The last year saw Indonesia playing an active international role and witnessed the challenges faced by the country, both in the global and domestic spheres. Indonesia's diplomacy has been tested on a wide range of issues, from the Iranian nuclear issue to the diassent in ASEAN.
Not to mention the problematic issue of citizen protection abroad and the longstanding case of the Israel-Palestine conflict. On the latter, Indonesia has been actively involved in capacity-building for mid-level Palestinian diplomats engaged in Indonesia's Ministry's Education Center. One of Indonesia's diplomatic milestones in 2008 was the successful role of the CTF, the Truth and Friendship Commission, established with Timor Leste to investigate the violence leading up and surrounding the referendum in 1999.
Although parts of the CTF report's suggestions may not be in Indonesia's best interests, it has deliberately managed to exclude international intervention in solving the dispute, and hence introduced a new method for dispute resolution.
At home, the Foreign Ministry remains content to complete its bureaucratic reform, as shown, at least, by the appointment of a deputy foreign minister from its internal staff, although some said the appointment was filled with an eye to political interest, to secure the institution should the Foreign Ministry be led in future by a politician. To a larger and more significant extent, the appointment is to support the missing variable in Indonesia's diplomacy as well as to complete the ideal structure of a foreign policy institution in a democratic era and facing dynamic international challenges.
In 2009 Indonesia will once again put into practice a primary component of democracy: Elections. The 2004 elections were a great success; violence was relatively low and people were able to carry out their right to vote for their desired leaders. In the foreign policy realm during the busiest period of Indonesia's five-year presidency, Yudhoyono's metaphor that Indonesia's foreign policy resembled navigating the turbulent ocean remains relevant in the coming year. What can be shown to endorse the logic of this?
First and foremost is the most apparent global economic crisis. As we found out a decade ago, forging an ideal foreign policy during economic turbulence is rather problematic.
Foreign policy will not work well if domestically our people live under a stagnant economy with poor living standards. The government policy to reduce fuel prices should not be seen as a policy filled with a political mission. It would be wiser for us to think that the policy is a conscious attempt to save the nation from more acute suffering from the ongoing global economic turbulence. Still relevant to Indonesia's measured steps in countering the crisis is Indonesia's preference to avoid taking the same route as in 1998 by relying on international funding agencies.
Understanding the unpleasant experience of such agency mechanisms has raised the awareness of the government (and the people) that going down that road would not be wise. Instead, Indonesia might undertake a bilateral approach with East Asian countries. Therefore, Indonesia's predicted leaning towards East Asia will mostly be motivated by economic interests.
Recent strikes in Gaza have turned Indonesia's attention to the Mideast conflict. Indonesia needs to play a larger role in urging the UN to defuse the tension. Indonesia should practice what it preaches as the world's largest Muslim population by initiating a leading role in the OIC (Organization of the Islamic Conference) to reduce the conflict. The government should have the confidence that a religious-cultural approach, such as facilitating interfaith dialogue between religious leaders from Palestine and Israel, as we successfully did in an Asian-Pacific context, might be an alternative to the problem. However both Israelis and Palestinians are also human beings with a certain faith they live by.
The third challenge for Indonesia's foreign policy is the increasing threat of terrorism. Having not witnessed the threat for almost two years, the world was shocked by the Mumbai terrorist attack toward the end of 2008. Consequently, the security alert has been raised in Indonesia, as home to an amalgamation of moderate and radical Muslims.
To this end, Indonesia should maintain its de-radicalization strategy as an effectively proven strategy to counterterrorism; this can be an asset to revive Indonesia's foreign policy on security issues.
As for ASEAN, the enactment of the ASEAN Charter has brought a new dimension to the organization and it is unlikely that Indonesia will neglect ASEAN from its primary foreign policy concentric circle. Democratic values should be continually promoted to non-democratic members of ASEAN, however this effort should not be seen as an attempt to violate the principle of non-interference but rather as an endeavor to create a coexistence in Southeast Asia because, as believed by the realists, peace is likely to be achieved when states engage in democratic values, to this extent values agreed upon and attuned with the ASEAN way.
The writer is a PhD student in International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), London