Back to the Barracks: Getting the Indonesian Military Out of Politics, 1998-2000


In May 1998, Indonesia’s armed forces, which had marched in lockstep with the Suharto regime for more than three decades, were poised to begin a stunning about-face. Suharto, a former major general, had resigned when antigovernment protests rapidly escalated, and his departure opened the door for a small group of military leaders to implement reforms they had discussed quietly for years. Agus Widjojo, one of the officers, drafted a plan that would change the relationship between civilian government and the armed forces. His New Paradigm reform agenda called for eliminating the military from many aspects of politics and governance in which it had long played a dominant role. From 1998 to 2000, the military severed its ties with the ruling party, agreed to reduce its representation in the parliament, ordered active-duty officers to leave many posts in civilian government, and separated the police from the armed forces. The changes represented a major break with the past and set the stage for civilian-led reforms to enhance elected government’s control over military institutions and defense policy.


Tristan Dreisbach drafted this case based on interviews conducted in Jakarta in March and April 2015. Case published August 2015. A companion case study, Cooperation and Conflict, examines the role of civilians in furthering Indonesian military reforms from 1999-2004.

East Timor
new order
new paradigm
Focus Area(s)
Critical Tasks
Building trust
Creating civilian capacity
Internal security disengagement
Reducing corruption
Removing officers from government
Subordination to civilian control
Transitional justice
Core Challenge
Institutional traps (spoilers)
Norm coordination
Country of Reform
Case Studies
Tristan Dreisbach