Last week, Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono jumped at the opportunity to offer his country’s finest troops for any UN-backed peacekeeping mission in Syria. It’s part of a growing trend of increased Indonesian involvement in missions under the UN flag. Last month, the Indonesian military’s Major General Imam Edy Mulyono, former commander of the Indonesian Defence Forces Peacekeeping Centre, was appointed Force Commander of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). Leading a multinational peacekeeping mission is a triumphant moment for a country that’s been involved in peacekeeping operations since 1957.
Indonesian military and police forces are currently deployed on six UN operations and is the world’s 16th largest contributor (PDF), with 1,815 personnel deployed in total. Indonesia also contributes to one non-UN mission with 15 personnel deployed to the International Monitoring Team in Mindanao. And Indonesia’s contributions to UN peacekeeping operations, known as Garuda Contingents, are set to grow. Last year, President Yudhoyono declared he wanted up to 10,000 troops to be deployed. But why the big push for peacekeeping operations?
At the political level, Indonesia is interested in becoming more of a global player. With greater economic growth and relative political stability, it’s in a much better position to devote time and resources to playing a part in international security efforts. And this has been further bolstered by an internationalist President. Peacekeeping is just the kind of activity that’s in keeping with Indonesia’s desire for the UN to lead international security initiatives. Its traditional non-alignment posture means it’s unlikely to join other efforts led by the US.
As well, Indonesia’s peacekeeping contributions are a way of providing training and experience for a military that needs to professionalise further. The increasing complexity of military assets and the ever growing contingents of peacekeepers provide opportunities for Indonesia to learn. In 2012, Indonesia sent maritime vessels as part of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) Maritime Task Force. Sending vessels on longer range operations in the Middle East will provide lessons learned for TNI on similar tasks in future. In April this year, Indonesia despatched three Mi-17 V-5-type helicopters along with 120 troops to Darfur, Sudan. The battalion-sized contingent of 1,288 Indonesian soldiers currently part of UNIFIL (PDF) is no token contribution (especially given there’s a total of 10,585 troops deployed). Here’s a breakdown of Indonesia’s current commitments by mission (click to enlarge):
In its bilateral relationships, peacekeeping is an area of military cooperation that’s more politically palatable for countries that have in the past had concerns about TNI’s history. For instance, cooperation on peacekeeping is an important component of security cooperation in Indonesia’s Comprehensive Partnership with the US. Indonesia’s peacekeeping activities are further supported by military exercises with the US and other partners like Australia. Military exercises that include peace support activities are Exercise Garuda Shield, held annually with the US Army, and Exercise Garuda Kookaburra, a new desktop peacekeeping exercise with the ADF.
With the establishment in December 2011 of a Peacekeeping Mission Education and Training Facility at the Indonesia Peace and Security Center (IPSC) in West Java, Indonesia becomes a natural host for conferences, exercises and training. In fact, the IPSC is the largest international education and training facility for UN peacekeeping forces in Southeast Asia. In June 2013, the centre was further upgraded with the addition of a barracks and training facility, with the support of US funding.
Aside from being an important source of training and operational experience for TNI, peacekeeping operations are a source of income. The United Nations pays US$1,028 per month for each soldier a country contributes, and some have suggested that this provides an incentive for developing countries to send large numbers of troops. This makes it likelier that a future Indonesian president and TNI commander would support this.
On balance, Indonesia’s return on its investment in international security has been positive. Gains in TNI training as well as opportunities for partnering with the US and Australia mean that Indonesia will likely continue this practice. For Australia–Indonesia relations, as formal peacekeeping partnerships continue to strengthen, there’ll be more opportunities to build people-to-people ties and partner in future peacekeeping operations. For Indonesia, its willingness to make more than a token contribution to global peacekeeping efforts draws a reputational dividend. SBY can credibly claim that his country’s contribution to global security is both tangible and under the auspices of the UN system. And a new president will be well-placed to take up Indonesia’s mantle of a good international citizen where President Yudhoyono will leave off.
Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI and editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy of Flickr user UNAMID.