Thursday 26 Nov 2020 | 01:19 | SYDNEY
Thursday 26 Nov 2020 | 01:19 | SYDNEY

Indonesia: Size vs capability


Rodger Shanahan


7 September 2010 12:05

Michael Wesley's recent posts regarding the future of Australia's security and defence policy in the face of an economically and militarily developed Indonesia deserve greater attention, and he is spot-on in looking at the second order effects of a more assertive China. I would, however, urge some caution at the military dimension of Michael's argument.

I was struck by the assumption that a large military equate to a powerful military and that somehow we, like Canada in its relationship to the US, could benefit from a 'peace dividend' courtesy of a future Indonesian military.

The reality is that the power of a military force should be measured by its capability rather than its size or equipment inventory. And judgements regarding capability encompass much more than information found in Jane's. Individual and collective training capabilities, the ability to integrate, maintain, man and service increasingly complex equipment, cultural and educational shifts in order to develop joint rather than single-service capabilities, and the ability to plan and conduct joint and/or combined military operations are but some of the components of capability.

Australia's 'potent' submarine capability provides a case in point; it looks good in terms of platform numbers and technological advancement, but in reality it suffers from significant crewing and maintenance problems.

So before we decide whether we are more likely to be a Canada or Sweden in the future, more attention needs to be paid not only to Indonesia's desire to develop a larger and better-equipped military (given the costs involved), but whether a larger and better-equipped military equates to a powerful military.

Increasing population, economic development and military capability development do not follow a linear relationship. Indonesia, if it had the sixth largest population in 2050, would not necessarily have the sixth most powerful military. If there were such a direct connection, Nigeria would have the fifth most powerful military.

I agree that a more capable Indonesian military can provide security advantages to Australia, but I equally cannot envisage a situation where future Australian governments would ever seriously consider signing off security of our northern approaches or maritime trade routes to our northern neighbour. I think we'll be maintaining our potent navy and air force, and small army for quite some time to come.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.