Tag Archives: Indonesia

MFP 8: The Future of Small-Nation Maritime Forces

What advice would you give to a smaller nation on the maritime investments it should pursue, and why?

This is the eighth in our series of posts from our Maritime Futures Project.  For more information on the contributors, click here.  Note: The opinions and views expressed in these posts are those of the authors alone and are presented in their personal capacity.  They do not necessarily represent the views of their parent institution U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Navy, any other agency, or any other foreign government.

Simon Williams, U.K.
The nation in question must clearly enunciate what it seeks to gain from the maritime realm. Only in doing this will it construct an appropriate approach to its engagement with the sea.

Prof. James Holmes, U.S. Naval War College:

Deceptive Vietnamese maritime defenses?
        Deceptive maritime defenses in Vietnam?

Lesser maritime nations often seem to assume they have to compete symmetrically with the strong in order to accomplish their goals. That would mean that, say, a Vietnam would have to build a navy capable of contending on equal terms with China’s South Sea Fleet in order to fulfill its strategic aims. That need not be true. Here at the College we sometimes debate whether small states have grand strategies, or whether grand strategy is a preserve of the strong. Small coastal states do have grand strategies. In fact, there’s a premium on thinking and acting strategically when you have only meager resources to tap. Our Canadian friends, for instance, take pride in operating across inter-agency boundaries. Small states can’t simply throw resources at problems and expect to solve them. They have to think and invest smart. That’s my first bit of advice.

What kinds of strategies and forces should the weak pursue? Here’s the second bit of advice: they should consult great thinkers of the past. The French Jeune École of the 19th century formulated some fascinating ideas about how to compete with a Royal Navy that ruled the waves. Sir Julian Corbett fashioned a notion of active defense by which an inferior fleet could prevent a greater one from accomplishing its goals. In effect it could hug the stronger fleet, remaining nearby to keep the enemy from exercising command of the sea. Mao Zedong’s writings about active defense also apply in large part to the nautical domain. The notions of sea denial and maritime guerrilla warfare should resonate with smaller powers today. Clinging to an adversary while imposing high costs on him is central to maritime strategies of the weak.

And third, what does that mean in force-structure terms? It means smaller maritime powers should look for inexpensive hardware and tactics that make life tough and expensive for bigger powers. I have urged the Taiwan Navy to downplay its sea-control fleet in favor of platforms like missile-armed fast patrol boats that could give a superior Chinese navy fits. Such acquisitions are worth studying even for a great naval power like Japan. So long as Tokyo caps defense spending at 1 percent of GDP, it has to look to get the most bang it can for the buck. Sea denial should be in its portfolio. Bottom line, lesser powers should refuse to despair about their maritime prospects. They should design their fleets as creatively as possible, taking advantage of the home-field advantage all nations enjoy in their immediate environs. That may mean a navy founded on small craft.

Anonymous, USN:
Protect your resources and people. Make friends with powerful nations that can help guard you.

LT Drew Hamblen, USN:
Design high-speed, helicopter- and small boat-capable ships that can combat piracy and enforce maritime law. A few guided-missile cruisers may be needed to augment coastal defenses. Expeditionary navies will increasingly become obsolete in favor of submarine patrols and small surface surveillance units.

Felix Seidler, seidlers-sicherheitspolitik.net, Germany:

Drug runners prove navies and coast guards don't have a monopoly on maritime forces in South America.
Drug runners prove navies and coast guards don’t have a monopoly on maritime forces in South America.

My advice would depend on the region. Latin American nations surely do not need blue-water capabilities, and instead should focus on small, mobile units to fight drug trafficking, etc. In conflict zones, my advice would be to build up sophisticated cyber-forces soon. From a cost-benefit perspective, the easiest way for a small nation to target a large one is cyber-warfare. With regard to naval vessels, I would definitely recommend submarines. It does not make any sense for smaller nations to try and get the upper hand on the surface. Instead I would advise using cyber and submarine forces for asymmetric tactics.

Matt Cosner, U.S.:
I believe that smaller maritime nations – particularly those concerned with controlling significant maritime frontiers and resources vice projecting power – would be better served acquiring land-based maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft (MPRA) rather than buying additional warships. One needs look only at Japan as an example. Japan has a much smaller ship count (70 vs. 280 ships) than the U.S. Navy, yet fields only slightly fewer MPRA (80 vs. 120 aircraft).

For a smaller maritime nation, say Indonesia or the Philippines, an MPRA doesn’t necessarily have to be something as capable (and expensive!) as the P-3C Orion or P-8A Poseidon. These aircraft are optimized for long-ranged anti-submarine warfare, yet many countries have little need for this specialized capability.

In my opinion the better solution for most smaller maritime nations is something like a marinized Reaper UAS. Persistent maritime ISR is an enormous force multiplier that the U.S. Navy is only beginning to understand with its MQ-4 BAMS. In the context of a smaller nation – a squadron of 5 Reapers could provide persistent (24/7) surveillance over a very wide expanse of water, as well as a kinetic response if/when required.

LT Alan Tweedie, USNR:
Invest in modular small combatants. I can’t stress the modular concept enough, many industries, including civilian shipping companies have been doing it for years. Modularity brings flexibility with lower cost, two must-haves for a small nation.

CDR Chris Rawley, USNR:

Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) comes in many forms and has provided service in operations including counter-drug and counter-piracy.
Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) comes in many forms and has provided service in operations including counter-drug and counter-piracy.

Buy small patrol vessels (or even converted commercial/fishing vessels) your country can sustain without external support, be that maintenance contracts or fuel. There is no need to purchase expensive, complicated, technologically intensive “maritime domain awareness” (MDA) solutions. Rather, acquire as many intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft – whether manned or unmanned – and the infrastructure to support them, as you can afford. Most importantly, invest in a competent and professional boarding team capability. These teams are the main battery of a nascent navy or coast guard with the primary missions of policing coastal waters and controlling maritime borders against smugglers, pirates, and the like.

LTJG Matt Hipple, USN:
Don’t expand beyond your interests. For example, Pakistan has a “navy” with FFGs, but their interests don’t lie beyond their shores and serves little more than targets for India at sea. Maintain a bubble of security and legitimacy within your “realm” using corvettes and a corps of professional highly paid sailors and law-enforcement officers. Find maritime partnerships within which you can grow organically.

Dr. Robert Farley, Professor, University of Kentucky:
The core role of a navy is to secure a state’s maritime interests. For a small, poor nation this will most often involve protection of fisheries, local anti-piracy measures, anti-smuggling, and other missions that run along the divide between military and law enforcement. Small, poor countries should concentrate on developing manageable, reliable, easy-to-maintain flotillas that can conduct these kinds of operations, and on developing a corps of sailors capable of doing their jobs well.

Small rich nations have different problems; many of them (in Europe, for example) already have relatively secure littorals. These states can focus on developing capabilities that will allow them to participate in and contribute to multilateral operations.

CDR Chuck Hill, USCG (Ret.):
Not every coastal nation needs a navy, but they all need a coast guard – see Costa Rica for example. It is their only armed force.

Bryan McGrath, Director, Delex Consulting, Studies and Analysis:
It depends on where that nation is. If it is in the South China Sea, I would recommend that their maritime investments be targeted on understanding the battlespace around their territory. Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA)—from the land, on the sea and in the air.

Sebastian Bruns, Fellow, Institute for Security, University of Kiel, Germany:
Be flexible. Find a niche. Work to provide the right framework and circumstances. Be reliable and somewhat predictable: politically, operationally, and strategically.

Bret Perry, Student, Georgetown University:
Smaller nations should focus on procuring sustainable, simple systems. The following example illustrates my advice: a second- or third-world nation would be better off with a fleet of armed RHIBs (rigid-hull inflatable boats) than one or two larger patrol boats to protect their waters. Many second- or third-world navies lack the capability or willingness to maintain these “larger” ships; as a result, they sit in port and fall out of service. The same sometimes happens to the smaller RHIBs, but since they might have dozens of these, damaged ones can cannibalized for spare parts. These simple systems, combined with investments in training, will allow smaller nations to effectively conduct basic maritime security operations.

YN2(SW) Michael George, USN:
Rather simply, keeping the “quality over quantity” perspective when training, building, and forming their forces will go further than hustling as many ships and troops/sailors out there as possible.

LT Jake Bebber, USN:
Missiles are cheaper than surface or subsurface platforms, and a small nation can probably raise the “entry fee” into their littorals enough to discourage a maritime power like the U.S. (or China for that matter) from operating near their coast with land-based missile systems. If the small nation can afford a few diesel submarines and maritime patrol aircraft, it can significantly increase the cost of power projection over their shores from a larger maritime power. As Lord Nelson said, “A fool’s a man who fights a fort.” Today’s anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM) systems – both land-based and platform based – are the modern equivalent of the 18th century coastal fort. They alone cannot win a war for a smaller nation against a maritime power, but they can certainly discourage one.

More Than Words: Australia-Indonesia Strategic Relations

Australia-Indonesia Joint Patrol

By Natalie Sambhi

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.

In short, the language of the 2009 Defence White Paper simply doesn’t match our statements of Indonesia as a strategic partner. And although there are asymmetries in our capabilities, a strategic partnership means allowing and encouraging Indonesia to grow in a way that complements our strengths and compensates for our weaknesses so that we can work together; if Indonesia is to play an important role in our strategic future, then actively mitigating or preventing particular capacities isn’t the way to go.

This position might have been justifiable in white papers released after Konfrontasi (during which Australia and Indonesia found themselves on opposing sides of the conflict) or shortly after the 1999 East Timor intervention, during which relations with Indonesia were more fractious and the military (TNI) was only just exiting Indonesian politics. But times have changed.

On the domestic front, Indonesia is a much more stable, democratic state. In economic terms Indonesia is now starting to flex its muscle. Its GDP grew by an annualised 6.4% in the second quarter of 2012, its economy is now larger than Australia’s in purchasing power parity terms, and its middle class is larger than Australia’s population. TNI no longer exerts the same level of direct influence on politics and there’s a greater commitment to crack down on corruption. In regional terms, Indonesia enjoys greater clout and has attracted the attention of international partners such as the United States, the United Kingdom and China. Recent participation in RAAF-hosted Exercise Pitch Black 2012 (see image) shows Indonesia’s willingness to engage with partners such as Australia by sending their newest aircraft to build person-to-person ties and to dispel doubt as to their military intentions.

Barring a significant change in Indonesia’s trajectory of growth and domestic transformation, this is likely to become an enduring externality for Australian policy. Nonetheless, it’s worth thinking through the factors that could cause problems for Indonesia down the track: these include slowed growth, a change of leadership to one that is more internally focused, and deteriorating domestic stability. The question is whether these eventualities would adversely affect the Indonesia–Australia relationship in the long-term or would merely slow the engagement temporarily. That said, the relationship between Indonesia and Australia seems to be on an unstoppable path of growth. A nationalist President of Indonesia would be a concern but wouldn’t necessarily require a radical rewrite of Indonesia’s place in our strategic interests. In any case, as one RSIS commentator notes (PDF), nationalism at present is not a call for concern.

Likewise, Australia can cause ructions over livestock, people smuggling or the incarcerations of Australians, but the fundamental shared interests should ultimately prevail. In terms of shifting regional geopolitics, Australia and Indonesia might have more in common in the future Asia as we both navigate China’s rise and the US rebalance. A Defence Cooperation Agreement signed recently between Australia and Indonesia provides a framework for practical cooperation on common security matters, but it’s time to work together as well on bigger, long-term strategic questions about the region.

Indonesia demands different handling in the next Defence White Paper, which is as much an opportunity as the Asian Century White Paper to correctly recognise Indonesia’s place. Language matters, because it sends a strong signal to both the Australian and Indonesian people about how we see each country’s place in the region. And while the majority of everyday people in each country may not delve into the pages of the White Paper, setting the tone for political interaction as well as doing away with ambiguous language remains important. Hopefully the 2013 White Paper will articulate Indonesia’s importance and elevate it to partner status rather than a subordinate. That sort of constructive language would remove the disparity between language of the 2009 White Paper and the increasing importance of close defence relations and alignment of strategic interests between the two nations.

The White Paper might start by recognising the complementarity across our capabilities, strengths and weaknesses. Or it could, as Hugh White suggests, create a heading for Indonesia separate from the rest of ‘our neighbourhood’ to recognise the important role it plays in our strategic environment. While there’s no prospect of an alliance between our countries in the foreseeable future, it would provide a more robust basis in our national policy to give a broader context to initiatives such as the recently signed Defence Cooperation Agreement.

Defence Minister Smith assures us that he is ‘committed to regular, open and transparent discussions with Indonesia on the development of Australia’s 2013 Defence White Paper’. Let’s hope the final cut pays them the same due respect.

Image courtesy of Department of Defence.

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, editor of The Strategist and co-editor of Security Scholar. She is also a Hedley Bull Scholar and graduate of the Australian National University.

This article appeared in its original form and was cross-posted by permission from The Security Scholar.

Indonesia: Great Power on Australia’s Doorstep?

The following is the first cross-post of an article that originally ran on the site of our new partners at Security Scholar, an Australia-based security blog. First published last month, the relation of Indonesia’s future to Australian maritime security issues was reiterated with three recent hi-profile incidents of Australia-bound refugee vessels in distress in Indonesian waters. We look forward to learning more about the Australian maritime security outlook from our friends down under:

By Natalie Sambhi

Last month at the Australian National University (ANU) Professor Hugh White delivered a solid speech that lucidly and methodically explained why we, Australia, should be considering Indonesia with more care.

Projected to be the world’s fourth largest economy in a matter of decades and increasing in clout as a regional power, if not great power, Indonesia will be a force to reckon with, according to White. As such, many Australians will be forced to overturn their assumptions about Indonesia as a poor and weak country. White implored the audience to consider ways of redefining the bilateral relationship with Indonesia beyond third order issues like drug smuggling, people trafficking, border protection, and counter terrorism. Pointing to further evidence that the relationship was not as robust as Government would have us believe, White pointed to “fault lines” in the relationship caused by Australia’s involvement in East Timor’s independence which, for some time, severed diplomatic relations completely.

Against the backdrop of a shift in the strategic balance in Asia, and as Australia aligns itself towards the so-called “Asian Century”, White invited us to consider whether Indonesia would be an asset or an ally. In his view, Indonesia holds great potential to shield Australia from the threat of major powers in the region, if we get our bilateral relationship right. If we do, then we may start to think about the kinds of Defence capability that would complement the armed forces of Indonesia so that both countries could work towards a kind of “forward defence”.  White wrapped up his speech with five points to improve the relationship: 1) improve DFAT political reporting, 2) focus less on third order issues and more on China, 3) de-emphasise the role of aid in relating to Indonesia, 4) abolish travel advisories (as negative ones have tended to upset Indonesia), and 5) increase the importance of the bilateral relationship in Australian politics.

There are, however, a few extra elements in relation to Australia-Indonesia ties White might have explored in his speech (and I’m sure he would have, given more time), and I would like to take up three of his points to develop these further.

First, perceptions matter. In building his case for cultivating better relations with Indonesia, White used excerpts from Indonesian President Yudhoyono’s 2010 address to the Australian Parliament. In the address, the President underscored mistrust and misperceptions that beleaguered the bilateral relationship in the past. White referred to several parts of the address, but here I have selected the one I think is most salient:

I was taken aback when I learned that in a recent Lowy Institute survey 54 per cent of Australian respondents doubted that Indonesia would act responsibly in its international relations. Indeed, the most persistent problem in our relations is the persistence of age-old stereo-types—misleading, simplistic mental caricature that depicts the other side in a bad light. Even in the age of cable television and internet, there are Australians who still see Indonesia as an authoritarian country, as a military dictatorship, as a hotbed of Islamic extremism or even as an expansionist power. On the other hand, in Indonesia there are people who remain afflicted with Australiaphobia—those who believe that the notion of White Australia still persists, that Australia harbours ill intention toward Indonesia and is either sympathetic to or supports separatist elements in our country.”

It will take some time for these perceptions to erode. But it is equally important that we do not replace them with those that may mischaracterise Indonesia. Let’s take Indonesia’s democracy, for example. Lowy’s poll also states that “62% of Indonesians say democracy is preferable to any other kind of government and there is near universal agreement on three core democratic values – the rights to a fair trial, freely express yourself and vote in national elections.” How this is practiced, however, may be a different story.

A New York Times article warned that Indonesia is no model for a Muslim democracy, citing its mixed human rights record and lack of religious freedom as evidence. Admittedly, the case by the Human Rights Watch author comprises a quick grab of examples presented in highly emotional terms, but the take-home message is clear: Indonesia’s democracy is different. Sure it’s a no-brainer, but it may surprise us to learn the extent to which ethnic and religious criteria shape Indonesia’s elections. That is, Javanese Muslims have, historically, dominated politics and are perceived to be more viable candidates than their non-Javanese, non-Muslim counterparts. Given our Prime Minister is a non-religious, unmarried, Welsh-born woman, that a potential leader is discriminated against in ethno-religious terms is anathema to our political system should give us a moment’s pause for thought.

While we, and others like the US, are turning to enthusiastically embrace the democratic character of our northern neighbour, it would serve us well to carefully appraise the challenges of Indonesia’s ongoing democratic development. This is not to say this is a bar to good relations; quite the contrary. Australia must make an effort to understand these challenges and know how to engage with them without being paternalistic. If Australia and Indonesia are to work closely together in the Asian century, a deep understanding of each other’s political systems and working with them is necessary.

Second, Indonesia will be more than a middle power, and even perhaps a great power. There has been much discussion on whether Indonesia, given current growth rates, could outstrip India’s position in the BRICS grouping. Despite this optimism, according to one commentator (and it’s worth reading Grenville’s post), there are still significant political challenges holding Indonesia back. For one, there appears to be no clear successor to President SBY, with current candidates ranging from former generals like Prabowo Subianto, to Megawati Sukarnoputri, to tycoons like Aburizal Bakrie. Building on the discussion above on Indonesia’s democratic practices, with speculation abound about the nomination of Ani Yudhoyono, wife of the Indonesian President and sister of the Indonesian Army’s Chief of Staff, one wonders about the state of nepotism there. I hope I’m wrong.

This threepart series in last week’s Jakarta Globe exposes the lack of military business reform in the country. Without robust systems of accountability and practices that encourage transparency and due diligence, Indonesia risks undermining its own developments. Reliable maintenance of the rule of law remains problematic. While Indonesia has made attempts to grapple with military reform and eradicate corruption, these articles show that the country still has a long way to go.

As Indonesia grows in wealth and in confidence, it will head down the road of becoming a middle power. But its ability to transform into a great power will be hindered by domestic political challenges, and thus an inability to translate its wealth into military capability commensurate with great power status.

The right kind of President—he/she who can best cultivate the country’s wealth from natural resources, maintain high economic growth rates, reduce poverty, spur reform, maintain Indonesia’s clout within ASEAN, consolidate territorial integrity and domestic security, among other wishlist items—will no doubt help Indonesia comfortably secure a place in the upper bracket of middle power status. But what happens when Indonesia’s future President comes from a cadre of military officers who served in East Timor and who might be Australiaphobic?

Earlier this week, Australia’s Ambassador to Indonesia, Greg Moriarty, warned of growing economic nationalism in the country resulting in investment conditions that are not necessarily in Australia’s interests. Let’s hope this trend does not continue.

Third, White stressed the de-emphasis of aid in the relationship. He stated that there is a particular psychology attached to the receipt of aid. While there are many people in Indonesia who live in poverty and need our help, it was no basis for the bilateral relationship or the lens through which we should see Indonesia. As White underscored in an interview last month, it leads Australians to treat Indonesians in a patronising manner. White’s suggestion that we redirect aid money towards sending 10,000 Australian students each year to learn about Indonesia is well-intentioned, but we’d be hard-pressed getting even a third of that number across the education system. But again, I hope I’m wrong.

As one blogger pointed out this week, language study comes from an interest in culture. But it also comes from repeated exposure to the other culture and repeated contact with people. That Indonesia features obliquely in popular soap operas is not indicative that it is part of our thinking. The solution to piquing interest in Indonesian culture will come with the sense that Asia is part of Australia. That is, as continental European faces are as commonly featured in mainstream media alongside Anglo-Celtic ones, familiarity with Asia will come with increased exposure: particularly newsreaders, politicians, business and community leaders, the actors in advertising campaigns, performers, and athletes. Exchanges are useful but they are usually led by travellers and students who are already willing to engage beyond Bali’s beaches. Perhaps Indonesian-Australians could lead the charge, perhaps change will come with time.

It has been 14 years after the fall of Suharto and despite the challenges that are still abound, Indonesia has transformed remarkably. I want to be optimistic about the future of the relationship between Australia and Indonesia, and I am in furious agreement with White about strategic and cultural imperatives that should drive this, but we must be wide-eyed about the challenges that lay ahead.

Natalie Sambhi is a Hedley Bull Scholar in International Relations and a Masters graduate of the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy at the Australian National University. She currently researches and edits on a freelance basis, and is a contributor and co-editor of Security Scholar