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Indonesia’s Geopolitics Toward the Malacca Straits: Regional Security Complex?

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This Paper published in Indonesian Student Association for International Studies Journal 2013 (ISAFIS)

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This paper analysing Indonesia’s Strategic Geopolitical chances toward the Malacca Straits. Malacca Straits has offered strategic advantages to Indonesia. Conversely, rather than maximizing its power Indonesia choose to cooperate and bound itself under the ASEAN rules in order to promote peace and stability to the region. In times of peace it is adequate for Indonesia to maintain current status quo of its geopolitics policy, but in times of war Indonesia’s geopolitics policy should be questioned. This paper aims to depict Indonesia opportunity to play a significant geopolitics strategy, particularly in times of war which caused by energy security issues. The writer dismantling this paper with a closer approach of Realism perspective and will encompass Barry Buzan theory of Regional Security Complex. To conclude, by proposing Indonesia’s significant role within ASEAN Defence Minister Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus) to maintain Indonesia’s current status quo through the Malacca Straits.

Keywords: Indonesia’s Geopolitical, Regional Security Complex, ADMM-Plus


Malacca Straits



Malacca Straits as one of the busiest Sea Line Of Communication (SLOC) is located on the Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore borders. 550 miles long and 300 miles wide at its northwest end, it is shaped like a funnel that eventually narrows into the Strait of Singapore and the Phillips Channel, only 1.5 miles wide at its narrowest point. Malacca Straits is the world’s most important maritime choke point. The Straits connects maritime route from Indian Ocean to the South China Sea. Through Malacca Straits flows as much as 40% of world’s trade and also 80% of China oil imports, equal as South Korea and Japan oil imports and gas imports (Percival, 2005). Growing economic industrialisation in the region will consume for more energy and the demand of energy is estimated will increase, in which transported through the Malacca Straits. Every year, between 50,000 – 60,000 ships weighing in various tons across the straits and it is estimated have a trend to increase (Ho, 2007).

Indonesia as an archipelago state, Malacca Straits contains opportunity as well as risk because it has cover the longest route between Sumatera island and Malay peninsula. Malacca Straits as Indonesia given territorial has a strategic implication toward Indonesia policies in the region as their strategic environment.

Indonesia’s Geopolitical Sphere

Because of the Asia-Pasific economies heavily rely on the sea for transportation for trade and energy matters, the Malacca Straits has give number of implication to world trade connectivity. Each states in the region is highly dependence to Malacca Straits. It can be potrayed by a study of the US National Defense University in which showed that if Malacca Straits were blocked and the ships route diverted, thus the extra stemming cost would account for US$ 8 Billion dollars a year, it even will be higher if the energy commodity prices hike up (Coulter, 2002). Therefore, any threat that could have been occur would disrupting trade stability regionally and internationally. For Indonesia, it also will threatening Indonesia’s sovereignty as their core national interests.

Beyond the importance of Malacca Straits, piracy, armed robber and threat of maritime terrorism are the major problems which often colouring the situation in Malacca Strait. Act of the piracy and armed robber have occured within Malacca Straits for many years. Between 2001 and 2008, the act of actual and attempted piracy in Malacca Straits account for 208 cases (RSIS, 2009). Even trend of the act of piracy and armed robber is decreasing, the international community perception of piracy and armed robber threat is still remain strong. States seems to supervised their ships and tankers under their navies supervision. In fact, the user states of Malacca Straits are often armed their ships and tankers, convoyed their ships and tankers with coastguard and navies, and even deployed their navies in the Malacca Straits (Jalal, 2006). Moreover, those activities was not related to the UNCLOS 1982 Article 19 which regulate the user states as innocent pasage. Accordingly, the user states stressed that guarantee of maritime safety and maritime security under the UNCLOS 1982 from Indonesia (as litoral state) is questionable since its lack of capabilities, but conversely the user states indirectly not implementing their duties as noted in UNCLOS 1982 Article 43 (Jalal, 2006). This sort of activities has threatened Indonesia national interest to protect their territorial.

As an archipelago state, Indonesia strongly believe that the sovereignty of their waters are equal as well as their land. Therefore, arrangement over the Malacca Straits viewed as Indonesia responsibility. This proposition was endorsed under the UNCLOS 1982, as a littoral states Indonesia have a sovereignty over the straits to rule under the reflections of UNCLOS Article 34. In geopolitical context, state has the spatiality of power that represented by sovereignty to exercise power (Agnew, 2003). This is the advantage of Indonesia, in simply means, Indonesia’s control over the Malacca Straits could be exerted to influence the region since it contains energy security dimension of the region.

The vastly changing over international economic development with the rise of PRC and India has also changed geopolitical policies over the region. It shown by the increase of both countries in expanding their navies capabilities. India on the one hand, develop and modernise their navy capabilities to be a blue water navy. It presumes that India profoundly concerned about energy security which transported through the sea and control over the energy resource is crucial while India industrialized their economic (Hoverholt, 2008). PRC on the other hand, was doing the same thing. PRC’s modernisation over its navies directed to ensure their national interests over the South China Sea, as well as their desires to ensure energy security in oil and gas rich area of South Cina Sea. Besides, the U.S. pivot to Asia-Pacific stressed that defending freedom of navigation in the South China Sea is one of America strategic interest (Clinton, 2011). In ASEAN context, the shared vision toward peace and stability not merely influencing member states capability to increase their military expenditure. Singapore has improved their navies combatants fleet with 6 Freegate Formidable, 2 Vastergotland Submarines and 4 Sjoorman Submarines, while Malaysia has imporved their navies capabilities by adding other military bases (Yudhoyono, 2012).

All of it has depicted that all ASEAN members has an interests toward the security of Southeast Asia waters, include also for Malacca Straits. It has to strategically noted that Malacca Straits connects Indian Ocean to the South China Sea and economically it also will increase the cost of shipping if the Straits were blocked and diverted. Those coincidence are not given, but it has crucially shaping future conflict in the region. Conflict of maritime dispute which caused by energy security.

All of those geopolitics vastly changing phenomena explicitly shows that the future tension over the maritime security actually not only cover for the issues over maritime security (piracy, armed robber and maritime terrorism), but also encompass the future maritime disputes in which causes by energy security dimensions and could stimulate wars. Based on this changing geopolitics context, Indonesia policy will choose either to likely play a significant role for maintaining peace and stability for the region or maximizing its power for the crucial role of ensuring its national interests toward their sovereignty.

Indonesia’s geopolitics  policy option should be debated. For now Indonesia have conducted to play significant role in ensuring regional stability by creating security in Malacca Straits, which is related to the main responsibility of Indonesia toward UNCLOS and ASEAN rules. But if it the case that scenario occur, status quo over the Indonesia policy to ensure regional stability will be altered. Therefore, next section of this paper will elaborate crucially geopolitics decision which could be considered by Indonesia government as policy response to the worst scenario of energy security led to maritime disputes. This scenario probability is low to happen, high impact if it were.

Regional Security Complex: Theory Building and Analysis

To explain what precisely rational policy could be made if those scenario occur, the writer emphasis Regional Security Complex (RSC) theory as a tool of analysis. Regional Security Complex defined as group of states whose primary security concerns link together sufficiently closely that their national securities cannot reasonably be consider apart from one another (Waever, 2003, hal. 44). Related to Malacca Straits, Southeast Asia region thus is a space where the extremes of national and global security interplay, and where most of action occurs. Regional Security Complex therefore dichotomised patterns of amity and enmity which is coherent to security interdependence analysis (Waever, 2003, hal. 45). Besides, RSC also tends to securitise issues in the region (Securitisation Proccess).

Based on descriptive tenets of Regional Security Complex, theoretical framework of analysis that could be concluded as tool of analysis. There are; First, analsysis based on domestically in the state affairs in the region, Second, state to state relations (which generate the security in the region), third, the region interaction with neighboring regions, and fourth, the role of global powers in the region (Waever, 2003, hal. 51).

In realist realm, situation of peace is considerably as pre-condition of war (Si Vis Pacem Para Bellum). Indonesia as the main actor analysis will be placed in realist perspective. The RSC analysis will begin with the worst situation of energy security led to maritime disputes or future wars, particularly in South China Sea before RSC analyse Indonesia probability to response this situation in context of geopolitical policy through the Malacca Straits.

First tenets of RSC emphasis on domestis affairs of states related to the issues. Therefore, Indonesia domestic security affairs toward maritime security is important to be discussed. Based on Indonesia Desence White Paper, Indonesia defined that maritime security has no relations to energy security and maritime conflict in the future, such as in the South China Sea, in spite of Indonesia has acknowledged conflictual situation in the South China Sea (Indonesia, 2008). Indonesia lack of understanding in determining its strategic environment would led to weakness in producing its geopolitical policy, in other words Indonesia’s lack responses toward the changing of its strategic environment would make Malacca Straits strategically invaluable for Indonesia Geopolitics policies. Indeed, Indonesia Military Doctrine is Passively-Defense supported by Indonesia’s philosophical values on Constitution (Indonesia, Doktrin Pertahanan Negara, 2007). Indonesia also will hard to defend its territorial and sovereignty when worst situation of maritime disputes or wars occur since their navies capabilities also insufficient enough to undergo that sort of situation. At this point, Indonesia domestic affairs centered their focus on the status quo of its strategic environment, while it supposed to be centered as future circumstances.

Even Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore defense white papers has never stated that the importance of maritime security which also included its relation to energy security. Malaysia and Singapore at this point clearly understand the vastly changing towards its strategic environment rather than Indonesia perceived. It can be shown by comparing Malaysia and Singapore military expenditure to modernise its military capabilities, Indonesia lay behind the both countries. It means that chance in domestic measures to play any significant geopolitics role toward maritime issues are low because of government preferences toward their defense arrangements. Singapore on the one hand has stressed their interests to re-think their status under the UNCLOS about the littoral states and the user states (Desker, 2007), while Malaysia stands on the same position with Indonesia to protect the status of littoral states (Defense, 2010). This efforts will be directly threatening Indonesia Sovereignty cause with the changing over the status of the littoral states and the user states under the UNCLOS, Indonesia duties and rights to regulate the straits will disappear. Supported with Singaporean Navy as an instrument to alter those status, the opportunity to re-think it will be widerly open. Challenged from Singapore desires supposed to balance by the Indonesia government not only diplomatically questioning the alteration, but also strengthening its navy to counterbalance Singaporean navy.

The scenario of energy security led to wars in South China Sea or at least deteriorated tensions, Indonesia can play crucial low to stop the wars or armed clash with bargaining to block or diverted Malacca Straits. But the precondition from its domestic affairs are strengthen their navy capabilities and alter their perception toward the significance of energy security which caused maritime disputes or wars in the region.

Second tenets of RSC is State to State relations to generate security in the regions. Indonesia relations with other littoral states (namely, Singapore and Malaysia) in maintaining maritime security looks like living in harmony when it came to issues as piracy, armed robber and maritime terrorism. Several cooperation among them have been concluded and came entry into force bilaterally or trilaterally. Indonesia and Singapore have conducted joint surveillance system (SURPIC) that covers the edge of Malacca Straits over the Singapore Straits, Indonesia and Malaysia have also conducted the same cooperation with Malaysia (Malaysia-Indonesia Cordinated Patrol) (Ho, 2007). Trilaterally, Indonesia along with Malaysia and Singapore announced cooperation to secure Malacca Straits for maritime security purpose under Operation MALSINDO since 2004 and renewed as Malacca Straits Sea Patrol in 2006.

According to scenario of energy security led to maritime disputes or wars, cooperation among them will be hardly to achieve. There is no cooperation to prevent such situation. Overlapping claims over each sovereignty will led fleets and submarines to pass this route while accordingly they were agreed under the UNCLOS that any means of navigation that threathen their territorial integrity and sovereignty is restricted. Singapore, for instance, on the one hand parked their 6 submarines at their backyard with also they have amity relationship with the US navies. When scenario occured, they will also control the Malacca Straits. It has a meaning toward the regional stability as means to show their concerns over the energy security led to maritime dispute. On the other hand, Malaysia also have a security arrangement over their state through the Five Power Defense Agreement in which if they were attacked by other states, they will be backed by their security umbrella alliances. Both littoral states has indirectly performed some concerns toward the energy security led to maritime disputes or wars while when this scenario come. Indonesia position is in dilemmas whether to protect Malacca Straits by blocking it but they also should face Singapore and Malaysia behavior, or they will join to ally with them since deteriorated situation also pushed them. Moreover, Indonesia’s naval capabilities have not been tested in conflict since the 1960s (Muhibat, 2012).

Indonesia in securitising this issues performed lack of capabilities. Indeed, Indonesia Foreign Policy characterised that Indonesia foreign policy should be based on Independent and Active principle, but it is a good behavior when peace time. But in the war times, it is unprepared. Therefore Indonesia also have to prepare to worst situation when it came to war. Should Indonesia being independent and active when its sovereignty and territorial integrity threatened while Indonesia defense also lack in navy capabilites? Si Vis Pacem Parra Bellum.

Third, the region interaction with neighbouring regions. It means that relations with Southeast Asia with other region either Northeast Asia or Pasific. Southeast Asia region institutionalised their focused through the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). The focus of ARF since 2000 have been endeavours toward maritime security just as stated at ARF meeting in Cambodia in 2003. The interplay concerns of each region toward the ARF itself has only relating to maritime security which is contain of piracy, armed robber and maritime terrorism. Until the current ARF meeting in Bandar Sri Begawan in 2013, the perception among members of the strategic environment of the region (either Southeast Asia or Northeast Asia) is limited to maritime security. It supposed to put energy security issues of the region and relating it to maritime security issues despites each states from each region recognised the future probability for this issues. For instance, the PRC, South Korea, and Japan are highly depending their energy supply passed through the Malacca Straits and South China Sea. This situation supposed to build shared understanding. Thus, institutionalised in norms and rules bound up together.

Besides the ARF, the ASEAN Defence Minister Meeting (ADMM) and ADMM-Plus has also taking important place in shaping the interaction among region toward the issues of maritime security. By conducting ADMM or ADMM-Plus, each region wants to have a shared understanding to response the security issues. But since the ADMM guided with ASEAN norms just as noted under the TAC 1976, sphere of ADMM action to influence region with its policy is limited. ADMM or ADMM-Plus forum has potential, but it needs to be prepared to take on difficult issues (Mukherjee, 2013).

In context that scenario energy security can causes the maritime disputes or wars, the lack of institutionalised rules within the region will prevail the cause of this scenario. There were shared perception among region of energy security issues which can led to maritime disputes or wars, but they were lack to institutionalise it when it come to the forum.

Eventually, the RSC also analyse the role of global powers in the region. The US as the most important actors to Southeast Asia region. The US presence will bring the regional balance of power arrangement when it is dealing with the rising PRC. In context of the US re-balance to Asia-Pasific, both Southeast Asia and Northeast Asia countries are welcomed and eager for the US leadership (Clinton, 2011). The US strategic engagement to the region seen as the threat upon PRC.

Related to the Scenario of maritime disputes or wars caused by the energy security issues. The presence of the US become significance balancer when PRC postition toward the current issues increased and escalating tension over the claims of South China Sea. Despite the US engagement to the region rely on their interests to peaceful means, the endorsement of freedom navigation and preserving regional sea line stability is the main reason they have appeared. Based on this situation, Indonesia interests toward its security and the regional stability will be shaped with the engagement of other global power. In this level analysis, when the worst scenario came into effect, Indonesia can play crucial role to play between the great power. Moreover, either PRC or the US preferably to wait Indonesia position toward the issues. As far as Indonesia efforts to play between this situation, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Natalegawa has tried to form regional architecture called “dynamic equilibrium” where there is no dominant power determine the region. It sees that all Indonesia effort to prevent the worst scenario are good and adequate, but in sense of realism, it would not the security of Indonesia position when it came to the worst scenario.

The analysis of RSC theory has shown the worst situation if the scenario occured in which energy security issues can led to maritime disputes or wars. Indonesia in domestic level, state-to-state relation level, regional level and upon global level is lack of capabilities to manage adequate geopolitics policy if the scenario occured, in other word Indonesia is in vulnerable situation when the tension in its strategic environment deteriorated. Therefore the most reliable policy for Indonesia is to maintain current status quo through the ADMM-Plus Meeting.

ADMM (Plus): Source of Regional Stability?

ADMM is the highest ministrial defence and security consultative and cooperative mechanism for the discussion of regional security issues with a view to ensuring that than ASEAN states live in peace with one another in the region. Moreover, the ADMM (Plus) is the robust, effective, open and inclusive component of the regional security architecture that would enable the ADMM to cooperate with non-ASEAN countries to build capacity and better prepare ASEAN to the complex of security challenge (ASEAN, 2010).

ADMM itself comprises with all ASEAN Members whereas ADMM-Plus comprises ASEAN Members plus eight countries namely Australia, PRC, India, Japan, New Zealand, ROK, Russian Federation and the US (ADMM, 2013). The role of ADMM or ADMM-Plus will be the most effective instrument to address and implement action toward security issues in the region. Related to this paper, scenario of maritime disputes or war caused by the energy security can be addressed on ADMM (Plus).

In order to build regional security architecture in the region, ADMM (Plus) enacted five priority area which one of these priority are toward maritime issues. Nevertheless, along with bilateral or regional cooperation that ASEAN has built with other extra-regional parties, maritime issues under the ADMM-Plus has also emphasized in piracy, armed robber and maritime issues. Perception among ASEAN members and extra-regional countries involvement in each maritime security issues has only cover for the piracy, aarmed robber and maritime terrorism in which based on International Maritime Bureau data does not seem to correlate and enourmously influence region. The proportion of ships attacked only ranges 0,04% to 0,11% of total ships transiting annually (Ho, 2007). Therefore, when the issues over the maritime security came to the ADMM (Plus), it supposed to be to address high level politics issues in maritime security, not limited to low level issues as piracy, armed robber and maritime terrorism.

Indonesia should have clearer position toward defense diplomacy at the ADMM (Plus) Meeting. For instance, without neglecting the importance of current low maritime issues, Indonesia have to conduct defense diplomacy toward the possibilitiees of energy security issues in which can led to maritime disputes or future tension escalations as well as the RSC scenario has explained above under the framework of ADMM (Plus). As the biggest archipelago states in the region over the maritime issues, Indonesia proposal to discuss the high level maritime issues related to energy security more affordable to be achieved. Moreover, the issues regarding to the South China Sea as maritime disputes could be Indonesia’s geopolitical strategy to indirectly push PRC signed the regional Code of Counduct, in particularly this issues also related to energy security. Therefore, the ADMM (Plus) can expand their influence upon security arrangements toward the issues, rather than to be acknowledged as Talk-Shop, ADMM (Plus) potential meeting will be known as strategic meeting to ensure regional stability (Mukherjee, 2013).

The significance of Malacca Straits as Indonesia’s geopolitical sphere in this context, is as a bargaining position toward defense diplomacy in ADMM (Plus). The ASEAN members and the eight extra-regional countries is highly aware about the Indonesia’s geopolitical sphere in Malacca Straits as the 80% of Northeast Asia supply route energy. Therefore, Indonesia advantage to address this issues to the ADMM (Plus) forum have connections to secure Indonesia national interests.


Introduction of this paper has introduced the significance advantage of Malacca Straits to Indonesia’s Geopolitical sphere. As the one of international choke points, 80% of energy needs passed this route to satisfy the thirsty Northeast Asia industrial economic. Based on this position, Indonesia lack of capabilities in conducting a significant role in Malacca Straits become important to be scrutinised. Realism Perspective along with RSC theory has identified Indonesia capabilities from domestic level, state-to-state relations level, regional level and global level.

Consider that the problems of energy security can led to maritime disputes or war, partuclarly in the South China Sea, Indonesia is supposed to be play any significant role to ensure regional stability. One sort of it is by conducting significant defense diplomacy thourgh ADMM (Plus) meeting. Therefore, by ensuring the achievable regional stability to the region, indirectly Indonesia has also ensuring its national interests toward its sovereignty.



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Written by polhaupessy

November 29, 2013 pada 6:37 am

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