The Indonesian Military Is Growing Rapidly, What’s The Impact For Regional Security in Southeast Asia?
The Indonesian Military is modernizing and expanding its capabilities, procuring advanced weaponry and growing its forces. This aims to strengthen Indonesia’s military power in response to regional threats like the South China Sea conflict. While boosting deterrence and stability, TNI’s efforts raise concerns about historical aggression and potential arms races among neighboring nations. Balancing positive impacts with possible negatives requires a cautious, transparent approach to modernization, shaping the evolving security landscape in Southeast Asia.
In a way, the saying below correlates much with what the Indonesian Military or TNI is currently doing, massive modernization and enlarging of the organization itself can be seen as their way of preparing for war, but what exactly is the TNI doing?
As of July 2023, The Indonesian Ministry of Defence or Kementerian Pertahanan RI has announced a long list of arms procurements in an attempt to modernize and strengthen the TNI’s capability (Guild, 2023), from fighter jets to submarines and even ballistic missile systems. These procurements are aimed to greatly enhance Indonesia’s military might, but that’s not the only steps that the TNI is taking to modernize itself to become a capable fighting force in the region.
While procurement of new equipment is important in modernizing an armed force, those are not the only aspect of enhancing one’s military capability. The TNI has also attempted to significantly increase its size which is shown in the growth of the armed forces in the last 10 years, such as the establishment of a third Infantry Division under Kostrad (Army’s Strategic Command, the quick reaction force of the Army), a third Marine Force under the Indonesian Navy’s Marine Corps, and the establishment of three Kogabwilhan (Joint Defense Territorial Commands). as of July 2023, there’s also talks between the TNI and the Indonesian People’s Representative or DPR to increase the amount of Army Regional Commands, which holds Combat, Combat Support, and Territorial Units, to 37 Regional Commands from the current existing 15 Regional Commands (CNN Indonesia, 2023).
It is understandable why the TNI feels the need to massively modernize and grow, after all, the military that was once focused on fighting internal conflicts such as separatism and insurgencies, is now faced with a dynamically evolving threat in the region. Issues such as the South China Sea conflict has been a major turning point in the modernization of the TNI. The rampant increase of violations of the Indonesian territorial waters and airspace by foreign countries explains the TNI’s will to modernize in order to be able to better enforce their sovereignty (CNN Indonesia, 2023).
It cannot be denied that a modern and capable TNI would benefit the Southeast Asian region in terms of regional security, as previously mentioned, the modernization program of the TNI aims to enable itself to stand head to head, toe to toe with peer enemies that tried to disrupt the South East Asia region. A strengthened TNI serves as a crucial deterrent against any potential security threats, fostering a balance of power in the region. With an improved military capacity, Indonesia can assert its sovereignty and protect its interests, thereby discouraging any aggressive actions or territorial encroachments by external actors. The presence of a capable TNI complements the existing security mechanisms, providing a counterweight to mitigate the potential expansionism associated with the Nine-Dash Line claim.
A more capable TNI instills confidence in neighboring countries, reassuring them of Indonesia’s commitment to regional security. This confidence-building measure can help mitigate tensions that may arise from the Nine-Dash Line situation, fostering an environment of stability and cooperation. As a stable regional actor, Indonesia’s strong military presence contributes to a predictable security landscape, enabling countries to focus on economic development and cooperation.
But things are never as simple as they seem, the modernization of the TNI has also raised concerns of neighboring nations in the South East Asia region. This concern is not out of place, after all, it needs to be admitted that Indonesia had a history of aggression towards its neighboring nations during the peak of its military power, such as during the Dwikora (Dwi Komando Rakyat) era in which the TNI waged military operations against the Malayan Federation (Hindley, 1964). Indonesia also has a history of border disputes with the neighboring countries, such as the Sipadan-Ligitan islands dispute between Indonesia and Malaysia, in which Malaysia gained the two islands over the results of ICJ’s ruling in court (Colson, 2003). These historical reasons could perhaps be the justification for the concerns of Indonesia’s neighbors.
It also needs to be considered that the modernization of the TNI could trigger an arms race among neighboring countries. While Indonesia’s intentions might be defensive, the perception of an arms race can lead to mistrust and heightened tensions. This could destabilize the region by diverting resources away from development and diplomacy towards military expenditures.
The modernization of the TNI presents a complex set of outcomes for Southeast Asian regional security. While enhanced capabilities can positively contribute to deterrence, cooperation, and addressing security challenges, there are potential negatives such as arms races, power dynamics, and realignment of alliances. A careful and yet steady approach to modernization that emphasizes transparency, cooperation, and open dialogue will be essential to ensure that the positive impacts outweigh the negative consequences and that Southeast Asia continues to move towards a secure and stable future. The story of TNI modernization and its ramifications for regional security remains an ongoing narrative in Southeast Asia. The conclusion of one chapter simply marks the beginning of the next, as nations adapt, communicate, and strive to achieve a harmonious balance in the evolving security landscape.
CNN Indonesia. (2023). Duduk Perkara Wacana penambahan kodam di Tiap Provinsi. Retrieved from https://www.cnnindonesia.com/nasional/20230523123450-20-952873/duduk-perkara-wacana-penambahan-kodam-di-tiap-provinsi
Colson, D. A. (2003). Sovereignty over Pulau Ligitan and Pulau Sipadan (Indonesia/Malaysia). The American Journal of International Law, 97(2), 398–406. https://doi.org/10.2307/3100115
CNN Indonesia. (2023). Panglima TNI: Pesawat AS Paling Banyak Langgar Wilayah udara RI. Retrieved from https://www.cnnindonesia.com/nasional/20230711122746-12-971990/panglima-tni-pesawat-as-paling-banyak-langgar-wilayah-udara-ri
Guild, J. (2023). Indonesia’s transactional military modernization. Retrieved from https://thediplomat.com/2023/05/indonesias-transactional-military-modernization/
Hindley, D. (1964). Indonesia’s Confrontation with Malaysia: A Search for Motives. Asian Survey, 4(6), 904–913. https://doi.org/10.2307/3023528