As Indonesia’s regional profile and economy continue to grow there has been a clear emphasis on developing and modernising its defence forces to meet a new era of challenges. In March 2013, Indonesia’s Minister for Defence, Dr Purnomo Yusgiantoro, talked with Sergei DeSilva-Ranasinghe on a range of matters that emphasized the nature of the regional security threats to the state, principal internal security concerns, defence cooperation with East Timor and Papua New Guinea, military modernization plans, the rise of China and India and its implications for Indonesia, the importance of the Indian Ocean and participation in extra-regional security initiatives, the US rebalance to the Asia Pacific, Indonesia-Australia defence cooperation and his future plans to strengthen Indonesian defence forces.
Today, what are the regional threats that affect Indonesia’s security and stability? Tell us about the unique challenges of defending the world’s largest archipelago nation?
Dr Yusgiantoro: Two thirds of our country consists of sea, and the remaining are 17,000 islands. Besides, our archipelago is located at a pivotal location between two oceans and two continents, thus, a strong military force must be developed to defend our territory. As we are surrounded by 10 neighbors, it is important to maintain strong cooperation with them. We appreciate that ASEAN defense ministers are really concerned with the regional peace, security, and stability. Regional Challenges and threats in Asia Pacific are dominated by non-traditional threats such as terrorism, separatism, piracy, or criminal activities at sea, illegal logging, illegal fishing, illegal petroleum products and people smuggling. Illegal activities have drained our assets out of the country. Meanwhile, territorial disputes between neighboring countries within ASEAN still exists. The good thing is the commitment on border disputes among the ASEAN nations are solved by using the ASEAN spirit.
What are Indonesia’s main internal security concerns today? Also, tell us how the insurgencies in southern Thailand and Philippines, and the incidence of piracy in Southeast Asian waters have affected Indonesia’s internal security?
Dr Yusgiantoro: Indonesia has no more significant internal security threats, or even massive horizontal and vertical conflict. The sole security concern in Indonesia is the existing roots of terrorism. To minimize the risk, the National Counter Terrorism Agency (Badan Nasional Penanggulangan Terorisme/BNPT) has conducted a de-radicalization project together with the Indonesian Police. We have also prepared our special forces for counter terrorism beyond the police capacity. The Insurgencies cases in Southern Thailand and the Philippines have no effect and relation with Indonesia’s security concern. However, the government has conducted a program focused on the preventive approach to eliminate terrorism.
To what extent does Indonesia engage in defense and security cooperation with East Timor and Papua New Guinea?
Dr Yusgiantoro: Indonesia has developed cooperation with neighboring countries and signed defence cooperation agreements with both PNG and RDTL. Indonesian Defense Forces actively engage in securing border areas. Some defence activities have been developed between the two armed forces in education and training many years ago and these have increased in recent years.
Tell us about Indonesia’s military modernization plans and how they are being implemented?
Dr Yusgiantoro: Our modernization program will cover four factors: military equipment, infrastructure, human resources, and organization. We planned within 15 years, starting 2010 until 2024, to modernize our defense forces. We have been progressing well in the last four years. The modernization process is not being developed only in the navy and air force, but also in the army. Our target is to achieve 30% of the 2024 target by the end of 2014 seems to be more at around 40%. This is due to the additional quantity of military equipment arriving in Indonesia to date, and additional budget provided to us. We believe that we will be able to defend our territorial integrity.
How is the rise of China changing the strategic realities facing Indonesia. Does Indonesia subscribe to the view that China is intent on building a series of naval bases in the Indian Ocean – the so called ‘string of pearls’ theory?
Dr Yusgiantoro: China’s emergence is not a threat to Indonesia. The logic is that when a country’s economic performance is improving, then some state funds will also be used to improve the military performance, including military modernization. The emergence of China in economic and military, including expansion of China’s Navy, and hopefully its presence in the South China Sea, will not raise new tensions in region. We do expect our discussion on Code of Conduct on South China Sea between ASEAN delegates and China will start soon. Indonesia is not a claimant state and prefers to look at the South China Sea as potential area of cooperation rather than conflict. So far, we see that China’s presence in the Bay of Bengal and East Timor are to cover their interest specifically to protect its fishermen at the high seas.
In recent years India has injected considerable resources into upgrading its Bay of Bengal posture and force levels, notably on the Andaman Islands. Does the expansion of the Indian Navy and its modernization program, especially the plan to acquire three aircraft carriers, numerous submarines and the development of a formidable amphibious warfare capability concern Indonesia?
Dr Yusgiantoro: Indonesia in principle fully understands any country’s effort to defend their territorial integrity, including India. Andaman Islands and its surrounding area has the potential for criminal activities besides in the Malacca strait. Our experience to conduct coordinated sea patrol and eye in the sky with Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand has had a significant impact to reduce criminal activities in the Malacca strait. I believe that the expansion of the Indian Navy will affect the stability and security as well as minimize any threats in the region. Indonesia’s defense objective is very clear: to make many friends and have zero enemies. We would like to see peace, stability and security in the region, but if there are any threats to us then we will not tolerate them.
How does Indonesia view the Indian Ocean and why is it important to Indonesia’s national interests? What role does Indonesia see itself having in the Indian Ocean now and into the future?
Dr Yusgiantoro: The lndian Ocean is an important area to be secured from any illegal activities. Indonesia is an archipelago with thousands of miles of sea lanes facing in the Indian Ocean. We just want to make sure we have the proper capability to defend our territory. Indonesia also invites the neighboring countries in the region to actively participate in maintaining peace and security in this region.
Do you foresee the Indonesian military taking on a wider role in regional security in the Asia Pacific and the Indian Ocean regions in the foreseeable future? Is the Indonesian Navy’s participation in the anti-piracy mission off the Horn of Africa as an indicator of your country’s interest to actively contribute to regional and extra-regional security?
Dr Yusgiantoro: Indonesia will do its best to participate in maintaining maritime security in any area of the world. The Indonesian Navy’s participation in any mission outside the region shows our interest in expanding experiences and professionalism internally. Our Navy has been active in Lebanon’s waters and sent two frigates and a landing platform dock vessel to carry our special forces to release our commercial ship that was hijacked off Somalia waters. We also have been sending peace keepers since the 1960s to various areas of the world. At present, we are listed as one of the 20 largest contributors to global peacekeeping operations in the world, and our ambition is to improve that to rank as the 10th largest contributing nation.
What is Indonesia’s stance on the US rebalance to the Asia Pacific region? Furthermore, how does Indonesia respond to the increasing presence of rotational US forces in northern Australia, the increased number of US Navy ship visits to Western Australia and the possibility of US surveillance aircraft using the Cocos Islands to monitor the region?
Dr Yusgiantoro: The US rebalance program in the Asia Pacific region is the US policy in defense to anticipate any potential conflict in the region. Indonesia is of the view that the presence of the US Force in the region will not affect our economic and military development. We always maintain a positive thinking on the US presence that will lead to peace and stability in the region, and hope that the US and China would strengthen their cooperation.
The presence of US Forces in Australia, and their activity to monitor the region demonstrates the US defence policies to maintain peace and stability around the world. Indonesia may take advantage of their presence by conducting joint exercises, military training for professionalism, and military operations other than war, such as on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. As you probably know Indonesia is prone to natural disasters. Today, the world is more transparent in developing military capability as reflected in the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting (ADMM). As our relations with the US is strong, any military development in the region is to be informed to us.
How would you describe the state of defence cooperation between Indonesia and Australia? What has been achieved since last July’s inaugural defense minister’s meeting, what is the scale and scope of bilateral defence cooperation and where do you see bilateral defence ties going in the near future?
Dr Yusgiantoro: Indonesia and Australia are enhancing cooperation in the field of defense at many levels of cooperation. At the minister’s level, both sides have reached an understanding on defense and security issues in the region, followed by concrete activities between our two forces. Today, the bilateral defense cooperation appears to be at its height, and to be continued that way.
How does Indonesia view Australia concerns about non-state extremist groups posing in a threat to Australia’s extensive oil and gas infrastructure located throughout North West and northern Australia?
Dr Yusgiantoro: Indonesia will respect any effort of Australia to maintain its internal security. Indonesia will not interfere with any internal security cases, and will work together with Australia to avoid any security concerns from neighboring countries that might spill over to Indonesian territory.
During your term as Defense Minister what do you intend on implementing? What do you see as being your major challenges and what vision do you have for development and future role of Indonesia’s military?
Dr Yusgiantoro: In my term as Defense Minister in the year 2010-2014, the total defence budget has been doubled from the previous five years 2005-2009, and the budget to acquire military equipment is tripled. Many achievements have been registered, among others in enhancing military professionalism, defence capabilities and modernization, as well as increasing soldiers welfare and defence diplomacy. Major challenges for developing our defence and military capabilities are mainly related to people’s trust and support, adequate budget, and local defence industries capabilities. We do hope that Indonesia will have a modern and professional military, which is essential to carry out and maximize their mission in the defence our nation and country.