Indonesia – Us Relations Not An Easy Matter

Posted by Admin on Saturday, 7 April 2007 | Opini

By Sayidiman Suryohadiprojo

Jakarta, 7 April 2007

In this era of Globalization relations among nation-states have become much more important than before. No nation can afford to isolate itself without harming its national interests.

Among the relations of Indonesia with many nations in the world, relations with the US definitely belong to the most important ones. Not only Indonesia needs good relations with the US, the US also has a great need for good relations with Indonesia. Many factors are bringing about this necessity, in particular geostrategic factors. .

However, Indonesia – US relations have never been an easy matter. That was already evident since the proclamation of the Republic of Indonesia in 1945. Although many American people were in favor of terminating colonialism, there were also strong interests to side with the Dutch in its endeavors to rebuild its colonial power in Indonesia.The strongest proof of this situation came to light when in its mediation in the Indonesia – Dutch colflict, the US was represented by a senior diplomat who strongly sided with the Dutch. During the Round Table Conference in the Hague in 1949 which was held to negotiate the transfer of sovereignty to Indonesia, the US mediator pressured strongly to Indonesia to accept many Dutch proposals. Among others, the agreement that Indonesia should bear all the Dutch debts, including expenditures made to finance all the military operations against Indonesia. Another one was the postponement of the transfer of control over West Irian, to be further negiotated later. Indonesia was forced to agree with these proposals to accommodate American interests.

After 1950 when Indonesia was in full control of the former Dutch East Indies except West Irian, relations with the US had not become easier. The US was irritated with Indonesia’s non-alignment vis-à-vis the Cold War, the confrontation between the West championed by the US and the communist camp with the Soviet Union as its chief. Indonesia’s geostrategic position in Southeast Asia could very much influence that confrontation. Not only was it important for the US that Indonesia did not side with the communist bloc, it was also very much interested that Indonesia stood on her side.

The US had established a defence pact for Southeast Asia, the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), in 1954 to safeguard US and Western security interests. SEATO included the US, Australia, France, UK, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Thailand. But the US realized that SEATO could only be really effective if Indonesia as the largest nation in SE Asia was also a member.

The US started to influence developments in Indonesia, aiming to bring it on its side. These efforts culminated in the outbreak of the PRRI-Permesta Rebellion in 1958 in which the US and its partners were very much involved with many kinds of support, including financial, military and personal support. These efforts ended only when the US realized that the Indonesian government and armed forces were able to suppress the rebellion effectively and the futility of efforts to bring down the non-aligned Indonesian government .

Although according to the agreements in the RTC of the Hague, the West-Irian problem should be negotiated after 1950, the Dutch resisted every Indonesian proposal to start talking again. The US as the former RTC mediator did nothing to remind the Dutch. It also rejected Indonesian efforts to procure military arms and equipment from American producers. It was clearly demonstrating its preference that West Irian remain under Dutch control. However, Indonesia was able to purchase its military arms requirements from the Soviet Union. This purchase made the Indonesian armed forces the strongest in SE Asia.

The US could not afford to see a Dutch defeat in a conflict with Indonesia because of the presence of Soviet military arms in Indonesian hands. Such a feat would strongly increase Soviet influence in SE Asia and even more. So the US forced the Dutch to agree with the transfer of control over West Irian to Indonesia through the good offices of the UN.

There came an improvement in Indonesia-US relations in 1965 when Indonesia defeated a communist coup and terminated the existence of the Indonesian Communist Party PKI which was the largest communist party in the world outside the communist bloc. Although Indonesia acted entirely based on its own interests without Western or US support, this development definitely benefited US interests tremendously. Closer relations between Indonesia and the US started to flourish, enabling Indonesia to start economic developments, although without leaving its non-alignment policy.

However this relatively cozy situation came to an end with the total defeat of the communist camp and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The US as the single superpower in the world became very confident that it should and could change the world according American values. Many American people became imbued with the idea of American Empire and world hegemony.

This change in American attitude consequently ended the smooth Indonesia-US relations between 1965 and the late eighties. This dramatic change had its consequences in the developments in Indonesia, among others the downfall of President Soeharto from power in 1998. This was a result of a Reform movement to rectify the many anomalies during the Soeharto regime. Unfortunately, because of lacking a stable and effective leadership the Reform movement was far from successful. Confusion and disorder in every corner became a good opportunity for the outside world to intervene in Indonesia and this was effectively used by the Americans to inject its values into Indonesian thinking and behaviour. But the injection of neo-liberal values in politics and economic management met with strong resistance by people who wanted to keep Pancasila as the foundation of life in Indonesia.

An important development affected Indonesia-US relations when the US on September 11, 2001 had to experience a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon by a Muslim group calling itself Al Qaeda under the leadership of Osama bin Laden. It was the first American experience in its history that the American continent and homeland was attacked from outside. It consequently strengthened American nationalism which very much became a force in its foreign relations. Although Indonesia condemned the terrorist attack and supported the US War on Terrorism, relations between the two nations became strained. The Americans from their side were looking suspiciously at Indonesia with the largest Muslim population in the world, while on the other side Indonesian Muslims, even the moderates, hated the US for its attack on Afghanistan and Iraq without a UN resolution.

Looking at the future, improvements in Indonesia-US relations very much depends on the establishment of an effective and stable government in Indonesia which is able to end confusion, instability and disorder, and demonstrate good governance to improve the national economy and social and political stability. The experience of the past showed that Indonesia-US relations are good or at least comfortable when Indonesia demonstrated concrete achievements, even if it harmed some US interests like the solution of the PRRI-Permesta rebellion. Only a strong and effective Indonesian national leadership will force the Americans to respect Indonesia and that will make relations smooth and even good. The main problem is therefore whether Indonesia will be able to develop the effective leadership it badly needs.

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