Forecasting Indonesia’s Foreign Policy Under Prabowo

by: Indra Kusumawardhana and Mohamad Rosyidin *)

The vote counting for the Indonesia’s presidential election is not yet complete, but it is already evident that the Prabowo Subianto-Gibran Rakabuming Raka will probably win with a majority of the votes. Many parties, particularly the international community, are concerned about Indonesia’s future under the new president. In terms of diplomacy, the international community is concerned about Indonesia’s foreign policy projections over the next five years.

 

Prabowo’s foreign policy projections may be found in the Prabowo-Gibran vision and mission document. However, this paper cannot be used to foretell where the winds of change will blow. There are numerous reasons why leaders’ policies frequently depart from their visions and missions. However, personal variables appear to be more important than others. Furthermore, Indonesia’s presidential system strengthens the position of the head of state. The leader’s preferences substantially impact the country’s policies, notably its foreign policy.

 

Nationalism

This article contends that the future course of Indonesian foreign policy under Prabowo Subianto will be affected by a strong sense of nationalism. This is not surprising given Prabowo’s military background and battle experience. In his autobiography, Prabowo’s sense of nationalism is represented in his notion that a leader must prioritize the interests of the nation and state first, then the interests of his subordinates, and finally his own (Subianto, 2022:42).

 

Nationalism in foreign policy has far-reaching repercussions. First, Indonesia’s future foreign policy aims will primarily focus on building national power, which will be underpinned by strong economic growth and a robust military posture. To enhance economic growth, the incoming administration is expected to maintain the policy of downstreaming extractive industries. Downstreaming, also known as resource nationalism, is a strategy that restricts foreign actors’ access to natural resources in order to offer domestic actors the most opportunities to generate added value (Warburton, 2023:2). This strategy will elicit a negative response from the international community, particularly from countries that support the free market doctrine.

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Military upgrading will be a priority because Prabowo has long wanted to boost deterrence against external threats. Indonesia’s defense budget was less than 1% of GDP throughout President Jokowi’s 10-year presidency, hence an increase is deemed vital. However, according to NATO criteria, the appropriate defense budget is at least 2% of GDP. Furthermore, the Indonesian National Armed Forces (TNI) have not reached the Minimum Essential Force (MEF) requirement. According to the National Medium Term Development Plan (RPJMN) 2020-2024, the TNI MEF should have been 100% fulfilled. However, as of 2021, the TNI MEF’s achievement level was only 62%.

 

Second, nationalism will also have implications for a foreign policy orientation which emphasizes Indonesian exceptionalism or “Indonesia first” policy. It implies that the future foreign policy priorities of Indonesia are how diplomacy is utilized as much as possible for national interests. In addition, a strong sense of nationalism also encourages Indonesia to aspire to be a game changer in the Indo-Pacific region, and even in the world. Put another way, Indonesia sees itself as a beacon to the world. This will mostly take the shape of strengthening Indonesia’s leadership role at the global stage. The repositioning of Indonesia’s role from a regional leader to a leader of the Global South is likely to be revived.

 

Identity Shifting

Prabowo’s nationalist foreign policy will also have an impact on how foreign policy change, particularly with regard to how Indonesia projects its identity abroad. During Jokowi’s first term, Indonesia projected itself as an archipelagic and maritime country which was manifested in the idea of Global Maritime Fulcrum. During his second term, Jokowi emphasized Indonesia’s identity as the world’s largest Muslim country. During Jokowi’s tenure, Indonesia’s identity as the ‘third largest democracy’ has demised. This was inextricably linked with the government’s lack of commitment to democracy. According to many scholars, Indonesia experienced ‘democratic regression’ under Jokowi’s leadership (Power and Warburton, 2020).

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Instead of projecting its identity as the world’s largest Muslim country and third-largest democracy, Indonesia will take pride in its identity as a great nation. This self-understanding represents the nation’s self-image as superior in terms of geographical position, demography, natural and cultural resources, as well as historical achievements. In his autobiography, Prabowo writes, “I was raised by the Generation of ‘45. The Generation of ‘45 was very confident, very proud, and they were sensitive. The confidence of the Generation of ‘45 was largely based on the greatness of Nusantara’s history” (Subianto, 2022:272).

 

As a result, the narrative around Indonesia as a middle power may evolve. Until recently, Indonesia has been regarded as Asia’s middle power. However, Prabowo rarely refers Indonesia to this category. Instead, he boldly refers to Indonesia as a great nation. In fact, in terms of economic and military capabilities Indonesia is arguably a middle power. According to the Lowy Institute Asia Power Index, Indonesia is ranked 9th among Asia-Pacific countries and falls into the category of middle power (Patton, Sato, and Lemahieu, 2023). However, Prabowo and other Indonesian elites may perceive this categorization as deceptive. Referring to Indonesia as a middle power may be interpreted as contradicting the Indonesian people’s belief in their collective memory of the past.

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Honor matters

Indonesia’s great power mentality, combined with a fervent nationalist spirit, may lead to an assertive foreign policy. Honor becomes a factor in international relations. This distinguishes Prabowo’s foreign policy style from his predecessors, who were more pragmatic.

In international relations, honor has long been associated with major wars. Thucydides pointed out that interstate conflicts are motivated by three factors: fear, interest, and honor (Lebow, 2008). Given that Indonesian foreign policy is motivated by a strong sense of nationalism and identity as a great nation, honor becomes a crucial factor to strive for in international politics.

 

This is not to say that Indonesia will become an aggressive power threatening neighboring countries. Prabowo has repeatedly stated that the principle of his foreign policy is a “good neighbour foreign policy” and “a thousand friends is too few, one enemy is too many.” Indonesia will continue to implement a foreign policy based on mutual benefit. However, in terms of honor and self-esteem, Indonesia will be more aggressive.

 

This projection, of course, is merely an interpretation based on the leader’s personality. There will undoubtedly be a variety of dynamics along the way. A leader does not develop foreign policy alone. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has its own organizational culture, which does not always align with the beliefs of the head of state. Not to mention the impact of close friends within the power circle. As Irving Janis stated, presidential judgments are frequently the result of “victims of groupthink” (Janis, 1972). Just wait and see.

 

 

*) Indra Kusumawardhana is a lecturer in International Relations at Universitas Pertamina.

Mohamad Rosyidin is a lecturer in International Relations at Universitas Diponegoro.