Jakarta – When the country marks the 78th anniversary of the Indonesian Military (TNI) tomorrow, the public will not see an aerial performance of the Rafale or Boeing F-15EX combat aircraft the government recently purchased or committed to procuring. Nevertheless, the TNI Day parade will send the message that the country's armed forces stand ready to protect the nation.
Modernizing the TNI is a must, not only because of the continuing advancements in military technology but also because of the rapidly changing spectrum of threats in terms of both form and scale.
Countries around the world allocate a significant amount to their defense budgets each year because they cannot afford to wait until a potential threat becomes a reality. Excepting the handful of nations that have no standing army, such as Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Iceland and Lichtenstein, the world's countries follow the classic adage si vis pacem, para bellum, meaning "if you want peace, prepare for war", which justifies weapons procurement.
In fact, we have been watching the arms race among major powers with apprehension, but they have maintained their restraint, refraining from launching an opening salvo or starting a war.
In Indonesia's case, the need to establish and maintain a strong military stems from a prominent motto among our founding fathers and independence fighters: "We love peace, but love independence more." This phrase is still relevant after nearly 80 years, given the country's vast land, sea and air territories and natural resource wealth that the TNI has a duty to protect.
The threat is now lurking on our doorstep, especially since the great power rivalry is shifting its focus to the Indo-Pacific. Any escalation of the ongoing tensions will immediately impact Indonesia.
Geopolitical assessments seem to be among the reasons behind Indonesia's weapons shopping spree over the last few years. Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto has traveled to Europe, the Middle East and the United States to push for arms procurement deals as part of the TNI modernization program, initiated during Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's presidency.
If realized, procurement deals for primary weapons, from warships and submarines to fighter jets, will significantly enhance our defense and deterrence capabilities. When the TNI modernization program ends next year, the military is expected to have fulfilled its goal of attaining minimum essential force (MEF).
As external threats persist, if not mutate, the TNI's modernization should continue, perhaps with an emphasis on cyber defense and maximizing use of artificial intelligence. The swift advancements in information and communication technology will, sooner or later, shift the battlefield from the physical to the digital arena.
One thing that will never change is the human role behind the guns, as evident in the history of warfare from ancient battles to the ongoing war in Ukraine. The quality of both the soldiers in the field and the strategist generals in the command center defines the course of a war.
This is why soldiers spend most of their time in training, including on ever-modern weapons, and on some occasions participate in joint exercises to learn new technologies and tactics. The TNI has regularly hosted or participated in multinational drills to promote military cooperation and mutual trust.
At the end of the day, we badly need professional soldiers who know how to safeguard the nation and, in the current political climate, democracy. The sweeping 1998 reforms reinstated the military's distinctly defense function, putting an end to its past role as the New Order's instrument of terror and oppression against the people.
In the spirit of reform, the military relinquished its sociopolitical role to focus on its constitutional duty in national defense. The military reforms may not be perfect, but there has been progress that deserves acknowledgment.
As we move toward the 2024 elections, deemed a crucial juncture for Indonesia's democracy, TNI commander Adm. Yudo Margono has pledged to maintain the military's political neutrality. While his statement seems obvious, this commitment to stay out of politics must be reiterated so it is instilled in the subconscious of each and every TNI member.
A strong and modern TNI capable of protecting the entire nation and our still nascent democracy will remain our rallying cry.