On Thursday, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia signed a defense cooperation agreement (DCA) – the first of its kind – between the two of them. The agreement was signed by Saudi Deputy Defense Minister Prince Salman bin Sultan Abdulaziz Al Saud and Indonesian Lt. Gen. (ret.) Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin. The DCA covers training, education, counter-terrorism, and defense industry cooperation.
The agreement is significant for Indonesia in a few ways. It is the first agreement of its sort that Indonesia has signed with a Middle Eastern country and the first between it and Saudi Arabia – the two countries have had diplomatic relations since 1950. Lt. Gen. Sjafrie told the Jakarta Post that “This is the first time a Saudi deputy defense minister has visited Indonesia.”
The cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Indonesia is underscored by both nations’ common Islamic identities, although this wasn’t a driving factor in the signing of the DCA. In fact, both Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, in agreeing to cooperate on counterterrorism, noted that terrorism should not be linked to any ideology or religion, in particular Islam. Indonesia’s interlocutor adds that “No religion in the world teaches violence.”
The Indonesia Defense Ministry said in a press release that terrorist incidents in recent years have cast a poor light on Islam and that Saudi Arabia is one of the countries most damaged by terrorism. Indonesia has also suffered terrorist attacks conducted by Islamist groups.
An Indonesia-Saudi Arabia joint exercise on counterterrorism will follow from the DCA. According to Sjafrie, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia “have agreed to fight terrorism by holding joint exercises [that involve] members of both countries’ special forces.”
Indonesia’s defense industry could also win lucrative Saudi contracts in the future. Saudi Arabia has put in a request for detailed technical specifications of Indonesian defense equipment and will match Indonesian offerings to its requirements. According to Sjafrie, “The assessment is at the observation phase. Today’s visit was an introduction to the Indonesian defense industry’s capability.” It appears likely that Saudi Arabia will ultimately purchase indigenous Indonesian defense hardware in the future.
For Saudi Arabia, the DCA with Indonesia comes on the heels of a similar deal with Pakistan – both deals highlight the Kingdom’s interest in expanding relations with Islamic nations outside its immediate Middle Eastern neighborhood. The deal with Pakistan came two days prior to the Indonesian deal, and as The Diplomat reported, may involve the purchase of joint China-Pakistan developed JF-17 fighter jets.