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Indonesia Table of Contents


Southeast Asia

In the early 1990s, the defense aspect of the armed forces military mission continued to take second place to that of maintaining internal security. This was due primarily to the absence of a credible external threat. The Suharto government maintained close and cordial relations with its nearest neighbors, which, in any case, possessed little offensive military capability. The growth of a series of bilateral military relationships within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN--see Glossary) and among such selected non-ASEAN friends as Australia and the United States provided a web of bilateral military ties that strengthened regional stability as well as reduced the external threat to the country.

Attention to potential external threats grew during the 1970s as planners became concerned with the growing military power of the newly unified Socialist Republic of Vietnam and its allies, including the Soviet Union after 1975. Vietnam made claims in the late 1970s over sections of the South China Sea adjacent to the Natuna Islands, considered by Indonesia to be part of its own territory. The possible presence of foreign submarines in national waters and the problems of illegal fishing and smuggling were also accorded increased attention, particularly after Indonesia declared a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone in March 1980 (see National Territory: Rights and Responsibilities , ch. 2). The gradual move toward a forward deployment strategy that began in the late 1970s appeared to be at least partly motivated by these changed perceptions. That strategy entailed the use of paratroopers, long-range transport aircraft, transport and attack helicopters, and attack jets.

On one hand, subsequent political developments in Southeast Asia during the late 1980s and early 1990s, including efforts to bring peace to Cambodia--in which Indonesia was intensely involved--the withdrawal of Vietnamese troops from Cambodia, and a reduced perceived threat overall from Vietnam relieved tensions. On the other hand, the potential for regional conflict, for example, over territorial claims in the Spratly Islands continued to trouble strategic planners (see Foreign Policy , ch. 4). The dramatic end of the Cold War and retrenchment of former Soviet forces in the Pacific brought new strategic thinking on the nature of a potential external threat. In the post-Cold War era, Indonesia quietly continued to support the maintenance of a United States regional security presence to prevent a vacuum that could be filled by potentially less benevolent outsiders.

Data as of November 1992