Indonesia’s view of the US

This is a really interesting Lowy Institute piece by Evan Laksmana. Important points for US-based analysts to keep in mind, with relevance to a number of other South and Southeast Asian states:

“Indonesia is unlikely to view the United States as a benevolent provider of regional security in the way Australia does. Indonesia’s troubled past with the United States – and its geo-strategic vulnerability and domestic fragility – means that Jakarta will from time to time view the United States as another interventionist great power. Senior policymakers still recite how the United States kicked Indonesia while it was down during the Asian financial crisis, or how the disastrous Iraq War and the non-ratification of the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea undermined the rules-based order.

Defence policymakers privately cite instances where the United States was seen as intruding into Indonesian airspace as one of the rationales for Indonesian defence modernisation. The prospect in 2019 of the US sanctioning Indonesia under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) as the country was finalising its purchase of Russian arms brought back the bitter experience of the US military embargo in the 1990s and 2000s. Cold War memories, of US support for regional rebels in the 1950s, have not faded either.

Despite this history, Indonesia-US defence ties remain strong. In the past two decades, more than 7,300 Indonesian students trained in some 200 different US military education and training programs. Indonesia has held more than 100 major military exercises with the United States and imported close to $1 billion in arms and equipment.

But stronger defence ties do not necessarily correspond or lead to “further alignment”, as was implied in a meeting between the US and Indonesian defence ministers late last year. Defence cooperation with the United States may fulfil specific needs – from professional readiness to modern arms – but Jakarta does not always see American military presence as a net positive, nor will it accept that its security can only be guaranteed by it.”

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