Indonesia’s security environment

Kym Bergmann / Singpore

A good measure of how any Government views its security circumstances is of course its level of spending on the military. Even quite poor countries can devote large percentages of their wealth to supporting their armed forces – North Korea being a classic example. All budgets are a matter of relative priorities and by this yardstick Indonesia sees its security environment as reasonably benign, although not completely without risks.

For the last decade Indonesian defence expenditure has remained slightly below 1% of GDP, though recently it has started to grow – though whether this trend will continue is uncertain. In fact funds available to the Tentara Nasional Indonesia (TNI) have always been greater than the official figure, due to military-owned factories and participation in illegal activities such as logging. However, this additional income has been used to supplement meager salaries, rather than go to increasing capability.

The Indonesian economy took several years to recover from the Asian economic crisis of 1997 and since 2004 has experienced strong and steady growth of around 6%, – with sound fundamentals. However, until 2011 there was a consistent pattern of Parliament not approving military spending to anything like the level requested. In 2010 the military requested Rp 158 trillion (US $16 billion) but instead received about one fifth of that – Rp 28 trillion (US $3 billion). Since then the allocation has started to grow quite noticeably and the amount designated for 2013 is slightly more than US $8 billion. Nevertheless, it is estimated that around two thirds will go to personnel costs – meaning that the capital equipment budget is still quite modest.

Indonesia has set itself the goal of lifting defence expenditure to 1.5% of GDP by 2015 – but it is unclear if this will be achieved. A Presidential election is due in 2014 and that will mark the end of the rule of the incumbent Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. His successor is unknown and already there are half a dozen credible candidates for the position – none of whom will necessarily share this vision of increasing expenditure on the military.

In terms of numbers, TNI looks to hold steady at about 410,000 personnel. Around 75% of these will remain in the Army. However in new equipment terms both the Navy and Air Force are now being given higher priority than land forces.

Looking at security challenges in the near term, these will most likely be posed by lower level threats such as terrorism; succession movements; inter-ethnic and inter-religious conflicts; and trans-national crime. There has also been a heightened awareness since the catastrophic tsunami of 2004 that the military needs to be better prepared and equipped to deal with what appear to be a regular series of natural disasters. In responding to the devastation of Aceh in particular, TNI seemed listless and under prepared, with the heavy lifting being done by the United States and regional nations such as Australia.

The chances of a direct invasion of Indonesia look to be remote, though lower level armed clashes are entirely possible. In the event of a worst-case scenario, a policy of Total People’s Defence would be implemented, based in part on large scale guerilla warfare should an aggressor succeed in overcoming TNI. For this reason – as well as for internal security – the Army retains a territorial structure with units widely scattered across the archipelago. The last time that Indonesia was involved in significant clashes with a neighbour was during the period of Konfrontasi with Malaysia – backed by other Commonwealth countries – which lasted from 1962 until 1966. This was a series of armed clashes with significant loss of life, mainly on the island of Borneo, that had its origins in Indonesia’s objection to the creation of the Malaysian Federation.

However, it is worth noting that 1999 saw a major increase in tensions between Indonesia on the one hand and Australia – with the low key backing of the US – over the issue of East Timorese independence. It was a close run thing, with Australian troops deploying on the territory of what had until just prior to the declaration of independence been part of Indonesia – and with RAAF F-111s fully bombed-up on northern tarmacs ready to go with 15 minutes warning time. I don’t

Since then the only other clashes of note involving external forces have been with Malaysia. Indonesia has not completed territorial negotiations – mainly involving seabed delineations with any of its neighbours, except Australia. Because it has so many overlaps with Malaysia – especially on and around the island of Borneo – this is a recipe for trouble. The most notable of these is Ambalat – a deep-sea block west of Kalimantan – that is claimed by both countries, by virtue of being close to Malaysian owned Sabah. What is involved is more than a matter of national pride: the area is known to contain considerable reserves of oil and natural gas.

The two countries have reported a number of low-level naval clashes in the area, but these seem more in the form of belly bumping rather than something that would escalate into a major conflict. Indonesia has pointed out that occasional disagreements with Australia have not interfered with joint commercial opportunities involving the Timor Sea moving ahead – and there seems to be a belief that the same methodology might work for Ambalat.

Having said that, senior figures in TNI have justified a recent decision to purchase three submarines from South Korea for US $1.1 billion as a direct response to Malaysia’s two French built submarines. In addition, there are also some ongoing land disputes on Borneo – but these involve relatively small areas. Despite these differences, the two countries remain on generally cooperative terms.

To be better prepared for a substantial clash, Indonesia has been embarking on a modest but noteworthy program of hardware modernization. As well as the submarines mentioned above, TNI has recently decided to acquire up to 100 refurbished Leopard 2 Main Battle Tanks from Germany. Other noteworthy purchases are another six Sukhoi Su-30MKKs from Russia at a cost of US $470 Million from Russia and the first 16 out of an eventual total of 50 ‘Golden Eagle’ trainer / light attack jets from South Korea at a cost of US $400 million.

TNI is also benefiting from rivalry between China and the US. For decades the relationship between Beijing and Jakarta has been distant, but that is now changing. Indonesian Special Forces have started conducting exercises with their Chinese counterparts and the two countries are co-producing the C-705 anti-ship missile, which will eventual equip TNI-AF Sukhois.

Whether in direct response to this warming relationship or because of other factors, Washington is also greatly improving military-to-military links. These have led to measures such as resumption of officer training after a decade long arms embargo and the donation of 24 F-16 fighters, with another 10 on the way.

Like other countries in the region, Indonesia is considering the economic growth of China and what this will mean for the balance of military power in the Asia Pacific. Australian Strategic Policy Institute analyst Natalie Sambhi comments:

“There have been several developments in the way Indonesia views China, not least being a shift away from the New Order era anti-Chinese sentiment, in both domestic and foreign policy terms. As China grows and engages more with Indonesia, several academics have noted the convergence of foreign policy interests between the two states. For instance, it is in China’s interests for Indonesia (and the region) to prosper and for Indonesia’s environs — key to China’s energy security and continued economic growth — to be secure. Naturally, these align with Indonesia’s interests. Therefore China’s rise presents a number of opportunities for Indonesia including increased military ties and defence cooperation as well as increased engagement in a number of sectors including infrastructure, energy, and agriculture. Some see China and Indonesia’s economic potential as two thirds (along with India) of Asia’s next ‘growth triangle’.

“However, increased Chinese engagement in Southeast Asia is not without its risks. For one, the ASEAN summit in July failed to produce a joint communiqué due to disagreements on how to handle South China Sea disputes. This was seen to be a product of Cambodia’s concern over potentially upsetting bilateral ties with China. While Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa embarked on shuttle diplomacy in an effort to find a consensus on a South China Sea code of conduct, it’s not clear whether further interfering with ASEAN’s coherence or assertiveness in the South China Sea would frustrate Indonesia in future or give it cause to hedge. For now, Indonesia sees China as a positive partner as it continues to grow in future.”

At the same time Jakarta officially has a positive view of the US pivot to Asia in response to China’s increasing importance. However, as in every country there are sometimes differences between the official foreign policy line and what is actually believed and in some quarters recent moves – such as permanently basing US Marines in Darwin – is viewed as suspicious and possibly connected to long term developments in West Papua.

This sort of unofficial paranoia about Indonesia’s territorial integrity is never far below the surface and is a product of what seems to be a more realistic security concern than that of an invasion – namely succession movements. The most prominent of these have been in Aceh, West Papua and – successfully – East Timor. The latter is regarded as a unique case in Jakarta because up until 1975 it had been a Portuguese colony and so its independence was seen as not threatening the political unity of Indonesia itself.

Aceh and West Papua are seen differently and Jakarta sees them as a fundamental part of the Indonesia fabric. Any attempts at succession have and will be met with armed force. Aceh has now achieved a level of stability and has limited autonomy based on a somewhat stricter form of Islam than is the case elsewhere. The situation regarding the two provinces in West Papua is complex, with indigenous inhabitants resentful – sometimes bitterly so – of a large influx of migrants from other parts of Indonesia. There are also issues of the fair redistribution of wealth from natural resources and in this regard Indonesia is no different from many other parts of the world.

Domestic terrorism is also a real threat, as attacks – most prominently in Bali and Jakarta – have shown. These are linked to a desire on the part of some radicals to create a hard line Islamic State up to and including a caliphate in West Java. While dealing with these problems has been the responsibility of the police rather than the military, all three branches of TNI have counterterrorism units. The existence of the highly trained well equipped Kopassus 3,500 Special Forces unit is also partially justified on counterterrorism and counterinsurgency grounds.

With a growing economy comes the ability to spend more on defence – as China is amply demonstrating. Indonesia does not seem inclined to fuel a regional arms race but prefers to encourage multilateral diplomacy through organizations such as ASEAN. Jakarta is fully committed to the goal of achieving an ASEAN regional security community by 2015 – in part to mitigate concerns about external threats.

However, increasing prosperity sometimes brings with it some baggage – and in Indonesia’s case this is a rising form of economic nationalism. Some of this spills over into the security domain and a few senior officials are speaking publicly to a much greater level of domestic arms production – something that might sound attractive but which might be very expensive to put in place.

During the Cold War, Indonesia was a leading player in the non-aligned movement. Following on from that, Jakarta tries to be a good global citizen and contributes to United Nations peacekeeping forces. It is gradually shifting its position in the UN to the middle ground on a number of contentious issues, having previously opposed measures such as sanctions on North Korea.

Finally, the geography of Indonesia places it directly between the two great oceans of this century: the Pacific and the Indian. Combined with growth that has now put the country in the rare category of having an economy larger than one trillion dollars, Indonesia will continue to become of increasing importance both from a political and also a security perspective.




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