Rethinking Indonesian Presidential Candidate Comments On Security And Defence – OpEd

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The Indonesia presidential election debate held its third round this Sunday (7/1/2024) on International Relations, Security and Defence, and Geopolitics. Based on the candidate’s background, Prabowo Subianto, the current Indonesian minister for Defence and presidential candidate No.2, was predicted to overwhelm the incoming debate. 

While journalists question their preparation for the debate, the answers give Indonesian electors hints on how far each candidate has prepared their best argument to define the best Indonesian defence posture in the future. Muhaimin Iskandar, vice-presidential candidate no.1, emphasises that Indonesia is in peacetime and there is no urgency to buy armaments

Meanwhile, Ganjar Pranowo, presidential candidate No.3, said Indonesia should not buy secondhand armaments. Whilst tension is emerging in many parts of the globe, both comments potentially harm the Indonesian military modernisation plans and people unfamiliar with the issues. This article should not be seen as partisanship but as knowledge of the importance of defence, especially for Indonesia.

Peacetime and Military Procurement

The comment made by Muhaimin Iskandar implies that Indonesia does not need to procure armaments because Indonesia is in peacetime. One could argue that peacetime means an absence of war or the absence of tangible threat. However, threats do not know the word peacetime; they can change form without us knowing what they are, their purpose, and when they will attack; in other words, threats in peacetime are blurry. In fact, Indonesia is facing numerous threats, from illegal migrants, smuggling, cyber security to a breach of sovereignty. Thus, the military must have a good readiness level to deal with all forms of threats. To be ready, it should enhance its capability. Up-to-date armaments are needed to align readiness with current technological advancement.

Furthermore, the comment also implies that Indonesia does not need to procure armaments because Indonesia has no intention to wage war on anyone. It is unfair if the tools created and used to defend the country’s sovereignty are underestimated. Anti-missiles and surveillance systems are two of many examples of how military equipment can be used to defend the country. If we have to be fairer, offensive armaments are not only used for war but can also act as a deterrent. Thus, peacetime should not be seen as a stagnant phase but as a moment to enhance capability, combat readiness, threat assessment, military innovation, and research.

Furthermore, with Anies Baswedan as a presidential candidate, they are committed to strengthening Indonesia’s defence and security. Baswedan and Iskandar offer seven main agendas, one focusing on strengthening the Indonesian National Army (TNI). In-depth, Baswedan and Iskandar want to increase the number of Indonesia’s defence equipment in line with the Minimum Essential Force. It is common knowledge that Indonesia will not be able to catch up with its own MEF target of 2024. Thus, it is plausible to say that Iskandar’s comment made no point whatsoever.

The purchase of defence equipment is also a way to protect the safety of the TNI on duty. The Indonesia Laboratory 2045 (LAB 45) report shows seven accidents related to Navy warships in 2015-2021. How is it possible to realise a flexible and adaptive Army, an Air Force capable of realising air supremacy, and a Navy capable of conducting expeditions optimally, as promised in the vision and mission offered, if the defence equipment used is not fit for use?

Secondhand Armaments as the Last Option

Another reckless comment was coming from presidential candidate No. 3, Ganjar Pranowo. Pranowo objected that a country as big as Indonesia should buy second-hand aircraft. This is an off-the-cuff comment. As a candidate who will debate defence and security issues, Pranowo should have known the current state of the Indonesian military. As we explained earlier, Indonesia is trying to catch up with its MEF targets. Based on the Military Balance 2022 report, only 45% of Indonesia’s Aircraft are combat-ready. Indonesia did purchase the Rafale from France, but the first aircraft will arrive in 2026. This will create a capability gap. To fill this gap, we need a quick procurement, hence the secondhand option. The plan to purchase Mirage-2000s from Qatar is debatable, but that is not the point. The point is, why make an issue of purchasing second-hand goods intended to fill the capability gap? Debating the object is necessary, but debating the concept is unnatural. If Pranowo is going to debate this issue on Sunday, surely Prabowo, the No.2 presidential candidate and the defence minister, is ready with a crushing answer.

Purchasing second-hand goods to fill capability gaps is not new and surprising in the military. For example, Australia purchased the SSN Virginia Class from the United States to fill the capability gap, as the SSN AUKUS will arrive in 2040 at the earliest. Although it did not happen, Australia even intended to buy the B21 Bomber. Whatever it is, it must come before the new stuff arrives. The most important thing is how they debate the object (B21 or SSN Virginia Class), not debating the concept of buying second-hand equipment.

As for Indonesia, The main factor considered in purchasing used defence equipment is the faster delivery time of defence equipment, based on the urgent needs of the Indonesian Air Force (TNI AU). It is important to note that the TNI AU only has 344 aircraft in its fleet, while the number considered ideal based on operational standards is 469 aircraft. This indicates a significant gap that needs to be filled to meet national defence needs. The process of purchasing defence equipment is complex and takes considerable time. The process involves various stages, from alignment with the country’s defence strategy and design to future maintenance considerations. Political considerations, such as whether the defence equipment procurement could spark other countries’ responses, are also essential to this process.

Guns vs Butter?

Iskandar and Pranowo’s criticism is a long-standing view on economic and defence issues. A country’s limited budget means it has to choose carefully between guns (defence) or butter (civilian goods), or what is known as the concept of guns versus butter. Muhaimin Iskandar is part of the group that believes a more significant budget allocation to the defence sector will reduce the portion earmarked for the civilian sector. This harms economic growth and has the potential to reduce people’s welfare.

Indonesia’s defence budget in 2024 will be only IDR 135.44 trillion, equivalent to 0.8 of the gross domestic product (GDP). This proportion of the budget is still smaller when compared to neighbouring countries in ASEAN that have allocations of 2-3% of GDP.

Furthermore, based on research conducted by CSIS Indonesia, 55% of the defence budget is earmarked for managerial purposes and compensation for soldiers. Meanwhile, only 29% is allocated for the acquisition of defence equipment.

It is worth waiting to see how all the candidates will present their ideas for developing Indonesia’s defence and security. For people who are concerned about defence and security issues, the 3rd debate on Sunday is undoubtedly the most awaited and even the ‘final’ in their efforts to make a presidential choice.

Muhammad Rayhan Faqih Syahfa

Muhammad Rayhan Faqih Syahfa, is a master's graduate from Macquarie University on Security and Strategic Studies.

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