It has an odd name and a confounding operative clause, but the 'Australia-Indonesia Joint Understanding on a Code of Conduct' signed today in Bali by Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and her Indonesian counterpart Marty Natalegawa is good news.
What's with the name? According to the Associated Press, Julie Bishop 'wanted to call it a "Joint Understanding," while her Indonesian counterpart Marty Natalegawa preferred "Code of Conduct." So they combined the titles.' (And, it might be added, mangled the English language in a way reminiscent of the award Montgomery Burns once conferred on Homer Simpson for 'outstanding achievement in the field of excellence'.)
As for the operative clause, in Julie Bishop's words it 'specifically says that Australia and Indonesia will not use our resources, including our intelligence resources, to harm each other's interests'. The actual text reads:
The Parties will not use any of their intelligence, including surveillance capacities, or other sources, in ways that would harm the interests of the Parties.
There are several ways to parse that statement, and no doubt that is just what was intended. In fact, there is probably no agreed definition behind it, which is just fine for both sides. A deal like this is not enforceable anyway, and is more about finding a face-saving way to resume a relationship which is mutually beneficial.
Mind you, it carries risks. Although we haven't heard from Mr Snowden for some time, were the Guardian to release a new tranche of documents tomorrow exposing more Australian spying activity against Indonesia, the language about not using intelligence assets to harm each other's interests could become a weapon in the hands of angry Indonesian legislators. Then again, if such a possibility actually deters both sides from doing too much spying on the other in future, it's a good thing.
And here's another good thing: according to Bishop, the Code 'lays the groundwork for even greater cooperation in the area of intelligence sharing...including in relation to the issue of foreign fighters.'
That is excellent news. The counter-terrorist cooperation between Australia and Indonesia since the 2002 Bali bombing is something of which both sides can be genuinely proud. It has stopped bombings that could have killed countless more Indonesians and Australians and stalled Indonesia's democratic transition. It has also dealt a severe blow to the feared terrorist group Jemaah Islamiya, and ought to serve as an international model of how the terrorist threat can be contained.
Photo courtesy of @aosny2011.