Dr Senia Febrica | 05.11.2015 | 1325 Aufrufe | Artikel

Perception over the Use of Militarised Non-Governmental Organisations for Port Security in Indonesia

A Note from the Field by Dr Senia Febrica, Researcher at the American Studies Center, Universitas Indonesia

Cross-border maritime activities have long shaped Indonesia’s economic, social and political development. As an archipelagic country with 95,181 kilometres of coastline, Indonesia’s national borders are primarily located at sea.[1] Over 90 per cent of Indonesia’s national and international trade is conducted across the country’s vast maritime borders. Ports have become the site of interactions in Indonesia’s maritime borders and gateways for the country’s export and import activities. 

Efforts to improve port security are not only a matter of national security concern for Indonesia. They are important for the international community because the country occupies a vitally important position in global maritime transportation. Examining Indonesia’s port security practices will also help to map the contradictions and implications of the use of civilian groups in Indonesia’s efforts to establish a democratic civil society. 

From left to right: Participants of Pemuda Pancasila Riau’s special task force training, available from; Forum Betawi Rempug convoy, available from Last accessed 1 November 2015.

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Outsourcing security has become one of the main features of Indonesia’s government policy in a bid to improve port security.[2] These civilian groups work in conjunction with the Indonesian Police, Army, Navy and Air Force in securing Indonesia’s maritime interests. This article asks a question related to this development: How do Indonesian officials perceive the use of militarised non-governmental organisations to help secure the country’s ports?  

In Indonesia there are around thirty organized paramilitary groups with an estimated membership of 700,000 people.[3] Some of these groups are attached to political parties like Gerakan Pemuda Kabah which is loosely affiliated with Partai Persatuan Pembangunan (United Development Party).[4] Others are linked to religious organizations, for instance Pemuda Anshor which is affiliated with Nahdatul Ulama. A small number of these groups are characterized as independent youth/gangster organizations that in the past gained state support during Soeharto’s New Order regime such as Pemuda Pancasila and Ikatan Pemuda Karya.[5]  

The involvement of militarised non-governmental groups in Indonesian security itself is not a new phenomenon. During the Indonesian war of independence, from 1945-1949, various civilian groups, often known as laskar were actively involvedin carrying out combat duties. A member of Indonesian parliament recalled, “in Indonesia these non-governmental groups, the youth groups were the one who mobilized the communities in the fight for independence.”[6] In 1966 militarised civilian groups took part in the nation-wide anti-communist purges that resulted in at least half a million deaths.[7] During the Soeharto administration the role of militarised non-governmental actors was nurtured to protect the president’s family as well as to coerce students and political activists.[8] The centralised system of clientelism between state and these civilian groups was maintained until Soeharto’s fall in 1998.[9] In May 1998, the resignation of Indonesia’s President Soeharto, brought to an end the state’s authoritarian political system that had lasted for more than thirty years.[10] The end of the authoritarian system also marked a new era of political and security reform in Indonesia.  

Based on initial field work conducted in Indonesia I have found that despite reform the use of militarised non-governmental actors continues to be seen as a beneficial instrument by Indonesian decision makers. There is a widespread perception among officials and legislators in Indonesia regarding the “usefulness” of these groups as a means to complement existing regular security authorities. As an official from the Indonesian National Defence Council put it:

"The involvement of these actors [militarised non-governmental groups] has complicated the existing security system. We can deny the involvement of militarised non-governmental groups in security...however, at the practical level there is symbiotic mutualism between the groups and state. As they [militarised non-governmental groups] maintains security in some ports and border areas the formal security guards would no longer be needed in large numbers there. The formal security authorities will view that as long as the presence of civilian groups can secure the ports and border areas and no disturbance takes place then they these groups would be left alone. This is despite the system does not allow the participation of non-governmental groups in port or border security. Even the system forbids the establishment of border and port security from non-governmental groups or units that are associated with political parties."[11]  

This view was echoed by an official from the Indonesian Political, Legal and Security Affairs. He claimed that there is a need to regulate use of militarised non-governmental actors at ports and design a plan of operation. According to him “members of non-governmental groups could be recruited to be security officers.”[12] He argued that these militarised non-governmental organisations must meet the requirements for security outsourcing. Thus, they need to train their members to secure the movement of goods and people – possibly under the guidance of the police force – and establish official security companies.[13]  

The government officials’ view on the use of militarised non-governmental actors to improve port security is also shared among some members of the Indonesian parliament. Senators representing Jakarta and Riau for instance are very supportive of the activities of groups such as Pemuda Pancasila, Front Pembela Islam, Forum Betawi Rempug and Musyawarah Kekeluargaan Gotong Royong (MKGR) in ports. A senator from Riau Islands claimed that groups such as MKGR are most useful to secure smaller ports in Riau Islands.[14] This group could help in securing the loading and unloading of goods and serve as mediators when labour demonstrations take place. A senator from Jakarta went further to argue that the use of local non-governmental groups by port operators should be seen as a form of corporate social responsibility of the port operator towards the local community.[15]  

Having surveyed the view of Indonesian officials and parliament members it could be concluded that although officials realised the challenges posed by the involvement of militarised non-governmental actors in port security or the security sector in general, they still view these actors as a useful resources to tap into. The involvement of civilian groups that are attached to political parties, linked to religious organisations, or are characterized as independent youth/gangster organisations in security represents a continuation in Indonesia’s security practices.

[1] Sekretariat Jenderal Departemen Kelautan dan Perikanan (2006: 58); M. Ford & L. Lyons (2013:215); A. Sciascia (2013).
[2] See Jakarta Post (29 June 2006); A. Sciascia (2013)
[3] H.S. Nordholt (2002:51) as cited in G.M. Sindre (2005: 69)
[4] V. Hadiz (2003: 603)
[5] V. Hadiz (2003: 603)
[6] Interview with a senator from Jakarta, Jakarta 21 August 2015.
[7] A. Tyson (2013:207)
[8] L. Ryter (1998: 46); B. Simpson (2013: 10)
[9] E. Aspinall (2013:33)
[10] R.W. Liddle (1999: 39)
[11] Interview with an official from the Indonesian National Defence Council, 7 August 2015.
[12] Interview with an official from the Indonesian Coordinating Ministry for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, 21 August 2015.
[13] Interview with an official from the Indonesian Coordinating Ministry for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, 21 August 2015.
[14] Interview with a senator from Riau Island, Jakarta, 18 August 2015.
[15] Interview with a senator from Jakarta, Jakarta, 18 August 2015.

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