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Study documents arms sales to Indon

East Timor Action Network - March 4, 1997

New York – A new study by the World Policy Institute reveals that the United States has supplied over $1.1 billion worth of weaponry to Indonesia in the two decades since the Suharto regime's invasion of East Timor. This new data on U.S. arms supplies to Indonesia comes at a time when U.S.-Indonesian relations are much in the news. Congressional investigators have been probing the role of contributions from the Indonesian-based Lippo group in the 1996 presidential campaign, and upcoming public hearings will address the question of how these foreign donations may have influenced U.S. policy towards Indonesia.

Despite the Indonesian money scandal, the Clinton Administration is planning to move ahead with a sale of 9 F-16 fighter planes to Jakarta. The $200 million deal – which is slated to be formally announced to Congress later this year – would represent the first sale of major U.S. combat aircraft to the Suharto regime in nearly a decade. There has been bipartisan opposition to the sale, led by prominent Senators such as Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and key House members including Newt Gingrich (R-GA) and House International Relations Committee Chairman Benjamin Gilman (R-NY).

In the meantime, as the F-16 deal hangs in the balance, the human rights situation in Indonesia has been worsening: the leader of the main opposition party has been ousted by the Suharto regime, a dozen labor and student leaders are being tried on charges of subversion for the "crime" of criticizing government policies, and President Suharto has dismissed international requests for a United Nations sponsored referendum to determine the future of East Timor.

"Now that the awarding of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize to Jose Ramos-Horta and Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo has shed an international spotlight on the Suharto regime's brutal occupation of East Timor, the time is ripe for the United States to reverse its longstanding policy of serving as a primary source of arms and training for the Indonesian military," said William D. Hartung, the co-author of the Institute's study. "President Clinton should start by calling off the planned sale of F-16s to Indonesia."

Clinton Policy: 'There Was No Influence'

Ironically, President Clinton has cited his policy on arms to Indonesia as evidence of his strong human rights stance vis-a-vis the Suharto regime. At a news conference held just after the November elections, the president vehemently denied that the soft money contributions by the Lippo group to the Democratic National Committee had influenced U.S. policy towards Indonesia:

"[T]he answer to that is absolutely not. Indeed, look at the difference between my policy and my predecessor's policy. We changed our policy on arms sales because of East Timor, not to sell small arms. And we co-sponsored a resolution in the United Nations in favor of greater human rights in East Timor. And I'm proud we did that. So I can tell you categorically that there was no influence."

Nobel Laureate and East Timor independence activist Jose Ramos-Horta – whose sister and two brothers were killed by Indonesian forces using U.S.-supplied weaponry during the early years of the Indonesian occupation – has strongly criticized the Clinton arms sales policy towards Indonesia, and has opposed the F-16 sale on the grounds that "it's like selling weapons to Saddam Hussein."

In fact, if the F-16 sale goes ahead as planned, the Clinton Administration will have approved roughly $270 million in arms sales to Indonesia in just over four years, an average of over $67 million per year. This represents more than twice the level of arms sales to Indonesia concluded during the Bush Administration, and allowing for inflation, it represents the highest level of U.S. sales since the second Reagan term or the early Carter period.

U.S. Arms To Indonesia: Fueling Repression

U.S. arms sales policies have aided and abetted the Suharto regime's annexation of East Timor from the moment of Indonesia's 1975 invasion right up to the present. Two days prior to the 1975 invasion, President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger gave the green light to Indonesia's invasion of East Timor while attending a state dinner with President Suharto in Jakarta. U.S. arms sales to Indonesia more than quadrupled from 1974 to 1975 from $12 million to more than $65 million. Despite its professed concern for human rights, the Carter Administration approved a record $112 million in new U.S. arms to Indonesia in 1978, helping the Suharto government to consolidate its military occupation of East Timor.

The Reagan Administration averaged $40 million per year in arms sales to Jakarta, culminating in a 1986 blockbuster deal to provide 12 F-16 fighters at a cost of over $300 million. During the Bush Administration, sales dropped slightly, to roughly $28 million per year. Clinton policy has sent a decidedly mixed message by withholding small arms that can be used in human rights abuses and repression of demonstrations while continuing to supply spare parts and offer major combat systems such as the F-16.

The report documents the cumulative impact of two decades of steady U.S. weapons supplies to Indonesia: since 1975, the Pentagon and U.S. arms manufacturers have delivered 229 military aircraft, 264 missiles, 9 combat ships, 402 armored combat vehicles, and massive quantities of guns, ammunition, tear gas, shock batons, and other small arms to Indonesia, including over 15,000 Colt Industries M-16 rifles. Data from the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency indicates that for the most recent three year period for which full data is available, the U.S. supplied 53% of Indonesia's imported armaments.

Since the mid-1980s, Indonesia has relied almost entirely on the United States and its principal West European allies – the United Kingdom, France, and Germany – for its imported armaments, obtaining anywhere from 91 to 100% of its imported weapons from U.S. or West European sources over this period.

"Since the United States and its key allies supply virtually all of Indonesia's imported arms, the tired old argument that 'if we don't sell it, somebody else will' rings false in this instance," said Mr. Hartung, a Senior Research Fellow at the World Policy Institute. "The Clinton Administration should work together with its European allies to condition all future arms sales to Indonesia on human rights improvements and a concrete timetable for self-determination in East Timor."

Who's Influencing Whom: Arms Makers Block Reform

While there is still some question as to whether campaign money from the Lippo group has altered the Clinton Administration's policies towards Indonesia, there is no question that lobbying and campaign spending by U.S. weapons exporting companies has influenced Congressional deliberations on whether to supply U.S. arms to repressive regimes such as Indonesia. During 1995/96, the top 25 U.S. weapons exporting companies donated over $10.7 million in Political Action Committee and soft money contributions to the two major parties and candidates for office. Major recipients of arms industry funds such as Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and former Senator and current Clinton Administration Secretary of Defense William Cohen led the fight for industry initiatives such as establishing a $15 billion arms export loan guarantee fund at the Pentagon and blocking the Code of Conduct bill, a proposal that would sharply limit U.S. arms sales to dictatorships and human rights abusers. When the Code of Conduct bill came up for a vote in the Senate, Senators voting with industry to block the bill received an average of $17,947 in contributions for weapons exporting firms, a figure eight times higher than the average received by Senators who voted for the Code of Conduct. Ironically, one of the top recipients of arms exporter PAC funds during 1995/96 was Sen. Fred Thompson (R-TN), who is leading the Senate investigation into irregularities in campaign financing during the 1996 elections. Thompson received $44,675 from arms exporting firms and voted for the arms export loan fund and against the Code of Conduct bill.

Indonesia stands to benefit from the pro-arms export initiatives that were pushed through the 104th Congress. Under a new program created at the urging of U.S. weapons exporting companies, Indonesia has received Export-Import bank financing to upgrade its fleet of C-130 and L-100 military transport aircraft. The Suharto regime is also one of 37 governments that is eligible to receive U.S. government guaranteed loans under the Pentagon's $15 billion arms export loan guarantee fund. And if the Code of Conduct bill limiting arms sales to governments that violate the human rights of their own citizens and engage in undemocratic practices were U.S. law, most if not all of the $1.1 billion in U.S. arms that have been supplied to the Suharto regime over the past two decades would not have been permitted.

"There has been great concern expressed about the role of 'foreign money' in influencing our political process," noted Mr. Hartung. "But we should be equally concerned about the role of U.S.-based weapons exporting firms in distorting our foreign policy on behalf of their short-term economic interests. Subsidized arms sales to Indonesia are an example of the special interests of the weapons industry undermining our long-term national interests in promoting democracy, peace, and human rights."