Indonesia’s new Defense White Paper, released at the end of April 2016 (originally due in 2013-2014, but delayed due to a change of administration and consultations), offers a comprehensive view of Indonesia’s defense grand vision, incorporating various issues and dynamics. Beyond formalities, however, it offers little insight into making Indonesia’s grand vision a reality, and seems to have very little new to say concerning significant policies and issues such as the Global Maritime Fulcrum and Indonesia’s regional aspirations.
The comprehensive aspect comes about from Indonesia’s focus on various threats, which it sees as being increasingly dynamic and varied,; in response, Jakarta is eager to depict an image of itself as the regional rising power. The strategic outlook includes a recognition that traditional security issues and potential dilemmas arising from interstate competition in areas such as the South China Sea, East China Sea, and Korean Peninsula could have profound effects on the region. As such, issues such as the South China Sea garner a great deal of attention. Despite stating that Indonesia is not a claimant in the disputes, the white paper conveys a sense of vulnerability over Indonesia’s status as an island nation with outstanding border issues, leading to a declaration that of the 92 small outlying islands, 12 need priority management to secure Indonesia’s territory and sovereignty.
Beyond this, however, is recognition that the challenges that Indonesia will face will be more complex. The country could be beset by both traditional and non-traditional security challenges, conducted by state and non state actors, from both the domestic and international levels at once. These include issues such as transnational crime, climate change, and natural disasters, which align with issues that have seen to have regional implications. As such, Indonesia lays out its defense policy as based on “Sistem Pertahanan Semesta,” combining military and non-military strategy. Further, it calls for the involvement of all elements within the nation — not only the army but also civilians — in an attempt to establish a defense posture.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
As part of this defense posture, Indonesia optimistically presents itself as the region’s rising power by bringing up the idea of “Bela Negara,” or Defending the State, as the plausible key to both facing the regional challenges ahead and further protecting Indonesia’s national interests. This is not new, though it is laid out in depth in the White Paper. Based on the 1945 Constitution of the Republic of Indonesia article 30 (1), every citizen has the right and the duty to participate in the defense and security of the state. Ryamizard Ryacudu, Indonesian minister of defense, argued that the goal is to protect the values of Pancasila as the nation’s core principles, especially given the potential impact of globalization on the nation, especially the youth, in relation to nationalism. The paper presents Bela Negara as being different from “Wajib Militer” (military service) as “Bela Negara” is still a voluntary program.
Without elucidation in the paper, however, it is hard to predict the extent to which it can contribute to the nation’s defense, and what the expense of such a policy may be. There remains a question of whether or not Indonesia urgently needs “Bela Negara.” Some critics believe that the policy’s costs may undermine the focus on economic development as a national priority. It also raises further questions of how Bela Negara, delivered by the Ministry of Defense, will influence civil-military relations, an issue that is attracting growing concern. Observers and analysts hoped the White Paper would focus on civil-military relations, but the issue was not addressed at all.
A focus on these areas, furthermore, make the paper less convincing in laying out tangible strategies for other policies that constitute Indonesia’s grand vision, such as President Jokowi’s “Global Maritime Fulcrum.” The paper stresses that Indonesia’s defense power development is not intended to promote an arms race, but instead aims to achieve the goal of establishing Indonesia as a significant maritime power. Geographically, Indonesia is surrounded by two big oceans – the Indian and Pacific Oceans – which has accelerated Indonesia’s use of its maritime zone as the country’s main “playground.” However, there is a distinction between being a maritime nation and a maritime power, and the paper raises the question of whether Indonesia will be ready to become a maritime power in the years ahead. Despite this, the White Paper offers little in the way of strategizing how this transition may occur; the absence of a coherent strategy centering on Jokowi’s Global Maritime Fulcrum policy is disappointing.
The White Paper itself mentions that the movement toward developing defense capabilities is meant to support the policy, but the only tangible vision is prioritizing the procurement of drones and satellite technology to protect Indonesia’s territorial seas from infringement. The White Paper has a lot to say about defense industry development, which also fits the regional context — states such as Indonesia and Malaysia increasingly see an independent domestic defense industry as an important development goal. However, the relation between this goal and defense policies is unclear with no distinct strategy outlined, beyond a desire to increase technological capability through cooperation and offset contracts.
However, such a policy raises questions – mostly unanswered – on how Indonesia can afford such expensive technology at a time where there is no sign that defense will be established as a top priority in the government development program “RPJP Nasional” (Rencana Pembangunan Jangka Panjang Nasional, or National Long Term Development Plan) as laid out in Article 4 of Law Number 25/2004. Budgeting receives little attention in the White Paper, aside from a cursory statement that Indonesia will only spend 1 percent of its GDP on defense.
Another issue that emerges is the lack of discussion concerning the role of various institutions in realizing the vision of a Global Maritime Fulcrum. In 2014, the Indonesian government established BAKAMLA or Badan Keamanan Laut (Maritime Security Agency), whose task is to conduct security and safety patrols in maritime territory, and the Coordinating Ministry for Maritime Affairs, whose main task is helping the president to coordinate planning and policymaking, synchronizing the related policies on maritime affairs. Unfortunately, none of the chapters in the 2015 Indonesian White Paper clearly distinguish the roles of these new agencies, and the extent to which BAKAMLA will support the Indonesian Navy (TNI-AL) to conduct any maritime operations. There is an implied overlap between the functions of TNI-AL, BAKAMLA, and the Ministry of Maritime Affairs, with no clear coordination outlined between the three.
Beyond these policies constituting Indonesia’s grand vision for Bela Negara and the Global Maritime Fulcrum, the other area of importance is Indonesia’s defense diplomacy and cooperation. Indonesia clearly places this at the cornerstone of its defense vision, especially considering the focus on India and China as increasingly prominent actors and the U.S. rebalance. Diplomatic efforts regarding issues such as the South China Sea and the desire for greater defense industry cooperation will also continue to shape Indonesia’s defense diplomacy. As such, Jakarta’s emphasis on this point explains both Indonesia’s bilateral relationships and multilateral involvements.
Whilst significant, the discussion in the White Paper does not necessarily move beyond formalistic statements on how diplomacy is important, nor does it give a sense of how various factors will be improved through diplomacy or Indonesia’s relationships. Interestingly for ASEAN observers, many of whom suggest that Indonesia is focusing less on ASEAN under Jokowi, the White Paper discusses the institution sparingly, with only minor references to mediation in the South China Sea and the ASEAN Political-Security Community pillar.
As such, it is difficult to assess whether the paper contributes to advancing Indonesia’s grand defense vision, and whether Indonesia will be able to realize such a vision. While it could be said to strengthen the vision of Indonesian defense strategy, the way in which to realize this strategy, and how the pieces fit together, are less clearly discussed. The question of how Indonesia will do what it sets out to remains largely unanswered.
Scott Edwards is a doctoral researcher at the University of Birmingham with a research background in the international relations of Southeast Asia.
Masyithoh Annisa Ramadhani is a lecturer at the Muhammadiyah University of Yogyakarta with a research background in Indonesia’s foreign and defense policy, and the international relations of Southeast Asia.