Mochtar Kusumaatmadja formulator and champion of the Archipelagic State Principle. Part I: The man who increased Indonesia’s territory by a third

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Members of the Indonesian delegation to the Conference on the Law of the Sea I in Geneva, 1958. In the middle is seated former Prime Minister Ali Sastroamidjojo with the head of the delegation, Achmad Soebardjo seated next to him and Mochtar Kusumaatmadja standing behind him. Photo courtesy of Rachmat Askari Kusumaatmadja

IO – On June 6th 2021 one of Indonesia’s finest son’s Mochtar Kusumaatmadja passed away and to put it very succinctly the popular consensus is that Indonesia should elevate Pak Mochtar to national hero status. Well, what else does one do with a citizen who increased the country’s territory by 3,7 million square kilometers without anyone having to fire a shot? Not a soldier, sailor or other citizen was killed in accomplishing this. Indonesia’s national waters increased by nearly twice the size of its land mass which is about 1,9 million square kilometers. Before Mochtar Kusumaatmadja’s concept of the Archipelagic State our waters were only about half a million square kilometers in size. So, do we have a choice? No decent nation would refuse to make such a citizen a national hero.

So, how did it come about and what is the Archipelagic State Principle that has benefitted Indonesia so much?

“It really all began with Chairul Saleh who at that time was the Minister for Veterans Affairs in Prime Minister Djuanda Kartawijaya’s cabinet. During the Irian Jaya conflict Dutch naval ships had the right to enter the waters between our islands because our territorial waters were only 3 nautical miles from the shoreline of each island. Chairul Saleh was outraged and he really was the trigger that gave rise to the Archipelagic State Principle. He cajoled and pushed my brother to formulate a new policy on the seas contrary to the established rules. Mochtar created the legal nuts and bolts of the Archipelagic State Principle whereas the grand strategy and normative side of things were from Chairul Saleh. At the time Indonesia was under a parliamentary system and President Soekarno was just a figurehead. Prime Minister Djuanda promulgated a law in 1957 regarding Indonesian territorial waters and maritime environment incorporating the Archipelagic State Principle but it was Mochtar who later lobbied and persuaded the world to accept it,” explained Mochtar Kusumaatmadja’s brother Sarwono Kusumaatmadja who also served several times as a cabinet minister during the Soeharto era.

Mochtar enjoying a meal with former Minister of Education Fuad Hasan in 1994. Photo courtesy of Rachmat Askari Kusumaatmadja.

Mochtar Kusumaatmadja graduated from the Faculty of Law of the University of Indonesia in 1955. A year later he received a graduate degree from Yale University, and later also obtained a PhD in law. He continued with post-doctoral studies at Harvard specializing in the Law of the Sea and was the only Indonesian specialist in the field at the time. He fought diplomatically to extend Indonesia’s sea boundaries and succeeded outstandingly by obtaining international recognition for Indonesia’s Archipelagic State Principle as well as it’s Continental Shelf.

The Archipelagic State Principle is a principle which asserts that in an archipelagic state such as Indonesia, the boundaries of its territorial waters are calculated by drawing an imaginary line connecting all the outermost points of its outermost islands and then from this maritime baseline calculating 12 nautical sea miles. As Indonesia is located on strategic international trade and military routes it allows freedom of peaceful navigation in its waters.

Mochtar was the first to initiate the concept of Indonesia’s Archipelagic State Principle internationally and from 1957 till 1982 he fought diplomatically at various United Nations conferences to have the principle accepted as part of the international law of the sea. It was finally accepted in 1982 under UNCLOS III which was signed in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Mochtar Kusumaatmadja was then Minister of Foreign Affairs under the Suharto government.

Mochtar Kusumaatmadja accompanied by his wife, Siti Hadidjah Saleh together with the Secretary General of the UN, Perez de Cuellar and his spouse. Photo courtesy of Rachmat Askari Kusumaatmadja.

Indonesians do not refer to Indonesia as most people would refer to their country as “our land’ but rather as tanah air kita or “our land and water” as two thirds of our nation consists of sea. Obtaining international recognition of Indonesia’s Archipelagic State Principle was not only about increasing Indonesia’s territory but more importantly about geographically unifying the territory of an extremely diverse nation. Without being united territorially as a unitary whole both on land and at sea, Sarwono maintains that it would have been far more difficult for Indonesia to have survived as one political entity. Indonesia’s islands are legally united through its seas but for that to work in practice those islands need to be connected via vessels carrying the Indonesian flag. “A network of boats and ships connecting all the islands of the Archipelago is what is needed and remains the task of the government,” explains Haryono Kartohadiprodjo the former director of one of Indonesia’s major shipping lines. “Just as during the Dutch times the KPM fleet did with its many island hubs and feeder boats and of course, we must have a strong navy to protect our land and sea.”

However, despite formulating the concept of the Archipelagic State Principle Mochtar Kusumaatmadja still managed to trigger President Sukarno’s rage with a lecture in 1962 at Pajajaran University where he was a lecturer as well as dean of the Faculty of Law. According to Sarwono his brother criticized President Sukarno apparently comparing him to India’s Prime Minister Nehru saying amongst other things that Sukarno was just a seasonal socialist. His comments were then taken and spiced up by other groups such as the PKI (Indonesian Communist Party), GERMINDO (Gerakan Mahasiswa Indonesia), CGMI (Consentrasi Gerakan Mahasiswa Indonesia). Both the later were leftist student organizations and the CGMI was under the wing of the PKI. They all reported his comments back to Sukarno. An outraged Sukarno immediately sent a telegram dismissing Mochtar both as dean and lecturer.

A very difficult time then followed as no other university was prepared to hire Mochtar. He then tried to set up a small law firm in a friend’s pavilion but even this was difficult and at one point he called Sarwono who was helping out at his office at a sort of office boy and told him that he would have to find his own funds to continue his education as there were barely any clients. It did not bother Sarwono too much. He had watched Mochtar look for funds when he was young cleaning people’s shoes, painting houses and his mother began selling food on the roadside again. “We were destroyed economically when he lost his job but it wasn’t a problem. We knew how to look for money and we learnt then who our friends really were,” commented Sarwono.

Mochtar and Sarwono Kusumaatmadja’s families. Their extended clan produced six members who became cabinet ministers. Photo courtesy of Rachmat Askari Kusumaatmadja.

He explained that Mochtar could be very diplomatic but he could also be not in the least bit diplomatic; extremely straight forward in expressing whatever he thought. “It came from my parent’s personalities which were extremely different. My mother was a great problem solver, charming, eloquent and diplomatic whereas my father was extremely straight forward with a great sense of humour but also sarcastic. He had a strong personality and tended to do as he pleased but was very egalitarian with no prejudices either racial, religious or ethnic. When Mochtar was being diplomatic and persuasive he was channelling my mother and at other times when he was sarcastic and outspoken he was just being like my father.”

Mochtar Kusumaatmadja’s father Taslim Kusumaatmadja was descended from Ki Wirawangsa Umbul Sukakerta bergelar Tumenggung Wiradedaha who was the bupati or regent of Sukapura in Tasikmalaya, West Java. Many of his sons later also became bupatis in the Priangan region in places such as Bandung, Tasikmalaya, Ciamis and Sumedang. Meanwhile, Mochtar’s mother, Sulmini Soerawisastra was the daughter of Haji Badjoeri Soerawisastra who ran the Pesantren Balerante in Cirebon. Both of Mochtar’s parents were educated in the HIS (Hollandsch-Inlandsche School) or Dutch School for Natives. These were schools for native Indonesians that used Dutch as the intermediary language. After her father graduated he studied to become an assistant apothecary and later worked in Jakarta. Meanwhile, Sulmini went to the higher teacher’s training school where she became very close friends with Ibu Sud the creator of Indonesian children’s songs and later she taught at the Kartini School in Gunung Sahari. Still later she joined PERWARI, the first non-religious women’s organization in Indonesia and began teaching at PERWARI schools.

Despite their very different personalities they had a very harmonius marriage as they shared the same values. Both were extremely caring people. Taslim was always very concerned about the health of his neighbourhood, often using his own funds to provide medical help to sick neighbours. He also tried to help students who dropped out of school to get back into school again volunteering to argue their case with the school authorities and always encouraging them not to give up on their studies and Sulmini fully supported him in all this. Mochtar may have inherited this trait of always wanting to help people for his daughter Armida Alisjahbana who is Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) describes her father’s greatest weakness as similar, “He easily liked to help people in need. If one is not careful people can take advantage of one – but luckily that did not happen to him. Especially, when he became a minister he always had to be very careful about this.”

They were a positive, happy couple who both loved music and listening to the Netherlands Indies or NIROM radio broadcasts of Western classical music as well as local music from all over the Archipelago. Their house was also always open for the Republicans wanting freedom for Indonesia, as a place to hold their discussions.

Mochtar’s mother, the incredible Sulmini, his brother, Sarwono, sister, Ade and Mochtar himself in 1968. By then his father had already passed away. Photo courtesy of Rachmat Askari Kusumaatmadja.

It was Sulmini however, who was the solver of impossible problems. It began already as Mochtar was still a young boy when somehow she managed to persuade the Dutch authorities to allow him to attend the ELS (Europeesch Lagere School) or European Primary School which was only for Dutch children, Asian races such as wealthy Chinese and Arabs and a few native Indonesians from important aristocratic families. Sarwono remarked, “It was quite unheard of but somehow my mother managed to persuade them to allow Mochtar to study there. She said that they were curious to see whether an ordinary native boy could make it in a Dutch school like that. Consequently, he received the education of a Dutch person and so never had any inferiority complex or inhibitions whatsoever. To be honest my mother herself in fact should not even have been accepted into the HIS or Dutch language school for natives coming from a pesantren or religious school, as she did. Nobody can really explain it. There is just a vague story that the Dutch administrator of a nearby sugar plantation recommended her. She was a cute, funny kid and he seems to have been taken with her.”

Another example of Sulmini’s resourcefulness was during the Revolution after the Second World War. In 1948 the family were staying with relatives near Cirebon in a complex with 3 large houses with gardens and a village next to it. All the male members of the family were away fighting the Dutch when one day a platoon of Dutch soldiers appeared. All the inhabitants of the area were made to squat on the ground with the men separated from the women. A young Dutch soldier had been captured and killed by local fighters and was buried nearby. The platoon commander was looking for him and his men began to search the houses. They were all very nervous for there were Republican papers buried in the grounds and if the Dutch had discovered either the papers or the body of the dead soldier then there was a strong likelihood that they would kill some of the people and probably set the village on fire.

Sarwono says that his mother stood up, approached the commander and addressed him in fluent Dutch, “What are you doing here so far from home behaving like Nazis? Haven’t you had enough of war?”

The commander who was very taken aback at being addressed by a native Indonesian woman in fluent Dutch, asked her where she had learnt her Dutch and where her husband was. “He has been away fighting for three years probably killed by the likes of you,” was her response and they began to converse. The Commander ended up by telling her that he too was a teacher and showing her a photograph of his family at home. He agreed with her that it was an unfair war and that the Dutch should not be there and that he wanted nothing more than for peace to come so that he could go home.

Sulmini then told him, “So why don’t you tell your soldiers to stop this useless search?”

He obeyed and she suggested that the soldiers join her in a sing-along instead. So, he blew his whistle and called his soldiers and she led them in singing kindergarten songs. The atmosphere of fear immediately vanished and Mochtar Kusumaatmadja’s mother saved the village. (Tamalia Alisjahbana)

If you enjoyed reading this article you may also enjoy Part II of the article by the same writer:
https://observerid.com/mochtar-kusumaatmadja-formulator-and-champion-of-the-archipelagic-state-principle-part-ii-a-gifted-man-in-the-service-of-indonesia/