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Jakarta Post

Short-term pragmatism in Bali

  • Sabam P. Siagian

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Wed, September 3, 2014   /  09:19 am

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa and his Australian counterpart Julie Bishop have signed a long awaited document entitled, '€œCode of Conduct on Espionage'€.

The two foreign ministers deserve full praise for coining the most beautifully ironic expression in the English language. Where on Earth do spies or intelligence agencies have to submit themselves to a set of rules that limit their activities? If and when they do it, then they had better change the titles of their professions.

The Jakarta-Canberra agreement in Bali has to be viewed from a different angle, putting aside for a while the ironic contradiction of submitting intelligence activities to a set of rules. We also have to momentarily oversee the nagging question: Who or which agency is going to police the implementation of this agreement?

With all due respect, and in all frankness, Indonesia, for the time being at least, simply does not have the required capability to monitor the entire range of Australia'€™s sophisticated electronic intelligence '€” a level of sophistication very much enhanced by cooperation with the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the US National Security Agency (NSA) based on the Australia, New Zealand, United States (ANZUS) Treaty.

This cooperative pact was signed in 1951 during the height of the Cold War. That mindset of neighboring countries in Asia as potential threats, including Indonesia, still lingers as part of the corporate culture of Australia'€™s intelligence agencies.

The impressive economic growth achieved by neighboring Asian countries, not only China, is most welcomed Down Under. That steady economic growth means emerging markets keep expanding for the export of goods and services.

However, this mercantilist view is immediately counter -balanced by an alarmist view. Those neighboring Asian countries, which continuously achieved economic growth and could afford to procure expensive and sophisticated military hardware, may embark on hegemonic adventures.

Certainly, Indonesia, with a population of 240 million and an economy that has a bright medium-term future with muted nationalistic tendencies, is easily classified as a potential threat. Thus, the need for a sophisticated intelligence infrastructure to monitor these emerging potential threats is understandable.

That also explains the existence of the so-called '€œFive Eyes'€ intelligence community set up in the framework of the ANZUS Treaty and led by the US, which includes the UK, Canada and New Zealand.

The Five Eyes places everyone outside the exclusively anglophone club as targets of surveillance, by dividing the world into five territories for each member to oversee. Southeast Asia, including Indonesia of course, falls under Australian surveillance.

Let us return for a moment to that nagging question: Who or which agency is going to oversee Australia'€™s implementation of the newly signed '€œCode of Conduct on Espionage'€ on behalf of Indonesia, given its limited technological capability?

Truthfully, Jakarta can only hope that Edward Snowden, or his successor, will again unleash a batch of secret documents that includes the products of Australia'€™s intelligence agencies as the result of their Indonesia surveillance program.

If the code of conduct, or CoC (another bureaucratic abbreviation), has only a modest effectiveness, why make the strained effort to draft the document and finally reach an agreement after polishing it a few times?

In his recent column, the editor-in-chief of this paper, Meidyatama Suryodiningrat, writes: '€œ[...] while the Code of Conduct does represent a leap forward in the prickly relations of the two countries [Indonesia and Australia], it thankfully does not represent a step backward'€.

Most probably, other pragmatic motivations pushed both sides to draft and sign the CoC document at this stage.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is entering the final days of his presidency. He is so keen to leave a legacy that will have him remembered as a wise, prominent statesman. He is most probably aware of the limitations of the CoC document.

Short-term pragmatism prevails. He leaves the hard work of coping with the negative impact of Australia'€™s intelligence surveillance to incoming president Joko '€œJokowi'€ Widodo'€™s government.

Apparently, Bishop is well briefed. Her remarks in Bali were quite lavish in their praise of Yudhoyono.

As for Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, this CoC is a convenient political tool to show the Australian public and remind the current opposition that not only Labor governments understand Indonesia.

Further, it shows that a coalition government is capable of striking deals with this emerging giant neighbor, the Republic of Indonesia.

A convergence of short-term pragmatism on both sides pushed them to agree and sign this CoC on espionage.


The writer is a senior editor at The Jakarta Post. He has served as Indonesia'€™s ambassador to Australia.

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