Security Scholar suggests

Heeeeeeello Friday! Welcome back for my pick of interesting and informative things to read, watch or listen to over the weekend.

Today’s suggested reading is a New Mandala post (also, highly recommend the full 25-page report here) from my ANU colleague Hunter Marston who grapples with the question: in Southeast Asia, authoritarian or illiberal? What’s the difference and why does it matter? Well, it matters if you’re an international partner wanting to work with civil society in Southeast Asia. Understanding the difference helps maximise the kinds of cooperation programs on offer and their effectiveness. A country doesn’t have to be full-on strongman authoritarian to undermine the growth of democracy and exhibit increasingly illiberal values (I wasn’t going to name names but hello, Manila and Jakarta, I’m looking at you). Hunter also emphasises that civil society is not a monolith! Civil society groups come in many different forms and flavours (sweet and sour). This might seem obvious but sometimes we policy analysts and scholars (as well as policymakers and bureaucrats) get lazy and generalise. Not only is Hunter’s work a good reminder to be specific, he even provides a table at the end of his report suggesting how to engage different kinds of civil society actors.

This week’s podcast is a recent interview with Professor Risa Brooks on the erosion of US civil-military relations under the Obama and Trump presidencies, hosted by the Cato Institute’s John Glaser (43mins). She’s also written a heap of stuff on civil-military relations under Trump if you’re keen to pull on that thread, including this 30-page article published this year. In that paper, Risa compares the last administration’s impact on the military’s place in society and politics to its predecessors. Her analysis is hard on the former president but I thought her discussion of contemporary civil-military ties provides useful food for thought.

Lastly, are we witnessing the end of the Yakuza in Japan? Having rewatched Michael Mann’s 1995 masterpiece Heat last Friday, I spent the week pondering the simultaneously poetic and tragic relationship between antagonist and protagonist in law enforcement and criminality (recall that Pacino–De Niro coffee shop scene). As timing would have it, I was sent this brief yet informative France24 segment about how the tide turned against Japan’s criminal underworld, crippling a once 200,000-strong organisation to around a tenth of its men. It’s worth watching to see how these gangsters portray themselves and how exactly Japan’s police and legal system successfully brought this centuries-old system to its knees—for now (5mins).

That’s all for today, folks! Enjoy your Friday Burgers and catch you next week. Image courtesy of Flickr user Jeff Laitila —NS

Security Scholar suggests: an Indonesian military primer

Hey folks, welcome back! In case you were wondering, I did not run away with a travelling cat circus (because there’s no travel right now) but it’s been a big month for me. So today is just a quick post on a resource that I found useful. Last month I was busy preparing for my big PhD presentation so I thought this Channel News Asia special on the Indonesian military in politics would be perfect light viewing over lunch.

Weeeeeeell, turns out it was a bit meatier than expected! Military in Politics: Indonesia was a solid 48-minute exploration of the Indonesian armed forces, covering in reasonable detail its origin story, darker New Order decades and 1998 fall from grace. It presented clear-eyed analysis of the army’s past, the ramifications for civil-military relations under President Jokowi and the ongoing maritime challenges from China. Not only did CNA draw from some of the best TNI scholars out there in Singapore (where the station is based) and in Indonesia, the team also interviewed former Indonesian government and military officials including Professor Dewi Fortuna Anwar and Lieutenant General (rtd) Agus Widjojo.

The doco was even-handed about the military’s strengths and weaknesses, particularly its background of human rights violations, and there were only a handful of minor points I would have quibbled with. Straight up: if you’re a seasoned scholar of the Indonesian military, this isn’t for you. But if you, a colleague or your students are keen to learn about the Tentara Nasional Indonesia aka Indonesian armed forces, and you’re looking for something to enjoy at the kitchen table in less than an hour, look no further. Hats off to you, CNA!

Speaking of light and fluffy (well, kind of), this week’s music is brought to you by Blink-182, thanks to El Diablo. Happy Friday Burgers and see you next week! —NS