March 30, 2010

Top 5: Natural Security Issues for the U.S.-Indonesia Relationship

With President Obama’s trip to Indonesia delayed several times, and tensions there already high, I thought it might be interesting to look at the unique and emerging partnership between the United States and Indonesia in this edition of Top 5. It seems as if a strong partnership between these two countries is just beginning, as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton noted in her address at the Asia Society, February 13, 2009:

The Indonesian Government has . . . suggested the creation of a deeper partnership with the United States. This idea represents a positive approach to areas of common concern, and we are committed to working with Indonesia to pursue such a partnership with a concrete agenda.

So here we go folks. Time to look at five recent and historic partnerships between the United States and Indonesia on natural security issues. In no particular order:

1) 2009: Debt Forgiveness for Environment and Resource Protection

The U.S. provided Indonesia with $30million in debt forgiveness in exchange for efforts to conserve and preserve its own environment and natural resources. This was accomplished though an Indonesian partnership with the United States under the 1998 Tropical Forest Conservation Act (TFCA).

2) 2008: Pirates in the Strait of Malacca

To some, it may seem that piracy, before its recent spike in Somalia, has been relatively nonexistent on the high seas since the days of The Queen Anne’s Revenge, but for those sailing through the Strait of Malacca, it’s been a modern problem for some time now. As discussed in a previous Top 5 post, the Strait of Malacca is a strategic choke point for many international energy resources. Tackling this security challenge in this region is then in the vested interest of not only countries such as Indonesia, but the United States and the entire globe. In light of this, in 2008 “the U.S. provided the Indonesian police with 15 patrol boats for use in security maintenance operations against maritime crimes,” in addition to technical assistance provided in previous years.

3) 2005: Lifting of Military Supply Embargo to Provide Tsunami Relief Capacity for Indonesian Military

After the 2004 tsunami, which left Indonesia crippled, the state received a flood of international support, including from U.S. Pacific Command, which cooperated hand in hand with the Indonesian military in Operation: Unified Assistance. According to press accounts, “Difficulties Indonesia faced in securing relief for tsunami survivors because of lack of helicopters and other equipment” prompted Indonesia to request the lifting of a U.S. embargo on military sales to Indonesia – a request which was later granted.

4) 2001: USAID Natural Resources and Environmental Aid

In the wake of public distrust in the government, separatist conflict in Indonesia, USAID provided stabilizing efforts to support government accountability. Within these efforts, USAID focused millions in the management of natural resources, and energy efficiency. For example, it provided experts in key ministries to help establish local governance over natural resources, and ensuring community voice in the usage of those resources.

5) WWII: Indonesian Resources and the United States

Indonesia served a pivotal role in WWII with its rich supplies of natural resources, which supplied allied forces while withholding them from then-resource-starved Japan. While the world was on the brink of WWII, the region supplied the United States with one-third of all its rubber, 10 percent of its tin, 90 percent of its quinine and 80 percent of U.S. palm oil. Though at the time the region was known as the Dutch East Indies, having been a colony of the Netherlands until 1949, it serves as a key example of how the resources of modern day Indonesia have, and no doubt will continue to play a vital role in American and global security.