Coups

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How do Military Coups Fail?

DR GERAINT HUGHES

On the night of Friday 15th July 2016 elements of the Turkish armed forces attempted to overthrow the democratically-elected – but increasingly authoritarian – government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. After a bloody night of fighting in Ankara and Istanbul, and at least 290 deaths, this attempted coup d’etat was decisively crushed as police, loyalist military units and crowds of civilian volunteers rallied behind Erdogan. The Turkish armed forces and the judiciary are now being purged of real and suspected enemies of the AKP government, and a state that is both a NATO partner and a pivotal ally in Southern Europe and the Middle East is experiencing instability as severa as that the country experienced in the late 1970s.

Edward Luttwak has already provided an analysis on the coup’s failure, and has indeed written what could cheekily be described as the authoritative manual on how to take over a state at gunpoint. In this post I want to take a broader view as to how and why military coups end in failure.

Mao Zedong famously observed that political power grows from the barrel of a gun, and the most dramatic manifestation of that statement can be seen when the armed forces turn against their political masters, and the citizenry wake up to find armoured vehicles on their own streets. The spectacle of soldiers overthrowing the constitutional order they have sworn to defend is a subject of enduring fascination even in stable societies. John Frankenheimer’s 1964 thriller Seven Days in May showed the Joint Chiefs of Staff plotting to oust the US President, in order to thwart an arms control treaty with the Soviets. During the early 1970s the prospect of Her Majesty’s armed forces doing the unthinkable and seizing power in the UK appeared to be a genuine threat, given the extent of the country’s political and economic crises, the failure of either the Conservative or Labour governments of that time to address them, and the widespread paranoia at the time. For Turkey, a state which has experienced three successful coups since 1960, military putsches are not academic exercises or the stuff of fictional fantasies.

Yet the plotting and execution of a coup represents can founder due to a series of factors. For a potential junta of generals or colonels to succeed, the following conditions need to be met.

Firstly, plotters have to be able to plan and organise the takeover of the state without alerting any loyalist colleagues in the armed forces, or the country’s security services.

Secondly, they will have to seize and dominate the state’s transport and communications network – roads, rail links, ports, airports, television, telephones and the media.

Thirdly, they have to achieve a shock effect on the government. The President, Prime Minister, monarch, ministers, and senior civil servants must be either arrested (or perhaps killed), or at any rate they should be neutralised. The spectacle of a leader fleeing a country and seeking asylum abroad is usually a sign of the coup’s success.

Fourthly, the coup needs to be executed with such speed that it becomes a fait accompli for potential opponents. Other elements of the armed forces and the security services must be left with the impression that the only choice they have is either futile resistance or acquiescence in the new order.

Finally, the coup cannot succeed unless it has either popular support, or the plotters can at least count on the general population being unwilling to defend the old order.

On organisation, militaries are not monolithic entities, and would-be caudillos have to surreptitiously identify potential allies within the officer corps, running the risk of exposing their scheming in the process. However, regimes which have a genuine concern over a military takeover will often ‘coup-proof’ their armed forces. Generals and admirals will be appointed on the basis of loyalty rather than competence. Commanders will be regularly switched so that they cannot build a support base among the soldiers, sailors, marines or airmen they lead. The regime will impose an over-centralised and dysfunctional command structure which will make it difficult for plotters to even meet without attracting the attention of the regime’s security services, and can also drive wedges between officers and the rank-and-file through political indoctrination. What worked for Nazi Germany has worked for Arab autocracies such as Iraq and Syria too.

As was the case with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq the secret police will often employ agents provocateurs to smoke out potential putschists by encouraging them to take part in bogus plots, and then arresting and exterminating them. Nascent coups can also be snuffed out if the regime prevents routine exercises or the issuing of ammunition, or if it develops its own parallel paramilitary forces that are better armed and trained than their regular counterparts, and manned by troops recruited on the basis of party, clan or ethnic loyalty to the state. Even if likeminded and resentful plotters can meet and plot in conditions of secrecy and security, there are of course other additional snags to deal with. What if more than one of the assembled putschists believes that he should be the next President for Life?

With communications, the would-be coup plotter might be guided by Lenin’s dictum that the first act is to seize the telephone exchange and the telegraph office. In the age of Twitter and the smart-phone it is no longer as easy to shut down attempts by the government to talk to the masses – or indeed to stop crowds rallying each other to defend the status quo. When Communist Party, military and KGB hardliners of the GKChP (the ‘State Council for the State of Emergency’) tried to oust Mikhail Gorbachev in August 1991 they were stymied by the fact that the head of the Soviet Air Force, Marshal Yevgeny Shaposhnikov, declared that his service would oppose their putsch. Without the Antonovs and Ilyushins of the air forces Transport Command, the GKChP was denied a means of moving their own troops and security personnel around a state that spans ten separate time zones.

In Turkey last Friday Erdogan and his Prime Minister, Binali Yildirim, not only evaded capture or elimination, but also held their nerve. Erdogan himself rallied his AKP support base with a telephone call to a private TV channel (via FaceTime) which showed that he was (a) alive, (b) at liberty, and (c) still in the country and ready to fight his corner. The attempted coup in Spain in February 1981 foundered because King Juan Carlos broadcast his opposition and condemned its instigators. In the USSR 10½ years later the Russian President Boris Yeltsin emerged as an alternative source of legitimacy, climbing aboard a tank outside the Parliament Building in Moscow to address the assembled citizenry to resist the junta. In all of the above cases, the failure to neutralise effective opposition and to overawe the government contributed to the coup’s eventual defeat.

The routing of the Turkish coup, and the spectacle of soldiers being disarmed by civilians on the Bosphorus bridge, also shows that achieving a fait accompli is easier in theory than in practice. Coups are a nerve-wracking experience both for their instigators and for the troops they command, who often do not have the faintest idea of what they are doing and why. In certain cases, the coup plotters can rely on troops who are ready to gun down opponents in the streets, as was the case with Iraq in July 1958 and Chile in September 1973. But in other cases soldiers (particularly conscripts) who are faced with crowds of protestors or military units defending the powers-that-be can falter when given the order to shoot. It is a daunting decision to open fire on ones own fellow countrymen and women, particularly if you have doubts about whether you are going to succeed.

Then there are the masses themselves. The overthrow of the Estado Novo by the Armed Forces Movement in Portugal in April 1974 was met with public delight and approval. Nawaz Sharif’s ouster in Pakistan in October 1999 appears to have been greeted with popular apathy, while the Egyptian military’s overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi in July 2013 received widespread acclaim (although the Egyptian people may now have cause to regret their enthusiasm. Turkey, like Pakistan and Egypt, has a reputation for stratocracy, but institutional respect for the military appears to have been eroded over 14 years of AKP rule; the Ergenekon investigation of 2008-2009 into suspected coup plotting has arguably contributed to discrediting Turkey’s top brass in Erdogan’s favour, while also delegitimising military intervention in the country’s politics.

There are precedents for popular opposition undermining a military takeover. The Kapp putsch launched by Freikorps paramilitaries in Berlin in March 1920 initially threatened the destruction of the nascent Weimar Republic, as the commander of the German Army Hans von Seeckt refused to call out the troops to restore order. This attempted takeover was however undermined by a successful general strike called by the socialist and communist trade unions. Franco’s coup in Spain sixteen years later was initially thwarted by a popular counter-rising, which contributed to the ensuing civil war. The GKChP in the USSR in August 1991 was thwarted when Muscovites took to the streets in mass protests. In Turkey over the last weekend, even critics of Erdogan’s authoritarian style of rule (including the opposition CHP) condemned the coup. If the people are not onside, or are at least disinterested in the outcome, a takeover by the armed forces is usually either averted, or it simply leads to further violence and civil strife.

Turkey currently faces the prospect of an AKP dictatorship being imposed after a failure to impose a military one. Erdogan appears to be settling scores with all potential opponents – whether they backed this coup or not – thereby compounding the instability arising from the spill-over from the Syrian civil war, the renewed Kurdish insurgency and IS terrorism. In this case, there is an ominous precedent set by the putsch launched by pro-Communist Indonesian officers on 30th September 1965. After this coup’s collapse, Indonesia’s top brass launched a purge which killed an estimated half a million people, and also replaced Sukarno’s dictatorship with that of Suharto. Indonesia 1965 demonstrated that a failed coup d’etat can be every bit as disastrous as a successful one. One can only hope that Turkey does not provide another example.

Image: Tanks approaching the Ataturk airport, Istanbul, July 16th, 2016, via wikimedia commons.

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Turkey: It’s the lust for power, stupid

BILL PARK

Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan is illiberal and autocratic. He has little respect for the rule of law or the autonomy of institutions. He was content to allow lawyers and police officials who were alleged supporters of the cleric Fethullah Gulen to pursue, beginning in 2008, and eventually imprison military and other so-called ‘deep state’ functionaries on largely fabricated charges. In the wake of the 2013 Gezi Park protests and the corruption investigations launched against members of his inner circle in December of the same year – again by Gulen-linked lawyers and police officials – he embarked on a campaign to purge the police, judiciary and other public institutions of allegedly Gulenist officials and to take over or close down Gulenist businesses; he intimidated, took over or closed down more secular media outlets; and pressured the country’s universities and intellectuals. He even marginalised leading members of his own party. In the wake of the July 2016 coup attempt – a ‘gift from God’ in his own words – this crackdown has been sped up and intensified. His declaration of a three-month ‘state of emergency’ will extend the purge to anyone deemed a threat to his grip on power. Already, over fifty thousand public servants have been suspended from their official duties, and ten thousand have been arrested for their alleged involvement in the failed coup attempt. Almost one-third of the upper ranks of the officer corps are among this number. The military will surely now suffer the impact of Erdogan’s wrath. This is a witch hunt, and the label ‘Gulenist’ is about to end the careers and even freedoms of thousands of individuals, many of them innocent of anything that would raise eyebrows in a functioning liberal democracy.

However, Erdogan is acting as the adored leader of the over fifty percent of Turks who elected him to his office, and the similar number that vote for his Justice and Development Party (JDP). Materially, many of them have prospered considerably under Erdogan. Perhaps more importantly, their devout, conservative way of life is no longer subjected to official scorn or neglect. Religious education has been expanded, new mosques have been built, headscarved and bearded individuals are now employed in public office, and much of the media reflects their worldview. They see Erdogan as one of their own, and applaud him in his mission to wrench their country from the hands of a privileged, westernised, and unrepresentative metropolitan elite, and to turn the state into one in which the Anatolian masses feel they have a stake, to which they belong, and from which they can benefit. These people are not liberals. They are generally indifferent to and have little use for the freedoms that a liberal order bestows, are ignorant and suspicious of the west, and resentful of the secular minority that before Erdogan held their country in its grasp. This is payback time, and many are feeling triumphalist.

Turkey was not a liberal democracy in the days before the JDP was first elected to power in late 2002. Indeed, its forerunner as the representative of political Islam in the country, the Welfare Party, had been banned, as had all Islamic parties before it. Erdogan himself, as mayor of Istanbul, served a spell in prison. As recently as 2008, the then secular Constitutional Court failed by just one vote to shut down the ruling JDP for its ‘anti-secular’ activities, and in 2007 the Turkish General Staff responded to the prospective elevation to the presidency of one of the JDP’s leading members, Abdullah Gul, by issuing a so-called ‘e-memorandum’ threatening JDP rule. Secular dominance in Turkey was characterised by frequent military interventions in the country’s domestic politics, often supported by the secular elite. The 1980 coup led to over half a million detentions, a quarter of a million arrests, the banning of all political parties and imprisonment of their political leaderships, and scores of executions and unexplained disappearances. Under secular rule, all Kurdish parties were shut down and the use of the Kurdish language was restricted. The war conducted against Kurdish separatists was vicious and frequently illegal. Indeed, one of the first acts of the newly elected JDP in 2002 was to lift the decades-old state of emergency in the Kurdish regions. Turkey’s institutions were largely the preserve of the country’s westernised minority. Few Turkish ‘liberals’ lamented the exclusion of the headscarved and bearded from public office, or bothered themselves overmuch with the fate of Turkey’s Kurds.

Turkey has always been a divided society, but the boot is now on the other foot. Even so, Erdogan has not, yet, closed down political parties or, yet, executed anyone. Even the intensified war currently being waged against separatist Kurds in the country’s southeast comes in the wake of an attempted resolution to the conflict and against a backdrop of recognition that a Kurdish population exists in Turkey. These are not Turkey’s darkest days ever, at least not for the country’s conservative masses. The country’s secular and westernised minority, however, are facing increasing exclusion and marginalisation, and such liberal and lifestyle freedoms as the country has enjoyed look set to be further curtailed. Paradoxically, the country’s real or imagined Gulenists, no less devout in their own way than Erdogan’s JDP supporters, look likely to fare worse still. Few liberals, and few too of Erdogan’s fans, will be greatly concerned at that. Both liberals and Gulenists are deemed to represent a threat to Erdogan’s rule. Should the violent, bearded, and hard Islamist mobs that appeared among the crowds resisting the coup and celebrating its defeat imagine that the victory over the plotters is exclusively theirs, they too could yet find themselves in Erdogan’s line of fire as he relentlessly indulges his lust for power. We are not witnessing the end of a liberal democracy that never truly existed in Turkey. Rather we are witnessing a dramatic moment in an ongoing assault against anyone who might be regarded as a challenge to Erdogan’s autocratic rule.
Image: Anti-coup protesters after 15 July 2016 Turkish coup d’état attempt in Bağcılar, İstanbul, Turkey. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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Turkey’s “Anti-Modern” Coup Fiasco

DR FRANCESCO MILAN

Two decades ago, a Turkish admiral coined the iconic term “post-modern coup” to describe what, to date, remains Turkey’s most recent successful military coup. Back then, in 1997, the military echelons escalated an ongoing political crisis, which culminated at a National Security Council meeting where the generals presented a list of ‘recommendations’ for the government to comply with. Failure to do so would have triggered a full-fledged military intervention against the executive, the document warned.

As the executive eventually caved in, the coup earned the label of “post-modern” due to the fact that, among other things, the military obtained their objectives without resorting to tanks rolling through the streets or any other coercive tool traditionally associated with military coups, and that they had been carrying out preparatory propaganda and lobby-like activities for months before taking action.

Ten years later, in 2007, another political crisis was unfolding in Turkey. The AKP’s leadership was by then committed to put one of the party founders, Abdullah Gul, up for the Presidential seat; the secular opposition, and the military along with it, considered this both a threat to the secular nature of the State (due to Gul’s background), and to the Presidential role as a whole (as, traditionally, Presidents were strongly aligned with Kemalist views).

Once again at the peak of the crisis, the Turkish military played the “post-modern” card and published what became known as the “e-memorandum”: the General Staff website displayed a document warning politicians about the need to respect the secular nature of the Republic, and stressed the military’s determination in defending it. In the meantime, a number of associations ran by retired military officers lined up with secularist organisations and joined the rallies and other forms of political activism that were taking place across the country.

In contrast to the events of 1997 and 2007, the failed military coup attempt witnessed on Friday the 15th of July had nothing “post-modern” about it. In fact, as events were unfolding, it became progressively clearer that it was a 20th century action in the midst of the 21st century, an “anti-modern” coup attempt, carried out via “anti-modern” means, and based on an “anti-modern” understanding of Turkey’s leadership, its society, and the role of its military.

Erdogan’s Leadership

The attempted coup is “anti-modern” because it failed to understand how pervasive and widespread Erdogan’s reach is. It has taken place in a deeply divided society, and in a political spectrum overwhelmingly dominated by the AKP. Over the past few years, President Erdogan’s leadership has demonstrated in several instances its authoritarian tendencies and his determination to centralise power into his own hands. Under Erdogan’s watch, even the coup aftermath has turned into an opportunity to weed out those who are not aligned with him. While 3,000 members of the armed forces have been swiftly arrested on coup plotting allegations, about the same number of civilian judges (including two Constitutional Court judges) have been put behind bars in the span of 24 hours, under the same (albeit, in this case, much thinner) allegations; as of the 18th of July, 30 provincial governors and more than 600 Gendarmerie officers were also suspended by the Minister of Interior.

The political opposition is so weak that Erdogan perceives his main political challenge actually comes from outside Turkey’s borders. His attention is focused on Pennsylvania, where Fetullah Gulen, a cleric (and former ally of President Erdogan) leading a vast network of Turkish followers, is in voluntary exile since 1999. After their informal alliance led the AKP to eradicate secularist and ultra-secularist figures from institutions and security organisations alike, the two sides are now against one another, to the point that AKP officials refer to the network as the ‘Gulenist Terrorist Organisation’ (or FETO). Since the early stages of Friday’s coup attempt, Erdogan has been adamant in pointing at Gulen and his organisation as the culprit of the turmoil – accusations that Gulen has swiftly dismissed.

Turkey’s Society

Coup plotters also failed to take into account how widespread President Erdogan’s own network is. This goes well beyond the AKP as a party, and includes smaller organisations which possess a broad spectrum of capabilities. As soon as Erdogan managed to appear on national television before trying to reach Istanbul, his supporters mobilised. Several mosques were calling for people to leave their houses and join the fight against coup plotters on the streets, shortly after Istanbul’s Ataturk airport was ‘liberated’, so that Erdogan’s jet could land.

But more importantly, the failed coup attempt was “anti-modern” because it failed to understand how unpalatable such type of action is to today’s Turkish society. While the live television feed of tanks in the streets, TV transmissions being interrupted, journalists reading putschist statements at gunpoint brought minds to the year 1980, when a military coup brought to power general Kenan Evren’s junta, today’s Turkey is no longer the Turkey of the late-1970s. This coup was also “anti-modern” because it advanced an old solution to the old, wicked problem of a “tyranny of the majority”, which all democracies have been grappling with to different degrees, and which Turkey seems to be stuck with under Erdogan.

Political parties (together with large sections of the armed forces) swiftly condemned the coup attempt, as did Turkey’s society at large. While discontent against Erdogan’s rule is widespread and deeply rooted outside of AKP circles, Turkish civil society has been trying long and hard to claim the power to make decisions for itself, rather than seeing them imposed top-down by patronising state institutions – including the military, which has traditionally been seen as the most reputable and respectable institution in Turkey. The Gezi park protests of 2013 embodied this spirit, which coup plotters are guilty of failing to understand and respect.

The Turkish Military

Last but not least, the attempted coup is “anti-modern” because it tarnishes the reputation of the Turkish military as a whole, regardless of the condemnations expressed by the vast majority of the armed forces, and because the action will further set back Turkish civil-military relations, making them even more prone to politicisation.

If seeing an attack helicopter opening fire against the Parliament, which hosted several MPs, is an iconic all-time low in Turkish civil-military relations, especially so for a group of officers whose stated goal is to “reinstate constitutional order, human rights and freedoms, the rule of law and general security”, the shockwaves of this coup attempt will be strong.

In about two weeks, Turkey’s Supreme Military Council (YAS) will hold its annual meeting to decide on the promotion, retirement, and expulsions of military officers from all of Turkey’s services. As civilians (i.e., the Executive President Erdogan) gained the upper hand in the process over the past few years, the decision-making process still remains highly political indeed.

In 2011, the Chief of General Staff and the Commanders of Land, Naval, and Air Forces resigned to protest against Erdogan’s meddling with the military both in the promotion process and the management of the Ergenekon and Balyoz cases, which had put scores of officers behind bars.

Since then, Erdogan seamlessly managed to promote those senior officers who shared his views or who would offer their acquiescence to his decisions, while overlooking, retiring or expelling those who might have created nuisances.

The failed coup attempt, in sum, offers Erdogan a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to politically purge the military, a move that will have dire consequences both for Turkish civil-military relations and for the Turkish military’s ability to function effectively – another fundamental reason why this can be labelled as an “anti-modern” coup attempt.

The fact that Erdogan will exploit the situation to further crack down on opposition, the separation of powers, and broader Turkish institutions, makes the plotter’s actions a textbook case of an “anti-modern coup”.

Follow Dr Francesco F. Milan’s work on his website and on Twitter

Image: Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in South Korea. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Act of Killing

DR CHRIS TUCK

Previous Defence-in-Depth blogs have covered ‘forgotten battles’: this blog addresses the consequences of a forgotten war: the undeclared war fought between Britain and Indonesia from 1963-66, termed by the Indonesians Konfrontasi (Confrontation).

Small wars often have large consequences, even if those consequences do not always impinge on western consciousness.

In Jakarta, fifty years ago, on the night of September 30-1st October 1965, elements of the Indonesian Presidential Guard launched an attempted coup. The coup failed, but the events that it initiated led to the toppling from power of the then leader of Indonesia, President Sukarno, and his replacement by a military regime under General Suharto. This process was welcomed in Britain. The UK, in concert with Malaysia, and latterly with Australia and New Zealand, had been fighting an undeclared, low intensity war against Indonesia in the jungles of Borneo in defence of the newly created federation of Malaysia. General Suharto wound down Confrontation, signing a peace deal in August 1966.

Confrontation had a low profile at the time. In part, this was because both the British and Indonesian governments wished to avoid escalation into full-blown war. But it was also partly because, from a British perspective, the campaign seemed so successful. Dennis Healey, Minister of defence from 1964, characterised the campaign as ‘a textbook demonstration of how to apply economy of force, under political guidance for political ends.’ Confrontation appeared in many respects to be a mere adjunct to the Malayan Emergency: simply another example of the effectiveness of British counter-insurgency techniques. It appeared to be a clean, low-cost, tightly controlled conflict. But the process by which Britain helped to end Confrontation was neither clean nor uncontroversial, and the claim that Britain won Confrontation and Indonesia lost is also contestable.

The September 30 coup was not caused by Britain and its allies. The rebellion was related to a longer running power struggle between the Indonesian communist party, the PKI (Partai Komunis Indonesia), and the Indonesian army, the TNI (Tentara Nasional Indonesia). President Sukarno had sustained his position in part by maintaining a balance of conflict between the two. By the second half of 1965, however, the Confrontation campaign had contributed to a deepening internal crisis in Indonesia, and had helped push Sukarno further to the left. The Army, fearful of the growing power of the PKI was primed to act.

In consequence, the coup of September 30 did not just begin the process by which Confrontation ended; it also began the process by which the Indonesian army and its allies began a reckoning with the PKI. In the months that followed the coup, somewhere between 500,000 and a million communists, suspected communists, or those labelled as communists were killed. The events, explored in chilling detail in the documentary The Act of Killing, were not the consequence of a spontaneous outburst of violence. Indeed, the massacres were activities in which the TNI, and such other groups as the Islamic Nahdlatul Ulama, were active agents. It was three weeks after the coup that the massacres really began, and they took place in the context of systematic efforts by the TNI to organise and motivate groups into action at a local level; and in the context also of a broader programme of legal and administrative measures against the PKI.

Britain was no neutral bystander to the bloodletting. There is no evidence that the UK (or, indeed, the US, which had also become hostile to Sukarno) caused the coup, and for a time, the government was unclear about its possible consequences. But UK policy-makers saw the process initiated by the coup as potential opportunity to end the war with Indonesia and to build a positive relationship with Suharto’s military regime. At the very least, it was hoped that British efforts to lengthen and intensify the internal crisis in Indonesia might make a resumption of Confrontation by the TNI less likely. So, for example, Britain reduced its military operations against Indonesia, providing the TNI with assurances through informal channels that the UK would not exploit Indonesia’s internal tensions, allowing Indonesian troops to focus on the task of eliminating their opposition.

The UK also turned its propaganda and psychological warfare assets towards supporting the TNI’s activities. The British ambassador to Jakarta, Sir Andrew Gilchrist argued that ‘the most important political warfare objective at the present moment is not to support friends (overtly) but to keep the pot boiling and to magnify confusion’. In general, UK efforts sought to help mobilise opponents of the PKI to crush communism in Indonesia. Key to this was the task of de-legitimising the PKI in Indonesian eyes. The messaging pursued by Britain to aid the TNI focused on reinforcing the Indonesian army’s own narrative: that the PKI was a threat to Indonesia; that they were brutal; that they were opposed to Sukarno. Moreover, British efforts also sought to highlight the PKI’s links to China, and the role of the PKI as an agent of Chinese interests. Developing British experience from the Malayan Emergency, Britain sought to reinforce the idea that the PKI threat was also a Chinese threat, playing upon already existing anti-Chinese ethnic tensions in Indonesia.

The accounts of the massacres cover very well the pitiless brutality of TNI efforts. One British embassy official in Jakarta commented that ‘I probably have a lot of blood on my hands, but that’s not all bad. There’s a time when you have to strike hard at a decisive moment.’ But for Sir Andrew Gilchrist, the outcomes seemed much more ambiguous: ‘What have we to hope from the generals? 400,000 people murdered, far more than the total casualties in Vietnam and nobody cares. “They were communists.” Were they? And are not communists human beings?’

Thus, wars may be ‘small’ in terms of the impact that they have on the British consciousness; but that doesn’t mean that their impact on others is limited similarly. The end of Confrontation was accompanied by events that had a profound impact on Indonesia. In the end, perhaps the biggest winner wasn’t Britain, but the Indonesian army.

(Dr Christopher Tuck discusses Confrontation in more detail in his book Confrontation, Strategy, and War Termination: Britain’s Conflict with Indonesia)

Image: Soekarno 1947 Indonesia stamp, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.