Indonesia and the sea
July-September 2017
By: Hakam Junus and Dwinda Adrianto

Under the administration of President Joko Widodo, Indonesia is gradually increasing its maritime capabilities, including reforming its moderately outdated primary military defense systems. The Indonesian government repeatedly touts the strategy of becoming a “global maritime nexus.” The country indeed has the abilities needed to attain this, including the natural and human resources, and the economic potential, as well as being in one of the world’s key geographic locations. Yet, some might be rather skeptical about such a doctrine, as the country is preoccupied with numerous domestic problems, not to mention being burdened with a weak legal system.

International relations scholars and policy makers know that certain factors, including military power, economic power and national stability, must be taken into account to determine whether a country is capable of becoming a global player. Inspired by the book “Soft Power,” by Joseph Nye, the American political scientist, about such power and cultural influences in relation to power, this essay attempts to analyze the political culture underlying Indonesia’s domestic politics and foreign policy, in relation to the idea of Indonesia becoming a global maritime nexus. We argue that political culture is no less important than any other factor.

Maritime culture is the first of the five pillars of President Joko’s maritime nexus doctrine. As an archipelago nation of 17,000 islands, Indonesia should be aware of and see the oceans as part of its national identity and prosperity, and the country’s future will be determined by how it manages the oceans, the president has said. The Indonesian government realizes that the national culture is an important soft power factor in projecting its global maritime nexus vision. President Joko’s emphasis on maritime culture is reasonable given that Indonesia is the world’s largest archipelagic state, with several advantages stipulated by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. However, as the country has embraced democracy for nearly two decades now, political factors are important in influencing Indonesia’s soft power. President Joko’s administration has not provided a sufficient blueprint to address political as well as cultural factors in Indonesia. Addressing cultural factors alone, without paying adequate attention to political realities, will not be enough to support the president’s vision of a global maritime nexus.

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