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Indonesia: Political Considerations
Country Study > Chapter 4 > Government and Politics > Foreign Policy > Political Considerations


The internal dynamics of Indonesian politics in the last half of the twentieth century was linked to an external environment that both the Old Order and the New Order perceived as inherently dangerous. Foreign policy had as its most important goals security of the state and territorial integrity. The jurisdictional boundaries of the state were greatly expanded with the incorporation of the "archipelago principle" into the new international law of the sea regime. This new regime was codified as the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea in 1982. The "archipelago principle" effectively territorialized all ocean space inside straight baselines drawn from the farthest points of the most distant islands of Indonesia, thus giving new sanction to the Indonesian doctrine of the political and security unity of archipelagic land and sea space (wawasan nusantara), first promulgated in the 1950s but as of 1992, unlike Malaysia, had not aspired to a major role in that organization.

Following two decades of post-Sukarno "low profile" foreign policy, by Suharto's fourth term (1983-88), a more assertive Indonesian foreign policy voice was heard as Jakarta began to reaffirm its claim to a leadership position, both regionally and worldwide, corresponding to its geographical vastness, resource endowment, population, and political stability. After an international rehabilitative period, Indonesia rejoined the community of nations, broke the Jakarta-Hanoi-Beijing-P'yngyang axis, ended the Indonesian-Malaysian Confrontation, worked to establish ASEAN, forged cooperative nonthreatening links with its neighbors, and became a moderating voice in Third World forums. By the early 1990s, Indonesia, which American scholar Donald K. Emmerson could still describe as "invisible" in 1987, had become more visible both as a regional power and a major Third World voice in the global political and economic arenas. In 1992 Indonesian foreign policy reflected a proud national identity and what British scholar Michael Leifer called its "sense of regional entitlement."

Indonesia's full reemergence on the world stage was signalled in April 1985 when it hosted a gathering of eighty nations to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the Asian-African Conference in Bandung and to reaffirm the relevance of the Bandung principles. This conference projected Indonesia as a leading voice in the nonaligned world and provided it with an extra-regional platform from which to assert its new self-confidence and claim to proper international standing. Suharto, secure domestically in an environment of political stability and economic growth, and backed by his energetic and clever Minister of Foreign Affairs Mochtar Kusumaatmadja, prepared to assume the mantle of statesman.

In October 1985, Suharto represented the developing nations of the southern hemisphere (French president François Mitterrand spoke for the developed nations of the northern hemisphere) at a Food and Agriculture Organizationof the UN meeting in Rome. This meeting recognized Indonesia's considerable accomplishment in achieving rice self-sufficiency. Suharto also undertook an East European tour to balance the close economic ties that had been established with the West and the general anticommunist orientation of Indonesia's foreign policy.

A major foreign policy initiative begun in 1985 sought for Indonesia the chairmanship of the Nonaligned Movement, a position that would acknowledge Indonesia's credentials to speak authoritatively in the Third World. Indonesia had been a founding member of the Nonaligned Movement and its adherence to and promotion of the ideals of nonalignment had been one of the few consistencies between the foreign policies of the Old Order and New Order governments. At the same time, Indonesia was the only founding member that had not hosted a Nonaligned Movement summit. At summits in Harare, Zimbabwe, in 1986, and in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (later Serbia), in 1989, Indonesia lobbied hard but without success for the chair. A number of factors seemed to be working against it in an organization marked by geographic and ideological differences. Radical socialist regimes were not sympathetic to Indonesia's domestic anticommunism. African nationalist regimes mobilized in the former Portuguese colonies in Africa rejected Indonesia's incorporation of East Timor. Indonesia's solidarity with ASEAN on the Cambodian issue lost favor with friends of Vietnam. Finally, the absence of normal relations with the Nonaligned Movement's largest member, China, weakened Indonesia's position substantially. By the end of the 1980s, however, many of the objections no longer seemed as relevant in the changing global political economy as adroit Indonesian diplomats continued to pursue their country's goal.

At the Nonaligned Movement's thirtieth anniversary meeting in Accra, Ghana, in September 1991, Indonesia finally won its coveted role as chair of the movement and host of the September 1992 Jakarta summit. But as Indonesia grasped the prize, its political worth was questionable in a post-Cold War world without superpower rivalries. To set the scene for the Jakarta summit, as incoming chair, Suharto undertook the longest foreign tour of his career -- a twenty-three-day trip to two Latin American and three African countries -- in November and December 1991. At meetings of the Group of Fifteen should be merged because the goals of the two groups differed. Whereas the Nonaligned Movement had a "special commitment" to the eradication of colonialism, racism, and apartheid as well as a duty to prevent the UN from being dominated by any one country, the Group of Seventy-seven fostered economic cooperation among its members.

The summit took place on schedule and without disruption the first week of September 1992. The Jakarta Message, the summit's final communiqué, reflected Suharto's call in his opening speech for a constructive dialogue between the developed and developing nations, warning that North-South polarization loomed as "the central unresolved issue of our time." In an expression of Indonesia's pride in its own development, Suharto offered Indonesian technical assistance to countries with food and population problems. As chairman of the Nonaligned Movement, Suharto brought the Jakarta Message to the 1992 session of the UN General Assembly.

Data as of November 1992

Last Updated: November 1992

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Indonesia was first published in 1993. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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