Jakarta (The Jakarta Post/ANN) – There has been talk of downsizing or rightsizing the Indonesian Military (TNI) with an eye toward cutting costs – which is unsurprising, given that experts say there will likely be no major war between Southeast Asian states or territorial annexations in the foreseeable future.
Those who propose a restructuring the TNI should keep in mind a business analogy: defense is equivalent to a nation’s insurance. Insurance functions to minimize probable risks to secure more business. Therefore, an insurance premium is a price that, whether we like it or not, needs to be paid.
The economy and national defense intersect and need to be viewed objectively to determine which is more crucial to the national interest. In this case, the economy trumps defense.
Under our insurance analogy, defense should become an investment that will create a more prosperous nation. A nation must place its capital on the right path of investment so that it can return revenue to the national economy.
In other words, akin to market forces, defense strategy and procurements should focus on things that can bring more benefit to the nation.
Indonesia’s defense, quite logically, has a maritime orientation since Indonesia is an archipelago. There are several reasons why supporting the nation’s maritime defense is more economic and strategic than supporting land or air forces.
A classic – and the most lucrative – example are fisheries. With more than 2.4 million square kilometers of Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ), Indonesia has abundant fisheries, which leaves that nation vulnerable to illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), each year Indonesia’s losses to IUU fishing top US$3.3 billion, equivalent to 75 percent of the Indonesian defense budget in 2011.
The losses are even greater when we count other illegal practices in the sea. The smuggling, for instance, of a single commodity like oil accounts for $700 million in losses a year. This is not to mention the smuggling of other commodities such as logs, sand and other natural resources.
Other forms of smuggling exacerbate the condition and the damage is immeasurable since they include drug smuggling, gunrunning or even human trafficking.
The economic value of maritime defense becomes higher if one also includes seaborne trade. Although it is difficult to determine a precise amount, the value must be extremely high, as the nation’s seaborne traffic contributes 5 percent to total global trade of $380 billion.
If 70 percent the world’s trade goes through the Asia-Pacific region and 75 percent of that passes through Indonesian waters, then what is an appropriate insurance or investment for assuring security?
This has prompted many states, including continental states with emerging industries, to enhance their maritime power. Mostly, they aim at securing their sea lanes of communication. China, for instance, although its officials deny such ambitions, has increased its military presence over their silk “sea road”.
India has shown a similar intention of exerting maritime control. Both have benefitted by the end of Cold War by purchasing aircraft carriers from former Soviet republics. The latest news reveals that those aircraft carriers will be operational this year.
With such a maritime arms race just around the doorstep, it is unwise for Indonesia to remain just a spectator. Regarding the sea lanes of communication that fall under our jurisdiction, Indonesia needs to pay more attention.
Of course, this does not mean that we must get involved in security problems. Indonesia, at least, has some bargaining power over controlling vital seas lanes and can accelerate some initiatives to achieve a new equilibrium, such as by mastering submarine technology.
It is still very difficult to counter underwater threats, even under the current benign security situation. The natural characteristics of the sea make it harder to detect submarines than it is to find stealth fighters. Some strategists even categorize submarine operations as unconventional warfare and nuclear warfare combined.
Moreover, the latest military doctrine implies calls for submarines, not aircraft, to be used to spearhead operations. Hence, it is unsurprising that in order to attain its regional power ambitions, Australia plans to acquire at least 12 new submarines. Furthermore, the strategic implications of submarines were obvious when our neighbors strongly reacted when Indonesia announced plans to add one or two submarines to its fleet than when the nation announced it would buy more jet fighters or tanks.
While the number of main battle tanks (MBT) might determine the Indonesian Army’s strength, the number of submarine fielded by the Indonesian Navy might be a better measure of the TNI’s total power.
Focusing investment on maritime defense does not mean developing the Navy at the expense of the other branches of the TNI. The most essential concern is for the TNI is to have an integrated defense using the sea as its organizing focus. This, of course, requires cooperation from the Army and the Air Force to ensure that their capabilities reflect the nation’s maritime interests and archipelagic geography.
This is nothing new. Alfred Thayer Mahan, the architect of American sea power in the 19th century, said that wars were won by the states that were able to control the movement of military – and merchant – ships across the sea lanes. In the Indonesian context, Mahan would call for the TNI and the government to integrate its strategic power with its economic interests and develop its maritime defense.
The writer has a master’s degree in maritime policy from the University of Wollongong, Australia, and a postgraduate diploma in strategic studies from Massey University, New Zealand.