It's been a big week for Indonesia on The Interpreter. Peter McCawley from ANU's Indonesia Project looked at the legacy of President Susilo Bambang Yodhoyono (SBY), arguing that the 'incessant criticism (of SBY) from the Indonesian commentariat is a bit hard to take':
SBY and Vice President Boediono have delivered against the key goals all national leaders should meet: they have maintained peace at home and abroad, and they have promoted strong economic growth and welfare.
Australians don't seem to realise it, but we have benefited enormously from the careful way SBY has guided Indonesia since he first took office in 2004. If one had to choose which large Muslim developing country to live next door to (alternatives include Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, and Iran), which country would one choose but Indonesia?
Why, then, is there so much criticism of SBY within Indonesia? The answer, in a sense, is simple: unrealistic expectations. In the 1950s, development scholars used to talk about how the 'revolution of rising expectations' reflected the idealistic hopes of the peoples of newly-independent nations for rapid economic and social progress once colonial rulers had been sent packing.
Looking ahead, it's hard to judge what sort of president Jokowi would make.
He has said almost nothing in public about his vision for Indonesia, either at home or abroad. Indeed, his current (and very convenient) stance seems to be 'shucks, I'm just the mayor of Jakarta'. Further, one of his main challenges would be to get legislation through parliament without much control over his presumptive party, which in any case won't have a majority. The weight of popularity would doubtless help, provided the enthusiasm survives the challenges of running a country as difficult and diverse as Indonesia. But the Indonesian parliament has proved just as quarrelsome as the US Congress and, in recent years, has often made life very difficult for the Indonesian administration. Even President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who was elected with an absolute majority in 2009, has never found it easy to get legislation through parliament.
Indonesia has had an extraordinary range of presidents, from the flamboyant Sukarno to the blind cleric Abdurrahman Wahid. It matters a lot who gets the job, both for Indonesia and the whole of the Southeast Asian region. Australians ought to be taking more interest in this, and our media ought to be doing more to help us understand what is unfolding next door.
Also on Indonesia, I offered six theories
why Indonesia might be making such a big deal about the spying claims
against Australian embassy staff in Jakarta and Denpasar:
1. Softening Australia up: this one is courtesy of former Lowy Institute Executive Director Michael Wesley in The Guardian:
'Natelagawa, who studied in Australia, has probably watched the odd State of Origin game. He knows the first 10 minutes of the match are known as the “softening up period” – a stanza of ferocious physicality in which each side tries to cow the opposition into a disadvantageous state of mind. Right now, there's a new government in Canberra, and neighbouring governments are likely to be keen to test its mettle. The odd diplomatic jab can give a better sense of what can be expected from a new government than years of polite cocktail discussions.'
2. SBY has a grudge: this theory holds that, although Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa is taking the lead on this issue, it is at the direct instruction of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, although his motives are unclear.
3. Natalegawa is making up with his boss: this theory holds that SBY was displeased that Natalegawa allowed a transcript of his New York meeting with Julie Bishop to be leaked (it was the leaking that upset him, not the damage to the Australia relationship). Natalegawa has seized on the spying issue so that he can appear statesmanlike and get back in SBY's good books.
4. The domestic audience: as reader Neil Watson said last week, 'We can expect more of this in the run up to next year's Presidential election. I'd suggest SBY is also pre-empting the xenophobes in the parliament and 'think tanks' who will be demanding firm measure. It is also a diversion from the corruption allegations surrounding the Democrat Party.'
5. The colonial legacy: Ian Brownlie, in his reader riposte earlier this week, argued that 'the particular factor in Indonesia's case is the knee-jerk sense of victimhood from exploitation by wealthier, stronger outsiders seen subconsciously or consciously as neo-colonialist invaders. The Germans may admit that spying is something they also do; for Indonesians, it can only be something that others do to them.'
6. Last, let's not ignore the possibility that Indonesia is genuinely annoyed with Australia. It is one thing to know that spying goes on, but another to be confronted with specific facts about foreigners snooping on you in your own capital.
Former Australian intelligence chief Geoff Miller responded:
Strengthening the relationship is what our government is trying very hard to do with Indonesia at the moment, and of course it doesn’t sit well with covert efforts to eavesdrop on Indonesian leadership communications, which seems to be what Snowden has alleged and which, in at least one Australian press report, an Australian 'former intelligence officer' has boasted about. (This is of course a different matter from efforts, made by both sides, to combat terrorism and people smuggling in and from Indonesia, from which both sides benefit.)
So Sam’s sixth reason for Indonesia’s upset — 'perhaps they’re really annoyed with us' — should not be lightly dismissed. The latest issue of Foreign Affairs contains an article on Snowden and US foreign policy by Farrell and Finnemore which concludes that in the 'age of leaks', secret behaviour can no longer be kept secret, leading to 'an accelerating hypocrisy collapse'.
That’s a conclusion which our government needs to think about as it considers next steps in our relationship with Indonesia, a relationship which our prime minister has described as Australia's most important.
Sticking with spying, the Lowy Institute's Rory Medcalf argued that the current furore over the US National Security Agency's intelligence gathering might actually be good for spies:
With the prospect of much greater political and public scrutiny on SIGINT[Signals Intelligence] — its ambit, targets and methods — what will be the effect on another realm of spying, the use of human intelligence, or spies as traditionally understood?
One possibility is that governments which curtail their electronic efforts might begin to reinvest heavily in the human side of things, the old-fashioned world of running agents to gather forbidden information and insight through time-honoured if not exactly honourable methods of interacting in certain ways with other people. In other words, what is bad for the NSA may be good for the CIA.
This of course brings its own political and moral dilemmas. Human intelligence or HUMINT has its own fallibilities, including those that depend on the less-than-pure motives of people who give or sell classified information to foreigners. The sorry tale-telling of Iraqi defector Curveball is a reminder of HUMINT’s unique capacity for inaccuracy and distortion (and there’s a German connection in that story too).
Of course, HUMINT can occasionally deliver intelligence gems, such as a timely insight into the intentions of leaders or terrorists. But typically this comes with commensurate risk to diplomatic relations or even to a source’s life.
Our series on 'A maritime school of Australian strategy' continued, with retired RAN Commodore Sam Bateman outlining Australia's oceans policy and arguing there are no votes in maritime strategy:
To get more political focus on maritime issues, a Federal Parliamentary Maritime Group might be established similar to the UK’s Associate Parliamentary Maritime Group. This is an all-party group of both houses of parliament and British members of the European Parliament, along with representatives of companies and professional organisations involved in maritime issues. It provides a forum for the exchange of views between parliament and those engaged in pursuing the nation's maritime interests. A similar group in Australia would help promote national maritime strategic thinking.
The Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Ray Griggs, is ‘on the ball’ in his opening contribution to the Sea Power Centre’s recent collection of papers when he says that a maritime school of strategic thought is required that is rooted in the geostrategic reality of our national situation and based on a clear appreciation of our geographic, economic and diplomatic situation. Revisiting the concept of national oceans policy would help get this ball rolling.
Stephen Grenville's second post for the week expertly compared the policy responses to the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis with the 2008-10 'global' financial crisis:
What a divergence there is between the 2008-10 policy responses and 1997-8! In 1997 IMF funding, even supplemented by additional bilateral rescue funds, was too small to offset the capital outflow that was driving down exchange rates. The Asian crisis countries received support equal to less than 10% of GDP, while in 2010 the European crisis countries received support equal to 50% of their GDP. The Fund component was 800% of IMF quota for the Asians, and 2230% of quota for the Europeans.
The adamant advice on monetary policy in 1997 was to tighten strongly, pushing up interest rates. In 2008, central banks not only pushed interest rates down to zero, but have also spectacularly expanded their balance sheets with innovative support for financial markets.
Swift closure of troubled financial institutions was mandatory practice in Asia. This was supposedly necessary to avoid ‘moral hazard’ from guaranteeing bank depositors or bailing out banks. This concern was forgotten in 2008. It wasn’t just banks that were saved by taxpayers’ support: insurance companies (AIG), the money market and the car industry were all rescued. In Europe, even clearly insolvent countries such as Greece were bailed out.
Fiscal policy was tightened in both episodes, but in 2008 it was because countries were starting with large deficits and unsustainable debt levels, while in 1997 the crisis countries had budget surpluses and low debt. The 1997 tightening was a macro blunder, crunching countries whose output was already in freefall.
Following the drone attack that killed the leader of the Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP, the Pakistani Taliban), Hakimullah Mehsud, Deakin University's Claude Rakisits wrote on the strike's probable impact on Pakistani politics:
The drone issue is highly sensitive in Pakistan. It is the single most important issue fueling Pakistan's already rampant anti-Americanism, and the Pakistani Government ignores it at its peril. And while privately not too many people in the Pakistani Government will miss Hakimullah, Prime Minister Sharif will still need to be seen to be doing something about his killing. Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, whose party runs the government of the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa bordering the tribal areas, is demanding an immediate halt to the NATO convoys.
Meanwhile, the Pakistani Government has decided to review the whole US-Pakistan relationship. Last time it had such a review in the wake of the death of 24 Pakistani soldiers in a NATO strike on the Afghan-Pakistan border in early 2012, Pakistan stopped truck convoys from rolling through Pakistan for seven months until it got an apology of sorts from then Secretary of State Clinton. And although Islamabad relies on American economic largesse to assist it through its difficult times, unless Washington promises something substantial on the drone front, a similar outcome is not out of the question.
Finally, the third plenary session of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China is on this weekend. In light of some of the far-reaching statements the plenum has made in the past, Lowy Institute Research Associate Dirk van der Kley looked at the prospects for this year's meeting:
Regardless of how deep or shallow the reforms in the final plenum document, history shows that the language will likely be vague and opaque, so we won't know immediately the exact outcomes of the gathering.
Moreover, the biggest question is whether reforms can actually be implemented in practice. The so-called 'vested interests' – local governments, SOEs [state-owned enterprises], competing government agencies etc — will have representation at the plenum. But consulting vested interests in the formulation of a vaguely-worded document at a four-day plenum is vastly removed from overcoming opposing interests on a daily basis across a bureaucracy as fractured and vast as China’s.
Photo by Flickr user MikeWren.