Indonesia's Aceh Problem: Measuring International and Domestic Costs (Asia-Pacific Security Studies, Volume 2, Number 5, July 2003)
Author(s)Smith, Anthony L.
Contributor(s)ASIA-PACIFIC CENTER FOR SECURITY STUDIES HONOLULU HI
KeywordsGovernment and Political Science
Sociology and Law
Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics
UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT
INDONESIAN STATE SOVEREIGNTY
ASEAN(ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS)
GAM(GERAKAN ACEH MERDEKA)
FREE ACEH MOVEMENT
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AbstractSecession remains the greatest fear of Indonesia's military and civilian leadership. Aceh has been part of Indonesia since independence, and successful Acehnese secession, the government fears, might set a precedent for the unraveling of the state. Indonesia's current military offensive, which began in May 2003 following the rejection of the 9 December 2002 peace agreement, must be seen in this light. The military has accused the Acehnese separatists, the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka or GAM) of not disarming, of using the agreement to regroup, and of refusing to drop its independence demands. While the decision to end peace talks lies with the Government of Indonesia, both sides are at fault. Acehnese secessionists have failed to transform themselves into a mainstream political movement and continue to use violence against soldiers and civilians to achieve their aims. The Indonesian government has been both impatient, in terms of demanding the rebels drop independence goals, and imprudent in its use of force, which has resulted in civilian deaths during the latest military offensive. The countries most interested in the Aceh dilemma, including the United States, are keenly aware that shortsighted and heavy-handed Indonesian government policies in the past have increased independence-minded sentiment in the province. The Aceh problem is a point of difference between Washington and Jakarta with the latter disappointed by a lack of U.S. support for its military offensive. Jakarta has also accused the United States of not being empathetic to Indonesia's battle with what it deems Islamic terrorists. A recent U.S. Congress decision to block the renewal of military-to-military ties was based partly on opposition to Indonesia's offensive in Aceh. However, the conflict in Aceh will not derail the broader Indonesia-U.S. relationship, especially as the United States needs good relations with Indonesia to proceed with the war against terrorism in Southeast Asia.