Indonesia’s Global Maritime Fulcrum: An Updated Archipelagic Outlook?

Recent Features


Indonesia’s Global Maritime Fulcrum: An Updated Archipelagic Outlook?

The previous Archipelagic Outlook strategy was inward focused; the new policy looks beyond Indonesia’s borders.

Indonesia’s Global Maritime Fulcrum: An Updated Archipelagic Outlook?
Credit: U.S. Navy photo by Senior Chief Mass Communication Specialist Melinda Larson

A recently published document titled Buku Putih Poros Maritim Dunia [Global Maritime Fulcrum White Paper] finally brings an authoritative voice to Indonesia’s Global Maritime Fulcrum (GMF) vision. The objective-oriented, 53-page publication constructs a narrative on the importance of the seas to Indonesia, the future trajectory of the GMF as Indonesia’s maritime vision, and the possible ways to achieve those ambitious ends.

Although the concept of the GMF was christened by President Joko Widodo, the policy objectives stated in the GMF White Paper are still largely rooted in the Archipelagic Outlook (Wawasan Nusantara). The GMF White Paper lists the Archipelagic Outlook as one of six fundamental principles on which the GMF is supposed to be founded. Is the GMF just really the Archipelagic Outlook with a new coat of paint? Or is it a shift from its predecessor?

The the Archipelagic Outlook concept was conceived due to the disadvantages brought upon Indonesia as an archipelagic state prior to the implementation of the Djuanda Declaration in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Prior to the implementation of Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs), the territorial waters between Indonesia’s islands were considered to be high seas where freedom of navigation applied. In Indonesia and the Law of the Sea (1995), Hasjim Djalal makes the case that the previous three-mile limit ordained by the Ordinance on Territorial Waters and Maritime Zones of 1939 had caused pockets of “high seas” to be present between islands in Indonesia. These maritime “holes” allowed foreign fishing boats and vessels to freely use the seas, often for purposes that were perceived to be harmful to Indonesia. Indonesia then started a long legal battle with the international community to gain special rights for archipelagic nations, which would later result in Indonesia’s Djuanda Declaration, which introduced the 12-mile limit and the EEZ into what would later become UNCLOS.

Considering the genesis of the Archipelagic Outlook, it is indeed, as Leonard Sebastian et al. in Indonesia’s Ascent (2015) puts it, “an inherently inward-looking concept.” The Archipelagic Outlook is adamant about the integrity of Indonesia’s outer islands and territorial waters, fearing that they might be claimed or used by foreign powers to influence domestic affairs. It insists that archipelagic unity be maintained, often by adopting suspicion for foreign vessels. Perhaps the flashiest display of the Archipelagic Outlook today is the series of dramatic sinking of foreign fishing vessels caught conducting illegal fishing operations in Indonesian waters.

However, such an introverted stance cannot be sustained in this age of interconnectivity. It also cannot be maintained as a guideline if Indonesia were to start expanding beyond the archipelago and seek to influence its surrounding environment. Sebastian et al. criticized the concept as being unable “to keep pace with the regional maritime strategic environment, let alone to shape and influence it.” To some extent, this critique holds true. Due to the inherent inwardness of the Archipelagic Outlook, defense strategies have generally been tailored toward maintaining the integrity and unity of the country.

This is reflected in previous Defense White Papers starting from 1997, where a substantial amount of ink was used to identify threats that may jeopardize the unity of Indonesia from within. The main emphasis continues to be on separatism and terrorism, with a lesser focus on internal maritime security threats, such as illegal fishing and smuggling. The 2015 Defense White Paper is no different. It briefly mentions the need for maritime surveillance for internal waters, but lacks a comprehensive assessment of the external maritime environment (the Indian Ocean and even Pacific Ocean) and Indonesia’s maritime interests, especially in regards to the Indian Ocean.

Joko Widodo’s GMF aims to address the shortcomings of the Archipelagic Outlook. According to the GMF White Paper, the Archipelagic Outlook will be complemented with an additional five principles: sustainable development, “blue economy,” integrated and transparent management, and equality. These principles are further elaborated in seven pillars, namely maritime resource management and human resource development; maritime security, defense, and law enforcement; maritime management; maritime economy; maritime environment protection and management; maritime culture; and maritime diplomacy.

At a glance, the six principles and seven pillars of the GMF indicates a shift in Indonesia’s maritime outlook. The primary difference is in the clear statement of maritime diplomacy and economy as pillars of Indonesia’s maritime strategy. Both areas would require extensive cooperation with Indonesia’s partners, especially considering the maritime boundaries and existing responsibilities that Indonesia shares with Singapore and Malaysia. One could also extend this role to the multilateral level, especially in the South China Sea. However, the publication only offers a glimpse of the means to which Indonesia will achieve these ends.

The GMF White Paper also asserts a maritime identity in Indonesia. As the GMF White Paper lacks concise details on the implementation of a maritime identity, one can only speculate what an Indonesian maritime identity would look like in this melting pot of over 300 ethnicities.

There are already some concrete examples of Indonesia’s attempt to break free from the Archipelagic Outlook’s introverted nature in the defense and diplomacy dimensions. A recurring theme is an emphasis on building bilateral and multilateral relationships related to the maritime sector.

In the diplomatic realm, Widodo has strived to improve relations with bilateral and multilateral partners on maritime-related issues. One important issue that Indonesia still has with its neighbors is the lack of settled maritime boundaries. Without clearly delineated boundaries, Indonesia risks getting into trouble with potential friends and losing political legitimacy. In 2014, Indonesia concluded a maritime border dispute with the Philippines. However, there’s still work to be done, considering Indonesia has other disputes with Malaysia and Australia. Once boundary problems are cleared up, maritime diplomacy will arguably progress a lot smoother.

To extend Indonesia’s maritime influence, it would need to engage with other prominent navies in the region. Indonesia has engaged with India as a potential partner and also the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) to further extend its influence in the Indo-Pacific, indicating a more outward-looking Indonesia. Indonesia has also looked toward Australia to increase maritime cooperation, especially in fisheries management. Indonesia has also sought maritime cooperation between ASEAN and China in fisheries management.

Indonesia has also been advancing its defense diplomacy efforts. In April 2016, Indonesia hosted Exercise Komodo in conjunction with the 15th Western Pacific Naval Symposium. The exercise focused on maritime peacekeeping and saw 22 foreign participants. In August 2016, the United States and Indonesia participated in the CARAT bilateral naval exercise. Indonesia has also conducted bilateral naval exercises with India (CORPAT), and is expecting to start a trilateral naval exercise with Malaysia and Philippines.

Aside from increasing cooperation, the Indonesian Navy (TNI-AL), amidst budget cuts, is steadily progressing to acquire new equipment and conduct further training to ensure the security of Indonesian waters and potentially become a green-water navy that can conduct a wider range of missions. Indonesia is also expanding its maritime security management by introducing the Badan Keamanan Laut (Bakamla, or Maritime Security Agency), which is expected to act as a coast guard separate from the Navy. So far, Bakamla has foiled 86 smuggling attempts in Indonesian waters. It is also expected to be provided with new equipment in 2017 to increase its performance. The combination of Bakamla and TNI-AL may then allow Indonesia to be more involved in maritime security in ASEAN, such as in tackling piracy in Indonesian waters and Malacca Strait, and even possibly, the Indian Ocean.

The GMF may seem like the Archipelagic Outlook with a new coat of paint. In many aspects, it indeed inherits many of its predecessor’s attributes, such as an emphasis on territorial integrity and strengthening Indonesia’s crossroads position between two oceans and continents. However, unlike the Archipelagic Outlook, the GMF aims to reach out to potential partners, both bilateral and multilateral. It marks a departure of the previously introverted Indonesia to an Indonesia that is progressing to be more extroverted.

It would be wise to exercise a degree of scepticism as to the extent of this departure. One should not forget the land-oriented strategic culture that continues to permeate Indonesian strategic thinking. Although the GMF may be a departure from the inward-looking Archipelagic Outlook, one should not discount the pervasive influence of a land-oriented strategic outlook as a significant hindrance in the implementation and development of the GMF as an entirely new strategic outlook. Perhaps the GMF will only be implemented fully once policymakers in Indonesia can agree that the way to the future is outward, rather than inward.

I.G.B. Dharma Agastia is a postgraduate student at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Singapore, majoring in strategic studies. He is an alumnus of President University, Cikarang. His research interests are Indonesia’s defense and security policy, maritime security, and future warfare.