Mochtar Kusumaatmadja formulator and champion of the Archipelagic State Principle. Part II: A gifted man in the service of Indonesia

Mochtar Kusumaatmadja
Mochtar Kusumaatmadja and his daughter Armida Alisjahbana. Photo courtesy of Rachmat Askari Kusumaatmadja.

IO – Mochtar Kusumaatmadja who passed away on the 6th of June 2021 formulated Indonesia’s Archipelagic State Principle and later it was due to his diplomatic efforts that the world was persuaded to accept the principle that increased Indonesia’s territory by a third. At times it could be said to have even accepted the principle a little too well. It is ironic that today China for example, is using Indonesia’s Archipelagic State Principle as part of the legal basis for its claim to nearly 90% of the South China Sea. Its attempt to shelter behind it in order to create a veneer of legal legitimacy for its claims was however, rejected by the 2016 Hague Tribunal ruling which found China’s arguments lacking in any real legal foundation. China is not an archipelagic state.

Armida Alisjahbana, Mochtar Kusumaamadja’s oldest daughter who is Under-Secretary General of the United Nations and who heads the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) served as Minister for State Planning (Bappenas) under President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Her current positions involve her in global and regional development diplomacy and she suspects that she may have inherited some of her father’s diplomatic skills. Armida confides, “I was not expecting to become a minister but when I did I was not really surprised, in the sense that my father was a minister as were a great uncle, an uncle and two of my parent’s cousins.”

Mochtar Kusumaatmadja
From left to right: Sarwono, his cousin Juwono Sudarsono and sister Ade Kusumaatmadja. Photo courtesy of Sarwono Kusumaatmadja.

During the Japanese Occupation Mochtar was at SMP (Sekolah Menengah Pertama) or lower secondary school where the Japanese insisted on giving Indonesian students a form of military training. As the War progressed it became difficult for Mochtar’s parents to find sufficient food and clothing for the family, so they moved to Cirebon to stay with his mother’s sister Moespiah. She was married to Dr Sudarsono Mangoenadikusumo who was to have a very strong influence on Mochtar and his brother, Sarwono. For a time they were raised together with Dr Sudarsono’s children including Juwono Soedarsono who many years later served as Minister of Education and Culture under President Habibie and then as Minister of Defense under President Abdurrahman Wahid. Dr Sudarsono himself was a member of Sutan Sjahrir’s Partai Sosialis Indonesia (later so many of Indonesia’s technocrats were members or sympathizers of the PSI) and later served twice as a cabinet minister under Sutan Sjahrir. In this capacity during the Revolution he organized Indonesia’s donation of rice to India which was experiencing famine. The Dutch tried to seize the rice and it provided much good PR for the Indonesian revolutionaries.

Mochtar was very much inspired by Dr Sudarsono’s struggle for independence and as a result joined Republican, Battalion 400 as a freedom fighter in its guerilla campaign in Sukaraja to the south of Tasikmalay in West Java. Here the military training the Japanese provided him with as a student proved quite useful. He returned home after the ceasefire in 1949 and finished his high school education at Adam Bachtiar’s school and later at Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana’s Science and Arts College on Jalan Senen Raya (which later became the Universitas Nasional), finally studying English at the college in Rawamangun. There he met a pretty East Javanese girl from Ponorogo, named Siti Chadijah who was popularly known as Ida. She eventually became his wife and with her he was to have 5 children. Meanwhile, an aunt of Ida’s had married a Minangkabau from West Sumatra and their son, her cousin, Chairul Saleh, was also to have a strong influence on Mochtar. Chairul Saleh became a close confidant of President Soekarno; later becoming a cabinet minister and eventually even a deputy prime minister under him. So, Armida Alisjahbana is right her extended clan is truly outstanding: it has produced at least 6 cabinet ministers.

Later, Mochtar graduated in law from the University of Indonesia and went on to do post-graduate studies in law and eventually a doctorate in law at Yale and the University of Chicago. Later he also did post-graduate studies at Harvard. Armida remembers these as happy times. Reminiscing about the life then with her father she commented, “My best and happiest memories of my father are somewhat of a distance away from now actually, not just with reference to my father but in the context of our whole family life. It was during my early childhood years. We were living in the United States at the time for about two and a half years. It was the mid 1960s, after which we moved back to Indonesia following the fall of Soekarno. Our time in the United States was very special and memorable. We spent a lot of time together as a family going to museums, to the city shopping, to the zoo…

Mochtar Kusumaatmadja
Mochtar (middle row, centre) with Indonesian friends in Chicago in 1965. On the left with glasses is Prof Harsja Bachtiar. Photo courtesy of Rachmat Askari Kusumaatmadja.

Then we returned to Indonesia in the early years of the New Order government. My father worked very hard because he had to start his career afresh but because he was so good it was not difficult. He was asked to serve on many important assignments and to complete many tasks which advanced his career. Our economy gradually but steadily improved. We had our own first house, then moved to a larger house etc, etc. So, they were very busy years for my father. It was my mother who more and more had to take on the care of the family. Despite that we had a family tradition of every weekend going out to lunch or dinner as well as to book shops such as Toko Buku Djawa (the Javanese Book Shop) in Braga (Bandung). On some Sundays or weekends we would go out of town for a picnic to Ciater or the Puncak or some other pleasant place…”

Mochtar’s brother Sarwono Kusumaatmadja served three times as a cabinet minister under President Soeharto including as Minister of the Environment (1993-1998), Minister of State Bureaucracy (1988-1993) and Minister for Sea Exploration (1999 – 2001). Similarly, his best memory of his brother is also from a time when Mochtar was in the United States. “When Mochtar returned from America, I was a student at ITB and he brought home for me a most precious gift. He brought me a slide rule because I was studying engineering and you cannot imagine how hard it was to come by one in those days and how expensive they were. Normally, students had to rent one. So, having one was really something!

We became close as brothers not when we were kids (there was an age difference of 14 years between the two brothers) but rather it was as adults that we grew close.”

Mochtar Kusumaatmadja
The two brothers Mochtar and Sarwono Kusumaatmadja smiling during happy times. Photo courtesy of Sarwono Kusumaatmadja.

When asked why Soeharto had finally replaced his brilliant foreign minister with Ali Alatas and if it was because Mochtar had also managed to annoy Soeharto in some way, there was a smile in Sarwono’s voice as he answered, “No, not at all. It was because Soeharto told him to give way to his brother, Sarwono. I was the first secretary general of Golkar at the time and Soeharto told Mochtar that it would be unseemly to have two brothers in the cabinet. My brother did not mind. He was a person who from early on in life was touted as someone who would make it in life whereas I was born with a motoric disability which I had to learn to overcome. Mochtar was proud of his little brother when he became a minister.”

Mochtar who had been an academician at Pajajaran University was first Minister of Justice for four years under the Soeharto government from 1974 till 1978. Former Indonesian ambassador to the United States, Dino Pattijalal who heads the largest public foreign policy community in the world described Mochtar as not only a scholar and a thinker but also a practitioner and leader. For his role as Indonesian foreign minister Dino touched upon Mochtar’s practicality but also idealism when he remarked, “Mochtar was known for having said that law without power is merely a dream but that power without law is tyranny.”

Another of Mochtar’s specializations was in developmental law. He later established a development law which he expanded from the concept of law as an instrument of social engineering. He based it on the situation in Indonesia and it came to be known as the mazhab UnPad (Universitas Padjadjaran) or University of Padjadjaran school of thought. As Indonesia’s first expert on the law of the sea he also promoted the study of the law of the sea at the law faculty. He was dean of the law faculty at Pajajaran University and later rector of the University.

Mochtar Kusumaatmadja
Mochtar Kusumaamadja (in white suit) in Minister of Justice Ismail Saleh’s (centre) office together with legal scholar Frederik B.G. Tumbuan (to the left in dark suit). Photo courtesy of Rachmat Askari Kusumaatmadja.

He was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1978 till 1988. Both before and during that period he handled many important international matters concerning Indonesia including the international dispute between Indonesia and the Netherlands known as the Bremen Tobacco case (1959), the defence of two Indonesian agents, Usman and Harun who had planted a bomb in Singapore (1968), the Showa Maru disaster near Singapore Harbour (1968) and in 1979 Indonesia’s acceptance of more than 20,000 Vietnamese boat people on Galangan Island.

When remembering her father Armida Alisjahbana confides that what she misses most is that she can no longer ask him questions. “If I could speak to him one more time I would ask him to outline his vision in more detail as to how to implement the Archipelagic State Principle and his development law. These are the things we greatly miss these days…”

Mochtar was known to have a strong and straight forward personality. Sarwono Kusumaatmadja describes his brother as a strategic thinker and a good organizer. Indonesian UN representative from 19921997, Nugoho Wisnumurti saw him as more than that, as in fact a very strong and visionary leader. As a diplomat however, he was not only highly visionary, astute and determined but also an elegant and charming man with many who both admired and respected him both nationally as well as internationally.

Mochtar Kusumaatmadja
Mochtar Kusumaatmadja together with UN Secretary General, Javier Perez de Cuellar on 4th of October 1985. Photo courtesy of Rachmat Askari Kusumaatmadja.

During his period as foreign minister, there was civil war in Cambodia and Vietnam also attacked Cambodia. This threatened ASEAN peace and security as a region. Mochtar sought to bring the warring parties together to seek a peace accord. He understood however, that it would not be easy for the warring factions to come together so he devised a way for them to meet and to create a more relaxed situation between them. He created what he referred to later as cocktail party diplomacy. Meanwhile, his working paper about the legal aspect regarding environmental matters contributed to the International Environmental Declaration of 1972 in Sweden. Here too he was a pioneer thinker and jurist.

In his spare time Mochtar thoroughly enjoyed Indonesian culture including sculpture as well as Indonesian culinary delights. He established an Indonesian restaurant in New York in 1968 called the Indonesia Nusantara Restaurant and in 1988 helping to set up the Nusantara Chambre Orchestra in Jakarta. Mochtar is also remembered for helping to organize an Indonesian cultural exhibition in New York from 1990 till 1991 known as KIAS. It included the Festival of Indonesia in Performance and was a part of Indonesian diplomacy. Sadly, in 2014 his wife Ida, passed away.

Armida sees her father’s greatest strengths in the fact that he was a man of principle, integrity and honesty who had the ability to translate complex issues or situations into simpler or easier to understand frameworks. He was also a man who had the gift of being able to bring competing parties together for a solution. Indonesia was very fortunate to have such gifted man serving her… (Tamalia Alisjahbana)

If you enjoyed reading this article you may also enjoy Part I of the article by the same writer: