Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific

College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

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Indonesian – Ketahanan

May 27th, 2011 · No Comments · Defence, Indonesian


Relates to defence; resilience; endurance

The word ‘tahan’ suggest endurance or to withstand. The abstract noun ‘ketahanan’ is usually translated in English as ‘resilience’ as in ‘national resilience’. It can also suggest to restrain and to arrest, with a noun ‘penahanan’ (arrest), or be incorporated in the verb ‘mempertahankan’ (to defend). The term ‘pertahanan’ (defence) has the same root. In Indonesian military and political discourse, the words pertahanan and keamanan are used as a pair to form the acronym ‘hankam’. For example, until 2000, the minister of defence was also in charge of internal security, and hence was referred to as the ‘Menteri Hankam’ (Minister of Defence and Security), a position always held by a (retired) general during the Suharto period.

The concept of ‘ketahanan nasional’, usually translated as ‘national resilience’, was introduced in the early 1970s, in particular by the National Resilience Council (Lembaga Ketahanan Nasional): set up as a military think-tank to develop ideological and strategic thinking on security and defence. Since 1978, the government developed a program called Tarpadnas (Penataran Kewaspadaan Nasional, literally translated as Training for National Alertness) aimed at promoting and instilling a sense of alertness to the threat of communism and other alternative ideologies, perceived as threatening the state’s philosophical foundation: Pancasila (the five national principles).  This program led to the establishment of Pancasila as the sole philosophical foundation (azas tunggal) for all social and political organisations in Indonesia.  Its products in the form of doctrines and instructions for civic indoctrinations and nationalism were used as materials for schools.

Historically, the definition of Pancasila has been deeply entwined with military doctrine. By connecting Pancasila to the military doctrine, the latter was given a monopoly over the meaning of Pancasila, in effect elevating the military to the level of policing interpretations of national identity. New legislation in the post-Suharto era aimed to dissolve this connection by intentionally adopting rational interpretations of Pancasila and implementing models from other countries. These new or supposedly unbiased interpretations of Pancasila at the same time took away the ideological value of Pancasila and its supremacy as the ideological foundation of the country.

Pancasila today connotes a combination of the demise of the state and the spread of the concept and practice of human rights (which prioritises individual human rights rather than the state’s authority). This played an important role in the proliferation of the use of human security in Indonesian discourse. The collapse of the Suharto dictatorship also heralded the end of how Pancasila was placed as the basis and focal point of any political, cultural and philosophical discussion in Indonesia. This meant that the way security was translated into law and policies became much more rational, reflecting a departure from how Pancasila was understood and practiced during the New Order. After ten years, scholars who used to criticise Pancasila now try to defend it as a way of discussing how individual security and unity can be promoted. Consequently, Pancasila now represents plurality and diversity. It has also had some implications for the return of Islam. The focus on individual human well-being and the re-focusing of security away from the state has removed barriers to discussions regarding broader, non-state centric forms of security, including food security, economic security and moral security.

This redefinition of Pancasila has had implications for the definition of ketahanan. Despite its origins during the mid-to-late twentieth century, ketahanan has come to represent a rejection of the geopolitical mapping of the globe that defined security during the Cold War. To some extent, the contemporary usage of the term ‘ketahanan’ complements that of Pancasila by assuming an understanding that security should include non-military concerns such as ‘human security’ and also other forms of security, such as energy security. However, in contrast to Pancasila, ketahanan has retained a strong focus on state as the primary security actor. The result has been that the requirement to withstand any potential attack and to be prepared for a stable and pragmatic response has become the foundational doctrine of Indonesian security policy. It assumes a self-reliance of both an elite cadre and wider society that is telegraphed through the formal training of those indoctrinated at the National Resilience Council.

Since its inception in the early 1970s, the concept of ‘ketahanan nasional’ has assumed a cultural meaning beyond its strict conceptualisation of security and defence in the conventional military sense. The metaphors and references used in describing ‘ketahanan nasional’ mostly allude to the endurance of a nation imagined as a warrior who has gone through various hardships and overcome dangers. The idea of national security was also associated with the struggle of Asian and African countries seeking to define their geopolitical position in the context of the Cold War competition of superpowers, as well as the Indonesian experience of revolutionary struggle in the period of 1945-1949, and the Javanese worldview as inspired by Mahabarata epic stories of the shadow puppet theatre.

A 1971 pamphlet explains that “National Endurance is the tenacity and resistance of a nation, bearing the capability to develop national strength and power, in responding to inside as well as outside challenges and threats that directly or indirectly endanger the national life and in achieving the national goal” (“The Build-up of National Endurance in Developing Countries” (in English) published by Lemhannas on 1 June 1971, p. 2-3). “National endurance” refers to “INNER DIRECTION, in which the internal potencies of a nation are integrated and developed for the benefit of each nation itself and her relations with the others afterwards” (p. 3-4). Such a concept of national resilience was inculcated in society through various school and training programs (including for civil servants), and has not been significantly revised until now.

The New Order version of Indonesian national history focuses on the roles of the military during revolutionary struggles. The military produces terminologies using Sanskrit to define their doctrines, buildings, associations, etc. The concept of the ‘knight-king’ prevalent in South and Southeast Asia, particularly in the Hindu epics the Mahabarata and Ramayana, has been appropriated by Indonesian military doctrine. The inseparability of ‘pertahanan’ (defence) and ‘keamanan’ (security) was an also outcome of the concept ‘dwifungsi’, i.e. the dual functions of the military in which the military is given the legitimate right to interfere in non-military domestic affairs. Most key positions in the cabinet and government were reserved for military officials.


Pertahanan vs. Keamanan

From the description above, it is clear that keamanan and pertahanan are complementary but also distinct. The referent of keamanan was originally the society whereas the referent of pertahanan is national territory, sovereignty and dignity. During the New Order era, keamanan and pertahanan were combined in the concept of the military dual-function, where the military dominated almost all aspect of Indonesian life. After Reformasi, keamanan was separated from pertahanan with the police responsible for the former sphere and the military the latter. This division has serious implications for access to power and resources – implications that give greater advantages to the police. Recent terrorist activities in Indonesia were portrayed by some as a reason to return to the territorial command system, with the military in overall control. The argument is made that pertahanan and keamanan are inseparable, forming keamanan nasional (national security). In this view, keamanan becomes a concept which includes pertahanan. The struggle to clarify their meanings is ongoing. It is a matter of semantics, but one with ramifications for issues of access to power and resources.




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