Developing Indonesia’s Maritime Strategy under President Jokowi

1As the “Jokowi’” Joko Widodo administration implements the “Global Maritime Fulcrum” (Poros Maritim Dunia, PMD) concept,2 how does Indonesia develop its maritime strategy to achieve the concept’s policy goals? This article argues that the PMD’s overall success depends on the development of a coherent maritime strategy. To that end, I discuss four areas: the archipelagic geography as the foundation of Indonesia’s maritime strategic thinking; Indonesia’s foreign and maritime policy principles; the interplay between Jokowi’s PMD concept and Indonesia’s maritime strategic thinking; and finally, the maritime strategy required to achieve the stated policy goals of PMD.  


Archipelagic Geography

The need to develop a maritime strategy stems from the simple fact of Indonesia’s archipelagic geography, which underscores two fundamental elements in its strategic thinking: the notion of national unity amid a fragmented geography and the dilemma of a maritime crossroads. Although the archipelago’s seas can serve as a medium of interaction among islanders, they can also be a source of division as they separate “islands from each other politically, economically, socially, and culturally.”3 In Indonesia’s case, the sea has become a natural medium to promote national unity through socio-cultural interactions and political control, respectively the “soft” and “hard” ways of achieving national unity.


Socio-cultural interactions started long before Indonesia’s emergence as a modern, Westphalian nation-state. Facilitated by maritime commerce, natives from different islands interacted and became familiar with one another. Although far short of complete unity, kingdoms in various islands at different periods of time came under the vassalages of the Srivijaya and Majapahit empires, centered respectively in Sumatra and Java. But it was the shared colonial experience of living under Dutch colonialism that entrenched a common notion, when in 1928 youths representing several islands and ethnicities across the archipelago pledged unity in anti-colonialism and a shared desire to achieve independence under a united Indonesia. From this experience, Indonesia regarded the sea as a fundamental factor in achieving national unity, which reinforced the notion that the sea and land are united, reflected in the national expression of homeland: tanah air (Place of Land Water).4


While the notion of national unity emerged from pre-colonial socio-cultural interactions, sustaining it cannot be guaranteed unless there is an appreciable degree of political control. The Java-based central government exercises political control toward the other islands in various ways. The most obvious is administrative control, through rules and regulations and appointment of local leaders, but sometimes, coercive measures are required through the use of military force. Tensions between the Java “Center” and the other islands in the “Periphery,” thus, become a fundamental challenge in Indonesia’s national unification project. This is evident in the long history of separatism in the archipelago.5


More importantly, Indonesia’s geographic location presents the dilemma of a maritime crossroads. Located between the Indian and Pacific Oceans (Indo-Pacific), the archipelago forms an important waterway, otherwise known as sea lines of communications (SLOC), for global shipping. The two oceans are connected through the straits within the archipelago, most notably the Straits of Malacca, Sunda, Lombok, and Ombai-Wetar. As Indonesia’s legal scholar, Munadjat Danusaputro, attested in the mid-1970s:


at this world cross-road position, Indonesia occupies the position at the center, and so…Indonesia is occupying the world’s cross-road center. As the world cross-road’s center, Indonesia also has the function of a linkage point and shoulders the duty of being the linkage between the four directions of the world cross-road. This geo-political fact clearly shows that Indonesia has the role and simultaneously the duty to endeavour to ensure that this world cross-road always runs smoothly and is never closed. In other words it can be said that Indonesia’s performance of its duty in this role in the middle of the world will determine whether the cross-road survives or perishes [italics added].6


Danusaputro essentially warns that Indonesia’s national survival depends on how ably it capitalizes on its “world cross-road center,” since this location lends commercial and strategic value for foreign maritime powers. Commercially, the archipelago’s location along the shortest sailing route between Europe and Asia could be a boon for Indonesia to become an entrepôt, a role which the Srivijaya empire once played and which Singapore currently performs. Strategically, however, a crossroad location could become a bane when foreign maritime powers use the archipelago as avenues for military projection throughout the Indo-Pacific. A foreign military presence in Indonesian waters, even for peaceful navigational purposes, could compromise Indonesia’s sovereignty in controlling its maritime domain, or when the foreign powers in question are antagonistic to one another, it could make Indonesia prone to collateral damage.


Throughout most of its modern history, the Indonesian archipelago has been an object of strategic competition between foreign powers. In World War II, the Imperial Japanese Navy regarded the Lombok Strait as a “submarine highway” and made it a heavily patrolled area.7 During the Cold War, the Indonesian archipelago formed a vital link for US and Soviet submarines to operate in the Indian Ocean, especially since the Lombok and Ombai Straits meet the required depth for nuclear submarines to safely transit through the archipelago.8 In September 1964, during the height of the Indonesian Confrontation against British-backed Malaysia, Indonesia tried to prevent the British Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Victorious and its destroyer escorts from transiting the Sunda Strait in their voyage from Fremantle to Singapore, which brought the two countries to the “brink of war.”9


The worst-case scenario short of a maritime conventional war, arguably, is use of the sea by foreign powers to support separatist forces in Indonesia. Dutch and US support for separatism in the former West New Guinea as well as in some parts of Sumatra and Sulawesi in the late 1950s and early 1960s were noteworthy, if despicable, examples of how feasible it was for a foreign country to exploit Indonesia’s maritime vulnerability. These painful experiences taught Indonesia a valuable lesson about the harm that ungoverned or uncontrolled seas could possibly cause to its territorial integrity.


Foreign and Maritime Policy Principles

Indonesia’s fragile national unity and its maritime crossroads’ dilemma elicit a persistent wariness toward foreign maritime powers seeking unfettered access into or through the archipelago for military purposes. Limiting such access, thus, becomes a primary strategic objective. Partly to meet this objective, Indonesia believes that it must never enter into formal alliances with foreign powers so as to prevent the latter from interfering in attempts to govern its own maritime domain.10 Its “independent and active” (bebas aktif) foreign policy followed: “independent” to conduct foreign policy in accordance to its national interests and without pressure from foreign powers, while remaining “active” to strive for the preservation of world peace and stability.11


Although non-aligned at its core, Indonesia’s foreign policy is not equivalent to neutrality. In practice, the independent and active foreign policy is flexible enough to allow a liberal interpretation of non-alignment: while formal alliances are out of the question, anything short is possible. The Sukarno and Suharto administrations had respectively tried to realign themselves closer to the communist and capitalist blocs of the Cold War, without becoming a formal member of either. In fact, Indonesia can and did occasionally take sides in international disputes. For example, it adheres to the “One-China” policy and maintains no diplomatic relations with Taipei and it advocates for Palestinian independence from Israel.


Indonesia’s strategic thinking is also reflected in two core maritime policy principles: the Archipelago Principle and the Archipelago Outlook. Also known as the “Djuanda Declaration,” the Archipelago Principle was a unilateral declaration in December 1957, which essentially claimed,


all waters surrounding, between and connecting the islands constituting the Indonesian state, regardless of their extension or breath, are integral parts of the territory of the Indonesian state and therefore, parts of the internal or national waters which are under the exclusive sovereignty of the Indonesian state.12


Complementing the Archipelago Principle was the Archipelago Outlook (Wawasan Nusantara). While the former was aimed externally at foreign maritime powers, the latter was conceived internally to promote the nation as a single political, socio-cultural, economic, and security entity. First announced in the early 1970s, the Archipelago Outlook strongly reflects Indonesia’s preoccupation with internal security. Dewi Fortuna Anwar admits that Indonesia is a relatively secure country from external threats, as it does not share land boundaries with any major powers, and as the seas provide a defensive moat. However, while “Indonesia does not as a rule fear conventional attacks from outside, the government is nevertheless very concerned about possible unfriendly activities in Indonesian waters from hostile foreign elements.”13 Owing to its crossroads location, Indonesia sometimes considers internal security threats inside the archipelagic waters as overlapping with external ones. The real or potential threats of foreign-assisted separatism; illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing; smuggling; and other transnational crimes at sea must be seen in this context. Commenting on the causes of maritime piracy in Indonesia, one Indonesian admiral charged that “one of the masterminds is believed to be outside Indonesia but in a nearby country.”14


When it comes to national security, the Archipelago Outlook actually runs counter to Danusaputro’s assertion that the archipelagic straits must “run smoothly and is [sic] never closed.” Partly out of its desire to show resolve in implementing the Archipelago Outlook, Indonesia decided to close some parts of the straits to international navigation on four occasions: 1958, 1964, 1978, and 1988. On each occasion, it attempted to demonstrate that it had the wherewithal to close the straits for national security reasons, and more importantly, conveyed a diplomatic and political message that the archipelago no longer constituted “international waters” for foreign military powers to navigate as freely as they had wished. Such closures were also made to support Indonesia’s bid for its archipelagic status under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).


UNCLOS recognized a special status for archipelagic states, which Indonesia considered as a major diplomatic and legal victory. Under Part IV of UNCLOS, Indonesia could claim a greater maritime jurisdiction, such as through the regime of “archipelagic waters.”15 This victory, nevertheless, came through a compromise with other countries whose maritime interests were also affected.16 To compensate those countries and for reasons of national security, too, Indonesia designated the “archipelagic sea lanes” (ASLs) linking the Indian and Pacific Oceans as “normal passage routes used as routes for international navigation or overflight.”17 But this designation was controversial since the International Maritime Organization only declared it “partial,” which “provided maritime countries a significant victory as the declaration has rendered the Indonesian ASLs practically useless because there is no compulsion for maritime countries to use them.”18 Instead, the foreign maritime countries believed Indonesia had yet to completely designate enough ASLs, which satisfactorily reflect their perception of what should constitute “the routes normally used for international navigation” through the archipelago.19


Since Indonesia only designated three ASLs running along the north-south axis of the archipelago, a similar designation along the east-west axis was also sought, but it was met with Indonesia’s opposition for several reasons.20 First, Indonesia did not see a unified proposal from other countries of what the east-west ASL should ideally look like. Instead, it received different ASL proposals from the United States, Great Britain, Japan, and Australia, among others. Second, Indonesia is concerned about the potential security implications of east-west ASLs since they must pass through the Java Sea and would thus expose the heavily populated and economically vital cities on Java’s north to the risks of foreign maritime traffic. For example, a tanker oil spill in the Java Sea could be economically disastrous since the Java Sea provides a significant source of fish and a major location of offshore oil and gas platforms. Finally, the Indonesian government, especially the navy, saw no harm inflicted in the absence of the east-west ASL. Even without the east-west ASL, foreign shipping could still make transits under “innocent passage” through the archipelagic waters.


While the exercise of innocent passage is largely not a problem for foreign commercial shipping, it can be troublesome for military traffic. Unlike in the ASL where submarines can transit while remaining submerged, innocent passage requires them to transit on the surface, whereas ship-borne aircraft must remain on deck. Although Indonesia has no capacity to enforce submarine compliance in innocent passage, it can certainly observe if ship-borne aircraft comply with the rule. The latter problem arose in July 2003 when five US navy F-18 aircraft from the USS Carl Vincent were intercepted by two F-16 aircraft of the Indonesian air force, resulting in a minor diplomatic row between the two countries.21


The Jokowi Administration

The PMD concept shows a profound consistency with Indonesia’s maritime strategic thinking. Echoing the Archipelago Outlook, it highlights Indonesia’s location at the center of “the sea lines connecting the…Indian and Pacific Oceans…important for global seaborne trade” and that Indonesia maintains “the interest to decide the future of the Pacific and Indian Ocean Region.” Its centrality in the Indo-Pacific allows Indonesia “to build regional and international cooperation.”22 The PMD concept basically rests on five pillars: rebuild maritime culture, manage maritime resources, develop maritime infrastructure and connectivity, advance maritime diplomacy, and improve maritime defense.23


The PMD reveals more continuity than change from previous Indonesian administrations. First, the PMD’s contextual basis on the crossroads location had been articulated by earlier policymakers. Preceding Danusaputro, as early as 1953 Vice President Mohammad Hatta had already advocated that


Indonesia, lying between two continents—the Asian mainland and Australia—and washed by the waters of two vast oceans—the Indian and the Pacific—must maintain intercourse with lands stretching in a great circle around it…Its position at the heart of a network of communications has for centuries made the archipelago a halting place for all races and a staging base in international travel.24


Nor is there novelty in Jokowi’s emphasis on infrastructure development. The Yudhoyono administration already made infrastructure development a key focus. In its “Masterplan for Acceleration and Expansion of Indonesia’s Economic Development” (MP3EI), it planned to spend 70 percent of a total plan of USD 468 billion for infrastructure development funded through public-private partnerships so that Indonesia could “earn its place as one of the world’s developed countries by 2025.”25 However, the plan did not proceed as expected due to political, bureaucratic, and logistical reasons, such as complicated land acquisitions and a lack of investments from the private sector. While earlier reports stated that the MP3EI would be discontinued under Jokowi, it was merely revised to accommodate Jokowi’s maritime infrastructure agenda.26 But even then, Yudhoyono’s “sea pendulum” concept—which aimed to integrate land transportation and train with markets, factories, and seaports—was quite similar to Jokowi’s “sea highway” initiative.27In foreign policy, too, Widodo does not depart far from his predecessor. The difference is more in style than substance: Indonesia will maintain the slight lean to the West as it was under Yudhoyono, while taking a more nationalist stance on specific issues that capture the imagination of the political and diplomatic elite.28


If the PMD concept represents continuity, it also demonstrates nuanced changes in how Indonesia governs its maritime domain. First, the concept frames a different approach to national development. By framing existing policy precepts under the PMD, the government can demonstrate a clearer agenda on developing the maritime sector. While overpublicizing the PMD concept does not guarantee success, it does show a unique selling point to the electorate compared to previous administrations, which generally focused on topics with which everyone was already familiar: anticorruption, building infrastructure, instituting good governance, etc. While this might lend the impression that the PMD concept is merely “old wine in new bottles,” the notion that the bottles are new is an achievement in itself.


Second, the Widodo administration intends to focus more on developing infrastructure in the maritime sector. The MP3EI plan was revised accordingly to allow a greater share of maritime infrastructure development, such as the “sea toll” project, to reduce logistical costs.29 In doing so, Indonesia plans to build 24 seaports and deep seaports, including expanding 5 existing major ports. Since Indonesia requires a total investment of around IDR 70 trillion (USD 5.8 billion) to do it, promoting the PMD concept is as important domestically as it is internationally.30


Third, while the Yudhoyono administration had already moved against IUU fishing, the Widodo administration adopted a tougher line. The government estimated that there were 5,400 foreign fishing boats operating daily in Indonesian waters, but around 90 percent of them are illegal.31 In response, it wanted to impose a “shock therapy” for IUU fishing perpetrators by sinking their boats after they went through the required legal process. In May and August 2015 alone, the fishery minister claimed that the government had sunk 37 and 41 illegal fishing boats, respectively.32 It also banned transshipment, or the off-loading of cargo from one ship to another at sea.


Despite the credit claimed in curbing foreign IUU fishing, the greatest challenge still comes domestically in the form of corruption within Indonesia’s law enforcement system. The success of the anti-IUU fishing campaign ultimately depends on defeating the IUU fishing “mafia”—the illicit nexus between foreign IUU fishermen and the corrupt government officials. Although the burning and sinking of foreign IUU fishing vessels is domestically popular, it is also internationally controversial, particularly to Indonesia’s neighbors. The Indonesian government asked them to consider its counter IUU fishing efforts as purely a law enforcement issue.33 The Malaysian and Thai press, however, criticized the policy for being unfair toward their fishermen, and argued that violence is not an effective solution to IUU fishing, which is not exclusively Indonesia’s problem.34


Finally, although the substance of Jokowi’s foreign policy does not depart far from Yudhoyono’s, its process has become more complicated. One analyst suggested that, unlike Yudhoyono, Jokowi is relatively inexperienced in foreign policy, and, thus, would leave the matter largely to his advisors. Given the diverse political backgrounds of Jokowi’s advisors, foreign policy making is more contested.35 The disagreement between the foreign and trade ministries regarding Indonesia’s participation in the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact is a case in point.36 Another example is the impression that government ministries and agencies define and implement the PMD individually owing to the lack of central operational guidelines from the cabinet. This is not surprising given that the PMD concept itself was conceived without prior consultations with the relevant ministries and agencies.37 Consequently, signs of poor coordination between government ministries and inconsistent or even contradictory government policy statements have become apparent.


A Coherent Maritime Strategy

Despite the greater enthusiasm shown for the maritime sector, a coherent strategy to achieve the goals in the five pillars of PMD is clearly absent. The notion of “land and water,” while emphasizing the inseparable unity of the islands and seas, implies that the sea does not merit a strategy of its own. This may suggest “sea-blindness,” a condition which leads sufferers either to vastly underrate the relative importance of the maritime domain or to acknowledge this in theory but to postpone measures to protect maritime interests to some later, unspecified date after more apparently urgent national requirements are met.38 Instead of a maritime strategy, Indonesia promotes “National Resilience” (Ketahanan Nasional) as its “geostrategic concept”.39 Designed to implement the Archipelago Outlook, the concept of National Resilience is premised on meeting all possible threats through a total mobilization of national power and attributes, without specifically explaining how those attributes are applied to meet the objective of the Archipelago Outlook. Given its nebulous nature, National Resilience is a poor strategic concept to meet this objective, let alone to articulate the wherewithal Indonesia requires to achieve its maritime objectives.


Developing a coherent maritime strategy for the PMD will require Indonesia to identify at least three interrelated aspects: the future strategic environment, Indonesia’s interests and threats in that environment, and the application of foreign and maritime policy instruments to meet those interests and anticipate those threats. The Indo-Pacific’s strategic environment will be increasingly characterized by Sino-American geopolitical competition. A 2014 national intelligence report predicts that competition will “intensify” in the maritime domain “in the coming years.”40 The 2015-2019 national development plan likewise mentions the US “rebalance” as a way to check China’s rise, which will lead to a growing competition between the two powers.41 A government research institute report anticipates a “multipolar world” characterized by competition between the existing and emerging major powers in managing the international order.42 While these documents offer nuanced prognoses about the likely implications to Indonesia, they have three things in common: a growing major power competition in the maritime domain; the inevitable consequences of that competition on Indonesia’s maritime interests; and the necessity to maintain an independent, active foreign policy as a relevant anticipatory recourse.


In the face of this growing competition, Indonesia’s primary interest and potential threats will revolve around issues of national sovereignty and territorial integrity. In a maritime context, it means the ability to manage, if not settle, unresolved maritime boundary disputes peacefully and maintain the security of the ASLs. The South China Sea and Sulawesi Sea are arguably the most contentious maritime boundary disputes, since the threat or use of armed force had been seen in the two areas. The South China Sea disputes could put Indonesia at risk of spillover if conflict were to occur in the area, given the proximity of the disputes to Indonesia’s Natuna Islands. Although China never claimed these islands, its “nine-dash” or “U-shape” line overlaps with Indonesia’s claimed EEZ—an overlap estimated to contain one of the world’s largest natural gas reserves, apart from being a rich fishing ground.43 While Indonesia rejects the U-shape line, China’s aversion to officially clarify the overlap has denied Indonesian policy makers peace of mind regarding its motives in the area. IUU fishing is rampant around the Natuna Islands, but China’s use of fishermen as a proxy escorted by government vessels, has heightened Indonesia’s strategic anxiety.


Despite Indonesia being a non-claimant state in the South China Sea disputes, geographic proximity and self-interests compel it to play an active role in their peaceful resolution.44 As it was during the 1990s, Indonesia offered to be an “honest broker” to facilitate confidence-building measures and reduce tensions among the claimant states and interested parties.45 However, how it would play a brokerage role remains obscure. Indonesia would most likely take a multilateral consensus-building approach as commonly practiced in ASEAN’s negotiations. This might partly explain why it continuously emphasizes implementation of the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and the formulation of a legally-binding code of conduct. Meanwhile, it seems hesitant, if not averse, to publicly endorse unilateral legal approaches such as the Philippines’ arbitration case in The Hague. This became evident when the Foreign Ministry appeared to distance itself from a top security minister’s statement after the latter had threatened to challenge China’s U-shape line in the international court of arbitration.46 Indonesia’s hesitation toward international arbitration might also reflect its painful experience of having lost the case to Malaysia over the ownership of Sipadan and Ligitan Islands in 2002. Indonesia has likewise refused international arbitration to settle a similar dispute over the Ambalat block in the Sulawesi Sea, despite the impasse in multiple bilateral negotiations with Malaysia, which keeps the concern of recurring naval saber rattling alive. A former Indonesian navy chief even considered the Ambalat issue part of his strategic rationale for building a submarine base in Sulawesi.47


A more competitive strategic environment will also impinge on Indonesia’s interest in maintaining the security of ASLs. Growing maritime competition between China, the United States, and other major powers could increase military traffic in its ASLs. Beijing’s desire to provide adequate naval security to protect the Indo-Pacific SLOC will grow commensurately with its expanding maritime interests in the Indian Ocean. As Washington has decided to shift 60 percent of its maritime forces to the Indo-Pacific under the rebalance, the prospect of naval encounters with Beijing will increase, including in the ASLs. Other countries, such as India and Australia, have likewise increased, or intended to increase, their maritime presence in the Indo-Pacific to play a greater role in defending freedom of navigation along the SLOC, especially in the South China Sea. If this trend continues, it could pose two potential issues for the security of ASLs. First, increased foreign military maritime traffic could heighten Indonesia’s anxiety about the presence of foreign submarines. While the ASL passage regime under UNCLOS stipulates that submarines can transit underwater, Indonesia is concerned that foreign submarines might abuse the ASL passage to conduct activities inimical to Indonesia’s security, such as intelligence gathering and covert special operations.48 Second, the presence of multiple foreign warships in the ASLs could raise the prospect of accidents and collisions. An encounter between two opposing naval forces, such as the US and Chinese navies could intensify tensions, or even trigger inadvertent conflict and undermine Indonesia’s maritime security.49


As outlined in Jokowi’s campaign document and his first national development plan, the security of ASLs constitutes one of PMD’s policy goals.50 This perennial issue has fixed attention on maritime security capacity. The Indonesian navy is arguably the most capable maritime agency in the country, but it still lacks effective capacity to perform maritime law enforcement tasks, let alone its traditional military role. A former navy chief admits that the government could only supply 13 percent of the fuel required for patrols. As a result, out of the 60 to 70 ships available, the navy could only operate 15 on a daily basis.51 In 2015, it only had a budget of IDR 14 trillion (USD 1.1 billion), barely enough to patrol the entire territorial sea alone.52 Moreover, overreliance on naval law enforcement comes at the cost of meeting security needs in the EEZ, as the present security attention is largely devoted to the territorial sea, archipelagic waters, and ASLs. In response, the government saw the necessity to establish a maritime agency dedicated exclusively to law enforcement. Established in late 2014, the Indonesian Maritime Security Agency (BAKAMLA) was slated to perform a coastguard role, but its institutional authority remains challenged by jurisdictional overlap and the silo mentality of the other maritime agencies, such as the Marine Police, fishery, customs, etc.53 BAKAMLA could relieve the navy of some responsibilities in law enforcement as well as in the security of archipelagic waters, allowing it to better develop its traditional military role to secure the ASLs and EEZ.


Achieving its interests and anticipating threats would require Indonesia to adjust the allocation of its foreign and maritime policy instruments. The PMD still considers an independent, active foreign policy to be a relevant recourse to meet the challenges of major power competition. Its pragmatism and flexibility allows Indonesia to cultivate close ties with all major powers, including with both China and the United States, without having to declare allegiance in the process. Yet, it has also been criticized for being vague, ambiguous, reactionary, and unsophisticated.54 Indonesia could face a fork in the road where an independent and active foreign policy would be more difficult to implement, if not become more irrelevant, in meeting the challenges of major power competition.55 Absent the possibility of replacing the independent and active foreign policy, the only alternative is reinterpretation. Precisely because of its flexibility and pragmatism, Indonesia could reinterpret this principle to prioritize its major power partners based on their alignment with Indonesia’s security interests. While such relationships would still fall short of alliances, they would be more than just strategic partnerships.


Maritime policy instruments should better adapt to Indonesia’s interests and potential threats in a future strategic environment. At least two initiatives could be promoted: the formulation of a maritime defense strategy and the development of naval diplomacy. Notwithstanding the archipelagic geography, Indonesia’s defense strategy lacks a maritime focus. Through a culture of army dominance under the Suharto regime, the navy and air force became the poor cousins of the Indonesian military. Although the military has increasingly recognized the necessity of external security, it still lacks a strategy to conduct joint operations in the maritime domain. A joint maritime defense strategy could clarify the roles of each service and improve their performance in securing Indonesia’s maritime areas more effectively, particularly in the ASLs and EEZ. Indonesia should also develop its naval diplomacy to help achieve the objectives of the PMD’s maritime diplomacy. (Since the 1990s, the Indonesian navy has increased its participation from 3 to 11 key regional multilateral exercises, and now maintains 8 coordinated patrols with neighboring countries.)56 This would help Indonesia defuse the current tensions associated with maritime boundary disputes. Despite the Ambalat issue, for instance, the Indonesian navy still conducts joint activities with its Malaysian counterpart through exercises and patrols. The navy could also help promote confidence-building measures and maritime crisis management mechanisms between the claimants in the South China Sea. For example, in 2014 it successfully hosted the inaugural Exercise Komodo, inviting the navies of ASEAN and eight other countries.



On the basis of its archipelagic geography, Indonesia is preoccupied with two fundamental elements in its maritime strategic thinking: the notion of national unity and the dilemma of a maritime crossroads. This strategic thinking strongly influenced the development of Indonesia’s foreign and maritime policy principles, which are implemented through non-alignment and the desire to limit the presence of foreign military powers in the Indonesian archipelago. Reflecting this strategic thinking, the PMD concept under Jokowi represents more continuity than change. Subtle changes are noteworthy only in style, but not in substance.


The success of the PMD depends on Indonesia’s ability to develop a coherent maritime strategy, which requires it to identify the future strategic environment, its interests and potential threats in that environment, and the application of Indonesia’s foreign and maritime policy instruments to meet those interests and threats. As this environment will be characterized by the growing competition between China and the United States, Indonesia’s primary interests and threats will likely revolve around the preservation of national sovereignty and territorial integrity. The prospect of conflict over unresolved maritime boundary disputes, particularly in the South China Sea, as well as increased foreign military traffic through ASLs, could compromise Indonesia’s sovereignty. Facing this possibility, Indonesia needs to reinterpret its foreign policy principle to allow greater flexibility in choosing its major power partners and redesign its maritime policy to better suit the security requirements by developing a maritime defense strategy and enhancing naval diplomacy.

1. This article is based on the author’s paper presentation at the conference on “Southeast Asian Strategies towards Great Powers” organized by Evelyn Goh to launch the Graduate Research and Development Network in Asian Security (GRASNAD), Australian National University, September 7, 2015.

2. This article uses one of many English translations of PMD. The others include Global Maritime Axis, World Maritime Axis, and Global Maritime Nexus. One senior official from Indonesia’s Coordinating Ministry on Maritime Affairs even translated it as National Ocean Policy.

3. Robert Cribb and Michele Ford, “Indonesia as an Archipelago: Managing Islands, Managing the Seas,” in Indonesia beyond the Water’s Edge, eds. Robert Cribb and Michele Ford (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2009), 3.

4. Dewi Fortuna Anwar, “Indonesia’s Strategic Culture: Ketahanan Nasional, Wawasan Nusantara, and Hankamrata,” Australia-Asia Papers, no. 75 (Queensland: Griffith University, Centre for Study of Australia-Asia Relations, May 1996): 10.

5. Cribb and Ford, “Indonesia as an Archipelago,” 6.

6. St. Munadjat Danusaputro, “Wawasan Nusantara and the International Sea System,” The Indonesian Quarterly 2, no. 4 (1974): 53-54.

7. Edward L. Beach, Around the World Submerged: The Voyage of the Triton (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1962), 228.

8. Mohd Hazmi bin Mohd Rusli, “Maritime Highways of Southeast Asia: Alternative Straits?” RSIS Commentary, no. 024/2012 (February 10, 2012),; Rex Patrick, “Future Submarines—Getting ‘Strait’ to the Point,” Asia-Pacific Defense Reporter, August 30, 2012,; Peter Polomka, Ocean Politics in Southeast Asia (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1978), 36.

9. Toh Boon Kwan, “Brinkmanship and Deterrence Success during the Anglo-Indonesian Sunda Straits Crisis, 1964-1966,” Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 36, no. 3 (2005): 410.

10. Leonard C. Sebastian, Ristian Atriandi Supriyanto, and I Made Andi Arsana, “Indonesia and the Law of the Sea: Beyond the Archipelagic Outlook,” National Security College Brief,no. 9 (May 2014): 69-70,

11. Mohammad Hatta, “Indonesia’s Foreign Policy,” Foreign Affairs (April 1953): 444-445.

12. Michael Leifer, International Straits of the World: Malacca, Singapore and Indonesia (1978), cited in Dino Patti Djalal, The Geopolitics of Indonesia’s Maritime Territorial Policy (Jakarta: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1996), 29.

13. Anwar, “Indonesia’s Strategic Culture,” 4-6.

14. Fadli, “ASEAN Navies Join Forces over Piracy,” The Jakarta Post, July 1, 2015,

15. United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, arts. 47 and 49, December 10, 1982, 1833 UNTS 397 [hereinafter UNCLOS].

16. Sebastian, Supriyanto, and Arsana, “Indonesia and the Law of the Sea,” 72.

17. UNCLOS, art. 53 (4).

18. Chris Forward, “Archipelagic Sea-Lanes in Indonesia—Their Legality in International Law,” Australian and New Zealand Maritime Law Journal 23 (2009): 143.

19. UNCLOS, art. 53 (12).

20. Kresno Buntoro, Alur Laut Kepulauan Indonesia (ALKI): Prospek Dan Kendala (Jakarta: SESKOAL, 2012), 176-181.

21. Hugo Caminos and Vincent P. Cogliati Banz, The Legal Regime of Straits: Contemporary Challenges and Solutions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 200-201.

22. Sekretariat Kabinet Republik Indonesia, “Pidato Presiden RI Joko Widodo Pada KTT-9 Asia Timur, Di Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar,” November 14, 2014,

23. Rendi A. Witular, “Jokowi Launches Maritime Doctrine to the World,” The Jakarta Post, November 13, 2014,

24. Hatta, “Indonesia’s Foreign Policy,” 450.

25. “Infrastructure in Indonesia,” Indonesia-Investments,

26. Bagus Saragih and Ina Parlina, “Yudhoyono’s MP3EI Could End Up on the Chopping Block,” The Jakarta Post, August 16, 2014,

27. Sundari, “Jokowi to Revise MP3EI Project,”,September 3, 2014,

28. Aaron Connelly, Indonesian Foreign Policy under President Jokowi (Sydney: Lowy Institute for International Policy, October 2014), 13,

29. “Full Speech: Jokowi at APEC CEO Summit 2014,” Rappler, November 10, 2014,

30. Rieka Rahadiana and Neil Chatterjee, “Widodo Sets Maritime Ambition with $6 Billion Port Plans,” Bloomberg, November 7, 2014,

31. Hasyim Widhiarto, “Jokowi Declares War on Illegal Fishing,” The Jakarta Post, November 19, 2014,

32. “Indonesia’s Tough Stance on Illegal Fishing ‘Necessary,’” Today, August 28, 2015,

33. “Jokowi: Penenggelaman Kapal Illegal Masalah Kriminal, Bukan Masalah Tetangga-Tetanggaan,” Kompas, December 9, 2014,

34. Ku Seman Ku Hussain, “Maaf Cakap, Inilah Jokowi,” Utusan Online,November 23, 2014,; “Indonesia is Wrong,” Bangkok Post,January 5, 2015,

35. Connelly, Indonesian Foreign Policy under President Jokowi, 1.

36. “RI Could Join Trans Pacific Partnership within Two Years,” The Jakarta Post,October 11, 2015,; Abdulkadir Jailani, “Indonesia Dan Traktat Kemitraan Trans-Pasifik,” Kompas, October 15, 2015,

37.Natasha Hamilton-Hart and Dave McRae, Indonesia: Balancing the United States and China, Aiming for Independence (Sydney: The United States Studies Centre, November 2014), 21,

38. Geoffrey Till, “Indonesia as a Growing Maritime Power: Possible Implications for Australia,” Soundings (May 2015): 4,

39. Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Indonesia, Strategi Pertahanan Indonesia (Jakarta: Departemen Pertahanan Republik Indonesia, 2007), 10.

40. Muhammad A. S. Hikam, ed., Menyongsong 2014-2019: Memperkuat Indonesia Dalam Dunia Yang Berubah (Jakarta: Badan Intelijen Negara, 2014), 329,

41. Indonesian National Development Planning Board, Rencana Pembangunan Jangka Menengah Nasional (RPMJN) 2015-2019: Book 1 (Jakarta: BAPPENAS, 2015), 3-7.

42. Adriana Elisabeth et al., Grand Design Kebijakan Luar Negeri Indonesia (2015-2025) (Jakarta: Lembaga Ilmu Pengetahuan Indonesia, 2015) 8.

43. Ristian Atriandi Supriyanto, “Red Alert: The South China Sea’s New Danger Zone,” The National Interest,March 7, 2015.

44. Ristian Atriandi Supriyanto, “Indonesia’s South China Sea Dilemma: Between Neutrality and Self-Interest,” RSIS Commentary, no. 126/2012, July 12, 2012,

45.Kanupriya Kapoor and Lienda Sieg, “Indonesian President Says China’s Main Claim in South China Sea has No Legal Basis,” Reuters,March 23, 2015,

46. Randy Faby and Ben Blanchard, “Indonesia Asks China to Clarify South China Sea Claims,” Reuters,November 12, 2015,

47. Ruslan Sangadji, “Navy Opens New Base Prepared for Submarines,” The Jakarta Post,April 6, 2013,

48. Hikam, Menyongsong 2014-2019,392; Ristian Atriandi Supriyanto, “‘Strategic Funnels’: Deciphering Indonesia’s Submarine Ambitions,” RSIS Commentary, no. 263 (December 3, 2015),; UNCLOS, art. 53.

49. Ristian Atriandi Supriyanto, “The US Rebalancing to Asia: Indonesia’s Maritime Dilemma,” PacNet, no. 30A (May 2, 2013),; Sam Bateman, “Perils of the Deep: The Dangers of Submarine Proliferation in the Seas of East Asia,” Asian Security 7, no. 1 (2011): 72-73.

50. Jokowi and Jusuf Kalla, Jalan Perubahan Untuk Indonesia Yang Berdaulat, Mandiri Dan Berkepribadian: Visi, Misi, Dan Program Aksi (Jakarta: May 2014),

51. Widhiarto, “Jokowi Declares War on Illegal Fishing.”

52. Sharon Chen and Manirajan Ramasamy, “Indonesia Mimics US Pacific Fleet in Navy Overhaul, Chief Says,” Bloomberg, March 19, 2015,

53. Siswanto Rusdi, “The Dilemma of Indonesia’s Coast Guard,” The Jakarta Post,February 11, 2015,

54. Hikam, Menyongsong 2014-2019, 409-410; Elisabeth et al., Grand Design Kebijakan Luar Negeri Indonesia, 53.

55. Ristian Atriandi Supriyanto, “Indonesia and the Limits of Independence (Why Hedging Isn’t a Viable Strategy),” The Strategist,November 19, 2013,

56. Supriyanto, “‘Strategic Funnels.’”