Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Reforming Indonesia's Foreign Ministry: Ideas, Organization and Leadership

Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Reforming Indonesia's Foreign Ministry: Ideas, Organization and Leadership

Article excerpt

The domestic context in which Indonesia's foreign policy is framed has been transformed since reformasL A conscious attempt has been made by policy-makers to change its ideational basis, internalizing values such as democracy, good governance and human rights. This can be seen most clearly in Indonesia's promotion of a strategic democratization agenda within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). At the same time, and as a result of democratization, institutional power has shifted from the military to the civilian bureaucracy. Foreign policy-making in Indonesia is now more complex than it was during President Soeharto's authoritarian New Order (1965-98): it has become more deliberative and consultative, and is now subject to the contestations of new and recently-unbridled actors including the legislature (DPR), media, public opinion, civil society organizations and business groups.

Scholars have explored many aspects of these changes. Much of the literature concentrates on the role of the DPR as a foreign policy actor, and the implications of its enhanced powers for executive accountability, political legitimacy and for Indonesia's external relations more broadly. (1) The impact of democratization on the process of regional integration is another key focal point in the scholarship. Through Indonesia's engagement with ASEAN, the literature explores the interplay between democratic norms with more enduring ideational aspects of the country's foreign policy, to demonstrate how "European ideational imports" have been localized within extant "foreign policy doctrine and practices". (2) Scholars such as Lee Jones and Rizal Sukma focus on domestic politics as a constraining factor on Indonesia's "democratic" foreign policy, as indeed much of the literature does, to varying degrees. For Jones, the underlying socio-economic power structures in Indonesia, and in Southeast Asia more broadly, are largely "unfavourable to liberal or participatory policy-making", despite the presence of democratic institutions. (3) Sukma argues that domestic weakness exerts a powerful constraining influence on Indonesia's foreign policy. Although he does not preclude the influence of external factors, he argues that Indonesia is engaged in rhetorical democracy projection rather than actual promotion, based partly on Indonesia's internal challenges. (4)

With the exception of Sukma and Anwar, scholars have paid scant attention to the foreign ministry, and the foreign minister, as key agents of change. This article seeks to fill that gap. It highlights the role of the foreign policy bureaucracy in driving important conceptual innovations and practical reforms, and examines the role played by individual foreign ministers in the reformasi and post-reformasi periods, especially Hassan Wirajuda. It argues that the role of the foreign ministry is crucial because it has transformed itself into an entrepreneur of new ideas and foreign policy practices. By focussing on changes to foreign policy under Wirajuda, the article demonstrates how the foreign ministry was the architect of many of the key changes in Indonesia's post-Soeharto foreign policy.

The article is organized into three key sections. The first section explores the impact of the military's political ascendancy after 1965 on the foreign ministry. It identifies the loci of institutional and individual foreign policy influence during the New Order period in order to provide context for subsequent changes in the reformasi period. The second section examines how Indonesia's political liberalization enabled greater agency by civilian, reformist-minded bureaucrats to shape a new foreign policy agenda and reform the organizational machinery underpinning it. It seeks to demonstrate how changes to the institutional and ideational basis of foreign policy were fundamentally an effect of changes in civil-military relations, resulting from the democratization process. The third section attempts to evaluate the efficacy of legal, bureaucratic and ideational changes on foreign policy-making. …

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