Avoiding Reliance on Marsec Regime

From a strategic point of view, the importance of the straits of Malacca, Lombok and Sunda is unquestionable. In 2002 alone, Southeast Asian countries imported 10.3 million barrels of oil through these straits

Indonesia to avoid reliance on maritime security regime

From a strategic point of view, the importance of the straits of Malacca, Lombok and Sunda is unquestionable. In 2002 alone, Southeast Asian countries imported 10.3 million barrels of oil through these straits, and they are projected to double the amount over the next two decades.

In comparison, the oil imported through these sea lanes of Indonesia is three-times greater than the oil shipped through the Gulf of Aden and ground pipelines. Further away, Japan and South Korea alone imported more than 60 percent of its oil consumption via these Indonesian straits.

On one hand, the significance of the straits has been recognized by the establishment of maritime security cooperation treaties. Internationally, in 1982, the United Nations initiated the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Regionally, ASEAN has also created the ASEAN Maritime Forum and the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) to provide maritime security.

On the other hand, despite the growing number of international and regional cooperation agreements, the threat of piracy remains imminent. Following the Asian monetary crisis in 1997, piracy incidents peaked in 2000 with 259 cases. Although piracy has declined, it has been showing an upward trend. In the straits of Indonesia alone, piracy attacks rose by 440 percent from 2009 to 2012, with more than 80 attacks occurring last year.

Statistically, the surge has rendered maritime security cooperation less significant, if not insignificant, in eradicating piracy. One of the problems affecting this failure lies in the tendency of such agreements to fight the consequences of piracy, not the root cause.

Of all the cases of piracy, economic motives are believed to be the main trigger, although in some cases political reasoning was at play. The last time political reasoning justified major piracy in Indonesian straits was in the years before 2004 when Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebels committed piracy to spread terror and to raise funds for their movement.

Terrorists grouped under Jamaah Islamiyah (JI) from the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia also used piracy to spark fear in these straits.

Whereas economics is commonly the main motive for piracy, the multilateral regimes of maritime security have always focused on politics as well as military cooperation and overlooked the socio-economic aspects, such as creating incentives for fishermen to prevent them from committing crimes on the sea.

Therefore, the weaknesses of the multilateral maritime security cooperation regimes in fighting non-traditional threats provides a greater incentive for Indonesia not to rely on them and to start building a more comprehensive naval capability.

A greater naval capability would enable Indonesia to ensure its own maritime security as well as to cope with a wider range of threats in the future, thus allowing the country to maximize the strategic value of the straits.

Furthermore, the stake for Indonesia to develop its naval capability is even higher in recognition of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) naval modernization. In that context, with their anti-access/area denial doctrine, the increasing capability of China’s navy will weaken the relative capability of both ASEAN and Indonesia in controlling China’s assertive tendency regarding the South China Sea dispute, let alone in settling the dispute.

Nonetheless, in the case of the South China Sea dispute, although Indonesia is not a claimant state, the importance of Indonesia’s naval capability should not be underestimated.

Indonesia, ever since the failure of ASEAN countries to wrap up a code of conduct regarding this dispute, has been trusted by the parties involved, including China, to play a role as a mediator in this case. Thus, if Indonesia wants to prevent the conflict from escalating in the future, it will require improved naval power.

However, in its long-term military modernization plan named MEF (Minimum Essential Force), Indonesia planned only to expand its Navy’s defensive capability. By having only frigates, corvettes and submarines as the main striking force in 2024, Indonesia’s military presence in the dispute may be unable to drive the involving parties away from conflict escalation.

Moreover, the lack of military presence will also result in Indonesia losing its strategic importance with the increasing possibility of involvement by a third party, such as the United States or India, rather than keeping them away.

The power-projection capability will also enable Indonesia to enhance the security of its straits, whose importance is priceless for the development of the rest of the world and to augment its bargaining position in international affairs.

The writer works for the ASEAN Study Center and Center for International Relations Studies, School of Social and Political Science, University of Indonesia (UI).

Source: The Jakarta Post

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