I find S. Suhaedi's letter Maritime studies published in The Jakarta Post on Nov. 2, 1999, an exemplary attempt to raise awareness of Indonesia's maritime potential. However, Mr. Suhaedi did not elaborate on an important factor related to realizing such a vision: Indonesia's naval capabilities.
As once noted by Prof. Hasjim Djalal, Jakarta's current ambassador for Maritime and Law of the Seas issues, Indonesia has failed to benefit from its geostrategic position. Instead, this condition has made Indonesia's national security vulnerable.
According to reports from the International Maritime Bureau, the Indonesian archipelago is the area with the world's highest rate of piracy and hijackings. Other reports also indicate that illegal goods are often smuggled through the uncountable small ports and hidden waterways that dot our vast maritime territory.
In addition to these security concerns, there remains unsettled jurisdictional disputes between Indonesia and some of its immediate neighbors. One of the most heated disputes (although it does not directly involve Indonesian maritime claims) is that of the Spratly Islands, which many security analysts view as a possible flash point for an outbreak of regional conflict.
The establishment of the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas (of which Indonesia played a crucial role) may have theoretically increased Indonesia's maritime jurisdiction. However, because questions regarding solutions to overlapping claims are not discussed thoroughly in the Convention, the realization of Indonesia's goals will depend on its ability to secure waters surrounding its archipelago.
Unlike other navies, such as the Chinese and Japanese, which have enjoyed increasing shares of revenue from their respective governments, the Indonesian Navy's development has been hampered by the military leadership's preference to build land forces.
Of course, it has to be recognized that naval modernization requires relatively more funds, considering it not only involves the purchase of new boats, but also the development of maritime air surveillance as well as the tedious process of integrating new weapons into the command structure.
The appointment of a naval officer as the Indonesian Military's chief will increase the Navy's profile among the three branches of the military. As a result, the Navy might finally receive its overdue modernization program. This will complement the government's ambition to further explore Indonesia's maritime potential.
This argument should not be seen as simply favoring militarism; instead, it is an attempt to raise awareness of Indonesia's vulnerability at sea, which results from the growth of nonmilitary threats (e.g. piracy and smuggling) as well as the post-cold war's uncertain regional security climate. To fulfill its potential as a maritime power, the military needs to start emphasizing naval development in its future force modernization program.