Fri, 03 Nov 2000

Defense pact

Nobody can blame the Defense Minister, Moch. Mahfud MD, for lacking imagination in his honest effort to build up a defense mechanism around this archipelagic republic. His proposal to set up a new intelligence ring around his ministry and around the presidency shows his creative mind, but the idea has been rejected outright by those more experienced in the military and civil intelligence work as being unnecessary and energy wasting. If he wants to please the President, who would get a daily intelligence report under the scheme, maybe he is on the right track.

To counter the rumored threat of an embargo imposed by the United States on Indonesia in case of a conflict, the minister thinks inviting some Asian powers to form a defense pact might be the answer to scare U.S. intervening, through its ambassador, in Indonesia's internal affairs. And in the minister's mind, of course, this is to keep U.S. submarines and aircraft carriers also at bay. (What about its intercontinental ballistic missiles?)

Original though such a proposal may sound, it also shows the inexperience, if not naivety, of the minister in international politics since the Asian African Conference in Bandung in 1955, Indonesia's greatest asset in international politics, has been its neutrality in the form of the principle of non alignment. In that spirit, forming a military pact is tantamount to inviting the devil to stage a war.

The success of Indonesia's foreign policy has been based on the strength of morality, on containment of the enemy and not confronting it, unless you are sure you're fighting a little ant and not a giant King Kong. Speaker of the House, Akbar Tandjung, does not see any foreign military threat at present. Foreign minister Alwi Shihab believes military pacts are no longer relevant when the cold war is a thing of the past.

Columnist Gwynne Dyer wrote in The Jakarta Post, Oct. 26, a challenging, if not misinformed, article about West Papua. He asks defiantly whether it will one day become the next East Timor for Indonesia? If I am correct, he blames violence in that territory to the Indonesia military and security agents (provoked by foreign spies?). I think this is a nice opportunity for minister Mahfud to start a counter-attack with his pen without resorting to a defense pact.