Indonesian Views and Perceptions on National Security

Nobuhiro Aizawa
Associate Professor, The Graduate School of Social and Cultural Studies, Kyushu University

1. Introduction

Indonesia is one of the world's principal archipelagic nations. Its geographical territories spread both in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. It is "natural" indeed to call it an Indo-Pacific nation. If Japan's Indo-Pacific strategy views the Pacific and Indian Oceans as a contiguous strategic arena in the strategic maritime order, it would be impossible to envision an effective regional order without alignment with Indonesia. Indonesia is overwhelmingly a great power in Southeast Asia. It constitutes a linkage between Northeast Asia and South Asia, with vital choke points in its territorial waters like the Strait of Malacca and the Lombok Strait that connect the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Indonesian culture is an amalgamation of various cultural influences --- Chinese, Hindu, and Arabic. Indonesian political and business elites are dominantly nurtured by Western-style higher education and professional training.

Geographically and culturally, Indonesia stands at the crossroads of the Indo-Pacific world. No matter how strenuously the QUAD member states attempt to strengthen the four-nation alignment, its geopolitical significance will be undermined should Indonesia opposes it. In this sense, to conceive any favorable regional order in Asia, especially an alternative to a China centric order, it will be strategically critical for any regional country to restructure its relationship with Indonesia. Consequently, it is essential to delve into Indonesian perceptions of order and security, not only to better understand Indonesia but also for Japan and the United States to work out their Indo-Pacific strategies. The following discussion undertakes this task.

To first state my conclusion, the three most important factors that define Indonesian perceptions of national security are as follows. First, there is the "middle-income trap." A country caught in the trap will remain in a semi-developed state due to economic slowdown. What matters from Indonesia's perspective is that the stark reality of the current global order: "Developed" countries or "great" powers do not become battlefields; victims are "low-income" or "middle-income" countries and "small" countries. This analysis based on economic power leads to the view that economic growth is a prerequisite to Indonesia's national security. Secondly, there are normalized "non-traditional security" issues such as terrorism and climate change. For the past two decades, the primary task of the police and military has been to deal with terrorism by radicals who led anti-government, anti-establishment, and sometimes anti-republic movements. Besides, the military and the police have devotedly conducted numerous disaster relief operations. To list a few among the major disasters are the 2004 tsunami off of Sumatra, the 2006 Central Java earthquake, the 2018 Central Sulawesi earthquake/tsunami. Annual heavy rains resulting to floods and landslides, together with active volcanic activities around the archipelago claims hundreds of lives each time. This trend shows no sign of ending, and the situation seems to be worsening due to the global climate change. Perceptions of national security based on these normalized "non-traditional security issues" are particularly important to understand as it constitutes the basis for cooperation with other countries. Thirdly, and most fundamentally is the overriding principle that the primary goal of Indonesia's security efforts is to maintain a unified nation-state, which is the national credo. Following this principle, local independence movements that threaten the unity of the republic are looked upon as the gravest security threats. A specific example as of 2021 is the independence movement in West Papua; the support of Melanesian countries for that movement is considered a diplomatic threat.

I will now examine in details on the above three factors, which form the basis of Indonesian perceptions of its national security.

2. Economic Growth as Defense Strategy: "Become Rich Before Getting Old"

Economic growth has come to shape the center of Indonesian security for two chief reasons. One is the security perceptions of the Jokowi (Joko Widodo) administration inaugurated in 2014. The other, more broadly, are the perceptions of security stemming from a sense of crisis about the transformation of global order in the 2010s.

One of the characteristics of the Jokowi administration's foreign policy is that the definition of national interests to be protected has become a very economic one. At his first attendance at the ASEAN Summit in November 2014, President Jokowi ventured to emphasize that "national interests must not be compromised," while confirming the significance of ASEAN. In his visit to Singapore in July 2015, he reaffirmed the above point, stating that "the achievement of national interests is the motivation for international cooperation." His position was in sharp contrast to that of the previous Yudhoyono administration. President Yudhoyono emphasized omnidirectional diplomacy and adopted a diplomatic strategy to strengthen Indonesia's international standing by setting value standards regarding human rights and democracy through cooperation with the United Nations and ASEAN. 1

Needless to say, these changes can be attributed in part to the transferring of leadership from President Yudhoyono to President Jokowi and considerations for public opinion at home, but there are also notable structural reasons behind the change.

In 2004-05, when President Yudhoyono came to power, the global order was more or less characterized as a unipolar moment and United States, under the Bush administration, was waging a war on terror 2. In Indonesia, frequent bombings by Jemaah Islamiyah took place in, among other places, Bali, while counterterrorism strategy was a primary topic on the international security. As the activities of radical Islamic groups increased in the country, the Indonesian government placed its security priority on taking steps to prevent military intervention taken by the United States and others like it did in Iraq in the name of the "war on terror". To this end, Indonesia preemptively adopted a strategy to carefully argue that the Republic of Indonesia is not creating hotbeds of Islamic radicalism, but on the contrary, a democratic nation dominated by moderate Muslims who share political ideals with the United States and other western countries. 3

The international order in 2014, when President Jokowi came to power, have dramatically changed. China had already become the largest Asian economy, and the economic center of gravity in Asia was shifting from Japan to China, while significant changes in the economic power balance between the United States and China have had taken place. Terrorist activities have relatively subdued, the democratic system was taking root in Indonesian society despite some twists and turns. The greatest challenge for the country was to respond to the changes in the international economic order to ensure its economic growth.

What, then, is the goal of Indonesia's "national interests" which is mainly defined in economic terms? "Visi Indonesia 2045," released by Indonesia's National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas) in 2019 articulates the goals that Indonesia intends to achieve. 4 In short, the goal pronounced there was for Indonesia to "become rich before getting old." Specifically, since Indonesia's dependent population ratio 5 will become negative in 2022 and the demographic dividend period will end in 2040, Indonesia has set the policy goal to become a World Bank-defined high-income country with GNI per capita of over $12,535 by 2040. 6

President Jokowi touched on the above points at his inauguration ceremony for his second presidential term in 2019, saying, "This (the lowest ever dependent population ratio as of 2019) is a big challenge and a great opportunity at the same time." "It will be a big problem if we are not able to provide employment. However, it will be a great opportunity if we are able to build advanced Human Capital, supported by favorable political ecosystem and favorable economic ecosystem." In such way he outlined the primary policy goal for his second administration. 7

According to World Bank data released in July 2020, Indonesia's GNI per capita grew at a high rate of approximately 10% to 20% annually from 2001 to 2012. Its growth rate peaked in 2013 but began to decline until 2016. Later, however, the growth rate started to rise again and, in 2019, rose 5.2% to $4,050 from $3,850 in the previous year. 8

In July 2020, the World Bank officially announced Indonesia's upgrade to an upper-middle-income country. President Jokowi congratulated his people on this feat, but at the same time, he did not forget to call the people to refocus on achieving the country's goal of becoming a high-income country in another 25 years.

Given the country's demographic structure, President Jokowi judged that the time in which the current growth trajectory to continue will be limited. He considered it imperative to leverage economic policies through infrastructure development, human resource development, and the attraction of foreign investment capital to escape the "middle-income trap." He, therefore, emphasized that the achievement of the national goals would depend on what growth strategy the country can formulate through strategic and productive human resources development during the remaining demographic dividend period. 9

Source: JETRO Business Brief Report (Tanshin) (July 13, 2020)

These long-term national goals set by the Jokowi administration unavoidably defined Indonesia's diplomatic strategy. In other words, the attraction of foreign investment that will promise infrastructure development and job creation at home has been set as the primary objective in Indonesia's diplomatic strategy. Therefore, Indonesia's most important diplomatic relations were those with potential investors, specifically China and Japan, followed by South Korea, Singapore, and Saudi Arabia. During his US visit in October 2015, President Jokowi sought meetings with the leaders of technology companies in California on his return from Washington, D.C. 10 After the ASEAN Summit in Sunnylands in February 2016, he visited the headquarters of Facebook and Google and personally requested more investment and assistance for human resources development. These economy-focused diplomacy were enforced through the appointment of ministers and ambassadors as well. For example, the performance of ambassadors is measured by the amount of investment they have attracted. The primary task of each Indonesian ambassador was to attract foreign investment in their capacity as an "investment ambassador." 11 In addition, we often observe that the minister in charge of economic affairs, not the foreign minister, taking the lead in negotiations on large-scale foreign investment with major countries, such as US, China and Japan. 12

The decision to position economic policy at the center of foreign policy was made at President Jokowi's personal initiative. But at the same time, this decision reflected the reality of the international order, especially the dysfunction of global mechanisms controlling regional arm conflicts.

As a country with an overwhelming Muslim majority, Indonesia naturally watches politics and the dynamics of regional order in the Middle East. Indonesia has been very critical onto the intervention of great powers in Middle Eastern conflicts. The country was one of the first to object to the US invasion of Iraq following the September 11 attacks in 2001. In particular, the status of the Syrian civil war since 2011 has led Indonesia to entertain a strong sense of distrust in the international order. That distrust stems from the reality that even after the end of the Cold War, great powers such as the United States, Russia, and China do not hesitate to engage in warfare at the expense of the safety of smaller countries to implement their grand strategies. Indonesia felt a sense of crisis that the UN Security Council-centered international system only exchanges vetoes; that there is no momentum for cooperation among superpowers to curb the spread of conflict and atrocities.

The current situation in Syria is similar to the "hot war" in Southeast Asia that caused countless fatalities during the "Cold War" era --- the Vietnam War, Indonesia's internal conflict, the bombing of Laos, and the Cambodian civil war. Looking at the repeated unilateral actions of both the United States and China, there is no doubt that the rule of law has become nominal; that in this transition period of the international order where power prevails, national security should not be entrusted to the rule of law. President Jokowi's logic is that if there is a means of guaranteeing security other than through force or law, it must be through economic power.

A reason why Southeast Asia, in contrast to the Middle East, has not witnessed any large civil war or interstate conflict since 1990 is likely due to economic development in the region. For Southeast Asian countries that have, regardless of their different political regimes, consistently pursued the so-called politics of productivity focusing on economic development, their political goal has above all been one of economic growth.

The only reliable strategy which Indonesia can commit is to minimize its possibility of arbitrary military intervention from an external adversaries by not only raising the cost to the global market but also to entrap great powers' economic interests in Indonesia. Indonesia aims to achieve economic growth and to become part of global supply chains, thereby making arbitrary military intervention expensive, which in turn would function as a form of deterrence. Government's goal of "becoming rich before getting old" enshrined in Vision 2045 should therefore also be interpreted as Indonesia's security response in a broader sense to the changing strategic environment, rather than a simple economy-first policy. Indonesia's long-term perceptions of security will be forged along this line of thinking.

3. Normalization of Non-Traditional Security: Counterterrorism and Climate Change

In the era of global security and the "war on terror", starting with the September 11 attacks in the US in 2001, Indonesia was on the verge of becoming a battlefield. Two large bombings in Bali, repeated attacks on police by Islamic radicals, and attacks against Christian churches were considered a direct challenge to the Indonesian security authorities and at the same time, was critical public safety risks discouraged foreign investment promotion. Therefore, whether the Indonesian government could control wide range of radicals, from the Jemaah Islamiyah to Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), who resorted to violent means for their ideological, political and economic gains, were a challenge for the government to prove its state capabilities. It was critical to show the global market that they have a grip on the domestic political stabilities, a prerequisite to achieve economic growth dependent on foreign investment.

For Indonesia, counterterrorism is a top-priority task to ensure domestic political and social stability; consequently, intelligence analysis about international radical and terrorist networks and the implementation of counterterrorism measures constitute the second vital security theme. Indonesia attempted to weaken such organizations with strong connections with the Middle East as Jemaah Islamiyah and Jemaah Anshar Daullah by outlawing them and making the members an illegal status. Their remaining forces have, however, allegedly gone underground and have become more radicalized, which is to reconfirm the reality is that Indonesian society is subject to threats at all times.

In terms of the number of victims, the gravest threat to Indonesian society is natural disasters. The death toll from the Sumatra earthquake and tsunami was much higher than that from any other security incident in Indonesia, and the risk of natural disasters is not decreasing. Regardless of the US-China confrontation, Indonesia is ready to take a multilateral security approach against terrorism and climate change. Indonesia is the only non-aligned country in Asia that has never entered into a security alliance with any other country. However, following its security perceptions, and its criticality of the non- traditional security issues, Indonesia holds strong incentive to participate in non-traditional security cooperation under multilateral security mechanisms, not only among the ASEAN members, but also including the Quad members. It is worth noting that the idea of QUAD member cooperation came into existence in the wake of the Sumatra earthquake relief efforts, the biggest non-traditional security issue that Indonesia has faced in its history.

4. National Division and Challenges to the National Unity

To reflect on the history of Indonesia as a nation-state is a history of how to overcome recurrent crises of division. Therefore, the maintenance of the unity of the republic is Indonesia's unequivocal strategic goal, which is inseparable from the national interests given consistent diplomatic priority.

The Republic of Indonesia emerged through the war of independence against the Netherlands. To resist the repeated attempts of the Netherlands to impose de facto indirect rule, Indonesia exhausted diplomatic means to gain the recognition of other countries. The Netherlands declined to recognize Indonesia's independence as a single entity. 13 After the founding of the country, foreign interference continued. As the Communist Party became influential under President Sukarno in the 1950s, the United States plotted to divide and weaken Indonesia through CIA machinations in Sumatra and Sulawesi. Communist China interfered in Indonesia's internal affairs as the power shifted to the anti-communist regime following the September 30 incident in 1965. Repeated interference by foreign powers in Indonesia's internal affairs, together with occasional armed interventions that took the form of military support to local rebels, unavoidably helped to foster Indonesia's views of security that local rebellions would lead to power struggles between great powers. In particular, during the 1998 financial crisis and the downfall of the Soeharto regime, the momentum for independence movements in Aceh, Papua, and East Timor increased, and ethnic and religious conflicts broke out frequently in various areas. The "Balkanization" of Indonesia, or the dissolution of the republic, seemed imminent at a time. 14 In this sense, the ongoing independence movement in West Papua is a challenge to Indonesia's "core interests," and international condemnation of Indonesia's military action in West Papua may have no other effect than hardening its attitude.

As is clear from the above, Indonesian perceptions of security may be summarized as follows: The country should, to escape the middle-income trap, maintain the unity of the nation-state while preventing foreign interference in its internal affairs. Presupposing these various potential threats, Indonesia has so far confronted specific challenges at a given time. Taking these into account, the remaining part of this paper will examine how Indonesia will, based on its perceptions of security, deal with the US-China confrontation, the central question in the current international order, and the question of the regional order in Asia.

5. Indonesia and US-China Relations

How is the current relationship between Indonesia and the United States and China viewed from Indonesian perceptions of its security? First, Indonesia-China relations are characterized by an emphasis on bilateral economic cooperation, but nonetheless they are accompanied by tensions. As mentioned earlier, Indonesia suspended its diplomatic relationship with China in the 1960s due to China's interference in its internal affairs; in the 2010s, illegal Chinese workers in Indonesia infuriated the public opinion and threatened the country's political stability. Both countries are entertaining innumerable problems and distrust each other, including the bilateral trade imbalance and the poor quality of China's infrastructure investment in Indonesia. In January 2020, after President Jokowi's visit to Natuna islands, preceded by his declaration that they are Indonesia's "inalienable territory," three patrol boats of the China Coast Guard entered the Indonesian EEZ near the islands, and two F-16 fighter jets and Indonesian naval vessels scrambled to the spot. The situation suddenly became tense. In June 2020, Indonesia released a statement supporting an oral statement submitted by Malaysia in December 2019 to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) regarding its rights in the South China Sea. The Indonesian statement stressed that China's claim of the nine-dash line violates the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. This further strained the relationship between the two countries.

It is indisputable that China is a potential threat to Indonesia that could jeopardize not only its domestic political stability but also its unity as a republic. Nonetheless, in the light of Indonesian perceptions of security, as mentioned earlier in this paper, the primary threat to Indonesia is not China but the "middle-income trap." To address the latter, Indonesia has chosen the policy option to build a cooperative relationship with China.

Since Indonesia prioritizes security by returning to the path of economic growth, China is a necessary partner, whether or not it is to blame for being at the origin of the spread of COVID-19 virus. After the first wave of the COVID-19 disaster subsided, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi visited China in August 2020, followed by the mutual visits of dignitaries. Rather than considering what could be gained by accusing China, Indonesia, eager to swiftly return to the path of economic growth, needed to secure the Chinese-made coronavirus vaccine as much as possible and attract foreign investment, including Chinese investment, and promote consumption. Shots in the arm were needed to address the country's economic downturn. Thus, China became more important as an economic partner for Indonesia than it had ever been before --- an opposite change in direction from the deteriorating bilateral relations due to the Natuna Sea incident that happened just before the outbreak of COVID-19. The culmination of this change was the cabinet member's visit to China immediately after a Japan-Indonesia Foreign and Defense Ministerial Meeting ("2+2") in March 2021. Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi flew from Tokyo to the meeting in Wuyishan, Fujian Province, China, accompanied by State-Owned Enterprises (SOE) Minister Eric Tohir and Trade Minister Lutfi, attended investment talks with the Chinese side. The delegation obtained the most important diplomatic achievements he had sought, vaccine and investments, through his trip to China.

Meanwhile, what about Indonesia-US relations? The bilateral relations also are fraught with many points of contention. As far as security is concerned, the US human rights diplomacy, along with many years of activities of Freeport-McMoRan Inc. in Papua, constitute grave concerns to Indonesia's domestic political stability and to the preservation of the republic. On the other hand, economic relations in the public sector are growing thanks to major tech company investments. The Jokowi administration have sent the heavyweights to the United States such as Defense Minister Prabowo and Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut to negotiate for COVID-19 vaccines necessary for Indonesia's economic recovery, called for investment from leading American corporations like Tesla, Inc., investment in Sovereign Wealth Fund and negotiated for security policy cooperation. 15

Indonesia's expectation to US is clear, however, these negotiations are not going smoothly. For example, US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) Chief Executive Officer Adam Boehler was reported to agree to finance the investment sought by Indonesia but also demanded Indonesian recognition of the State of Israel as a condition. Considering the sensitivities and the political risk in the Indonesian context, the negotiations, with no surprise, broke down. The story is the same for China too. The high-speed rail project and the development of a nickel mine signed with China have also not progressed as scheduled due to disputes over land acquisition, procurement funds, and labor regulations.

6. Conclusion

For the Jokowi administration, which positions economic growth and the attraction of foreign investment at the center of its diplomatic strategy, Indonesia's security challenge is one of how to maximize economic opportunities by capitalizing on the deepening US-China confrontation. More broadly speaking, it is the rivalry between the Indo-Pacific strategy led by the United States and Japan and the One Belt, One Road initiative led by China. There are economic benefits to seek while security risks must be minimized, a dilemma which Indonesia is faced with.

What the US-China competition is seen in the region is not only a direct competition of the two superpowers, but more importantly, an economic wedge between China and Japan, Australia, India. Indonesia, and Southeast Asia, which have kept their attitude ambiguous, have gained access to funds and deals that originally have flown elsewhere. For example, India decided to ban the spread of Chinese internet applications, including electronic payments, and excluded Chinese portfolio investments from Indian high-tech service industries due to security concerns. 16 This resulted in a massive influx into Indonesia of Chinese funds that were seeking alternative market of growth, making Indonesia a major beneficiaries of the regional contestation. 17 Indonesia also became a major beneficiaries from Chinese ban on Australian export of their thermal coal. 18 It is questionable, however, whether this policy of taking advantage of the conflicts among other countries, can be the main principle of attracting investment for boosting the economy for another 20 years as declared by Vision 2045. This is because it would involve Indonesia competing for foreign investments with other Southeast Asian countries, with which Indonesia should cooperate for regional stability in critical times.

It is important, to understand that Indonesia advocating the ASEAN Outlook for the Indo-Pacific was critical to mitigate the ASEAN disunity trend due to economic rivalries. The most important keyword of the strategy was inclusiveness. Indonesia took the initiative to emphasize inclusiveness instead of freedom --- the keyword of the Free and Open Indo-Pacific ---, in the belief that regional stability is essential to its domestic economic development, political stability, and to the preservation of the republic. Indonesia's efforts toward regional stability through mechanisms of "inclusiveness" could also be credited with Indonesia's lead in inviting Myanmar's military Commander Min Aung Hlaing after the February 2021 coup d'état to a special ASEAN meeting. While we acknowledge the limits of the effectiveness onto the junta's attitude towards its citizen, it was also a political commitment of inclusiveness in the region despite of the international condemnation to its member state.

Amid the crisis that might have turned Southeast Asia into the powder keg of Asia, Indonesia's many years of experience of managing national unity and diversity and of adapting to changes in domestic and international orders has enabled it to take notice of the risks of the polarization of Southeast Asia and to address them. Indonesian perceptions of security worked there. Adopting foreign policy based on its peculiar perceptions of security, Indonesia has played a decisive role in preserving Southeast Asia as a region of economic growth rather than a region fraught with conflict.

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