About Natalie Sambhi

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, editor of The Strategist and co-editor of Security Scholar. She is also a Hedley Bull Scholar and graduate of the Australian National University.

Indonesia security links and other interesting stuff

Near the left shoulder of the soldier at right is a small green plastic box. Suspended in front of the soldier’s green face mask is a small microphone on a flexible arm. Credit C. J. Chivers/The New York Times

It’s been a long time since the last post but I’m still blogging! For today, I’ve rounded up a few links of interest to Security Scholar readers.

First, this week I wrote about what a Jokowi presidency in Indonesia might mean for the country’s strategic outlook and defence relations with Australia. It’s not something many have touched on yet, and I’m keen to discuss this further (comments welcome). My bottom line is that there won’t likely be much change as Jokowi will inherit much of the strategic environment and many of the defence policies of his predecessor. We’ll have to see who his foreign, defence and coordinating ministers will be to get a better sense of how Indonesia’s current policies will evolve. In terms of Indonesia’s military modernisation:

TNI’s modernisation program aims to develop a ‘Minimum Essential Force’ (MEF) by 2024 which entails major upgrades of naval, land and air capabilities as well as the development of a local defence industry. While many of those developments were driven by SBY, some have made their way into legislation, which a new president might find hard to alter. Indonesia also has a number of capability development projects and acquisition deals on the go with partner countries. Defence officials recently announced that the first batch of F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets as part of a US grant are due to arrive in country in October.

Second, I’m intrigued by Robert Farley’s new book in which he makes case for abolishing the US Air Force (whoa!). To get up to speed with his thinking (and because it’s a rainy day in Canberra), I’ll be reading this Diplomat piece ‘Air Forces and Asia: interview with Robert Farley’ published today and bookmarking this bloggingheads.tv debate between Farley and Adam Lowther of the Air Force Research Institute and The National Interest.

Lastly, the intersection between social media and the military is still an interest of mine. Here’s a NYTimes piece by CJ Chivers which is a case in point on what you can learn about Russian military equipment from open sources like social media. Chivers and others walked around Crimea taking pictures of Russian forces, showing the extent of their refit. He explains:

Not only was [using an iPhone to take pics] unobtrusive, but when a phone signal was available I could swiftly email photographs to an inbox, an easy safeguard against Russian troops or the armed men who worked with them who stopped journalists and demanded that images be deleted, a common occurrence on the peninsula in recent weeks. The images could then be posted on Instagram, creating a public record for sources to help analyze.

Image source: Instagram account of cjchivers.

Tuesday’s Indonesia defence and military links: ‘not a good day’ edition

Yup, to paraphrase Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, it hasn’t been a good few days in the Australia–Indonesia relationship. The story de jour, of course, has continued to be allegations that Australian authorities have been tapping the phones of Indonesian President and his close circle. At the time of writing, the Australian PM has rejected calls to apologise while Indonesia’s Ambassador to Australia is on his way back to Jakarta.

But it’s important to remember that even through diplomatic lulls, the relationship continues to function. For one, TNI-AU and RAAF began their biennial exercise Elang AusIndo in Darwin today. The bilateral exercise focuses on airborne interception and involves eight Australian FA-18s, six Indonesian F-16s and 200 personnel from both sides. For images of past iterations of Elang AusIndo, check out Defence’s image gallery here (2009) and here (2011) or The Base Leg blog (2011).

There are also larger questions about Indonesia’s strategic circumstances. On The Strategist, Ristian Atriandi Supriyanto looks at why Indonesia’s non-alignment policy isn’t tenable in the long-term. As he sees it, Indonesia is more likely to side with the United States than China, because:

This is facilitated by the democratic values that the US upholds and Indonesia shares, which allow administrations to change from one extreme to another (for better or worse). In contrast, it’s unlikely that a leadership change in China could bring about a similar change of mood in Indonesia.

Also, another ASPI-related link, my colleague Ben Schreer published a paper on Indonesia’s military modernisation.

On a more whimsical note, last Friday President SBY was made an honorary member of Indonesia’s elite police, BRIMOB (pictured above). In his acceptance speech, he praised the professionalism of their corps as well as their service as part of a peacekeeping force in Darfur, Sudan.

In other defence-related news, four female US Marines are about to graduate from enlisted infantry training this week.

Here’s a more positive angle over at Defense One on Chinese military’s efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to the Philippines:

China is learning what U.S. military leaders have known for some time, which is that disaster relief and humanitarian aid are among of the most effective tools in the national security toolbox. It’s also central to the Pentagon’s post-war rebalance to the Asia-Pacific.

Lastly, the 2014 Thawley Scholarship in International Security is a great opportunity for emerging Australian security wonks to undertake research at both the Lowy Institute in Sydney and the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Applications are now open and close Wednesday, 5 December.

Image source: President of Republic of Indonesia.

A wrap-up of Indonesia and allegations of Australian spying

Instead of the usual Indonesia defence and military links, I wrapped up recent developments and commentary on allegations of Australian spying on Indonesia over on The Strategist (original version available here):

Last week, the furore over spying allegations revealed in reports leaked by Edward Snowden that rocked Europe reached Australia. On Thursday 31 October, Fairfax papers reported that Australia had been spying on its neighbour from its Jakarta Embassy.

Regional reporting has since been dominated by the strident reactions of Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa including the comment ‘it’s not cricket’. Last Friday, he sought an explanation from Foreign Minister Julie Bishop in Perth while Australia’s Ambassador to Indonesia, Greg Moriarty, was called into the Indonesian Foreign Ministry to ‘please explain’.

Why is Indonesia so outraged? What does this mean for the bilateral relationship? If you’ve missed what’s happened, here’s a wrap-up of the major developments and salient commentary:

In addition to criticisms issued last week, Natalegawa threatened yesterday to reconsider intelligence sharing on issues like counterterrorism and people smuggling.

But as I told ABC News 24′s Joe O’Brien yesterday, this seems unlikely: Indonesia will only be hurting itself to limit cooperation on issues of mutual interest to both Jakarta and Canberra.

In retaliation for the spying allegations, hacktivist group, Anonymous Indonesia, launched attacks on approximately 200 Australian websites on 4 November. No Australian government websites were affected.

The group was reported to be motivated by patriotism. Murdoch University’s Professor David Hill has been quick to point out that it’s unlikely the group is affiliated with the government in Jakarta.

In explaining Indonesia’s severe reaction, several Indonesia watchers have noted the domestic dimension to Natalegawa’s posturing. Monash’s Professor Greg Barton remarked that Indonesia, particularly Natalegawa, had to ‘go through the motions’ given constraints in the Indonesian legislature and it was a ‘predictable drama’.

Yesterday, ANU’s Professor Michael Wesley was quoted saying this should come as no surprise as all countries spy on each other. In fact, Indonesia is so aware of the practice, they send Christmas messages to the main listening stations, noted Professor Des Ball.

In terms of the overall bilateral relationship, the damage is likely to be minimal, according to Professor Mark Beeson. Writing on The Conversation, he said ‘Both countries have powerful reasons to improve bilateral ties and there is currently much goodwill on both sides.’

Image source: The Australian.

Indonesia defence news and military links


Welcome back to the working week!

Last week, my colleague Benjamin Schreer argued that Indonesia will side with the US, despite its (long-standing) non-alignment policy. I have a different view: I think it’s too early to tell, unless something dramatically changes in the strategic environment that causes a fundamental rethink in Jakarta. Relations with China are far more complicated than Ben describes (and in fairness, can describe in a blog post). In particular, I don’t see Indonesia’s bilateral relations with China and the US as zero sum as Ben suggests here:

However, should China continue to push the strategic envelope in Southeast Asia, it’s very likely that Indonesia will not only push back but will also increase its strategic cooperation with the US.

For another perspective on the bilateral relationship with the US and Indonesia, CSIS has a new-ish report that includes a chapter on security cooperation. Too busy to read a report? Here’s some CSIS audio-video material that overviews key aspects of the US–Indonesia Comprehensive Partnership.

Zachary Keck over at The Diplomat looks at why Indonesia is courting North Korea. Apart from economic imperatives, Zach notes that there’s been long-standing public sentiment that’s favourable to the regime.

Lastly, ICYMI, Austalia has a new Indonesian Defence Attaché. Pictured above are outgoing Attaché Air First Marshal Benedictus Widjanarko (L) and incoming Air First Marshal Wieko Syofyan (R) at the handover ceremony officiated by Indonesian Ambassador HE Nadjib Riphat Keseoma.

Image source: IKAHAN.

Wednesday’s Indonesia defence and military links: Natuna Islands edition

I’d like to kick things off with a bit of discussion about Indonesia’s strategic environment. At the office today we talked a little bit about the Natuna Islands in light of Scott Bentley’s Strategist post on China’s nine-dash line and Indonesia. Scott’s post explores a less publicised but no less severe incident in March this year between Chinese and Indonesian maritime security forces in the Natuna EEZ. In his words:

China’s growing enforcement of its expansive claims poses a direct threat to the national security of Indonesia. With this tension between neutrality and self-interest becoming more pronounced in recent years, analysts such as [Ristian Atriandi] Supriyanto have begun to question whether this new dynamic may lead Indonesia to begin to ‘balance’ against China in the years ahead, along with its other neighbours. Indeed, there may be elements of such behaviour already becoming evident in Indonesia’s broader security strategy.

If you haven’t read the post yet, check it out. Scott and Ristian raise some questions about how Indonesia sees the strategic landscape. Despite misgivings about the US pivot and what this means for ASEAN (read: Indonesian) centrality in regional security affairs, it’s becoming harder for Indonesia to deny China’s behaviour in the South China Sea isn’t a problem for it anyway.

Rewind back to June this year when Indonesia announced it would host the Komodo multilateral joint exercise on disaster relief near the Natuna Islands in 2014. Sea Combat Task Force chief of the Indonesian Navy Western Fleet Commodore Amrullah Octavian said the following:

“The exercise will focus on naval capabilities in disaster relief, but we will also pay attention to the aggressive stance of the Chinese government by entering the Natuna area,” said Amarullah.

“We want to explain that our foreign police stipulates that Natuna is part of Indonesia.”

He added there was a political agenda in the multilateral joint exercise that was to show to participating countries that Natuna was part of Indonesia.

“Currently there has been no claim from China over the Natuna area but we do not want the Sipadan-Ligitan incident to happen again,” said Amarullah.

With a white paper due out in 2014, I’ll be keen to see how diplomatically Indonesia frames its strategic outlook. Welcome your thoughts!

Image source: Alan Ariansya.

Monday’s Indonesia defence and military links

Could giving the Indonesian military the right to vote speed up internal reforms? (Also, check out Evan Laksmana’s thoughts in 2010 on this issue)

According to The Australian, ‘Indonesia has experienced a more than 50 per cent surge in pirate attacks in the first half of 2013′ mostly around the Riau province.

A new-ish RSIS report on TNI’s counter-terrorism task force by Jennifer Yang Hui.

Former Kopassus commander and presidential hopeful, Prabowo Subianto, makes a last effort to woo voters with promises of cash. Sigh. We’ll see what happens come April next year.

Lastly, a bit of Indonesian military history with a video on Konfrontasi via Indonesian blog, Garuda Militer:

Indonesia defence news and links

Only a few bits and pieces for today, including:

It seems like the Indonesian police and military are brawling at night clubs (again, sigh). Perhaps they should drop their status before stepping into the club, suggests a member of the National Police Commission.

A new report on human rights links Australian Iroquois helicopters to the alleged indiscriminate shooting of Papuans by the Indonesian military in the late 1970s. DFAT and Defence are reportedly looking into the matter.

Lastly, the female members of TNI and POLRI come out in force on Kartini Day. I couldn’t resist adding this boss picture (above) from this year’s parade in April.

Image source: Tribun News.

Indonesia defence news and links

Picture 20

Here’s your daily dose of Indonesia defence related news and links:

RSIS analyst Ristian Atriandi Supriyanto is quoted in this Asia Report article as saying Indonesia’s air exercises over the Natuna Islands (near the South China Sea) send a political signal to China: “In this sense, the exercises are meant to reassert and demonstrate Indonesia’s sovereignty in the Natunas.”

Over at The Strategist, ANU’s Daniel Grant looks at Australian defence policy and Indonesia. He argues, “[b]ut Australia should consider the possibility that we’ve already seen the full extent of Indonesia’s ‘Westward’ shift.”

My senior colleague Rod Lyon responded to Daniel today: “Perhaps so, but I don’t think we should assume that the future of our bilateral strategic cooperation turns solely upon Indonesia becoming western. Rather, it turns upon both countries thinking of themselves as Southeast Asian.”

Speaking of Australia-Indonesia defence relations, here’s an IKAHAN article (in Indonesian) on the recent joint exercise Wirra Jaya AUSINDO 2013. Held in September in Sentul, the exercise brought together soldiers from Mechanised Infantry Battalion 202/Tajimalela and 5RAR to work with combat vehicle and shooting skills, amongst others.

There are more and more instances of TNI’s involvement in non-military security issues. Yesterday, The Jakarta Post reported that the Siliwangi Military Command will now assist the West Java provincial administration in combating human trafficking.

Lastly, TNI scholar Bob Lowry has some book reviews on over at Inside Indonesia, including one on Djaja Suparman’s memoirs on being a military officer during reformasi. Bob also reviews a book on the first graduates of Indonesia’s Armed Forces Military Academy.

Image source: IKAHAN.

Indonesia’s new military chief

General Moeldoko

Here’s the reblog of my latest Strategist post:

On 21 August, the Indonesian House of Representatives endorsed the candidacy of General Moeldoko, Indonesia’s Army Chief, moving him a step closer to becoming commander TNI. With defence ties a key pillar of the Australia–Indonesia bilateral relationship, it’s worth knowing more about the Indonesia’s future military leader (known as ‘Panglima TNI’) and what this means for Australia.

Moeldoko finished top of his class and is generally considered to be a high-performing officer. If his first public statements can be taken to encapsulate his approach to the military, then expect an emphasis on military professionalism and soldier welfare. Moeldoko has promised to improve soldiers’ welfare by increasing their pay by 15%. He also intends to improve soldier discipline, minimise the import of foreign military equipment in order to support Indonesia’s defence industry and remain neutral during the upcoming 2014 elections.

Of particular interest to Australia is Moeldoko’s background, which is free from incidents of human rights abuse. As such, he’ll set a credible example in military professionalism and soldier discipline. There’s only been one minor controversy so far. There have been allegations that in March 2011, soldiers under Moeldoko’s command at the time were involved in encouraging Muslims to occupy Ahmadiyah Muslim mosques (a minority sect of Islam that is unpopular with many Indonesian Muslim groups) to teach Ahmadis the ‘true path’ of Islam. Despite Moeldoko having reportedly expressed some support for the activities, on 20 August, a Human Rights Commission found no evidence to support his direct involvement in that operation. As all incoming military and police chiefs undergo a human rights background check (called a fit-and-proper test), a positive finding would have jeopardise his chances of getting the top job.

With regards to military culture, Moeldoko wants soldiers to remain humble with civilians. And while he admits it might take some time to achieve this, he intends to make changes to the training and education to address what he calls ‘software bugs’ such as a culture of violence and impunity.

Also important has been Moeldoko’s merit-based appointment. It reflects recognition by the country’s political leadership that TNI needs smart and professional officers. Moeldoko is President SBY’s nomination, but suggestions of nepotism are less tenable in this case: he’s well-known as an ‘ideas man’ and enjoys support from other political figures including the deputy head of the House of Representatives. This contrasts with the appointment of President SBY’s brother-in-law, General Pramono Edhie Wibowo, as the former Chief of Army, which drew speculation of favouritism. TNI has come a long way (and still has some way to go) but if it’s to continue relations with foreign militaries and continue professionalising, it needs strong leadership.

The only thing to watch is Moeldoko’s request that TNI have a greater role in national security matters like ‘terrorism and communal conflicts’. Advocating a greater role for TNI in domestic matters is a means of increasing its prominence and demanding more resources. But as Indonesian defence analyst Iis Gindarsah has stated, the military should stay out of domestic issues and concentrate on external threats because it’s really the purview of the police.

The fact that Moeldoko is requesting this role is also a reflection of the poor job the Indonesian police are doing. The Cebongan incident in March is a case in point. Kopassus soldiers shot and killed four prisoners in Cebongan prison in Yogyakarta while in police custody. Rather than being condemned for vigilante action, the soldiers were praised by Yogyakarta citizens for ridding the city of gangsters, a task in which the police was seen to have failed. Rather than playing into this, it’d be far better for Moeldoko to rise above this competition so both Indonesia’s police and military can focus on their own challenges. The appointment of a new police chief later this year will provide some idea about the future effectiveness of Indonesia’s civil forces.

Overall, Moeldoko will be good for TNI–ADF relations and for Australia. His commitment to professionalism and soldier welfare make him a positive figure and role model of a post-reformasiTNI. Moeldoko’s current counterpart, Australia’s Chief of Army Lieutenant General David Morrison, is also committed to improving military professional culture—which suggests some natural complementarity in future ADF cooperation with Indonesia’s forces. Despite occasional incidents like the Cebongan case that impair TNI’s image, Moeldoko seems quite serious about its future. A more professional TNI is always going to be more palatable for the broader Australian polity in Australia–Indonesia relations. And perhaps figures like General Moeldoko can help shift outdated Australian perceptions of TNI in the process.

Image source: Viva News.

Dirgahayu Indonesia!: President SBY’s national day address

Presiden SBY menyampaikan pidato kenegaraan di hadapan sidang bersama DPR dan DPD RI di Gedung DPR/MPR, Jakarta, Jumat (16/8) pagi. (foto: cahyo/presidenri.go.id)

Long live Indonesia, indeed! President SBY’s ambitions in this year’s national day address (delivered on 16 August ahead of Indonesia’s Independence day on 17 August) included continuing economic development, expanding Indonesia’s role as a global diplomatic actor, maintaining religious harmony and stability, and protecting the sovereignty of the Indonesian state.

At a glance, SBY’s key messages and points on international-related issues included:

  • The Asia-Pacific region requires a new paradigm (an Indo-Pacific Treaty) to increase mutual trust and eliminate the use of force in settling disputes, being based on the spirit of unity;
  • Indonesia remains committed to the establishment of the ASEAN Community by 2015;
  • On Syria, “the world should not stand idly by and let the humanitarian crisis continue.”;
  • The use of military force towards protesters in Egypt is contrary to the values of democracy and humanity;
  • The theme of this year’s APEC meeting chaired by Indonesia will be ‘Resilient Asia-Pacific, Engines of Global Growth’;
  • On Papua, “Indonesia will act decisively in the face of any threat to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia (NKRI)”;
  • SBY hopes that all parties would work actively to prevent political activities [concerning Papua] that could lead to disruptions in Indonesia’s relations with friendly states.

On domestic issues, SBY underscored the importance of four areas:

  • Economic management in light of uncertainties and global economic slowdown;
  • Looking after religious harmony and tolerance;
  • Successful elections in 2014 as well as democratic and peaceful leadership succession;
  • Maintaining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Indonesian state.

The discussion about Indonesia’s sovereignty and territoriality addressed both Aceh and Papua which is surprising given only the latter’s prominence in the international media. Aceh’s inclusion in the discussion seems therefore more like a buffer for the addressing pricklier issue of international activists agitating for Papuan independence.

Also, there was little mention of Indonesia’s military modernisation process or the armed forces, contrary to previous years. Terrorism, transnational threats and disaster management were listed right at the end.

Notably absent for the first time in several years was SBY’s oft-stated goal of 7% growth in GDP. At one time, he even heralded 8% as a possibility. With the country posting its second-quarter growth rate of 5.8% (the first time it’s dipped below 6% since 2010) and with Indonesian stocks falling in recent weeks, it seems his ambitions have been more muted.

Lastly, the speech seemed to follow the new pattern set by last year’s national address which put issues relating to the global economy and Indonesia’s role as a global player towards the top. In the past, SBY devoted at least three-quarters to two-thirds of his address discussing domestic policies. As encouraging as it’s been to see Indonesia be involved in global development and security issues, there are some pressing domestic issues that deserve a top slot. Growing religious intolerance rightly earned a mention but corruption, contrary to previous years, was only fleetingly raised at the very end. Corruption remains a critical issue for the country, highlighted by this week’s arrest of the head of Indonesia’s oil and gas business management body (SKK Migas) for accepting bribes.

Overall, nothing ground-breaking was raised in this year’s national day address but this tweet sums it up well:

Image courtesy of the Indonesian President’s official page.