In a limited cabinet meeting on defense and security issues on July 20, 2016, President Joko Widodo stated that the procurement policy for primary weaponry systems should be based on what all military services needed – not on what they wanted. Joko further stressed seven principles of weaponry system acquirement outside technical and operational aspects, notably the need for transparency; transfer of technology; the need to meet Indonesia’s minimum essential force (MEF) posture by 2024; and government-to-government mechanisms to mitigate corruption, among others.
It could be argued that Joko’s seven principles were commonsensical, in line with Law Number 16/2012 on the defense industry, which emphasizes the transfer of technology from foreign industries to Indonesia’s domestic industries. In other words, nothing new. At the same time, the entire statement could be perceived as a “warning” that the president sensed the weapons procurement policy was not being executed in accordance with the law. He might have thought that the military had been combining what they wanted with what they needed, which potentially leads to corruption in weapons procurement. Therefore, through Joko’s logic of stressing transparency in the weapons procurement process, the government (and the military) could mitigate opportunities for graft and in turn reorient the procurement policy toward its ultimate goal.
And yet, one nagging question hovers in the background: what is Indonesia’s ultimate goal for weapons acquisitions? This goal needs to be clearly defined, based on Indonesia’s strategic interests. Otherwise there is simply no way to determine whether its weapons procurement program is realistic and feasible or a major waste of money, and the “seven principles” will end up simply being rhetorical jargon.
In addition, the procurement of weapons systems should be seen as part of an overall defense diplomacy, with the procurement process taking into consideration Indonesia’s security and foreign policy goals that could leverage the country’s bargaining power in international politics, especially within Southeast Asia. In a sense, Joko’s seven principles are dominated by an internal balancing of objectives that focus solely on increasing military power. These principles, however, will be much more effective should Indonesia’s foreign policy goals be taken into consideration, by crafting bilateral or multilateral ties with foreign partners that will help Indonesia in the case of armed conflict with nations, and vice versa.
The problem is that Indonesia simply does not have clear strategic goals. This essay explores and evaluates Indonesia’s weapons systems procurement in light of the country’s lack of clear strategic goals. We do so by first discussing the relationship between defense diplomacy and weapons procurement, followed by a discussion of the minimum essential force.