For Indonesia, Maintaining Zero Enemies is Harder Than You Think

Matthew Hanzel Avatar

International Relations has not been very kind to Indonesia lately.

This article, written by no less than my professor (and my thesis advisor) highlights one of the latest problem to Indonesia’s ‘a million friends, zero enemies‘ foreign policy. To add more insult, the problem happens to one of Indonesia’s closest friends: Singapore. In many respects, both countries have excellent relations, not to measure both countries’ status as founding members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a fact well-known to many.

However, this problem regarding the naming of a battleship with a number of a Marine pair, getting national hero status in Indonesia but condemned to death in Singapore, creates a diplomatic spark that is probably not unexpected but not necessarily well-understood either.

I think Mr. Jemadu has explained in his article sufficiently regarding the historical background to this problem, especially noting the problem with Sukarno’s past foreign policy choices. While I fully agree with his point that this spat needs to be done with, I do believe that it is more than a mere historical program. If we to believe that both countries’ historical relations as founding members of ASEAN should have paved a better way for the two countries to interact, than historical problems will not fully settle the question.

Therefore, what seems to be the problem?

It is a classical problem that “your terrorist is my hero.” This is exactly the reason why countries have not managed to find a well-settled definition on what is “terrorism.” It is due to the fact that often what people calls “terrorist” is called “freedom fighter” or even “hero” by others.

The marine pair in this case will be a good example. The bombing of the MacDonald House in 1965 will be called an act of terror in today’s standard, and I believe no less 50 years ago. It is an act of terror back in 1965, and today. Regardless of what the reason is (including considering the Konfrontasi background), it is an act of terror.

And in a sense, I can fully understand Singapore’s annoyance to this problem. To a certain extent, I believe it is almost a hard slap on the face as what the eavesdropping case does to Indonesia. It is simply embarrassing, and yes, considering the good relations between the countries, annoyance may injure for the longest time.

I guess it is easier to avoid controversy, and I believe dropping this controversial name–not necessarily because it is bad, but just because the fact that it is problematic for some–is much easier than doing numerous foreign policy maneuver that looks immature. Now consider this: What if one day the United States names its battleship USS Allen Pope? Of course this is hypothetical and it is most probably more assuring to say that you will not be hit by a lightning bolt than the probability of the United States naming one of its military arsenals with Allen Pope, but if that hypothetical scenario happens, clearly Indonesia will be pissed, right?

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