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Reasoning the Morality of Jokowi’s Foreign Policy

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Moral judgment in political policy is more powerful in creating public perception than the speed with which academic papers advise the public.

Jakarta, IO – Moral judgment in political policy is more powerful in creating public perception than the speed with which academic papers advise the public. The national interest led by the president is often discredited in two contradictory poles; in favor of capitalism or universal humanitarian principles. Such assessments are a consequence of the pitfalls of the contemporary political system that has theorized a political ideology of ‘favoring’ and ‘disfavoring’. Among government policies, foreign policy is very close to ethical questions and even moral dilemmas. 

Three Moral Theories 

There are several prominent thinkers in the field of ethics who contribute to moral thinking in a country’s foreign policy. If we prefer to talk about the consequences and future implications of foreign policy today then we are studying John Stuart Mill’s theory of consequentialism. Because the theory of consequentialism questions the quality of the ‘good and happy’ of a policy. But if we tend to like to judge that actions or methods are more effective in encouraging ethical behavior, and the policy does not care what it is for, but according to the normative basis then we should be part of the Kantian family. Immanuel Kant as a deontological theorist highlights ways, means, and policy actions that have normative conformity. Finally, there is Aristotle’s virtue ethics which believes that the piety of leaders is what is called good intentions and behavior which is then reflected in their policies. 

Consequentialism, deontology, and virtue ethics are acknowledged earlier here to further serve as analytical knives on how Indonesia’s foreign policy under the leadership of President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) operates to ensure what kind of values? Given that no single country achieves perfect national interests, what level of Jokowi’s presidential policies are the main considerations in international political coherence. 

Jokowi Defines Indonesia’s Internationalism 

In the words of Aaron Connelly (2014), Jokowi is a “domestic reformer” rather than an “international statesman” (Rosyidin, 2019). This is reflected in Indonesia’s foreign policy strategy, which is considered effective and reliable. The orientation of Jokowi’s first term as president (2014-2018) saw him more active in bilateral diplomacy and less utilizing multilateral forums, illustrating his pragmatic and results-oriented character (Rosyidin, 2019). Jokowi’s background as a businessman who entered electoral politics does not separate him from his practical values, which consider the state as nothing more than a “big company”. The effort to maximize higher margins through optimizing the romanticism of past glory was revived in the form of the idea of the World Maritime Axis or Poros Maritim Dunia (PMD). 

During the East Asia Summit in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar, on November 13, 2014, Jokowi mentioned the five pillars of PMD consisting of building maritime culture, seafood sovereignty, maritime infrastructure and connectivity, maritime defense, and maritime diplomacy (Rosyidin, 2019). Building culture and food sovereignty are assumed to be ends, while connectivity, defense, and maritime diplomacy can be interpreted as means (ways) to achieve the ends. PMD as an ambivalent foreign policy strategy implies a vision or ideal from past reflections on the maritime superiority of the archipelago, then translated through technocratic efforts such as strengthening inter-island connectivity. 

PMD became the vocabulary of Indonesian foreign policy in Jokowi’s first term. In Jokowi’s second term, Indonesia’s voice began to be heard at the tables of multilateralism. A prestigious momentum for Indonesia was the G20 Presidency, plus the chaotic Russian invasion of Ukraine tested Indonesia’s chairmanship in the international image. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Risk Report 2022, 82.4% of respondents reported feeling worried about the current world situation as a result of the pandemic. Jokowi’s attitude towards this uncertainty is to position Indonesia as a catalyst for an inclusive global economic recovery (Setkab, 2022). Jokowi views an international order that is not dominated by the majority of certain countries as the global construction a’la the West but rather a reconfiguration of the international order that bridges every country, regardless of the country’s class identity, global north or global south, all must be in harmony. 

Reasoning the Morality of Jokowi’s Decade of Foreign Policy 

Indonesia’s national interests in Jokowi’s decade have begun to take a clearer direction. The first period consisted of years that emphasized outward-looking policy projects, then in his second term of office the narrative changed to foreign policy from home to the world. If we judge the morality of policies to find the point of perfection, then the result is futility. Examining the morality of the president in carrying out his foreign policy should be done based on a consideration of the contextual intelligence of the position by paying attention to the moral dimensions that live in the spirit of decision-making. Joseph Nye (2019) defines contextual intelligence as the ability to understand the evolving environment and capitalize on trends. 

The combination of Jokowi’s moral reasoning and contextual intelligence begins with the following questions that respectively concern moral virtue ethics, deontological, and consequentialist theories. Does Jokowi offer values that appeal to and define his motives? How does he seek to realize those values by utilizing existing institutions? Is Jokowi a good leader for long-term interests? First, Jokowi promotes values of equality that are conveyed through his views on reforming the current international order to be more inclusive. The idea of Indonesia’s progress internationally is also pushed by Jokowi to be a succession of broader engagements of countries, especially developing countries. Indonesia’s national interests at this stage are entrusted with the moral burden to comprehensively bear the interests of the global south through its global representation. This is Jokowi’s moral vision which also marks the motive behind his foreign policy. 

Furthermore, as Jokowi’s moral vision approaches ‘noble’, the ways and means to get there must also reflect that moral goal. In the course of Indonesia’s internationalism, Jokowi has optimized results through bilateral and multilateral schemes. Recently, when the world began to clear from the pandemic, Indonesia was noted for actively voicing universal primary social values in multilateral forums officially, with respect for the rights and freedoms of other nations. Rarely do Indonesia’s interests conflict with other nations for political reasons such as the formation of discriminatory political alliances of influence. At least Indonesia makes full use of the tables of multilateralism to pursue a moral vision and often results in positive attention from world leaders. This is the deontological logic when the ends affect the means. 

So, is Jokowi a good figure for the wider interest? In the words of Lowy Institute analyst Ben Bland, Jokowi is a man of contradictions. His skill, modesty and pragmatism are perhaps the kind of piety world leaders admire in their commitment to multilateralism over the past decade. His efforts to position Indonesia in the international arena need to be recognized, as at least Indonesia’s economic capabilities are beginning to be considered by the majority of developed countries. Jokowi may be a good guardian of Indonesia’s long-term national interests due to his belief in the just war doctrine that prevails in today’s world order; if the good guys don’t fight back, they will perish, at least when it comes to the hegemony of the global order. 

Read: Could Jakartans Become Less Car-Dependent?

Who is Jokowi?

We never thought that a mayor could become an influential foreign policy maestro. Jokowi is not a socialist leader, as some policies are directly capitalist instruments. But neither can we say that Jokowi is a capitalist himself given that he calls for justice in the redistribution of the world’s economic chains with his criticism of the current international regime, even though Indonesia is still a strategic partner of world institutions. On the domestic front, Jokowi is the most influential politician capable of creating instant contradictions in the national political configuration. But when it comes to the way he decides on his policies and authority, it can be said that Jokowi is a president who has a clear moral vision of his purpose in state affairs. When it comes to means, Jokowi is an expert. He does not have many options, but deontologically he understands how to act – with a liberal yet traditional humanist style of diplomacy. 

Jokowi’s ethical consequence is his ability to promote long-term national values and interests amid a deficit of optimism and global uncertainty. A number of sovereignty conflicts and the geopolitical effects of superpowers and issues of global vulnerability produce moral skepticism among the international community, yet Jokowi consistently reminds world leaders of the urgency of working together. He believes in the institutions of liberalism that are associated with peace through stability and inclusive partnerships, despite the exponential pluralism of political attitudes in international politics. Who, then, is Jokowi? He is a “guardian of constructivist liberalism”.


Anugrah Wejai is a student of International Relations at Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta. Anugrah was born and raised in Biak, Papua. As a student in Yogyakarta, he is active in several organizations, and has a keen interest in social, political, and economic affairs, in line with Anugrah vision of life, which is community service.

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