Indonesia’s Non-Aligned foreign policy: Limitation or Opportunity

Indonesia as a developing country has a policy that is quite unique and different from most other countries, one of which is Indonesia's non-aligned foreign policy.

Indonesia as a developing country has a policy that is quite unique and different from most other countries, one of which is Indonesia’s non-aligned foreign policy. Even Indonesia itself is one of the founding members of the non-aligned movement which was established in 1961 during the cold war. During the Cold War, the non-aligned movement was established because countries wanted to maintain their sovereignty and independence from the influence of the two superpowers the U.S. and the Soviet Union which at that time were competing. But until now Indonesia is one of the countries that still adheres to the non-aligned movement and this is also one of the guidelines in its foreign policy. Many have questioned Indonesia’s decision to stick to a non-aligned policy and see it as Indonesia’s limitations in taking a role in the world order. However, there are also those who say that the non-aligned policy decision is a good opportunity for Indonesia to be more flexible and to push its interests abroad. These two statements raise a question: if this is indeed a limitation, can this be corrected and if this turns out to be an opportunity, can it be developed?

      In the 1950s, seeing the condition of the world at that time in the ideological war between the two superpowers of the U.S. and Soviet Union, Indonesia as a country that had not long declared its independence chose to focus on promoting its national interests. This is of course because Indonesia’s struggle for independence from Dutch colonial rule made Indonesia which at that time was led by Soekarno, ensure that Indonesia’s foreign policy would maintain its independence that had been fought for and would not become a pawn in the competition between the two superpower countries at that time. And in 1955 there was an important moment when 29 Asian-African countries gathered at the Bandung Conference to take a big step in international unity between newly independent countries in order to maintain their independence and determine their own destiny which was finally formalized in 1961 as the Non-Aligned Movement or NAM. This policy was strongly supported by the sentiments of the people who saw colonialism as a threat to their development and autonomy.

      Since then Indonesia has continued to survive and adhere to the non-aligned policy which was indeed the right step at that time, but as time went by, Indonesia’s decision to adopt a non-aligned policy was quite limiting in several important aspects such as security, economy, and diplomacy. As in the field of security and military by deciding to remain non-aligned, Indonesia does not have sufficiently guaranteed security and collective defense systems such as those offered by the NATO military combine. Economically, Indonesia is less optimal and quite weak in its bargaining power because Indonesia does not get privileges and lacks support from bloc countries that have strong economies, even this non-aligned status is quite limiting in economic agreements and trade partnerships that usually tend to see economic alliances and bloc similarities.  In terms of diplomacy, Indonesia must also be quite careful in moving in international interactions because of its neutral status in global affairs, this neutrality also weakens Indonesia in international forums where countries in one block usually hold collective power, not to mention that Indonesia must also voice its interests without the support of the alliance network.

     The good thing is that Indonesia realized these limitations and decided to take adjustment steps without changing their non-aligned status. With its non-aligned status, Indonesia formed its military and defense forces internally by utilizing its strategic archipelago to deal with potential threats, Indonesia also utilized the concept of the Sishankamrata strategy which has the idea that defense is not only the responsibility of the military but is the responsibility of the entire nation, this concept encourages the use of military and non-military resources to ensure the security of the nation’s independence and sovereignty. From the economic side, Indonesia’s economy continues to establish relationships and share partnerships with countries from around the world. To deal with economic limitations Indonesia also signed regional and bilateral agreements, Indonesia also participated regionally in the ASEAN economic community (AEC) to continue to boost their economic needs. Furthermore, Indonesia also continues to build partnerships with economic giants such as the US and China. In terms of diplomacy, Indonesia also continues to participate and participate in forum activities both regionally through organizations such as ASEAN or outside such as the EU, this is done to expand Indonesia’s diplomacy network and have an impact beyond the limitations of non-aligned, as well as allowing Indonesia to continue to help solve global issues and maintain its non-aligned stance if useful. 

      Indonesia is arguably quite good at seeing an opportunity within its limitations. However, Indonesia can still do more to encourage global impact while maintaining its non-aligned policy. Indonesia can encourage more use of its soft power, especially through cultural wealth. Indonesia is a culturally diverse country that can be used as an excellent tool for soft power diplomacy, investing in programs such as education and cultural exchanges can encourage a deeper appreciation of Indonesian artistic values and traditions which can build bridges of cooperation to countries around the world. This will certainly increase the influence of Indonesian culture in the world and will help diplomacy efforts through the global perception of Indonesia as a dynamic country. In addition to soft power, Indonesia must also encourage its efforts in the economy, especially as one of the important countries in ASEAN, Indonesia must be able to better utilize its position to expand market access, improve regional economic integration, and even attract foreign direct investment (FDI). Indonesia must improve trade flow facilities and open up smoother investment opportunities, this will greatly help Indonesia’s economic competitiveness on the global stage.

      Indonesia as one of the countries that continues to adhere to its non-aligned policy needs to realize that it must continue to make adjustments. With the changing global dynamics, Indonesia must be able to see the limitations in its non-aligned foreign policy and see an opportunity to take advantage of it. Indonesia also needs to maximize its efforts either in the use of soft power or its role in the economy to improve its international politics again so that it can have a real impact on global affairs.

Raditya Putra Yudha
Raditya Putra Yudha
I am an International Relations scholar with a deep interest in global diplomacy, international security, and economic relations. Through publications and scholarly engagement, I aim to continue helping academics and policymakers advocate for a more interconnected and peaceful world.