Indonesia’s evolving grand strategy: foreign powers

8 May 2014

Summary: The emergence of the Indo-Pacific as a key geostrategic construct has given Indonesia increased importance, because of its geographic location and growing profile in the international arena.  With that increased profile, Indonesia has gained an important place in the United States’ forward policy in the Indo-Pacific. It has some of the most strategic sea lanes in its waters and has expanded the range and scope of its diplomatic initiatives. In the process, Indonesia has converteditself from a primarily inward-looking, “continental” strategic orientation, to an expanding maritime profile, culminating in an effort to formulate its own Grand Strategy.

The result of this transformation has been the recognition of Jakarta as an important part of the strategic outlooks of other powers, such as India, the United States and Australia. The 2013 Australian Defence White Paper, for instance, noted that ‘Indonesia’s importance to Australia will grow as its significant regional influence becomes global. Indonesia’s success as a democracy and its economic growth will see it emerge as one of the world’s major economies.’

The rapid growth in the Indonesian economy in recent years, although it has weakened recently, means that, like China and India, Indonesia will prioritise its strategic interests and defence budget and seek to expand its reach, both militarily and diplomatically. That strategic expansion will lead to a Grand Strategy that Jakarta will want to use to improve its position in the grand strategies of other regional powers, such as China, India, Australia and the United States.

Key points

  • A strategy of quiet diplomacy has served Indonesia well and helped to differentiate it from countries like China and India, but domestic considerations could undermine its standing.
  • Co-operation with India is becoming more important, especially since India’s maritime doctrine views the entire Indian Ocean region, from the Persian Gulf to the Strait of Malacca, as its ‘legitimate area of interest.’
  • While Indonesia has forged closer economic relations with China, it is unnerved by the prospect of an expanded Chinese military presence.
  • In the short-term, the United States is the only country Indonesia could ally itself with that could substantially influence Chinese behaviour in the South China Sea.
  • Despite its ups and downs, the Australia-Indonesia relationship is anchored by a general consensus on the need to support US forward policy in the Indo-Pacific.
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