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Indonesia's Global Maritime Fulcrum: An Updated Archipelagic Outlook?

The previous Archipelagic Outlook strategy was inward focused; the new policy looks beyond Indonesia’s borders.

A recently published document titled Buku Putih Poros Maritim Dunia [Global Maritime Fulcrum White Paper] finally brings an authoritative voice to Indonesia’s Global Maritime Fulcrum (GMF) vision. The objective-oriented, 53-page publication constructs a narrative on the importance of the seas to Indonesia, the future trajectory of the GMF as Indonesia’s maritime vision, and the possible ways to achieve those ambitious ends.

Although the concept of the GMF was christened by President Joko Widodo, the policy objectives stated in the GMF White Paper are still largely rooted in the Archipelagic Outlook (Wawasan Nusantara). The GMF White Paper lists the Archipelagic Outlook as one of six fundamental principles on which the GMF is supposed to be founded. Is the GMF just really the Archipelagic Outlook with a new coat of paint? Or is it a shift from its predecessor?

The the Archipelagic Outlook concept was conceived due to the disadvantages brought upon Indonesia as an archipelagic state prior to the implementation of the Djuanda Declaration in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Prior to the implementation of Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs), the territorial waters between Indonesia’s islands were considered to be high seas where freedom of navigation applied. In Indonesia and the Law of the Sea (1995), Hasjim Djalal makes the case that the previous three-mile limit ordained by the Ordinance on Territorial Waters and Maritime Zones of 1939 had caused pockets of “high seas” to be present between islands in Indonesia. These maritime “holes” allowed foreign fishing boats and vessels to freely use the seas, often for purposes that were perceived to be harmful to Indonesia. Indonesia then started a long legal battle with the international community to gain special rights for archipelagic nations, which would later result in Indonesia’s Djuanda Declaration, which introduced the 12-mile limit and the EEZ into what would later become UNCLOS.

Considering the genesis of the Archipelagic Outlook, it is indeed, as Leonard Sebastian et al. in Indonesia’s Ascent (2015) puts it, “an inherently inward-looking concept.” The Archipelagic Outlook is adamant about the integrity of Indonesia’s outer islands and territorial waters, fearing that they might be claimed or used by foreign powers to influence domestic affairs. It insists that archipelagic unity be maintained, often by adopting suspicion for foreign vessels. Perhaps the flashiest display of the Archipelagic Outlook today is the series of dramatic sinking of foreign fishing vessels caught conducting illegal fishing operations in Indonesian waters.

However, such an introverted stance cannot be sustained in this age of interconnectivity. It also cannot be maintained as a guideline if Indonesia were to start expanding beyond the archipelago and seek to influence its surrounding environment. Sebastian et al. criticized the concept as being unable “to keep pace with the regional maritime strategic environment, let alone to shape and influence it.” To some extent, this critique holds true. Due to the inherent inwardness of the Archipelagic Outlook, defense strategies have generally been tailored toward maintaining the integrity and unity of the country.

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