Indonesia’s Chance to Advocate Maritime Security Issues on the Security Council

At the United Nations (UN) Plenary Meeting on June 8, 2018, Indonesia managed to get 144 votes from 190 countries, securing a non-permanent seat on the Security Council (UNSC). This will be the fourth term for Indonesia representing the Asia Pacific group at the UN’s most powerful body (it previously sat on the UNSC in 1973-1974, 1995-1996, and 2007-2008).


Winning a seat on the Security Council is indeed a testament of diplomatic achievements for many countries, as gives more impetus in voicing issues related to international peace and security. The election of Indonesia also provides a strong statement that Indonesia’s international role is not shrinking and that Indonesia will continue to be a responsible member of the international society, with a deep sense of regional obligation.


Shortly after the election at UN Headquarters in New York, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi reiterated Indonesia’s commitment to world peace and to representing the interests of 193 UN member countries to the best of its abilities. As a non-permanent member, there will be four main priorities for Indonesia’s term at the Security Council: (1) advancing peacekeeping and peacebuilding as well as enhanced roles for women in order to create a global ecosystem of peace and stability; (2) promoting engagement between the Council and regional organizations in conflict prevention; (3) forging global partnership in achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals; and (4) developing a global comprehensive approach to address the root causes of terrorism and radicalism.


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While these four issues are of importance to peace and stability, there is one other issue still missing that could also be highlighted by Indonesia during its tenure starting next year: addressing maritime security.


Advocating Maritime Security Issues


Maritime security has become one of the most salient issues in the 21st century. This is because the ocean has become a vital component of global trade and economic growth. Roughly half of the world’s container ships — carrying around $5.4 trillion of trade and two-thirds of the world’s oil shipments — pass through the South China Sea from the Malacca Strait and the Indian Ocean. All the world’s major economies have stakes in ensuring the safe passage of shipping through the region; any interruption would have tremendous consequences to the global economy. Constant attention and management are thus needed to secure peace and stability in the oceans.


As the largest archipelagic country in the world, with around 16,056 islands and 5.9 million square kilometers of water territory by one estimate, Indonesia holds strong credential to actively engage in ensuring the safety of shipping lanes, especially since the Indonesian archipelago is also home to some of the most strategic choke points for global trade such as the Malacca Strait, the Sunda Strait, and the Lombok Strait. Advocating maritime security issues at the UNSC would serve as the articulation of Indonesia’s aspiration to become the Global Maritime Fulcrum (GMF), to quote a term that has become commonly used under President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.


 A seat on the Security Council will give Indonesia an important platform to raise concerns over growing nontraditional maritime security threats, such as piracy and armed robbery, illegal fishing, people smuggling, and terrorism. Of these, piracy has been an increasing problem, particularly in the Southeast Asian region. Despite an overall decline in the number of piracy attacks from 303 reported in 2015 to 221 in 2016, Southeast Asia has replaced the Somali Coast as the area most affected by piracy with 68 incidents happening in the South China Sea and 16 cases involving boarding, hijacking, and kidnapping occurring in the area of the Sulu-Celebes Sea in 2016. The nature of piracy attacks in Southeast Asia takes different forms; they are more related to the theft of oil and linked with black market and organized crime. In light of this, Indonesia can foster a cooperative approach that include naval patrols, joint aerial surveillance, and intelligence sharing.


Besides the chance to address maritime security issues directly, Indonesia can make full use of its opportunity at the UNSC to advance the long-term green water ambitions of the Indonesian Navy. This is part of Indonesia’s plan to modernize its military force under the 2024 Minimum Essential Force (MEF) blueprint adopted in 2005. An Indonesian green water navy aspires to be able to do effective policing of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and to have limited regional, and occasionally even international, force projection capabilities. Thus, with awareness about the increasingly volatile strategic environment in the maritime domain, Indonesia should not only enhance the number of peacekeeper personnel up to 4,000 by 2019, but to also ramp up naval capabilities through joint capacity building program and transfer of technology (ToT)-based joint production with foreign vendors, in order to enable the Navy to perform a spectrum of low and high-intensity operations.


Being a nonpermanent member of the Security Council, Indonesia is also presented with the opportunity to table its Indo-Pacific Cooperation concept and seize the initiative to propose the “rules of engagement” in two strategic seas, the Indian and the Pacific Oceans. Indonesia can very much follow up on the Jakarta Concord that was put forward under Indonesia’s Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) Chairmanship from 2015-2017. With its credentials as the representative of Asia-Pacific group at the UNSC, Indonesia can also spearhead an informal consultation mechanism for security issues in the region among Japan, China, India, and Australia that will serve as the fulcrum of Asia’s stability and prosperity.


As an emerging maritime power, Indonesia should continue to play a constructive role in addressing global maritime problems through the application of UNCLOS, maritime diplomacy, naval enhancement, and regional maritime cooperation. Indonesia’s international activism in the maritime domain will not come at the expense of the other four main priorities asserted by Marsudi, but it should be seen as a strategic repositioning in giving a much bigger impact during the short, two-year-tenure on the Security Council as well as strengthening Indonesia’s identity as a maritime nation and an archipelagic state.


Pandu Utama Manggala is a Ph.D. Candidate at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS), Tokyo, Japan. He currently serves as the Coordinator of the Overseas Indonesian Students’ Association Alliance (PPI Dunia). Opinions expressed are personal.