Analysts Welcome Indonesia’s Plans to Triple Defense Budget

Jakarta. The new government’s plan to bolster the country’s defense spending to almost triple its current budget by 2019 has received support from international relations analysts and military experts in Indonesia.

Luhut Panjaitan, an adviser to President Joko Widodo, said on Tuesday that Indonesia’s defense spending was targeted to increase to 1.5 percent of gross domestic product over the next five years in order to protect the country’s sovereignty and national interests.

“We link to economic growth of about 7 percent … so by 2019, the national defense budget can increase to around $20 billion per annum,” Luhut said, as reported by Reuters on Wednesday.

Muradi, a defense and military analyst at Padjadjaran University in Bandung, West Java, agreed with the country’s plan to set such an impressive target for its defense and security sector, saying that “our defense sector is already 10 years behind neighboring countries such as Singapore and Malaysia.”

According to Muradi, Indonesia’s defense sector spending — which includes the purchase of primary weaponry defense systems, the cost of security monitoring and also stipends for military personnel — should make up at least 2 percent of the country’s GDP to be considered adequate.

This year, Indonesia has allocated Rp 83 trillion ($6.6 billion), which represents 0.8 percent of the total state budget, Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu said early last month.

“As of now, I believe there’s no other way to modernize our weaponry except for increasing the defense sector budget,” Muradi told the Jakarta Globe on Wednesday.

“We can’t let other parties help us [with providing weaponry] because that way they are likely to dictate to us [on how to manage the country’s defense and security].”

Meanwhile, a nation’s moves to increase military and defense sector spending often set off alarms in neighboring countries — in Indonesia’s case, it includes Australia and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean). They may see such a policy as a threat.

Deterrent effect

But international relations experts believe Indonesia’s move to beef up its security, by setting aside more money for defense in its state budget, is essentially based on its need to improve its defensive capabilities and security systems in order deter any potential aggressors.

“By beefing up security in its territory, Indonesia is sending a warning to other countries that may possibly be planning acts of aggression against it. It shows that they can no longer do whatever they like and think that we wouldn’t be able take decisive action against them,” Muradi said.

According to Muradi, Indonesia records some 200 violations to its airspace per year.

“For instance, just to challenge the most recent violation by three foreign aircraft, we spent some Rp 150 million, while we only fined them some Rp 60 million,” Muradi said.

“The increase is really needed, not because Indonesia is worried that there would be attacks from other countries, but more due to its internal interests,” Hikmahanto Juwana, an international relations expert from the University of Indonesia, told the Jakarta Globe on Wednesday.

Hikmahanto says that the increase in defense spending is needed: to protect the country from illegal actions by private groups; to be a peace broker in any disputes occurring in the region; and also to boost Indonesia’s participation in United Nations peace-keeping efforts.

“Indonesia also requires adequate weapons systems to protect its territory as it has the second-longest coastline in the world, which eventually is in line with Jokowi’s agenda to be a Global Maritime Fulcrum,” said Djayadi Hanan, an academic in Paramadina University’s department of international relations.

Muradi further pointed out that increased defense spending was also needed to improve the welfare of personnel in the country’s armed forces aside from buying more weaponry.

To avoid any misinterpretations by its neighbors, foreign policy experts also say that Indonesia would have to explain and clearly outline the reasons behind its plan to increase its defense spending.

“Increasing the military budget could make other countries worry and if it’s not explained in a very clear and diplomatic way, it could be dangerous,” Hikmahanto said.

“Therefore, Indonesia must be able to justify clearly in its white paper on defense its reasons for the need to increase the spending.

“[For other countries] the move should not mean that Indonesia is planning to start a war or any aggressive actions, but that it’s basically meant to fulfill minimum essential force requirements,” Djayadi says.

“Indonesia’s move to strengthen its defense sector could boost stability in the Southeast Asia region,” Djayadi adds.

“Furthermore, Indonesia could also then start taking part in maintaining security in the region that will eventually improve defense and security for all countries.”

Hikmahanto pointed out that Indonesia would also need to show that its foreign policy had shifted to “all nations are friends until Indonesia’s sovereignty is degraded and national interest is jeopardized.”


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