As it is almost certain the Covid-19 outbreak will put a squeeze on Indonesia’s defence spending, the government must confront the two-pronged challenge of rethinking its defence strategy priorities while also shifting its attention to non-traditional security threats.
With the Covid-19 outbreak continuing to take a toll on the healthcare system and the economy, the Indonesian government will have to prioritise spending on relief efforts, a move that will put a strain on the defence budget and could affect the achievement of the Minimum Essential Force (MEF) target, defence analyst Curie Maharani of BINUS University told The Jakarta Post.
“The reallocation of the budget for Covid-19 [response] could affect the implementation of new [defence] contracts, which in turn could increase the contract backlog. This could result in a delay to the achievement of the MEF target,” she said.
The MEF is a medium-term plan introduced by then-president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2012 to modernise the Indonesian Military’s (TNI) obsolete weaponry. Yudhoyono had expected that by the end of his second term in 2014, the Indonesian Military (TNI) would have achieved 30 per cent of the MEF target.
The TNI is expected to meet the current MEF target by the end of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s second term in 2024.
Under current circumstances, Curie said the government could look to “cost-effective alternatives” to maintain the level of readiness set under the MEF scheme.
She said that faced with the current budget constraints, the government could explore the option of leasing defence equipment from other countries, as purchasing secondhand equipment could incur high maintenance costs.
Fellow defence analyst Anton Aliabbas of the human rights and security reform watchdog Imparsial also called for a review of the primary weaponry system modernisation target in a post-Covid-19 scenario.
He said: “The economic slowdown could require cuts to [defence] spending, which in turn would affect plans such as the MEF.
The government will likely focus on economic recovery rather than imports of goods that will not necessarily boost economic recovery.
“In this context, a review of the plan to modernise the weaponry system is inevitable. With a more limited budget, the defence ministry and the TNI would surely have to come up with new priorities for modernisation [of defence equipment] for the next one to two years.”
Under Presidential Regulation (Perpres) No 72/2020, a revision to an earlier regulation detailing 2020 budget adjustments in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Defence’s budget was again cut to 117.9 trillion rupiah ($8.16 billion) from the 122.44 trillion rupiah set previously in Perpres No 54/2020.
Ministry spokesman Dahnil Anzar Simanjuntak said to deal with the budget constraints, the government would prioritise the procurement of defence equipment from local manufacturers.
“Domestic manufacturing of weapons will be prioritised where possible. If we have to buy weaponry from foreign [partners], then we will strive for joint production arrangements that include a transfer of technology scheme that will benefit local arms producers,” Dahnil told the Post late last week.
Dahnil said direct purchases of primary weaponry from foreign partners would only be a short-term solution, pursued only if local firms did not yet have the capabilities to produce specific types of weapons.
However, the ministry’s short-term focus is to tackle the Covid-19 outbreak by, among other measures, mobilising military hospitals throughout the country to treat infected patients, Dahnil said.
The Covid-19 outbreak could be the impetus for Indonesia to craft a comprehensive strategy for handling non-traditional security threats like cybersecurity attacks and public health emergencies, said Dewi Fortuna Anwar, a research professor at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (Lipi) Centre for Political Studies.
“Public health should be considered a security issue that requires attention, not in terms of militarisation, but in how a nation can build resiliency in public health [and] social aspects,” said Dewi. “Comprehensive security, I think, will be a significant challenge for us [in the future].”
National Resilience Institute (Lemhannas) governor Lieutenant General (retired) Agus Widjojo said the government needed to design a comprehensive approach to improve the effectiveness of its response and build national resiliency.
Agus said: “Resiliency is established from the totality of resilience in each aspect, most notably in health, social and cultural [aspects]. That is why it is important for us that the optimum level of effective [response] should be maintained in all sectors.”
Lipi’s Dewi Fortuna also emphasised the need for clear guidelines for the deployment of military assets to handle non-traditional security threats, such as the current Covid-19 pandemic, so that the country’s democratic gains would not be eroded.
Dewi said: “We are committed to maintaining [our] pluralism, democracy and human rights … the Reformasi agenda should not suffer setbacks.
“On one hand, we have to be able to deploy our military assets because, after all, they have the resources [to tackle specific non-security issues] but on the other hand, we cannot let [such an arrangement] blur the line of the military’s role in a democratic society.”
THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK