Friday 03 Apr 2020 | 00:46 | SYDNEY
Friday 03 Apr 2020 | 00:46 | SYDNEY

Indonesia has more to worry about than Australia


Raoul Heinrichs

24 December 2008 09:34

Sam is quite right that Indonesia’s own strategic circumstances might eventually lead it to acquire very powerful air and maritime forces and afford them greater relative prominence in its defence strategy, just as China has over the last two decades.

If Jakarta can begin to utilise the productive capacity of its large population more fully, sustaining high levels of internal cohesion and economic growth, there is no reason why it should not eventually emerge as a major regional power with military forces — land, air and sea — that greatly exceed Australia’s.

As a matter of prudence, however, Indonesia, like Australia, cannot ignore the greater potential dangers inherent in the strategic environment to its north. Imagine a concentric model of Indonesia’s strategic interests, similar to that which forms the basis of Australian strategy, but with a hierarchy of priority extending outward from the northern point of Indonesia: what becomes immediately clear is that an Indonesia desirous of Australia’s standard of security would need to concern itself with preventing major power encroachments not only into its air and sea approaches and neighbouring territory in maritime Southeast Asia, but also into continental Southeast Asia, on the doorstep of the region’s rising powers, where China, Japan, India and the US have already begun jockeying for influence and position.

Thus, while I agree with Sam that Australian military superiority is not an immutable condition, considering Indonesia’s more precarious geographical circumstances and the greater strategic weight of states to Indonesia’s north, a less ‘provocative’ Australian defence policy would, in my view, be unlikely to meaningfully alter Indonesia’s strategic calculations, or give Jakarta cause to rethink its basic requirement for long-range strike, air superiority, and maritime denial capabilities.

This is not to suggest that such capabilities, once attained, could never be directed south. Australian defence planners can’t discount the possibility that a powerful Indonesia, assured of its security to the north, might once again aspire to its own sub-regional hegemony in Southeast Asia. But under conditions such as these, Australia’s offensive force structure and war-fighting doctrine, particularly its maritime interdiction and land-strike capabilities, would become more, not less, pertinent to Australian security.