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The political consequences of military operations in Indonesia 1945-99 : a fieldwork analysis of the political power-diffusion effects of guerilla conflict

Kilcullen, David J., Politics, Australian Defence Force Academy, UNSW


  • Title:
    The political consequences of military operations in Indonesia 1945-99 : a fieldwork analysis of the political power-diffusion effects of guerilla conflict
  • Author/Creator: Kilcullen, David J., Politics, Australian Defence Force Academy, UNSW
  • Subjects: Indonesia; Low-intensity conflicts (Military science); Civil-military relations; Guerrilla warfare; Insurgency; counter-insurgency; West Java; East Timor; political power; politics; government; Darul Islam
  • Resource type: Thesis
  • Type of thesis: Ph.D.
  • Date: 2000
  • Awarding institution: University of New South Wales - Australian Defence Force Academy. School of Politics
  • Description: Problem Investigated. This dissertation is a study of the political effects of low-intensity warfare in Indonesia since 1945. In particular, it examines the interaction between general principles and contextual variables in guerrilla conflict, to determine whether such conflict causes the diffusion of political power. Analysis of insurgent movements indicates that power structures within a guerrilla group tend to be regionalised, diffuse and based on multiple centres of roughly equal authority. Conversely, studies of counter-insurgency (COIN) techniques indicate that successful COIN depends on effective political control over the local population. This tends to be exercised by regional or local military commanders rather than by central authority. Based on this, the author’s initial analysis indicated that one should expect to see a diffusion of political authority from central leaders (whether civilian or military) to regional military leaders, when a society is engaged in the conduct of either COIN or guerrilla warfare. The problem investigated in this dissertation can therefore be stated thus: To what extent, at which levels of analysis and subject to what influencing factors does low-intensity warfare in Indonesia between 1945 and 1999 demonstrate a political power-diffusion effect? Procedures Followed. The procedure followed was a diachronic, qualitative, fieldwork-based analysis of two principle case studies: the Darul Islam insurgency in West Java 1948-1962 and the campaign in East Timor 1974-1999. Principle research tools were: • Semi-structured, formal, informal and group interviews. • Analysis of official and private archives in Australia, Indonesia, the Netherlands and the UK. • Participant observation using anthropological fieldwork techniques. • Geographical analysis using transects, basemapping and overhead imagery. • Demographic analysis using historical data, cartographic records and surveys. Research was conducted in Australia, Indonesia (Jakarta and Bandung), the Netherlands (The Hague and Amsterdam) and the United Kingdom (London, Winchester, Salisbury and Warminster). Fieldwork was conducted over three periods in West Java (1994, 1995 and 1996) and one period in East Timor (1999-2000). General Results Obtained. The two principal case studies were the Darul Islam insurgency in West Java 1948-62 and the campaign in East Timor since 1974. The fieldwork data showed that low-intensity warfare in Indonesia between 1945 and 1999 did indeed demonstrate the political power-diffusion effect posited by the author. This effect was triggered by the outbreak of guerrilla warfare, which itself flowed from crises generated by processes of modernisation and change within Indonesian society from traditional hierarchies to modern forms of social organisation. These crises were also affected by events at the systemic and regional levels of analysis – the invasion of the Netherlands East Indies by Japan, the Cold War, the Asian financial crisis and increasing economic and media globalisation. They resulted in a breakdown or weakening of formal power structures, allowing informal power structures to dominate. This in turn allowed local elites with economic, social or religious influence and with coercive power over the population, to develop political and military power at the local level while being subject to little control from higher levels. This process, then, represented a power diffusion from central and civilian leadership levels to local leaders with coercive means – most often military or insurgent leaders. Having been triggered by guerrilla operations, however, the direction and process by which such power diffusion operated was heavily influenced by contextual variables, of which the most important were geographical factors, political culture, traditional authority structures and the interaction of external variables at different levels of analysis. Topographical isolation, poor infrastructure, severe terrain, scattered population groupings and strong influence by traditional hierarchies tend to accelerate and exacerbate the loss of central control. Conversely good infrastructure, large population centres, good communications and a high degree of influence by nation-state and systemic levels of analysis – particularly through economic and governmental institutionalisation – tend to slow such diffusion. Moreover, while power may be diffusing at one level of analysis (e.g. nation-state) it may be centralising at another (e.g. into the hands of military leaders at local level). Analysis of the Malayan Emergency indicates that, in a comparable non-Indonesian historical example, the same general tendency to political power diffusion was evident and that the same broad contextual variables mediated it. However, it would be premature to conclude that the process observed in Indonesia is generally applicable. The nature and relative importance of contextual factors is likely to vary between examples and hence additional research on non-Indonesian examples would be necessary before such a conclusion could be drawn. Further research on a current instance of guerrilla operations in Indonesia is also essential before the broader contemporary applicability of these findings can be reliably demonstrated. Major Conclusions Reached. Based on the above, the theses developed to answer the initial problem can be stated thus: The command and control (C2) structures inherent in traditional, dispersed rural guerrilla movements that lack access to mass media or electronic communications tend to lessen the degree of control by central (military or political) leaders over regional leaders. If COIN or Internal Security Operations are conducted, two factors will operate. First, there will be an increase in the degree of control over the civil population by local military leaders, at the expense of local or central political leaders. Second, where military command structures are pyramidal or segmentary, there will be an increase in control by local commanders at the expense of central military leaders. Where the central government is civilian or has interests divergent from the military’s, the first of these factors will dominate. Where the government is military or has interests largely identical to those of the military, the second factor will be dominant. The process of power diffusion can thus be summarised as follows: A crisis driven by processes of societal change or by external causes, leads to the outbreak of violence, one facet of which may include guerrilla operations. If guerrilla operations do occur, the C2 structures inherent in such operations give a high degree of autonomy and independence to local military leaders. The same (or a contemporaneous) crisis produces a breakdown of formal power structures, causing organisations to fall back upon informal power structures. The nature of these informal power structures is determined by geography, political culture, patterns of traditional authority within the society and the degree of interaction of systemic/regional factors with local events. Thus the guerrilla operations and the concomitant breakdown in formal power structures form the trigger for political power diffusion. The precise nature and progress of this diffusion is then determined by contextual variables.
  • Language: English
  • Rights: Copyright David J. Kilcullen;

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