Australia, Indonesia bolster cooperation on counterterrorism, cybersecurity

Australia, Indonesia bolster cooperation on counterterrorism, cybersecurity

Tom Abke

Meetings between Australian and Indonesian defense officials in August and September 2021 produced three memorandums of understanding (MOUs) on cybersecurity, counterterrorism and cooperation with Pacific island nations. Officials also agreed to step up existing defense cooperation in education and training, peacekeeping operations, disaster response and the defense industry.

The governments, as comprehensive strategic partners, also expressed a joint commitment to international law, specifically regarding disputes in the South China Sea.

“Defense cooperation between the two countries has strengthened for more than half a century, in line with other sectors of bilateral relations,” declared a statement from Indonesia’s Ministry of Defense, known as Kemhan, following the September 9 meeting between Australian Minister of Defence Peter Dutton and his Indonesian counterpart, Prabowo Subianto, in Jakarta. Their meeting was “to discuss efforts to increase defense cooperation between the two countries,” the statement added. (Pictured: Indonesian Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto, left, and Australian Minister of Defence Peter Dutton meet for talks in Jakarta, Indonesia, in September 2021.)

The ministers addressed expanding collaboration between their national defense industries, as well as in military medicine and education and training, Kemhan reported, adding that the growth of Indonesia’s defense capabilities has benefited greatly from the bilateral partnership.

Prabowo said the talks included the prospect of collaborative military training in Australia and of Indonesian cadets enrolling in Australian military academies, both of which he described as “historic firsts,” according to Reuters.

Two weeks before the ministers’ meeting, senior defense officials from both countries convened online for the Indonesia-Australia Defense Strategic Dialogue to assess bilateral defense cooperation initiatives and ensure their smooth and long-term functioning, Kemhan stated. Topics included the Royal Australian Navy’s assistance in responding to the tragic accidental sinking of the Indonesian submarine KRI Nanggala-402 in April 2021, and the successful efforts by both navies to rescue 19 Indonesian fishermen after their boat sank 650 miles southwest of Perth, Australia, in May 2021.

The three MOUs were signed September 9 at the conclusion of the seventh 2+2 meeting between Australia and Indonesia, in which Dutton and Prabowo were joined by their countries’ foreign ministers, Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported.

The cybersecurity MOU followed the bilateral Cyber Policy Dialogue in September 2020, according to a joint statement. The ministers emphasized the critical importance of an open, safe, stable, accessible and peaceful cyberspace in supporting economic growth, national security and international stability. The counterterrorism MOU, meanwhile, reiterated the nations’ shared commitment to strengthening regional responses to terrorism, including combined leadership in regional and international venues such as the Global Counterterrorism Forum, specifying “gender-sensitive approaches” to preventing and countering violent extremism.

The third MOU demonstrates commitment to assisting Pacific island countries by cooperating in the United Nations, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and the Indian Ocean Rim Association to address shared challenges and ensure the institutions are “effective, open, and transparent,” the joint statement noted.

Australia and Indonesia said they will continue collaborating on U.N. peacekeeping operations (PKO), with Australia providing 15 Bushmaster Protected Mobility Vehicles to Indonesia to support its PKO deployments.

The 2+2 joint statement reaffirmed a shared commitment to security and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, underscoring the importance of peacefully resolving disputes in accord with international law, particularly the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Tom Abke is a FORUM contributor reporting from Singapore.