My military is bigger than yours …

I think a bit of context needs to be given to the ABC’s report, ‘Indonesian President vows to outgun Australia‘. Published the same day our new Defence White Paper (PDF) was released, the story’s headline made Indonesia look particularly hawkish. I’d like to offer my thoughts to clear up what Indonesia’s military modernisation is and isn’t about.

First, let’s look at the expanded version of what President SBY actually said (apologies for any errors in translation):

The Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia is non-negotiable. Our military forces must be larger and more modern than neighbouring countries, like Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, and so on. Given our vast country, the Indonesian military forces must absolutely be larger.

This isn’t about Australia. Not only did SBY not single out Australia, his statements were about reassurance, not threat. What he said makes more sense when you consider SBY, a former general, was speaking at Latihan Gabungan 2013 (a joint military exercise involving 16,000 troops) in front of a large military crowd and, in the lead up to the 2014 presidential election, he was reaching out to a domestic audience.

Looking at its strategic circumstances, it also makes sense for Indonesia to have a bigger military. It’s a vast archipelago with different strategic priorities, the most pressing of which are sovereignty and territorial integrity, and it’s in dire need to boost air and naval capabilities.

Paragraphs 3.16 and 3.17 of the new Defence White Paper indicate that a cohesive and stable Indonesia is vital to our security. For one, we don’t want hostile actors to project power against us from Southeast Asia therefore, as Indonesia grows stronger and more capable militarily, there will be security dividends for the region.

In any case, Indonesia’s military modernisation still has a long way to go as it progresses from a lower capability level and is building up indigenous technological expertise required for high-end capabilities. Furthermore, the history of military involvement in politics still has implications today for the levels of professionalism and conduct within the forces. Indonesia’s military has reformed to an extent, but there’s still the question of transforming into an effective defence organisation (PDF).

The bottom line is Indonesia is busy sorting out its own house. These kinds of statements might be an editorial whim, but they belong to a broader context. So before we get anxious about who’s got the bigger military, let’s remember that it’s not always about us.

Image credit: President of the Republic of Indonesia

Indonesia and the US pivot

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

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

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

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

More than words: Australia–Indonesia strategic relations

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

Exercise Pitch Black 2012

26 September, Canberra:

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

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

A rights-based approach to women in combat

The sun sets behind a C-17 Globemaster III as Soldiers wait in line to board the aircraft taking them back to the United States Nov. 17 at Joint Base Balad, Iraq. C-17s can carry payloads up to 169,000 pounds and can land on small airfields. The C-17 is deployed from the 437th Airlift Wing at Charleston Air Force Base, S.C. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Erik Gudmundson)

Of the Defence issues raised over the past 12 months, none has been more controversial than the government’s decision to lift a ban on gender discrimination in the military which means women are eligible to serve in close combat units, including special forces.

In Australia, we value the principles equality and fairness and the right of the individual not to be discriminated on the basis of race, religion, age or gender. But there are specific challenges to applying a rights-based approach to the profession of the arms. This is because there are strong historical and cultural legacies surrounding ideas of the military, warfare and masculinity.

Historically, the military and warzones are not imagined and understood as a context for women as soldiers. Australian women appeared in support roles such as nurses, drivers, workers, mothers and later carers of returned soldiers. In this sense, gender reform is not just about enshrining the equal rights for women in the military but must, over time, break down traditional, cultural and historical understandings of warfare, the military and masculinity.

This is challenging because in the military, while the individual is important, the “group” (that is, the military) and survival of the nation and its interests are paramount. Continue reading

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

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

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

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

Photo credits: Department of Defence

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

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

4

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

$578.4 million

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

1000

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

2 and 1

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

0

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

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

Image courtesy of Department of Defence.

Indonesia series post #3: special forces and foreign policy (part II)

In yesterday’s post (part I), I touched on how the goals of drawing closer to Indonesia and developing counter terrorism capabilities were met by encouraging joint exercises between SASR and Kopassus, starting in 2003. In this post, I explore the trickle down effects this relationship has had on Asian Pacific partners, their respective foreign policies, and regional security.

First, SASR’s long-standing and robust engagement with Kopassus has provided a testbed for US engagement with the unit. The US has been able to observe Australia’s handling of challenges such navigating sensitivities over human rights records. For instance, in 2003 Kopassus’ commander was denied entry into Australia for a meeting on joint exercises as he was at that time still on trial for suspected human rights abuses. In retaliation, the commander in question Major General Sriyanto cancelled the visit. But times have changed. Continue reading