Redefining Indonesia’s Role on the Global Stage as a Middle Power

The Lowy Institute's annual report places Indonesia as one of the middle powers in Asia. Indonesia is in ninth position.

The end of the Cold War, which was followed by the rise of emerging powers or new actors in the international world such as China, India, and the Arab World, has encouraged the formation of the Multipolar World Order. A multipolar system provides opportunity and equality for each country to participate in determining the direction of the world because the world is no longer controlled by one or two dominant actors.

Then what about Indonesia? The Lowy Institute’s annual report places Indonesia as one of the middle powers in Asia. Indonesia is in ninth position, interesting things to learn, one of the important factors, is based on the diplomatic influence built by Indonesia. Specifically, the Lowy Institute highlighted Indonesia’s success in organizing the Presidency G20 in 2022, and as the leader in 2023.

Roles and obligations as a leader

As a middle power country, Indonesia has obligations as a mediator or stabilizer when problems occur; become a stabilizer of the world through collective efforts to maintain the order that has been created; then as a leader at the regional level; and finally become a representative or leader for developing countries. Have these four efforts or obligations been fulfilled? run by Indonesia to the maximum?

Talking about representatives or leaders for developing countries, since being appointed president in 2014, Jokowi has never attended the UN annual session. This shows that Indonesia does not care about its image and international agenda. This is an important forum and the perfect momentum every year for Indonesia to get these echoed issues that developing countries are experiencing such as the impact of the Trade War to the Invasion of Russia to Ukraine, developing countries always become victims of actions they did not commit.

Then, the role of the mediator was also not carried out optimally. Indonesia only focuses on highlighting the Palestinian issue and the humanitarian crisis in Rohingya. Indonesia does not care and is even silent on other humanitarian issues, such as the persecution of Uighur Muslims, and threats of Chinese invasion of Taiwan and Hong Kong, under the pretext that these are China’s domestic problems. Indonesia also did not do much about the Ukraine and Russia war, Jokowi’s visit to Ukraine and Russia had no significant impact.

Regarding efforts to maintain the order that has been created, Indonesia is involved in regional stability efforts through the ASEAN Outlook on Indo-Pacific (AOIP). However, this is only a limited policy paper, which has no binding force. It can be seen that ASEAN member countries continue to build massive military cooperation with the US and China. The Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Indonesia regularly conduct war games with the US. On the other hand, Cambodia and Vietnam are doing something similar to China.

Losing momentum

Jokowi actually had perfect momentum when he introduced the Global Maritime Fulcrum (GMF) Vision in 2014, at a time when China’s movements were massive in the South China Sea (SCS). This vision can become a Grand Strategy for Indonesia to make the sea its main strength. However, this vision eventually just ended without having any significant achievements. If this vision can run optimally, Indonesia will have a clear strategic blueprint and can build international support regarding efforts to maintain stability in the South China Sea.

Reviewing Indonesia’s role in the past

As a country that has a long history of efforts for world peace, Indonesia has always played a significant role. Indonesia became the initiator of the formation of the Non-Aligned Movement to provide options for small countries amid the Cold War. Then, under Prime Minister Djuanda, Indonesia initiated the concept of an archipelagic nation to integrate Indonesian territory and world shipping, Which eventually gave birth to UNCLOS maritime law in 1982, which is used to this day. Finally, to improve the economy, security, and stability in the region, Indonesia together with five other countries formed a regional organization, namely ASEAN, in 1967. So, therefore, Indonesia should do something similar now, Indonesia can’t remain silent in the midst of world conditions that are not conducive.

Notes and reflections

It must be understood that Indonesia will find it difficult or even unable to become a mediator in this conflict. In fact, a super power like China can’t do much. However, Indonesia was able to show a firm attitude, not a gray one. As a middle power country, Indonesia has the capacity and moral obligation to do this.

Indonesia must show that the aggressiveness of large countries will only harm smaller countries. There has been an increase in energy and food prices and a reduction in international aid for small or poor countries.

Indonesia cannot be trapped in “all neutrality” on the basis of “free and active politics.” This war should have been the perfect momentum for Indonesia to reinterpret or reaffirm the position or true meaning of “free and active politics.” In this case, Indonesia is “free” to determine its direction in the form of condemning Russia’s attack on Ukraine without having to be pressured by the West, on the basis of economic losses for Indonesia.

Meanwhile, “active” can be shown in the form of building platforms or mechanisms related to efforts to reduce the impacts received, especially for small countries. This principle can be realized if Indonesia is able to use the momentum as a host Presidency G20 and ASEAN 2023 optimally. Indonesia’s position on this conflict also shows how Indonesia will respond to escalations, especially in the South China Sea (SCS).

In the future, Indonesia can align its national interests without having to forget its moral obligations as a middle power country, building a forum to voice what small or poor countries are suffering. Indonesia must show that this is a global problem that must be managed and resolved together.

In the end, international politics is so complex that no one can predict what will happen in the future, therefore Indonesia must be able to position itself at the right time and place. It’s good for us to remember what Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said, America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests. Kissinger’s statement is true, national interests are always the main goal of a country, but sacrificing basic values ​​and principles in carrying out foreign policy is not a wise choice. I hope the next president can realize, reflect, and formulate a foreign policy that is in line with his role and obligations as a middle-power force.

Gufron Gozali
Gufron Gozali
Gufron Gozali is a junior research assistant from the Islamic University of Indonesia, whose research focuses on the United States and the Middle East.