For the past 70 years, Indonesia has consistently had a strong impact on world politics despite its relatively weak political, economic and military power. It is an archipelagic country located in one of the most strategically important regions in the world, blessed with abundant resources and a large population. Indonesia has had good relations with the rest of the world and has tried to encourage peace and cooperation. It also has long captured the attention of the world’s great powers.
During the Cold War, Indonesia was courted by Washington, Moscow and Beijing, all of which realized its geostrategic importance. To some degree, Indonesia also influenced America’s decision to intervene in Vietnam. In 1951, Dean Rusk, who would later become US secretary of state under President John F Kennedy, bluntly argued that Vietnam was a "part of an international war," and the fall of Vietnam would be followed by the fall of Thailand and the rest of Southeast Asia including Indonesia.
In more recent times, Indonesia has continued to generate interest among the great powers. It has been a partner to a host of bilateral and multilateral economic and security agreements with Russia, China and the US. Through ASEAN, which Indonesia helped to create in the 1960s, Jakarta has formed close linkages to the European Union, the US, Russia, China, Japan and India, among other countries. Of course, nowadays Indonesia finds itself the object of attention in a superpower contest between Washington and Beijing, with America in particular expending significant energy and resources to win Jakarta’s affection. Of course, it helps that US President Barack Obama spent four years as a boy in Indonesia, giving him a good appreciation and fondness of the country’s politics, culture and society.
Given so many opportunities and so many perils within Indonesia’s strategic environment, it is imperative for the country to develop coherent and future-oriented foreign and military policies, or what is otherwise known as a "grand strategy." A grand strategy will help Indonesia to navigate the rough and rocky terrain of its region and the world in general. It will ensure that Indonesia focuses on what to do to sustain and enhance its power, security and stability.
For decades, Indonesia had a grand strategy. But beginning in 1998 and continuing through today, Indonesia has eschewed thinking carefully and strategically about its present-day and long-term policies. Unfortunately, it no longer has a grand strategy. Its policymaking process seems confused and disoriented, and the policies themselves aimless and at times counterproductive. For the sake of Indonesia’s welfare and its people, this situation needs to be remedied quickly.
With this in mind, our contribution herein is an effort to prod Indonesian elites to think about the necessities of a grand strategy as well as the kind of policies that would be best suited for an Indonesian grand strategy. Toward this end, we have proposed an interlocking set of domestic and foreign policies across the political, economic, diplomatic and military domains that, in our view, are designed to keep Indonesia safe, strong and flourishing for years to come. We believe our suggestions will help Indonesia prioritize its energies and resources, making its policies more efficient and effective.
This article proceeds in several steps. First, we examine several of Indonesia’s past grand strategies, starting with the pre-independence period. Next, we explore how Indonesia "lost" its grand strategy in the aftermath of the Cold War and the end of the Soeharto regime. Finally, this article sets forth in detail what a contemporary Indonesian grand strategy should look like.
Past grand strategies:
The Independence War
The first debate on grand strategy occurred at the beginning of the Independence War in 1945, a time when the leadership of the nascent republic was divided on what actions to take to secure Indonesian independence. Intellectual leaders such as Sjahrir, the first Indonesian prime minister, pushed for a diplomatic resolution with the Dutch. For them, it was essential to achieve international recognition for Indonesian independence, not merely to boot the Dutch out. As a result, Indonesia had to pursue a diplomatic approach, regardless of how distasteful the outcome could be. In October 1945, Sjahrir published his famous pamphlet, Perjuangan Kita (Our Struggle), which argued for the need to pursue diplomatic paths and to court the United States, a burgeoning geopolitical power at the time.
Sjahrir believed he had to negotiate with the Dutch so as to earn the goodwill of both Britain and the US. He had long argued that Indonesia was located within both British and American spheres of influence, and so both countries had to be properly consulted and appeased. Once the US and Britain were sufficiently satisfied with the process of negotiations, so went the logic, both would in turn pressure the Dutch into resolving the matter on terms better for Indonesia.
In comparing both powers, Sjahrir noted the US had grown much stronger with the defeat of Japan and as a result, Indonesia needed to accept the limitations of independence and behave "in harmony with the political ambitions of that Giant of the Pacific, the United States." He believed that military battles were disastrous for Indonesia. Hence, prompt negotiations, he concluded, were necessary to prevent further useless sacrifices.
Sjahrir’s efforts were continued by his successor, Amir Sjarifuddin, who in spite of believing that the former got a raw deal from negotiating with the Dutch, decided to sign the oft-denounced Renville Agreement. He acceded to the agreement in order to stay in America’s good graces, hoping that Indonesia’s pledge of non-belligerence would enable it to garner support from the US. In reality, the Renville Agreement bound the US to disputes in Indonesia; as an arbiter, the US now had an interest to ensure that the agreement was implemented fairly, which in the end guaranteed the existence of the republic as a political entity.
It quickly became clear that the agreement was politically toxic, as it ended Sjarifuddin’s short tenure in office, and few other Indonesian politicians were willing to implement it. Next in line to power was Mohammad Hatta, Indonesia’s vice president, and he made a risky gamble to support the agreement. But his bet paid off when the Dutch, unprovoked, invaded the republic in December 1948.
America was furious. On December 23, Rusk, who was then Director of the State Department’s Office of UN Affairs, stated that the Dutch invasion was "direct encouragement to the spread of Communism in Southern Asia." On Feb. 7, 1949, the US representative to Indonesia, H Merle Cochran, criticized the Dutch attack and hinted that Congress was talking about cutting US aid to the Netherlands, which was vital both to rebuilding the war-ravaged country and arming their troops in Indonesia.
In March 1949, the American government itself indicated that economic assistance to The Hague might suffer, and worse, hinted that the Dutch would not be allowed to join NATO. In his memoir, Dutch Foreign Minister Dirk Stikker noted that the State Department informed him "the United States, while prepared to create NATO and to give military aid to its future allies, would not be willing to give such aid to allies like the Netherlands so long as they had not solved their colonial difficulties." The Dutch, facing a serious financial threat from the US, international condemnation and a serious guerilla war in Indonesia, was forced to return to the negotiating table with the republican government.
Indonesia’s diplomatic victory was based on several important factors: its willingness to pick a strategy and follow it through; its ability to discern and analyze international power arrangements; its success in obtaining US support for Indonesia’s position; its realization that as a new nation in a precarious situation, it had to boost its international goodwill; and lastly, its strong focus on winning the war, not just individual battles. We also must note the vital, productive role of the Indonesian Army. It had the power to wreck and scuttle the process at various points along the way, yet it crucially helped Indonesia win the struggle for independence.
In November 1947, Colonel Simatupang, Assistant Chief of Staff of the Indonesian Army, cautioned that the Dutch would not be able to pacify Indonesia and that the Indonesian Army could make the situation intolerable for the Dutch, as the republic could raise a volunteer army of almost any size. Yet the Army also realized its limitations. Simatupang admitted that the Army was severely limited by a lack of equipment and poor officer training. Simatupang would later write in his diary:
"It seemed to me that the Armed Forces Staff needed to follow very carefully both military developments [our own and those of the Dutch] and the course of international politics, seeking to influence as far as possible events in the direction most favorable to our cause."In essence, the Army understood that it had to act according to what it perceived as national interests, and understanding the precariousness of the situation and what the Indonesian diplomats trying to do to achieve Indonesian independence, it had to play the ball, working for the single common cause.
Such a thoughtful calculation and willingness to collaborate, based on an understanding of the broader geostrategic landscape, buttressed and reinforced a durable and effective grand strategy.
The question of Papua (1950-1962)
Between 1950 and 1967, key Indonesian players, notably political parties, the military and the president himself all agreed on an overarching strategy to settle the question of Papua in Indonesia’s favor. Papua was a disputed territory that was claimed by both Indonesia and the Dutch. For Indonesia, Papua was an outpost that was used by the Dutch to foment trouble in its former colonies. For the Dutch, it was a matter of pride. It had lost Indonesia and by losing Papua, the Dutch believed, it would relinquish its status as a Pacific power. In addition, the Dutch wanted West Papua to be a safe haven for Eurasian or Dutch sympathizers from Indonesia who presumably would be persecuted by the government of the new republic.
While all major Indonesian players believed that the issue of Papua was important, there were disagreements on how to settle it. Technocrats, such as Mohammad Natsir from Masyumi, the then-powerful Muslim political party, stressed the need for Indonesia to strengthen its economy, especially in the aftermath of the economically disastrous War of Independence. Therefore, for Natsir the question of Papua could wait until a more opportune time. For others, however, such as President Soekarno, his Partai Nasionalis Indonesia and the Communists, the settlement of Papua was imperative, even though it might jeopardize the country’s economic growth.
Meantime, the international climate was not conducive to a quick settlement of the Papua problem. Both the US and Australia supported the Dutch position. In light of the 1949 Communist Party victory in China, both the US and Australia feared the growing influence of the Communists in Indonesia. Rusk elucidated the State Department’s position on this matter: "It has been the view of the Department that the interests of the inhabitants of Dutch New Guinea would be best served by the continuation of Dutch control in some form. Furthermore, it is believed that Dutch control would provide better insurance against possible Communist infiltration into or military domination of Dutch New Guinea than would incorporation of the territory into Indonesia."
One possible way for Indonesia to facilitate a solution to the Papua problem was to align itself more closely to the United States. Yet every Indonesian leader was hesitant to do so, since the dominant political narrative of the time portrayed the US as a backer of the Dutch. Considering that the idea of national independence and West Irian were major political issues for every party, it was political suicide for any prime minister during this period to try to pursue a very close relationship or even a defense agreement with the Western bloc.
Such an unfavorable international situation, coupled with Indonesia’s own weaknesses and domestic political squabbles, made it very difficult to achieve the target of integrating Papua within Indonesia. Even so, Indonesia attempted to use various international means to ensure that the issue continued to receive attention. One example was Prime Minister Ali Sastroamidjojo’s decision to call an Asia-Africa conference in 1955. While this conference was seen as an attempt to create a "third bloc," a neutral counterweight to the Western and the Soviet blocs, the actual objective was to keep the issue of Papua on the international radar. Even though the conference concluded with only a proclamation full of generalities, Indonesia managed to insert the issue of anti-colonialism, and in effect, the issue of Papua itself, to the table.
In 1959, however, Indonesia’s constitutional democracy collapsed and was replaced by a troika of Soekarno, the military and the Indonesian Communist Party, with Soekarno as the main power broker. Under this arrangement, Soekarno pushed for a confrontational policy against the Dutch in Papua. He requested US assistance for his drive for integration, but when American support did not arrive, Soekarno decided to ask the Soviet Union for a helping hand. The Soviets were happy to help.
But as Soekarno purchased advanced weaponry from the Soviet Union, the US grew concerned. On the one hand, it was uneasy about the ability of the Dutch to face a sustained attack from Indonesia; on the other hand, the US worried about the possibility of Indonesia getting pulled into Moscow’s orbit. In the end, Washington eventually upped its involvement, putting itself as a broker between Indonesia and the Dutch, and pressured the Dutch to give up Papua.
The Soeharto era: 1967-1998
Indonesia’s victory in Papua was not cheap. Burdened by debt, the economy finally collapsed in December 1965. And a failed coup on Sept. 30, 1965, which was blamed on the Communists, triggered political instability. After two years of political squabbles, General Soeharto became the president of Indonesia, replacing Soekarno. Facing a bare cupboard, President Soeharto’s main task was to fix the economy because he believed the failing economy was a fertile breeding ground for Communism, which he distrusted and loathed. Soeharto was also concerned with the growing influence of China in Southeast Asia. Putting these two strands of thought together, Soeharto arrived at a simple and yet effective grand strategy: strengthen the Indonesian economy, bolster the relationship among Southeast Asian nations and keep China out of the region.
To accomplish these goals, Indonesia turned to multilateralism. With Indonesia’s encouragement and guidance, the regional organization ASEAN was launched in 1967. Its expressed purpose was to promote peace, stability and unity in Southeast Asia. Not coincidentally, the first members of ASEAN were Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines, and at the time all of them were experiencing Communist insurgencies allegedly supported by Beijing. During this period, a part of Indonesia’s foreign policymaking was motivated by Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia in 1978. Thailand and Singapore were against the Vietnamese actions, fearing Vietnam’s territorial ambitions; Indonesia had other concerns. It worried about China’s support of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia and whether Thailand would draw closer to Beijing. For Indonesia, Vietnam was a lesser evil, at least compared to a China-backed Khmer Rouge regime that could provide Beijing with an additional foothold in the region.
In contrast to ASEAN’s policy of opposing Vietnamese aggression in Cambodia, and Thailand and Singapore’s strategy to "bleed Vietnam white," Indonesia quietly launched negotiations with Vietnam. Of course, the backdrop to this was the fear that China would take advantage of a weakened Vietnam. Indonesia’s efforts culminated in the Jakarta Informal Meetings in July 1988 and February 1989, which de-escalated the Cambodian civil war (which would finally end with the July 1990 Paris International Conference on Cambodia). The attempt to limit the influence of China and Communism in Southeast Asia was also paramount in shaping Indonesia’s decision to invade East Timor. In 1975, the largely Communist FRETILIN, a resistance movement that originally targeted imperial Portugal, gained power in East Timor via a bloody civil war. Fearing a Communist country in his backyard, and with support from the United States, Soeharto decided to invade and occupy East Timor.
With the end of Cold War and changes in China’s foreign policy, mostly to pursue liberal economic development, Soeharto knew that he had to switch gears. In July 1990, despite international opprobrium directed against Beijing in response to the Tiananmen Square fiasco, Soeharto reached out to China, re-establishing diplomatic relations that were severed in the aftermath of the failed September 1965 coup. At this point, Indonesia tried to improve the unity of ASEAN, strengthen its position in the region, clamp down on the issue of East Timor and balance the interests of both the US and China, ensuring that Indonesia reaped maximum benefits. Indonesia’s new, realigned grand strategy remained intact until the end of the Soeharto regime in 1998.
The end of the New Order
A hallmark of the post-Soeharto era, from 1998 to the present, has been Indonesia’s failure to put forward a clear and coherent grand strategy. We do not doubt that some experts on Indonesian politics might claim otherwise, noting the peaceful foreign policy slogan of "a thousand friends and zero enemies" and the bebas aktif (free and active foreign policy). Unfortunately, for now, both remain very vague and are not connected to a comprehensive foreign policy program. Overall, contemporary Indonesian foreign policy has been guided by the desire to keep up with the Joneses in the region, which is not much of a strategy to lean on.
Many different factors have contributed to the aimlessness in Indonesian foreign policy. One culprit has been the lack of public debate on the kind of policies Indonesia should pursue to protect and advance its national interests. Another factor has been the widespread decentralization of power over the last 14 years. In a democratic Indonesia, cabinet ministers now come from different political parties with different vested interests, making policy synthesis more difficult. This has exacerbated the already fragmented nature of the bureaucracy, with unclear chains of command due to overlapping organizations, self-interests, cronyism and ineffectual leadership. The lack of direction has had a dramatic impact on foreign policy formation.
Most troubling, the country has tended to be passive and reactionary. In our view, this is not very surprising. If Jakarta does not know what it wants, is unsure of the tools it should use and has not thought of concrete goals, then how is it supposed to act confidently and speedily? It cannot, and it has not.
Here are some examples:
• Indonesia’s passivity also suggests that Jakarta might have lost touch with its own history. From the period just before independence until 1998, Indonesia had a grand strategy. One could argue that the existence of a Jakarta-led grand strategy is what it means to be a free-thinking Indonesia, a country that fights and struggles to defend and advance its core values.
A new grand strategy for Indonesia
The absence of a unified grand strategy begs obvious yet consequential questions: what should an Indonesian grand strategy look like? In particular, what is the best path to building a stable, strong and prosperous Indonesia in the 21st century?
To answer these questions, it is important to construct a set of overarching country-specific goals. These tell us what is important to Indonesia, provide a policymaking structure, particularly in terms of the expenditure of time and effort and other resources, and present a starting point for crafting domestic and foreign policies. Additionally, policy goals - especially if they are clearly and publicly declared (usually in a declassified national security document) - can be aspirational, as they give citizens and leaders a series of targets to achieve.
In our view, Indonesia’s policymaking should be geared around four main goals. First, the country ought to focus on burnishing its economic credentials by finding ways to expand its economy and promote socio-economic mobility. Second, Jakarta ought to harness the country’s internal political energies to strengthen the rule of law and root out corruption. Third, Indonesia should continue its "all friends, no enemies" approach to foreign policy, but supplement this with greater assertiveness and leadership. Fourth, Indonesia should begin a transition to a military that is more competent and cost-effective.
Now, let’s translate these goals into the kinds of policies Indonesia ought to pursue. To begin with, Indonesia would be best served by focusing primarily on its continuing economic ascent. While it is an emerging economic power with quite a bit of success during the last 14 years, Indonesia still has work to do. Far too many people live on less than $2 a day. Bureaucratic red tape stifles economic innovation and problem- solving. Corruption is endemic. According to Transparency International, Indonesia ranks as only the 100th cleanest, or least corrupt, country in the world. Such corruption erodes public trust in the political system and effectively blocks ordinary citizens from gaining access to better jobs and schools.
With this in mind, Indonesia should increase its commitment to economic development, free and fair democratic governance and the battle against corruption. To be clear, all of these things are interrelated and together would likely help Indonesia become a dynamic, efficient economy that creates jobs and keeps incomes rising. But to do all of this, Indonesia needs to simultaneously implement a two-track approach. One track addresses micro-level concerns and hotspots; the other focuses on broader, macro-level issues.
On the micro-level, there are a host of things Indonesia can do. Indonesia should make nine years of education mandatory. It must exert a greater effort to train the best teachers and produce world-class schools and universities. Indonesia ought to cut red tape and improve efficiencies in private and public economic development, like the struggling so-called Economic Corridor programs. The National Police and Ministry of Justice, working in tandem, must consistently and firmly prosecute corrupt officials.
And dealing consistently with corruption at senior levels would also help consolidate the democratic system by cleaning up the country’s politics and building public trust in the system. But Jakarta should also make politics and policymaking much more transparent, as well as do a better job of protecting minority rights, especially the rights of religious minorities such as Christians and Shiite Muslims.
On a macro level, we recommend that Indonesia defeat calls for greater nationalization and growth of state-owned enterprises and continue its commitment to free market capitalism. Like several countries that have experienced democratization and liberalization at the same time, Indonesia has a contingent of people who fear that newly empowered democratic elites will use capitalism to disproportionately and corruptly line their pockets. That has happened, sure. But it also occurs in closed economies. Empirical data shows that the free market offers the greatest promise to lift millions of people out of destitution and into the modern world.
More and more Indonesians with rising incomes will form the backbone of a growing consumer base, which in turn can funnel money back into the economy and expand the job market. If this economic forecast proceeds without interruption, the country can become a magnet for substantial foreign investment and collaborative economic opportunities. Indonesia might even be able to parlay this success into improved bargaining power in world politics.
To entrench these liberal economic principles, Indonesia should more tightly bind itself to the community of free-market nations. It can do this in a number of ways, though the end point will remain the same - a larger stake in the welfare and stability of the open, free-market world economy. The larger the stake Indonesia has, the more difficult it will be for individuals and groups to block changes to the country’s policies. It will be too costly - domestically, regionally and internationally - for Indonesia to break commitments it has made.
Consequently, we urge Indonesia to take more active and assertive roles in international and regional bodies. Indonesia could begin this process with ASEAN. As of now, the organization is very loose, and there is not much to unite member countries except their geographical position in Southeast Asia. Indonesia would be well served by strengthening ASEAN and boosting economic and political integration within the bloc. It could prepare to lead ASEAN’s planned Economic Community, set to debut in 2015. This might allow the country to help write new economic rules and principles to govern the regional order in the coming years. Indonesia would benefit greatly from such a leadership role, particularly if the rules of the road are written with the country’s interests and values in mind.
Strengthening and empowering ASEAN would also allow Indonesia to pursue its major foreign policy goals. Keeping the bloc together and vibrant ensures that Indonesia will maintain friendly ties with foreign countries in the region. With deft political and diplomatic touches, Indonesia could position itself much like Germany has within the European Union. In this way, Indonesia might eventually become the one truly indispensable country with ASEAN with sufficient political and economic clout to get things done.
Moreover, even if Indonesia does not reach this lofty goal anytime soon, it can still capitalize on its new-found assertiveness. For example, it can build off of and extend existing agreements and bodies that tie ASEAN to non-ASEAN countries, such as the East Asia Summit, ASEAN Regional Forum, ASEAN Plus Three, and the ASEAN-Europe and ASEAN-Russia meetings. Perhaps Indonesia can lead the charge to construct good relations with the Middle East, Africa or Latin America. Efforts such as these would advance both ASEAN’s economic interests and Indonesia’s policy goals.
In our view, the economic, political and diplomatic policy approaches described above would fit with where Indonesia’s current batch of elites want the country to go, but have not acted boldly enough to take the country there. Our proposals provide an action plan that can potentially turn Indonesia into an economic engine for the region and the world.
By going the "economy first" route, Indonesia can also benefit in unintentional ways. First, money and power will likely continue to flow from West to East, to Asia in particular, during the 21st century. This means that jobs, investment and growth are all shifting to Asia. Moreover, it is becoming clear, especially with America’s so-called pivot to Asia, that the most important diplomatic jockeying and intrigues in the world will take place in this region. Asia is where the action is.
If Indonesia gets its domestic political and economic acts together, it can ride the success of the entire region. Investors, speculators, businesses, organizations and countries already attuned to the rise of Asia could eventually move with gusto to Indonesia. For actors preferring to deal with an emerging liberal democracy, or for those wary of abetting the rise of the Red Panda, Indonesia might eventually function as a suitable regional alternative to China.
Second, Indonesia might be able to develop its own version of soft power. For the last few centuries, the West has held a commanding advantage in both material power and soft power. People worldwide have wanted to be like the West. They wanted to be wealthy, sure, but also live in a free and democratic society. Because China lacks these features, many scholars and analysts already speculate that China will never wield much soft power, and that the lack of it will hold the country back. In short, without significant soft power, China will not be able to maximize its influence in the world.
But that says nothing about Indonesia. If Indonesia goes about its foreign and domestic politics and economics in an effective manner, as the largest Muslim-majority country in the world and an emerging economic power in Asia, it has a decent prospect of wielding considerable soft power. It can be a shining beacon to Asia and Muslim countries worldwide. In this way, Indonesia could be a major global player. One more point on soft power: for a country that lacks a strong military and is not a top-flight economy, the effective use of soft power could enable Indonesia to punch above its weight, so to speak, in regional and international politics.
Where does Indonesia’s military fit in this picture? Overall, Indonesia needs enough of a military presence to maintain security, peace and calm - both internally and in the region - but not so much that it throws away money on a military-industrial complex. We are not suggesting that Indonesia slash its military budget. To the contrary, it might make sense to increase it, depending on exigencies in the region and Indonesia’s economic power. Nor do we believe that Indonesia should neuter its forces in the same way and to the same extent that, say, Japan has for nearly the past 70 years. After all, there are essential tasks for the military to do: patrol borders, protect the homeland, participate in disaster relief and help in anti-terrorism operations.
We call for the Indonesian military to craft a more economical and improved force, structure and allocation of resources. Toward this end, it ought to begin to emphasize its Navy. After all, the Navy safeguards borders, waterways and trade routes, and can offer humanitarian assistance when needed. It is to Indonesia’s benefit that the military up its commitment - including the needed resources - to the Navy. But another part of this process is a deeper, more careful consideration of how to make the Navy more nimble and flexible. Given the country’s location and its archipelagic geography, this just makes sense.
The Indonesian military must ask other difficult questions: how can the Army and the Air Force do their jobs better? Here are a few suggestions. The Army must rethink its territorial command system, which is useful for now but needs upgrading, especially with the growing threat of non-traditional attacks such as cyberwarfare. It must also do a better job of strategically selecting the arms and equipment it seeks and obtains. And to compete effectively in the 21st century, the Air Force must upgrade its aged weaponry.
There are a host of domestic, regional and international security issues Indonesia will have to face in the future, such as nuclear proliferation, disputes in the South China Sea and the environment. One such issue is the continued presence of domestic terrorist groups. On a positive note, the threat of homegrown terrorism is not what it was 10 years ago, when the horrible bombings in Bali occurred. The threat has been rather capably managed by Indonesian law enforcement including the Detachment 88 counter-terrorism unit, which falls under the jurisdiction of the police and intelligence agencies.
During the last 10 years, Indonesia has experienced considerable success in dismantling and disrupting terrorist groups. There have been a few hiccups along the way, but the positive steps far outweigh the setbacks. Most notably, Indonesia has effectively cracked down on the dangerous Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) terrorist network, tossing its leaders, including reputed spiritual leader Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, in prison and constraining its ability to carry out destructive and violent acts. Jakarta has built upon these triumphs by putting on the run smaller terrorist cells that have been inspired by JI, al-Qaeda or the worldwide jihadist movement.
To be sure, Indonesia has not eradicated terrorism or extremism. These are still issues on the politico-military table, but we need to look at both from a broader perspective. They are part of a bigger phenomenon of hooliganism and criminal behavior within society, such as motorcycle gang violence in Jakarta. The motives that trigger various crimes might differ - peer pressure, profit, power, religion and so on - but the outcomes are the same: illegal and unwanted behavior.
To combat these nefarious criminals and their activities, Indonesia must employ a multi-dimensional set of solutions. If enough people are endangered or actually harmed, the military might need to assert itself to restore order. Police and intelligence agencies must continue to work together effectively to follow leads and find the perpetrators of violent acts. The justice ministry must crack down much harder than it has on criminal elements. The public must remain vigilant and cooperate with authorities when presented with useful information. And at times, the president and key lawmakers might need to forcefully address peace and order issues to mollify a panicky public.
Another important security issue - arguably, the most important one - is the coming superpower competition between China and the US. By acting as a neutral friend to Beijing and Washington and seeking to be a mediator in their likely disputes, it is possible that Indonesia can be a positive force to check a catastrophic great power conflict in Asia. Of course, Indonesia will not function like Japan, South Korea or the Philippines, all of which have strong alliances with the US; Indonesia prefers to remain above the fray. Certainly, there are pitfalls to this approach. For instance, declining to pick a side risks drawing the ire of both China and the US. To avoid uncertainty regarding Jakarta’s intentions and actions, Indonesia needs to remain consistent and communicate with clarity
If the region becomes polarized by great-power maneuvering, Indonesia could face external pressure to pick a side. It might also feel internal pressure to pick a side should China or America appear on the verge of becoming the dominant player in Asia. Indonesia must stick to its national interests and values. These include maintaining foreign policy independence, avoiding conflict, encouraging negotiations and supporting multilateral solutions.
Indonesia needs to focus strategically on how it wants to look and operate in the short term and long run. As highlighted above, even under unfavorable international situations, Indonesia can still achieve foreign policy successes as long as it has a goal and is determined to reach it.
The problem with Indonesia today is that political elites are too focused on near-term goals that primarily serve domestic jockeying for power, instead of focusing on the broader interests of the nation. Currently, Indonesia’s political system is geared around the short-term goals of the president. As an example, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has formed a coalition with diverse political parties, often in conflict with each other, to keep each in line and indebted to him. As many Indonesian observers have noticed, such a system creates dysfunctional politics.
Making matters even worse, cabinet members frequently use their offices to further the interests of their own political parties, not the interests of the country. Indonesia should concentrate on building a consensus on what longer term goals, policies and strategies best serve the country. To get to this point, it could take a cue from US politics during the Cold War, when a Grand Bargain was struck between Republicans and Democrats. Despite intense competition for political power, both parties pushed aside their differences to try and win the Cold War.
That kind of unity and consensus, even if only loosely knit, is what Indonesia needs today.