Juwono Sudarsono reflects on lessons learned from nation building and governance reform in Indonesia. He states that when he was named minister of defense in 2004 by the president, his instructions were to neutralize the political role of the military and its dominance of the government, to require the military to support national democratization, and to scrutinize the defense acquisition process in order to reduce corruption. He found it was not difficult to convince the military to withdraw from the political process, because the military had come to see its political role as a liability jeopardizing its credibility with the population. The police were removed from military control and placed under separate civilian control. Military-operated businesses were either eliminated or placed under control of a new agency. He says it was more difficult to reduce the number of police-operated businesses because the salaries of members of the police were low, so they inevitably seek ways to make the additional income they needed. He says that corruption cannot be eliminated, but it can be reduced step by step. He describes initiatives to reduce bribes and kickbacks in the defense acquisition process. He points out that the government was starved for revenue because $25 billion a year was being lost to illegal smuggling and organized crime. To advance the process of democratization, the military began to provide training and technical assistance to help build the capacities for democracy and development in other sectors of society. He points out that while there were individuals capable of assuming top positions, the country was very short of capabilities at the second and third levels. The military helped to train accountants, managers, specialized lawyers and other specialists at these levels, particularly in the marginal regions. He believes that while merit systems are essential to build the competence of the civil services, affirmative action needs to be taken to help marginalized people feel that they are part of the national society. This means that merit sometimes should not be the only standard taken into account. Democratization and development depend upon building up a trained middle class, he says.
At the time of this interview, Juwono Sudarsono was Indonesia's minister of defense, in a term that began in 2004. From 2003 to 2004, he was ambassador to the United Kingdom. From 1999 to 2000 he served as the first civilian minister of defense. He was minister for education and culture in 1998-1999, after serving as minister of state. From 1995 to 1998, he was vice governor of the National Defence College. He received bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Indonesia, studied at the Institute of Social Studies in The Hague, Netherlands, and received a master's from the University of California at Berkeley. He earned a Ph.D. from the London School of Economics.