Indonesia's new maritime focus: Balaji Chandramohan outlines Indonesia's evolving maritime strategy in the Indo-Pacific region.

AuthorChandramohan, Balaji

Indonesia occupies a key geo-strategic position. It straddles the confluence of two important regions--the Indian and the South-west Pacific. Important sea lanes run through or near its territory, including in particular the Strait of Malacca. Indonesia's position and aspirations are encouraging a maritime approach to security, one that differs from its previous inward-looking security focus. It has released a new maritime doctrine and begun steps to modernise and increase the Indonesian Navy. A 'green-water' blueprint envisages a 274-ship navy by 2024. This is Indonesia's largest naval modernisation plan in more than 40 years and it will substantially increase the country's profile in the Indo-Pacific region.


With the emergence of the Indo-Pacific region as a key geo-strategic entity Indonesia, at the confluence of both Indian and Pacific segments, is becoming more important. Its profile in the international arena is growing. It has expanded the range and scope of its diplomatic initiatives, while converting from primarily a continental inward-looking strategic orientation to an expanding maritime outlook. Along with its enhanced presence in the Indo-Pacific region, it has sought to formulate a grand strategy. Furthermore, Indonesia has become important in the United States' forward policy or pivot in the Indo-Pacific region. The archipelago is a 'gateway zone' for the Eurasian rim land and the offshore continent of Australia. (1)

The growing importance of Indonesia's geo-political position has given a fillip to its maritime strategy. Further impetus was provided by Joko ('Jokowi') Widodo's election as president in 2014. One of the key steps he took after coming to power in Indonesia was to release a maritime doctrine in November 2014. The five main principles of this doctrine are

* rebuild Indonesia's maritime culture, for, as a country that is made up of 18,000 islands, it must realise that its future is largely determined by how it manages the oceans

* maintain and manage sea resources with a focus on establishing sovereignty over sea-based food products

* prioritise infrastructure and maritime connectivity development by building deep sea ports while also improving the shipping industry, logistics and maritime tourism

* through maritime diplomacy, end the sources of conflict at sea, such as fish thefts, violation of sovereignty, territorial disputes, piracy and pollution

* as a country that is the bridge between two oceans, build its maritime defence power. (2)

Geo-strategic position

Indonesia is the largest archipelagic state in the world. It has within its waters some of the most strategic sea lanes in the world, connecting the Indian and Pacific oceans. Furthermore, of the three areas identified as being the key to power projection in the Indo-Pacific region--the Indian sub-continent, the South China Sea and the South-west Pacific--Indonesia, as a resident power, has a military presence in two of them, the South China Sea and the South-west Pacific. This ensures that Indonesia will be an important geo-political player in the 21st century. Jakarta has accordingly begun evolving a grand strategy of its own. It also occupies an important place in the strategic outlook of powers like India, Indonesia and the United States that are seeking to contain China's increased maritime expansion in the IndoPacific region. Australia's 2013 Defence white paper mentioned 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'.

An aggressive reform agenda enacted during former Indonesian President Yudhoyono's first term (2004-09) provided the impetus for economic growth. This included significant reforms in the finance sector, and tax and...

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