Militarising the Natuna Islands for Indonesia’s Gunboat Diplomacy
This paper examines the significance of Indonesia’s plan to militarize outer islands as a leverage for Indonesia’s gunboat diplomacy and deterrence effect in the South China Sea conflict. The South China Sea dispute involving China, several ASEAN member countries and the United States (US) has been highlighted to be the most intense maritime conflict in the last five years. In 2015, the Indonesian Defence White Paper perceived that the conflict poses potential threat to Indonesia’s outer islands, which are part of Indonesia’s territorial sovereignty and integrity. Various diplomatic measures to prevent open war in the South China Sea have been proposed by Indonesia in various forums in the ASEAN. However, it does not mean Indonesia relies only on the soft power aspect; rather, it is also preparing itself in the hard power aspect. Therefore, in an attempt to avoid the domino effect caused by the conflict, the Indonesian Ministry of Defence has proposed a grand strategy to build and strengthen its military base in Indonesia’s outer islands. By using the Gunboat Diplomacy concept, deterrence and qualitative methods, this paper shows that instead of merely utilizing military forces as legitimate deterrence and defence purposes, militarizing Indonesia’s outer island can also be regarded as a responsive gunboat diplomacy against the security uncertainty in the South China Sea conflict. A lesson can be learned from Indonesia’s strategic notion to exploit geographical conditions for archipelagic defence purposes by altering continental–oriented strategy to aerial and naval warfare.
Keywords: Indonesia, outer island, gunboat diplomacy, deterrence, archipelagic defence.