Power Plays in Indonesian Waters

« Power Plays in Indonesian Waters : Transforming Indonesia into a Global Maritime Power is a Complicated Game » by Muhamad Arif, 01/02/2018, Asia and the Pacific Policy Society

The new Maritime Security Agency has only heightened competition in the Navy-dominated governance of Indonesian maritime security, Muhamad Arif writes.

When Indonesian President Joko Widodo signed the presidential regulation on the establishment of the country’s Maritime Security Agency (Badan Keamanan Laut or BAKAMLA) on 8 December 2014, the mood among interested observers was bright. The complicated management of Indonesian maritime security – for which no less than 12 national agencies had responsibility – would finally be settled. The country would soon have a dedicated coastguard to carry out most of the law enforcement functions in Indonesian maritime jurisdictions.

The vision for BAKAMLA was that it would work alongside the Indonesian Navy, which could finally focus on building its much-needed war-fighting capability amidst the increasingly volatile geopolitics of the region. This optimism was justified since the regulation was among the first signed by a president who came to power with a vision to build the geographically strategic country as a prominent maritime power. Or so it was thought.

Three years after the establishment of BAKAMLA, the reality is still a far cry from the original vision. Indonesian maritime security governance is still complicated by well-known problems such as inter-agency competition, overlapping legal frameworks, separate information and intelligence management systems, as well as limited and scattered resources.

In the last couple of years, the number of security violations in Indonesian waters and jurisdictions has decreased substantially. But this outcome is actually a result of sporadic, sub-efficient and, in some cases, conflicting policy directions. Indonesia’s pioneering National Maritime Policy with its attached Action Plan, released by the government in 2016, have not done much to tackle the problems on the ground.

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Muhamad Arif is Researcher at The Habibie Center’s ASEAN Studies Program and Lecturer at the Department of International Relations, University of Indonesia.