Strengthening our defense diplomacy

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Dahnil Anzar Simanjuntak Senior Researcher at the Strategic Studies Institute, Universitas Kebangsaan Republik Indonesia

IO – Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto has visited eight countries since he was appointed as Defense Minister of the Republic of Indonesia on October 23, 2019: Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Turkey, China, Japan, France, and finally the Russian Federation.

Prabowo brought several goodwill missions along with him, starting from the mission to liberate Indonesian citizens (WNI) held hostage by the Abu Sayyaf group in the Philippines to increase cooperation in the defense sector. Of course, the latter was more dominant.

The intensity of Prabowo’s visits invited critical commentary from several groups, such as Parliament members and observers. But he received justification from President Joko Widodo’s statement. The 7th President, who is familiarly called Jokowi, mentioned Prabowo’s working visits in the context of carrying out defense diplomacy. One of them is to strengthen and modernize our main defense hardware, through the exploration of the possibility of procuring them from producing countries when they cannot be fulfilled by our domestic defense industry, as well as offering defense equipment capable of being produced by the domestic defense industry to other countries, to strengthen the capacity of national defense equipment production.

Defense diplomacy
Efforts to seize and defend the independence of the Republic of Indonesia involved all in the nation in various ways, including people taking up arms as soldiers on the battlefield and diplomats fighting at the negotiating table. Both support and strengthen each other to succeed in the national mission. This was recorded in several crucial phases of Indonesian history.

For example, the General Offensive March 1, 1949. The heroic action in retaking Yogyakarta, which was controlled by the Dutch, was also intended to show the international world that Indonesia and the Indonesian National Army still existed. The success of the General Offensive provided ammunition for diplomats to shake up the negotiating table. As a result, the Netherlands recognized Indonesian sovereignty in the Round Table Conference (KMB) on December 27, 1949.

Such diplomacy was originally intended to eliminate conflict, avoid war and end ongoing battles (Simamora, Opportunities, and Challenges of Defense Diplomacy: 2013).

History records. Indonesia also has the experience of strong defense equipment in the past, such as various types of aircraft, like the TU-16-KS bomber, Mig-15/17/19/21 fighter, Ilyushin and helicopters; Indonesia also has the KRI Irian destroyer class, which is the largest ship in the Southeast Asian region, all of which were purchased from the Soviet Union, today known as the Russian Federation. The defense equipment was used for propaganda to retake West Irian.

The superiority of the defense equipment was used as a support for diplomacy, in addition to the shrewdness of President Soekarno, who used his proximity to the Soviet Union as a bargaining power to garner support from the United States, and also applied well by diplomats until finally West Irian was gained.

Thus, defense diplomacy has been performed by the country’s leaders from the beginning, including during the War of Independence.

Although, indeed, defense diplomacy, is a new vocabulary in the world of international relations. The term “defense diplomacy” first appeared in the British Ministry of Defense’s Strategic Defense Review (SDR), published in 1998.

The main focus of the defense diplomacy version of the SDR aimed at countries of the former Soviet Union and former members of the Warsaw Pact is to carry out reforms in the field of security and conflict prevention.

For this reason, as Cottey and Forster (in Sulaimani, 2016) explain, defense diplomacy is the use of the armed forces and associated infrastructure in peacetime as a supporting tool to achieve foreign policy and national defense objectives.

Article 1 paragraph 1 of Law Number 3 of 2002 concerning National Defense clearly states that national defense covers all efforts to maintain national sovereignty, Indonesia’s territorial integrity, and the safety of all citizens from threats and disturbances to national and state integrity.

As a country committed to the implementation of world order and lasting peace, Indonesia naturally avoids the use of force in the face of threats from other countries. Indonesia placed diplomacy as its first line of defense, that is, at the forefront of national defense; this is also parallel to Indonesia’s defensive (rather than offensive) doctrine.

However, defense diplomacy to defend and achieve national interests cannot be separated from how much national power it has. According to Morgenthau, one of the nine national powers is military capability. Even Mearsheimer said that a military force represents the actual power of a country.

Therefore, military power is needed to strengthen diplomacy in international relations. Indonesia can conduct high-profile diplomacy which was quite closely calculated in the Old Order, one of which is inseparable from the strength of the defense equipment available, as mentioned above.

However, with the change in policy orientation, Indonesia’s diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union deteriorated so that the maintenance of defense equipment from the Soviet Union was discontinued, until finally it was grounded because it was no longer operational.

Strengthening defense equipment
In the early reform period after the fall of the New Order, the condition of our defense equipment was poor. We could treat or modernize defense equipment because it was embargoed by the United States, a condition only just revoked in 2005. That is why the Government was determined to strengthen our defense equipment. One of the ways was through the program of Minimum Essential Forces (MEF), targeted to reach 100 percent in 2024.

One of the missions of Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto in his visits to many countries was to strengthen defense equipment. Included in defense diplomacy is improving relations between nations through defense cooperation and increasing military capacity to contribute to peace mission operations in countries suffering conflicts.

Various deficiencies in the procurement of defense equipment in the past are valuable lessons not to be repeated, such as over-depending on one particular country as a source. The eight countries visited by Prabowo can be an illustration, that Defense Minister Prabowo is building strategic defense cooperation, both for domestic and regional interests, including efforts to modernize defense equipment through the procurement of modern and effective defense equipment, but also to offer domestic defense equipment products to use by other countries, to help accelerate the growth of the domestic defense industry.

Maintaining and starting the road map to the independence of the defense industry must begin, following the President’s instructions to cut imports of defense equipment. However, for defense equipment products that cannot yet be provided by the domestic defense industry, then the purchase from abroad must be made in the interests of a strong national posture.

Thus, in the procurement of defense equipment from within and outside the country, Prabowo Subianto adheres to four principles, or what I call Prabowo-style procurement politics, namely, appropriate, geopolitical and geostrategic, budget efficiency and finally technology transfer.