‘Wawasan nusantara’ vs UNCLOS
Wawasan nusantara is the fundamental standpoint of Indonesian geopolitics. Literally, wawasan nusantara means the archipelagic concept; contextually the term is more precisely translated as the “Indonesian archipelagic vision”. Wawasan nusantara is a way for Indonesia to look at itself (geographically) as a unity of ideology, politics, economy, sociocultural, security and defense issues.
The concept attempts to overcome Indonesia inherent geographic challenges —a state that comprises of thousands of islands as well as thousands of sociocultural backgrounds. Vis-à-vis the state craving unification, the water between the islands must become the connectors rather than separators.
Under the previous International Sea Law, the coastal state territorial water was only 3 miles seaward of its coastline. Accordingly, Indonesia archipelago encloses many high seas within, for instance: The water between Jawa and Kalimantan (the Java Sea), between Kalimantan and Sulawesi (the Makassar Strait), the Banda Sea or many other places wider than 6 miles. Even with the latter recommendation of a 12-mile seaward territorial water, Indonesia would still have several high seas within its archipelago.
Thus, wawasan nusantara is the inevitability in uniting Indonesia’s diversity.
The concept, conveyed in the Djuanda Declaration, has become the principal teaching for all Indonesians, as early as kindergarten.
Djuanda asserted that the water areas within an islanded state
must be treated as its internal water. This means that the state will have complete jurisdiction — equal to its land territory.
Thus, in the legal terms expressed in the wawasan nusantara, Indonesia practically demands full sovereignty over its territory, both the land and water. Any foreign interest lies within should become the government of Indonesia discretion only. Unfortunately, it is not the case.
When the third United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) of 1982 came into force, it had accommodated the island states under its provisions. Under Part IV, it even specifies those states with the name: Archipelagic states.
The UNCLOS provisions define an archipelagic state as a state that comprises “one or more archipelagos and may include other islands”. In addition, the comparison between the land area and water is 1 to 1 and 1 to 9 with only 3 percent of the connecting baselines (the archipelagic baselines), that may exceed 100 nautical miles (nm) — at maximum of 125 nm.
Fulfilling those requirements, a state may claim the 12 nm of territorial sea, the 200 nm of exclusive economic zone (EEZ), including the continental shelf from its archipelagic baselines.
Under the third UNCLOS, Indonesia now has a globally accepted framework that can accommodate its ideal of wawasan nusantara.
Indonesia can claim itself as an archipelagic state. It has 2:3 ratio between land and water, around 17,000 islands and has only 18 long baselines that exceed 100 nm or
2.7 percent out of 183 baselines in total — the longest is 122.74 nm, which is also less than regulated limit
of 125 nm.
Using the third UNCLOS delimitation for the water jurisdiction, Indonesia sovereignty and sovereign rights enclose more than 5.8 million square kilometers. This is even larger than Djuanda’s assertion since the Declaration did not include the EEZ.
If the third UNCLOS has been so openhanded in embracing the archipelagic principle in general, is it really sufficient as well as compatible to the Indonesia’s wawasan nusantara in particular?
In fact, the answer lies in the retroactive of an archipelagic state and the loose wordings that embed within the Archipelago provisions.
First, since freedom of navigation is still the main spirit of the Sea Law the existence of an archipelagic state should not be significantly affected. Any archipelagic state should provide sea routes within its archipelago. The third UNCLOS refers to such routes as the Archipelagic Sea Lane (ASL). Such routes must be as convenient as when it was not archipelagic water. Differing from innocent passage, the ASL falls under the transit passage regime that cannot be suspended.
For Indonesia’s archipelago, the ASL must accommodate the two sea traffic directions namely the west-east and the north-south. Therefore, if Indonesia only provides north-south ASLs, the west-east routes will be at the transiting ship’s own discretion referred to as “the normal routes used for navigation”.
It means that any ship can freely choose its own way when transiting through the Indonesian Archipelago beyond 12 or 24 miles of the coastlines, without any intervention from the Indonesian authority. The ASL passage is similar to the high sea regimes.
Furthermore, in the generally accepted interpretation of ASL,
the transiting ships may deviate from the axis up to 25 nm, or 10 percent of the distant between the
Thus, since providing ASL is mandatory and it is almost uncontrolled like the high sea, the archipelagic water does not entirely belong to the archipelagic states.
For Indonesia, since the length of its ASL is more than 4,000 miles the routes will enclose roughly
more than 200,000 square miles. Such conditions do not represent the unification spirit of wawasan nusantara.
Another exacerbating factor is the terminology of “normal mode” that is used to regulate the ASL transit. No globally accepted definition is appropriate to describe as such. Some, who have a global interest, will presume their “normal mode” as submerging their submarines while transiting, flying their aircraft over their carriers’ ADIZ (air defense identification zone), or any other manner that they consider as their “normal mode”.
Conversely, the archipelagic states are not happy with such definition as it allows the other states moving around uncontrolled inside their “archipelagic territory”.
Yet again, the wawasan nusantara principle of unity in security
and defense will not prevail under such circumstance.
Overall, the archipelago provision under the third UNCLOS is the best deal Indonesia can get for now.
Nevertheless, it is not enough to be the final goal for the wawasan nusantara precept.
What Indonesia currently needs is not legitimacy on paper, but rather the effective control of the archipelago, particularly the ASL. Although, the effective control will not change the Indonesia rights before the law, but merely winning the status will also be useless without the capability to exploit it.
Perhaps Indonesia can learn as such from its neighbor, Singapore. In certain places, albeit Indonesia owns the sky above, still it has to ask Singapore permission to fly it over because the airspace falls under the control of the Singapore flight information region (FIR).
The writer has a master’s degree in maritime policy from the University of Wollongong, Australia, and a postgraduate diploma in strategic studies from Massey University, New Zealand.
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