Indonesia’s strategic flexibility: something something devil, something something detail

Brad Nelson has a neat overview in today’s Jakarta Globe of Indonesia’s strategic options vis-à-vis China and the US. Enabled by what he calls ‘strategic flexibility’ (which I think is actually an extension of Indonesia’s so-called ‘dynamic equilibrium’ approach), Indonesia can stay neutral, pick China or the US, be a mediator/conduit or play the big kids off against one another.

Nelson rightly identifies Indonesia as attempting to pursue a ‘conduit’-type role. In fact, to be an effective conduit and exert real influence on the US and China, Nelson prescribes Indonesia build goodwill as a conflict mediator and regional problem-solver.

In theory, it’s a sensible option but I have my misgivings about how it’s presented in relatively unproblematic terms. I say this because I’m reminded of comments made at a recent workshop by a participant challenging Indonesia’s image as a neutral party in South China Sea disputes. They asked, how could Indonesia be a legitimate mediator if it refuses mediation itself on issues such as the Natuna Islands?

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Indonesia and the US pivot

Admiral Samuel Locklear III, the Commander of United States Pacific Command, with Commander of the Indonesian National Defense Forces Admiral Agus Suhartono.

If you’re looking for an Indonesian perspective on the US pivot, check out Dewi Fortuna Anwar’s NBR and Asialink essays. Her NBR essay, in particular, sees the pivot as reversing the perception that the US neglected Southeast Asia during the Bush years. According to DFA, it was a time when ASEAN and other Asia-Pacific partners could develop new relations between themselves to manage China’s rise. But since then, as China has swung its weight around in unfavourable ways, the region (including Indonesia) is glad the US is ‘back’, so to speak.

In terms of the pivot’s substance, DFA notes Indonesia’s concern that too much emphasis on the military dimension risks stoking regional tension (something that Ashton Carter addressed in his Jakarta International Defense Dialogue speech this week). DFA explains that the Marines in Darwin are close enough to the US-owned Freeport mining operations in Papua to raise suspicions of intervention. She concedes this is highly unlikely but cites past US and Australian interference across the archipelago as the historical background for this fear.

These messages are reiterations of Indonesia’s foreign policy and strategic positions, particularly with regards to hedging great powers and promoting regional cooperation. The utility of DFA’s essays therefore is to provide Australian and American audiences with an account of Indonesia’s official perspective (she’s still, after all,  Deputy Secretary for Political Affairs to the Vice President). As time goes by, and proposals like the HADR exercise between Australian-Indonesian-American forces come to fruition, there’ll be a greater indication of how the pivot has played out for Indonesia, but until then, watch this space.

More than words: Australia–Indonesia strategic relations

I’ve just returned from a trip to Jakarta so with Indonesia on my mind, it’s a good time to share some of the recent Indonesia-related posts I’ve written on The Strategist, starting with Australia’s stated defence policy on Indonesia:

Exercise Pitch Black 2012

26 September, Canberra:

Australia’s leaders from both sides of politics have been paying greater attention to Indonesia; there’s been more official engagement, as well as new diplomatic and defence initiatives in the past year. And we’ve been describing Indonesia, as our Defence Minister has during his Jakarta visit last week, in more important terms like ‘strategic partner’.

But it looks like that there’s some way to go before ‘strategic partner’ becomes more than just a term of endearment. If we look at the 2009 Defence White Paper (for the time being still the government’s defence strategic policy), we find a curious ambivalence towards Indonesia. According to the White Paper, we have a ‘fundamental interest in controlling the air and sea approaches to our continent’ (paragraph 5.5). But in reference to a secure immediate neighbourhood, it says we should prevent or mitigate ‘nearby states [from] develop[ing] the capacity to undertake sustained military operations within our approaches’ (paragraph 5.8). There’s a contradiction there; as Hugh White notes in his Security Challenges essay (PDF), it may very well be those same capabilities Indonesia requires to ensure its own security in its northern approaches that could be instrumental in both Indonesia and Australia securing their strategic interests. Continue reading

Photo of the Day: TNI-AL Boarding Party during Exercise Kakadu

An Indonesian Navy (Tentara Nasional Indonesia Angkatan Laut; TNI-AL) boarding party with Captain Mal Wise, Australian Commander Task Group after a simulated boarding exercise conducted on HMAS Perth (FFH 157), during Exercise KAKADU 2012. Interesting to note the integration of Indonesian Naval SOF, KOPASKA (Komando Pasukan Katak; Frogman Commando Team), operators with a regular Navy boarding party. Australian boarding parties often operate in a similar way, with members of a Clearance Diving Team attached.

KOPASKA was influenced by USN Underwater Demolition Teams (UDTs) and US Navy SEALs, and has roughly similar operational responsibilities, including maritime counter-terrorism. Their insignia features a winged frog and anchor device, and their motto is “Tan Hana Wighna Tan Sirna” (“there is no obstacle that cannot be overcome”).

Defence notes: “Exercise Kakadu 2012 is Australia’s largest maritime exercise and allows the RAN to develop operational capability and skills in a coalition environment. Exercise Kakadu will be conducted from 29 August to 14 September in the Northern Australian Exercise Area off the coast of Darwin.  In 2012 there will be 15 ships, and over 2000 sailors and officers from 17 participating and observing nations taking part”

Photo credits: Department of Defence

Indonesia series post #6: Australia-Indonesia Relations by the Numbers

Inspired by Cogitasia’s regular blog feature ‘By the Numbers: the data driving Asia’, as the final post in this week’s Indonesia series, I’ve put together a snapshot of developments in Australia-Indonesia relations using figures from this week’s Annual Leaders’ Meeting.

4

The number of refurbished C-130H aircraft granted to Indonesia by the Australian Government for boosting its humanitarian operational capability. Indonesia will be responsible for future maintenance costs of these aircraft. According to President Yudhoyono, “This is half-grant, half-purchase.”

$578.4 million

The amount pledged by Australia to assist poverty reduction in Indonesia in 2012-13. Funding will support Indonesia’s development priorities in areas such as education, infrastructure and social protection.

1000

The number of visas that will be available annually (increased from 100) to Indonesians to work and holiday in Australia. Only a small proportion of Indonesians will be able afford the pricey trip downunder but it gets the ball rolling in helping to build people to people links.

2 and 1

The number of new bilateral and trilateral initiatives announced. Charles Darwin University and Nusa Cendana University in Kupang will forge new ties as the Australia-Indonesia schools partnership program (BRIDGE) is expanded this year.  A bilateral table-top exercise between the ADF and TNI—Exercise Garuda Kookaburra—and a new trilateral exercise between the US, Australia and Indonesia (and possibly Chinese observers) will take place in the Northern Territory in 2013.

0

The number of translators ABC News 24 had on hand to translate the President’s State Dinner address in Darwin delivered in Indonesian. Thankfully, this was corrected the next day during Prime Minister Gillard and President Yudhoyono’s joint press conference.

Indonesia series posts I, II, III, IV and V.

Image courtesy of Department of Defence.

Indonesia series post #5: Like a Boss

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Indonesian Army Sergeant Poltak Siahaan is chaired by his team members to receive the trophy for Champion Shot International from Chief of Army, Lieutenant General David Morrison, at this year’s Australian Army Skill at Arms Meeting (AASAM).

AASAM is open to all ADF members and also attracts champions from 16 international defence forces.

Image by Sergeant John Waddell, courtesy of Department of Defence.

Indonesia series post #4: Need to know about Indonesia’s military (TNI)?

Friend and online colleague Evan Laksmana has compiled an excellent reading list of books on the Indonesian military (TNI), and I encourage those interested in Australia’s relations with Indonesia to check it out. Understanding the military’s role in Indonesia is necessary in understanding the opportunities and limitations of closer cooperation with Australia.

If you’re pressed for time or unable to access a library with those books, here are some relevant reports on the state of TNI’s reform (in reverse chronological order):

  • Evan Laksmana, ‘Stirring from Beyond the Borders? American Military Assistance and Defense Reform in Indonesia’, Asia Centre, Paris, July 2011, available here.
  • Leonard C. Sebastian and Iisgindarsah, ‘Assessing 12-year Military Reform in Indonesia: Major Strategic Gaps for the Next Stage of Reform’, RSIS Working Paper, April 2011, PDF here.
  • Bruce Vaughn, ‘Indonesia: Domestic Politics, Strategic Dynamics, and U.S. Interests’, Congressional Research Service, January 2011, PDF here.
  • Human Rights Watch, ‘Unkept Promise: Failure to End Military Business Activity in Indonesia’, 2010, available here.
  • Marcus Mietzner, ‘The Politics of Military Reform in Post-Suharto Indonesia: Elite Conflict, Nationalism, and Institutional Resistance’, East-West Center Washington, 2006, PDF here.

Alternatively, Samantha Michaels and Ulma Haryanto produced this three part series on the state of TNI’s business practices, published in the Jakarta Globe in May this year.

Of note is Sebastian and Iisgindarsah’s report for its graphs and diagrams that show Indonesia’s defence spending, annual peacekeeper contributions, country origin of TNI armaments (the US ranks 1st, Australia 9th), and comparisons with other Southast Asian nations’ defence spending.

From the same report is a snapshot of the readiness levels of TNI’s armaments:

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If I’ve missed anything, feel free to send me suggestions. Happy reading!

Image source: Sebastian and Iisgindarsah, 2011.