Jakarta - With its under-funded and under-equipped Navy and Air Force incapable of mounting any credible deterrence, Indonesia is banking on its new strategic relationships with Australia and China to boost its defence capability, said Indonesian Defence Minister Juwono Sudarsono.
In a wide-ranging interview with Singapore’s The Straits Times, Mr Juwono said the price of maintaining a low defence budget has been to use neighbouring countries as Indonesia’s first line of defence.
Indonesia and Australia are edging towards a “comprehensive relationship” aimed at enhancing military and defence cooperation, Mr Juwono said.
As for its military ties with China, Indonesia is hoping to obtain more technological aid for its defence-related industries from the Asian giant, he added. Despite their growing ties, government sources told the newspaper that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a retired US-trained general, remains wary of any deepening defence arrangements with China.
Although Indonesia is Asean's biggest member, it will spend only US$2.4 billion for defence this year, about half of what Singapore and Thailand spend on their militaries. The figure is also far below the US$6 billion that Mr Juwono estimates is needed to support “a minimum essential force” for the Army, Navy and Air Force, covering salaries, operational costs and capital equipment.
Mr Juwono, a civilian, said: “I think the only comparable country with the same problem as us is the Philippines.”
As for Indonesia’s ties with the United States, Jakarta’s failure to provide a full accounting for the 1999 military rampage in then-East Timor and the killing of two American teachers in Papua three years later remains a major congressional roadblock to the restoration of the Foreign Military Sales programme.
During a visit to Washington in March, Mr Juwono said he failed to persuade some of the Indonesian military’s strongest critics in Congress to change their minds.
* Running low on ammunition (The Straits Times, May 13)