Posted: May 29th, 2012 | Author: Tom van der Made | Filed under: Asia-Pacific, Economics, Governmental Policies, Human Rights, Indonesia, Military | Tags: budget, crisis, defence, eignty, ethics, Euro, Germany, government, human, human rights, Indonesia, Leopard, Military, ministry, negotiations, Netherlands, of, Papua, rebels, rights, separatists, sover, Tanks
In January of 2012, an Indonesian delegation, led by Army chief of staff general Edhie Widowo, visited the Netherlands to have a closer look at Dutch Leopard tanks. These tanks have been for sale since last year’s strict measures when it comes to budget cuts, necessary because of the tough financial situation the Netherlands finds itself in, as part of the broader Euro-crisis. At first only a few details emerged, and what may seemed a “normal” arms sale at first sight, now months later became a major complicated controversy balancing money versus human rights, in both Indonesia and the Netherlands.
It has become such a major debate since the Dutch government could certainly use the money it would obtain from selling the tanks. The government has cut the budget of the Ministry of Defence particularly hard in order to reach the required budget cuts. In addition, it does not violate any of the European rules for weapons export and various defence experts have argued that “If the Netherlands won’t, Germany will” as the Jakarta Post mentioned that Military chief Widowo said “we will not beg them”, adding that he would soon meet representatives from Germany to discuss possibilities. On the other hand, the Dutch realise with the Indonesia’s human rights record that the concern is certainly there regarding the actual purpose of these tanks. An ethical dilemma, especially since the often quoted words of the Norwegian minister Jan Egeland, although in early 2000, say “The Netherlands has probably become the most effective human rights advocate today”.
Motivations from Indonesia however also have its contradictions as the heavy tanks are argued not to be suitable due to lack of infrastructure in Indonesia. Not to forget, for a country with far greater sea than land mass, it would seem to have more benefits investing in for example, patrol ships to guard the country’s maritime borders. Alternatively, as argued by the Dutch Newspaper de Volkskrant, maybe it is more an attempt to mirror neighbouring countries’ inventories and status, as the army chief Wibowo, is also president Yudhoyono’s brother-in-law.
So why, despite the mixed arguments, are there negotiations in the first place? From the Dutch side the driving force could be Minister of Defence Hans Hillen, as he has to cut one billion euros from the budget, which makes the total worth of the tanks, an estimated 200 million Euro, an attractive figure. A Dutch website against arms trafficking even stated that Mr Hillen mentioned that ethics are not a problem: “As Minister of Defence I look at the sale of material that we dispose from the idea that I want to see money, and therefore I don’t have morals”. Ethical questions are the exclusive responsibility of the Ministers of Economic and Foreign Affairs, he argues.
For Indonesia, as external threats seem off the table, it might have to do with keeping protesters away from the streets in major cities. As the reason could be that the tanks would later be used to deal with what Jakarta branded as the “separatists”. This is where the sovereignty, given by the Dutch in 1961, of the Papua province comes in to play. Since the situation in Papua is again on-going, Indonesia might be taking measures against the supposed rebels in Papua-New-Guinea. According to Judge Bahabol, who fought for the sovereignty of Papua, “Who’s flying the Papuan flag now, gets threatened with 15 years in prison”. However, current Indonesian ambassador and senior military expert, Dr Salim said, “the reason for human rights violations in Indonesia should not be the reason for rejecting the sale of tanks. That’s the past. Even now it is no longer as serious as the past because the army was not involved.” Nevertheless, the biggest issue in this is that Irian Jaya (Papua and West Papua Provinces) was a consequence off an incomplete process of decolonization of the Netherlands East Indies. Therefore, there is the possibility of the Dutch selling arms that might be used against a province that they are responsible for existing. A situation destined for critique.
In the Dutch context the government needs parliamentary approval for a sale like this, an unlikely outcome. With such strong criticism due to historical events and contradicting reasons for both the Indonesian and Dutch Parliaments against the transfer of the Leopard tanks, why would either democratic government continue negotiating a deal that lacks necessary support? Hopefully it will become clear that money is not everything, and that the Dutch keep their reputation in considering human rights before other concerns.