Revisiting Indonesia's 'independent and active' foreign policy
April-June 2014
By: Donald Greenlees

Revisiting Indonesia’s ‘independent and active’ foreign policy Indonesia’s independence was delivered in the late 1940s by a small group of politicians who skillfully manipulated postwar international political rivalries to rid the country of its Dutch colonizers. This is contrary to the military-spun myth that would rather emphasize the glory of armed struggle, but without talented politicians such as Mohammad Hatta and Sutan Sjahrir employing the tools of diplomacy, Indonesia undoubtedly would have waited much longer for its freedom.

These two intense and intellectual men fathered Indonesian foreign policy and share as much in the parenthood of the nation as more heroic figures such as Soekarno and Sudirman. The foreign policy vision they crafted in the midst of the struggle against the Dutch in 1948 has remained at the heart of Indonesia’s international outlook for the past 65 years. It was a policy that endeavored to balance the country’s fractious domestic politics with the lofty international ideals of its founders.

In various speeches during the course of that year, Hatta and Sjahrir articulated an ambition to shrug off the curse of colonialism and be both independent and active (“bebas aktif,” in Indonesian) in international affairs. Independence would be underpinned by a policy of nonalignment from the great power blocs in hopes of nurturing peace and imbued with meaning through championing the cause of colonized and oppressed peoples. There are unique characteristics to Indonesian foreign policy that grow out of its archipelagic geography, history, culture and strategic environment. But none is more striking than the way its stated commitment to basic principles has endured, explicitly embraced by every administration since independence, despite huge changes in both the domestic and international environments.

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