Indonesia, U.S. vow to strengthen defense ties

Indonesia, U.S. vow to strengthen defense ties

Tom Abke

Indonesia and the United States pledged to work together closely to defend against threats in the Indo-Pacific region and to ensure freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, following high-level defense meetings in August 2018 at the Pentagon.

“Defense and military cooperation between Indonesia and the United States must be stronger, proactive and strategic in dealing with various threat dynamics in the region,” Indonesian Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu said in a prepared statement after his meeting with U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. Indonesia and the U.S., he added, “share the same view of peace in the region.”

Mattis echoed his tone. “We consider you [Indonesia] the best of friends, and we want to strengthen this relationship, never taking it for granted,” Mattis said. (Pictured: U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis welcomes Indonesia Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu at the Pentagon.)

The defense chiefs spoke warmly of their bilateral military engagements, including the recently concluded Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training in Indonesia.

“Such cooperation can continue to be maintained and enhanced in the form of capacity building and capability,” said a statement from Indonesia’s Ministry of Defense, “whether in exchange or visit programs, education, strategic information exchange and opportunities for defense industry cooperation.”

Freedom of navigation operations in Indo-Pacific waters were endorsed as essential to regional stability. “There are a lot of regulations that need to be discussed,” Maj. Gen. Muhammad Nakir, Jakarta’s director general for defense strategy, told FORUM regarding a potential agreement between Washington and Jakarta on navigation in the Indo-Pacific. “But what we need to know is that the big format has been concluded. Now the technical points of cooperation need to be settled.”

For Jakarta, Nakir said it is important that resolutions involving navigation, particularly in the South China Sea, involve fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Mattis supported working with ASEAN.

“The U.S. supports your leadership, crafting strong ASEAN and South China Sea codes of conduct,” he said. “We want to be clear about that, because we see a strong Indonesia, coupled with ASEAN centrality, as fundamental necessities for peace, for prosperity and for national sovereignty in the Pacific by all nations.”

The threat of terrorism, meanwhile, is very much alive, Ryacudu emphasized. “The bottom line is that we have to step up the level of cooperation to tackle or to confront the development of ISIS [Islamic State in Iraq and Syria] in our region,” he said, adding that he is concerned about experienced extremist fighters returning to the region from Iraq and Syria.

Nakir described the meeting between the defense chiefs as a “good strategic discussion,” saying that it should open opportunities and will be followed by further communication on technical and operational levels. Such cooperation could include officer education, military exercises and intelligence sharing.

“But if we talk about defense cooperation with the U.S.,” he said, “I think weapons systems are what we still need the most.”

Tom Abke is a FORUM contributor reporting from Singapore.