of them), but due to their symbolism and their geopolitical position as a ‘buffer archipelago’ to West Papua. Addressing the first point, the Maluku violence of 1999 was representative of a brief period of peripheral anarchy that the government had difficulty efficiently putting down. Disturbances continued to break out all throughout the year in one of the two provinces, demonstrating that the post-Suharto authorities were either unwilling or unable to put the lid on it completely. The driving force behind the violence was the identity conflict between Christians and Muslims, locals and transmigrants, and these two identity pairs repeat themselves all throughout the lands of “East Indonesia”.

Therefore, a repeat of what happened in Maluku could become a trigger in the interconnected 21st-century reality of modern-day Indonesia for similar outbreaks of communal killings all throughout the country, thus making these demographically tiny provinces disproportionately influential ‘gateway scenarios’ for initiating copy-cat movements. Kalimantan and Sulawesi don’t hold as much of a chance in doing this because their corresponding destabilizations lasted for a shorter period and were generally more contained than the near-anarchy that overtook the Malukus for certain lengths of time. Back then, the conflict was chiefly an identity one which didn’t harbor any explicit anti-government objectives, but in a second possible iteration, it can’t be ruled out that the Netherlands-based “Republic of South Maluku” separatist organization won’t try to exploit the situation for their individual ends. If they emerge at a decisive time and manage to make inroads in disseminating their message locally and/or attracting international media attention, then it might encourage a chain reaction of other separatist movements (whether dormant or nascent) to rise up against the government as well, provided of course that the military doesn’t make a quick example out of them by immediately squashing the rebels.

In any case (but especially more so in the event that the “Republic of South Maluku” movement tries to exploit local events), any identity destabilization in the Malukus would create a strategic opening for the West Papua rebels and independence activists to promote their cause, mostly because the island chain lies along the maritime route connecting the western part of New Guinea with the rest of Indonesia. This makes it a critical zone for securing the sea lines of communication necessary for administering West Papua, and any extensive disruption of this could embolden the West Papua movement to intensify their on-the-ground and international information operations. This will be described a bit more in detail in the following section, but at this juncture and as it relates to the Malukus, it’s important to realize that destabilization in this island chain could become an enabling variable for spreading the anti-government and/or identity resistance activity further afield to Papua. Jakarta could still theoretically administer and control the territory even in the midst of a massive rebellion or ethnic cleansing in the Malukus, but it may have to immediately divert some of its Papua-based troops in order to do so, which by itself could also signal to the rebels that they have an historic but limited opportunity for launching a grand offensive.

Problems In Papua:

Indonesia’s administration of West Papua continues to be plagued by scandal and controversy even nearly half a century after it began. The long-running and still-contentious dispute has galvanized a simmering international activist community and inspired many Papuans, both civilians and rebels alike, and it’s predicted that this issue could one day become patronized by foreign forces. While one is entitled to their own opinion about whether this is a just cause to adopt or a convenient cover for preplanned geopolitical designs, it’s indisputable that increased foreign involvement in the conflict, even if it’s initially limited solely to supportive information operations, could unexpectedly tilt the strategic balance against Indonesia. Also, just as how the US has absolutely no track record of supporting legitimate independence movements and other humanitarian concerns all across the world for their own sake, so too would it have cynical reasons for covertly intervening in West Papua if it eventually decides to do so. It should also be remarked that the US obviously wouldn’t do this alone, but in coordination with its Australian “Lead From Behind” ally, whom it would undoubtedly contract to assist in this endeavor.

Before going further, it’s necessary to speak about why or how this could even come to be in the first place. As it stands, Western companies have spoiled access to the region’s mineral and natural resource wealth, but if this were to be impeded for whatever reason, then there may be a strategic incentive to react via limited patronage of the Papuan independence movement. It’s not expected that Jakarta would voluntarily restrict their access, and if the rebels did something independently on their own to accomplish this, the US would have more to gain by supporting a punitive military expedition from the center (as they historically did) than they would in backing the periphery’s separatist ambitions. ‘Betting on the wrong horse’, as they say, isn’t something that the US wants to do in this case, nor can it strategically afford to when it comes to the Pivot to Asia and the Chinese Containment Coalition (CCC).

However, there are two scenario developments that could dramatically change the US’ calculations. The first one is quite general and is the entire reason why the author has gone to such lengths in elaborating on the Hybrid War potentials for Indonesia, and it’s that Washington may seek to punish Jakarta for not fully committing to the CCC (or even worse, completely turning its back on this design) or enact what it believes to be semi-controllable asymmetrical ‘pressure’ in order to get it to comply. The second scenario is slightly more complex and could also be connected to the first one in some aspects, and it’s that tribal violence in the independent nation of Papua New Guinea next door crosses the national divide and begins to enflame Indonesian-administered West Papua.

Most readers may not be aware of it, but Papua New Guinea is one of the world’s poorest, least developed, and most violent countries – in many ways, an actual failed state – but which largely stays off of the global radar due to its quasi-functioning government’s submissive attitude towards all Western companies’ natural resource and mining requests (with the Bougainville Conflict being an extenuating anomaly). Nonetheless, the international (Western) community largely avoids drawing attention to or dealing with the hinterland’s tribal conflicts, which are essentially ignored so long as they don’t impede with the mining and energy extraction profits being made. This produces a socio-‘political’ environment (if the latter term can even be used to apply to actors unaware of or disinterested in modern political traditions) that opens up the possibility for a conflict spillover into West Papua. This unforeseeable cascading series of event that this may lead to could change the US’ calculations in unexpected ways, or it might even be purposefully provoked as part of a ‘managed’ chaos theory attack on Indonesia’s most peripheral and contested domestic interest, but seeing as how it’s possible for this to happen (although the chances are presently quite low), it’s worthy to have explained this to the reader.

However it happens to come about, if West Papua becomes to the Western world what East Timor was to it back in the early and mid-1990s, then a climate of inevitable independence could settle over the region and embolden the locals to more substantially rise up against Jakarta, regardless of the very real risk to their lives that this would predictably entail. It may be that the US decides to back down or never even intended to get directly involved in the first place. Using the Papuans as cannon fodder would be similar to how the Americans used the Hungarians in 1956 by offering them false hopes of a supportive intervention, but only to let them down after the fact. The strategic reason for the US setting the Papuans up for failure would be to punish the Indonesians with an offsetting domestic destabilization but not carried through to the point of full geopolitical punishment, either in accordance with the US’ own predetermined limitations or because of a deal of sorts that eventually gets made with Jakarta in exchange for abandoning support for the rebels.

East Timor Time Bomb:

The last Hybrid War scenario that could predictably strike Indonesia comes not from the country itself, but from its formerly occupied territory of East Timor. The work had earlier explained how much of a mess East Timor is, as it’s strictly divided along tribal and geographic lines. The 2006 destabilization that occurred was sparked by a mutiny among soldiers from the country’s western enclave and was calmed down only after an Australian-led “humanitarian intervention”. Looking at recent history, this somewhat mirrors the 1999 destabilization, albeit in a more endemic manner. Back then, it was Indonesian-affiliated militias that were sowing chaos throughout the country, but this time, the problem clearly came from society itself. In both cases, the violence was quelled because Australia took the lead in pushing for an “humanitarian intervention”, which provides a template for projecting future scenarios.

Currently, East Timor has all of the indications of a failing state, although to be fair, some of these factors such as the lack of social and physical infrastructure are likely part of the inherited legacy of brutal Indonesian occupation. Although there’s natural resource wealth around its shores, the money isn’t being properly invested into the country’s development, and East Timor still remains heavily dependent on foreign aid. The ethno-tribal divide still exists, and there’s no guarantee that violence won’t re-erupt once more in the future, especially as government revenue declines due to the global energy glut. Seeing as how identity conflict is on the rise all across the world, it’s foreseeable that East Timor may repeat the domestic carnage of 2006 in some iteration or another, be it of another ethnic-motivated military mutiny or an all-out ethnic cleansing campaign. No matter how it starts, one can easily predict that yet another Australian-led “humanitarian intervention” would be called in to stop it, and herein lies the strategic challenge for Indonesia provided that the conflict occurs in a certain geopolitical context.

If East Timorese violence breaks out concurrent or close to the time that Indonesia is caught up in its own domestic destabilization, then it might present the intervening “humanitarian coalition” with the possibility of projecting influence deeper into “East Indonesia”, whether directly or indirectly. In the even that West Papua and/or the Maluku Islands are embroiled in their own identity and/or anti-state conflicts, an “humanitarian intervention” into East Timor could provide the US’ “Lead From Behind” Australian partner with the momentum to issue vague yet understandable threats of further intervention into Indonesia proper. Canberra is in absolutely no military position to do this on its own, of course, which necessitates that it be backed up by Washington and the regional naval assets that it’s deployed as part of the “Pivot to Asia”. If the two Western allies coordinate their activities and bring in the multilateral participation of other affiliated Asian states (e.g. “peacekeepers” from the CCC states of Japan, the Philippines, and perhaps even Vietnam), then they may be in a position to exert predominant pressure on Jakarta under the pane that it acquiesces to their CCC demands or risk being isolated in its region.

In an extreme scenario, the “humanitarian intervening” CCC in East Timor would take unilateral Australian- and/or American-led action in “pacifying” some of the conflict ethno-religious actors in “East Indonesia”, although it’s not predicted to ever get to this point. But, a heavy CCC presence in East Timor under the guise of an “humanitarian intervention” could place pressure on Jakarta to West Papua or even influence the rebels to intensify their anti-state/liberation campaign there, giving them the implicit understanding that they will be supported in one way or another (e.g. covert weapons shipments) by the forces stationed nearby in East Timor.

There’s also the possibility that East Timorese tribal violence spreads to the Indonesian-administered portion of West Timor in the state of East Nusa Tenggara, which would be catastrophic for national unity if the country is already experiencing ethno-religious tumult in Sulawesi and the Malukus, to say nothing if a full-blown Wahhabist insurgency is raging in the Sumatran and Javanese cores by that time. In summary, East Timor’s role in any prospective Hybrid War scenario against Indonesia is to act as a trigger for inviting a multilateral military force onto Indonesia’s doorstep, possibly even traversing its waters en route to their destination. This would raise the strategic alarm of Indonesian military strategist who may feel that the passing of numerous naval assets through its territorial waters or nearby sends a signal of state weakness in an already ethno-religiously tumultuous region. It would be a case study of irony if formerly Indonesian-occupied East Timor becomes Jakarta’s Achilles’ Heel and catalyzes a conflict contagion in the eastern part of the country, and using Indonesia’s historical-demographic matrix as a guide, it doesn’t seem all that impossible either.

To be continued…

Andrew Korybko is the post-graduate of the MGIMO University and author of the monograph “Hybrid Wars: The Indirect Adaptive Approach To Regime Change” (2015). This text will be included into his forthcoming book on the theory of Hybrid Warfare.


Hybrid Wars 1. The Law Of Hybrid Warfare

Hybrid Wars 2. Testing the Theory – Syria & Ukraine

Hybrid Wars 3. Predicting Next Hybrid Wars

Hybrid Wars 4. In the Greater Heartland

Hybrid Wars 5. Breaking the Balkans

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