Sat, 01 Apr 2000

Challenges to RI foreign policy

By Ali Alatas

This is the second of two articles based on a presentation by the former minister of foreign affairs at the Aksara Foundation, which focuses on the development of an interactive civil society. The function was held on March 23.

JAKARTA: The Non-Aligned Movement and other developing countries, including Indonesia, do acknowledge the basic right and responsibility of the United Nations to help relieve human suffering.

However, there is great sensitivity and concern regarding the notion of circumscribing the principle of state sovereignty as implied in humanitarian intervention.

For as succinctly stated by Algeria's president before last year's UN General Assembly session: "Sovereignty is our last defense against the rules of an unequal world".

Furthermore, most developing countries are acutely conscious of the fact that they have practically no say in the decision- making processes of the UN Security Council nor in the surveillance of their implementation.

Some have also argued that to accord legitimacy to a new, global doctrine of humanitarian intervention could have grave destabilizing consequences for a state. Incidents and crises could be "created" or precipitated by elements within societies to seek international attention or provoke foreign interference.

External forces could initiate or exploit such internal situations for their own, political ends. Moreover, those committing humanitarian intervention will inevitably be from the advanced countries of the North and those intervened upon will be countries of the South, thus creating yet another dimension of North-South contention and possible allegations of neocolonialism.

Hence, Indonesia and other Non-Aligned Movement countries are of the view that the fundamental questions posed by this evolving international norm in favor of intervention need first to be thoroughly discussed by the international community.

We would then arrive at consensus on the principles and criteria, the mandate and guidelines for such intervention, as well as on the specific circumstances and conditions under which humanitarian intervention could take place.

In this effort, Indonesia and Indonesian diplomacy will undoubtedly be expected to play an active role.

These are two fundamental trends in contemporary international relations which I believe will test the validity and efficacy of Indonesian diplomacy in the immediate years ahead.

Of course, there are and will be other challenges to the conduct of our foreign policy in the global arena, e.g. how to contribute effectively in ensuring the equitable reform and democratization of the UN and especially of its Security Council; plus how to maintain our active advocacy and role in disarmament and in international and regional security issues, etc.

Unfortunately, the available time does not allow us to go deeper into these aspects. However, I think you will agree with me that success or failure in meeting the above global challenges will largely depend on how we manage and overcome the more specific, national challenges confronting Indonesia today.

Firstly, there is the enormous challenge of economic recovery and restructuring after the devastating crisis of 1997.

Contrary to other disaster-struck countries like Thailand and South Korea, the magnitude and complexity of our efforts at restructuring and rebuilding the banking and corporate sectors and resuscitating exports and foreign investment flows are further exacerbated.

Indonesia simultaneously will have to continue efforts of democratization, good governance, decentralization and regional autonomy, while also trying to redefine the civilian-military relationship.

The specific challenge posed to Indonesian foreign policy is therefore to be able to exert an external diplomacy geared toward optimizing cooperation and support, material as well as political, from friendly countries and international organizations, for the success of our financial/economic recovery programs and our national development goals -- of course while always steadfastly abiding by our basic principles of foreign policy.

In other words, and as foreign minister Alwi Shihab has stated, economic diplomacy will be the priority task.

We have done so before, in the 1960s and early 1970s, when we were recovering from the 1965 disaster. And like before, it is clear that to attain this priority, objective peace and stability, not only domestically but also in the regional and international context, are absolutely essential.

Thus, Indonesia's foreign policy has the parallel task to also secure a regional and international environment of relative peace and stability, an environment of cooperation and mutual goodwill, without which national development and economic recovery will be very difficult to achieve.

It is then quite natural that we focus our attention in the first place to the countries in our immediate surroundings: East and Southeast Asia.

And that explains why Indonesia has accorded and must continue to accord high priority to its relations in the context of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the ASEAN Regional Forum, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, etc.

But in the global context, Indonesia's foreign policy will also be called upon to continue striving toward the building of a new world order of true independence, lasting peace, social justice and equitable prosperity.

This will have to be done by nurturing friendship and cooperation with all nations, irrespective of differences in political and social systems, and based on the principles of sovereign equality, territorial integrity, mutual benefit, noninterference and peaceful coexistence.

Secondly, there is the challenge to safeguard the nation's unity and territorial integrity. Feelings of resentment and alienation and even tendencies toward separatism among people in such restive provinces as Aceh and Irian Jaya undeniably constitute a serious threat to national cohesion and integrity.

And this threat can only be overcome by the manner and degree of success in which the government can fashion a political solution to these problems. Nonetheless, the specific challenge to Indonesian diplomacy will be, through heightened vigilance and enhanced surveillance capacity, to prevent external intervention in whatever form to further aggravate the situation.

Indonesia's diplomacy is also being directed toward preempting any possible support from foreign quarters to separatist movements in the country.

Thirdly, there is the challenge of restoring and maintaining political stability and social order, without which neither economic recovery nor democratization is possible.

As long as ethnic and religious strife persists, public safety and order remain tenuous and anarchy threatens to overwhelm democracy and the rule of law, there can be no confidence in Indonesia among foreign investors and trading partners.

It should therefore be realized that even the most sophisticated diplomacy will not be able to gloss over the facts or to paint an image contradicting the realities on the ground.

So it is of vital importance, for Indonesia itself but equally for the region as a whole, that the government and people are able to respond effectively and successfully to these challenges.

Fourthly, there is the continuing challenge of how to deal with the East Timor question. Although East Timor, as an issue of contention or conflict is no more there, our ongoing discussions and negotiations with the United Nations and UNTAET, as East Timor's transitional administration, on such issues as the disposition of remaining assets, Indonesia's withdrawal from the Timor Gap treaty (where Australia, of course, is the other interested party) will demand the continuing attention of our Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other agencies.

It is inter alia for these purposes that recently President Abdurrahman Wahid officially opened the Indonesian interests office in Dili.

Also, the manner in which Indonesia will be handling the adjudication of the alleged human rights violations in East Timor, and the eventual verdicts reached by whatever national tribunal that may be set up, will determine whether the UN Security Council will continue to be seized with the question or whether it can finally be put to rest.

Finally, the nurturing of mutually advantageous ties between Indonesia and a prospective independent Timor Lorosae, and the triangle relationship encompassing Australia as well, will no doubt constitute a continuing challenge to Indonesian foreign policy for many years to come.