Friday, June 17, 2016

The superficiality of Indonesia's defense policy


The publication of defense white papers serves to communicate the political agenda behind the defense policy adopted by a particular government and to act as a reference guide or guideline for the relevant government apparatus in implementing that policy.

Such were the reasons behind the 2015 Indonesian Defense White Paper (DWP). Published in November 2015 and released online last April, the 2015 DWP “is a statement of national defense policy as a whole and as a guideline for the execution of the functions of national defense and it is disseminated to the public, both domestically and internationally”.

Despite this claim, the 2015 DWP actually achieves very little on both counts. Apart from its poorly written and translated English version, the DWP has failed miserably to communicate President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s Global Maritime Fulcrum (Poros Maritim Dunia, PMD) concept in defense parlance. The Indonesian version mentions the terms “PMD” and “maritime” more than 17 and 24 times respectively, but their utterances lack substance as far as defense policy is concerned.

Although the 2015 DWP acknowledges that the strategic policies of China, the United States and the instability in the South China Sea will increasingly dominate Indonesia’s strategic environment, it scarcely describes how Indonesia’s defense policy is crafted in response to and in anticipation of that environment.

Anyone interested in understanding Indonesia’s defense policy toward the South China Sea disputes would thus be disappointed.

The 2015 DWP seemingly overlooks the emerging trend in which claimants are caught in action-reaction cycles to fortify and militarize their occupied features while they employ government vessels and offshore commercial activities to enforce maritime claims. In spite of this destabilizing trend, the 2015 DWP in its English version assumes uncritically that “armed conflict will not happen because ASEAN member states have made commitments amongst of themselves in the settlement of the conflict without using armed violence.”

While no DWPs can explain everything, they must adhere to the political agendas of the government in power. However, the 2015 DWP seems inconsistent and detached from PMD as President Jokowi’s main political agenda. Despite the PMD’s central notion of Indonesia as an “Indo-Pacific” power — however it is defined — the 2015 DWP still retains the old “Asia-Pacific” geographical construct, interestingly with India included as one of the major regional powers.

Also missing is Jokowi’s campaign pledge for defense to get a 1.5 percent share of gross domestic product (GDP) “within five years” upon coming to office. The 2015 DWP — the President’s first — instead only expects a 1 percent share within 10 years.

Instead of elaborating the maritime defense pillar of PMD, the DWP centers most of its attention on the “Total Defense System” (Sishanta) concept. Apart from the usual superficiality in emphasizing the ideal-normative aspect of the concept, the 2015 DWP fails to define and elaborate its maritime applicability. Indeed, the references to “maritime defense” are cosmetic and stop short of illuminating how the PMD would affect the implementation of concepts and programs associated with Sishanta, including “active defense”, “layered defense” and the future military posture under the minimum essential force (MEF) modernization plan.

Strangely, an entire chapter is devoted exclusively to the “State Defense” (bela negara) program to “instil the stance and attitudes of citizens to love the country” by creating 100 million state defense members in the next 10 years. While the previous two DWPs also made brief references to it, the 2015 DWP conceives the concept in a radically preposterous manner.

Given that the program entails paramilitary training and indoctrination classes to imbue the participants in jingoism that may suppress inquisitive and critical appraisals of Indonesia’s national values, it reminded many of the Army-sanctioned “total people’s war” narrative associated with former president Soeharto’s rule. It raises legitimate fears that the concept risks becoming a form of politico-security mobilization bent on creating a generation of “yes-men” uncritical of defense and military policies.

More than ever, Indonesia’s defense and military establishments of today require critical appraisals, especially since the defense budget has increased substantially over the past five years.

Although the defense share only averaged around 0.8 to 0.9 percent of GDP from 2010 to 2014, this period also witnessed an almost 40 percent increase in real terms.

As an institution, militaries will do everything to survive so that they remain ideologically, politically and structurally intact, notwithstanding shifts in the political leadership. In the name (or guise) of “national interest”, whatever the military wants is always presented as if it’s what the nation really needs. Rejecting or scrutinizing the military’s interest is construed as questioning the merit of, if not acting against, the national interest. When such conservatism is the rule, novel concepts and fresh initiatives for military transformation may consequently face institutional resistance, if not inertia.

Yet the military’s “national interest” is essentially parochial in nature. The conflation between the national interest and the military’s parochial interest constitutes the defense problem that strategists must grapple with.

While isolating defense completely from parochial interest is impossible, strategists must ascertain that whatever the political leadership defines as in the country’s best interest is substantially reflected in defense and military policies.

Meanwhile, the political leadership may have introduced policy agendas and objectives that are often too nebulous to be practicable.

In response, government apparatus will interpret and implement them in the most institutionally convenient way possible. This may be the reason behind the mismatch between the 2015 DWP and the much-vaunted PMD.

So, if the Jokowi government was really serious about making maritime defense a priority, then the 2015 DWP would be nothing more than a paper exercise. 

The writer is an Indonesian presidential PhD scholar with the Strategic and Defense Studies Center at the Australian National University, Canberra, Australia.


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