Indonesia should change its views on the sea, experts say

Military and political experts on Wednesday called on the next Indonesian government to shift the country's maritime paradigm to enable Indonesia to become a new sea power.

The call was made at a discussion session marking the launch of two books written by Indonesian Navy chief Adm. Marsetio - entitled Sea Power Indonesia (Indonesian Sea Power) and Paradigma Baru TNI AL Kelas Dunia (The Indonesian Navy's New Paradigm: World Class Navy) - at the Navy Staff and Command School (Seskoal) in Cipulir, South Jakarta.

In the first book, Marsetio tries to revive awareness on the Indonesian maritime vision of seeking glory in being a great seafaring nation, while the second book outlines supporting instruments to attain the Navy's goal of being a reliable and respected world class navy.

During the discussion, military observer Salim Said cited several points in history that had weakened the country's sea power, and added that many considered the sea as a divider rather than a connector of islands.

He said that Sultan Agung, the founder of the Mataram kingdom, which spawned into the kingdoms of Yogyakarta and Surakarta as well as the principalities of Mangkunegara and Pakualam, retreated inland after defeating coastal Javanese kingdoms.

Another moment was when the Dutch East Indies Company (VOC) defeated local sea powers and limited the size of local ships.

"Bugis sailors lost their sailing skills as their ships were much smaller," he said.

International law expert Hikmahanto Juwana said that sea power should not be reduced to a mere military force, or even sea force, as it also included other components of society, especially trade power.

"But with the current conditions at seaports in Jakarta and Surabaya, how can we control sea trade?" he asked.

He said Indonesia had all the elements necessary to becoming a great sea power as prescribed by US geostrategist Alfred Thayer Mahan: geographic position, physical conformation, extent of territory, number of population, character of the people and character of the government.

International relations expert Dewi Fortuna Anwar said the publication of the two books was timely as maritime security had become an important geostrategic issue, as seen in discussions at various forums such as the Jakarta International Defence Dialogue and Singapore's Shangri-La Dialogue.

"We have recognised we are an archipelagic state but have not yet become a maritime power," Dewi stressed, adding that according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Indonesia has a responsibility to maintain the security and safety of its waters, which are used for international shipping lines.

"Should we be unable to do so, other countries may force their will, to safeguard their own interests," she said, pointing to moves from a number of countries to arm their merchant marine fleets or even escort their vessels into Indonesian waters due to piracy concerns.

Defence Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro, who officially launched the books, agreed that the publications were timely, as his ministry was preparing various defence documents, including the Strategic Defence Review (SDR) and the weapon system master list for the second strategic plan (Renstra) 2015-2019.

"The Navy should include points from both books in the documents so that the next government can use them to continue developing the defence sector," he said in his remarks at the book launch.