Quo vadis Indonesian peacekeeping?
International Peacekeepers’ Day has been celebrated annually every May 29 since 2003. The day is commemorated to honor the extraordinary contribution of the men and women who have participated in peacekeeping missions across the world.
For Indonesia, the commemoration should serve as a momentum to reconfirm its aspiration as a well-respected nation in international forums through its deployment of peacekeeping troops under the UN flag.
Throughout the history of deployment of the Garuda Contingent — after which Indonesia’s peacekeeping force is named — Indonesia’s role in peace missions is quite outstanding because we have contributed to every peacekeeping operation since our first mission in Egypt in 1957 up to the present day. Indonesian peacekeepers have served in many parts of the world, ranging from Lebanon to Haiti.
Deployments are in line with Indonesia’s foreign policy, which is based on the non-aligned and active principle so that Indonesia does not have to rely on the political views of a particular alliance or treaty that would bind all members to comply with a particular collective agreement.
The objective of such deployments is focused more on conflict settlement rather than the interests of certain parties involved in a conflict. Therefore, Indonesia manages to fulfill one of the most important principles of peacekeeping, which is impartiality.
But how far has Indonesia capitalized on its experiences in peacekeeping missions to support the accomplishment of its foreign policy? Or to utilize its experiences as a bargaining power to leverage Indonesia’s position in international forums, particularly in international policy making related to the settlement of conflicts around the world?
The number of Indonesian peacekeepers has gradually climbed to 4,000 personnel currently with more diverse specialties of peacekeepers, who comprise not only military personnel but also civilian police.
Indonesia has even gone further by sending its Maritime Task Force (MTF) to Lebanon, which altogether has greatly enhanced Indonesia’s participation in the peacekeeping mission.
I often ask myself, however, whether this increase implies the optimal diplomatic role of each mission to support Indonesia’s efforts to reach its foreign-policy goals.
Unfortunately, the answer is no. The reputation cultivated from Indonesia’s involvement in peacekeeping missions has not been aimed at strengthening our leverage to address our own bilateral conflicts.
This is due to the absence of an intensive and effective follow up on our part to take advantage of our strategic position in the UN, whether in the DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations), the General Assembly or the Security Council (as a UNSC non-permanent member), as a means to lobby other nations to act in our favor whenever we are embroiled in a conflict with other countries over borders or natural resources.
Such inaction has triggered criticism that Indonesian diplomatic policy is only short term in its approach and is not formulated to achieve long-term goals.
Thus, whatever reputation or privilege we achieve is seen only as a one-off achievement with neither any future use nor serving as a milestone for a long-term goal.
It is even more ironic if Indonesian diplomacy lacks obvious direction and can only follow a trend. This would contradict the basis of Indonesia’s independent and active foreign policy that requires us to be tough yet flexible.
This discrepancy is visible when we are faced with a regional conflict, in which all too often we apparently have no diplomatic strength to address it.
How can this happen? With all due respect to the efforts of Indonesian diplomacy so far, it seems obvious that there have been no serious measures put in place to strengthen Indonesia’s diplomacy.
For instance, has Indonesia made full use of its active participation in UN peacekeeping missions to secure support from countries and influential organizations in pursuing its national interests?
Furthermore, the ignorance of our government and the House of Representatives of peacekeeping missions in general is apparent from the way they view peacekeeping as only a routine obligation that must be fulfilled at the international level, while failing to comprehend the values and opportunities that can be derived from it. Such utter disregard deprives us of a positive opportunity for our country.
Indonesia’s active participation in peacekeeping missions and the UN’s appreciation of our role are in fact adequate to enable this country to raise its diplomatic profile and significance in the international arena.
Unfortunately, the attention paid by our policymakers to peacekeeping missions is merely symbolic and temporary.
The government and the House are too busy taking care of their own political interests rather than managing the country as a whole, while sufficient attention to the actual capacity of Indonesia’s diplomacy could raise our dignity and ensure that we are not underestimated by other countries.
This could surely help the country guard and defend its sovereignty.
The author is a lieutenant in the Navy, served in peacekeeping missions under Garuda XX-G in Congo in 2009-2010.