Webinar on “Remodelling Indonesia’s Maritime Governance: Comparative Lessons from the Region”

In this webinar, Dr Evan A. Laksmana elaborates on various policy options that Indonesia could pursue to transform its maritime governance system into a “dual authority” model backed by the Indonesian Navy and Indonesian Coast Guard.


Monday, 25 October 2021 — The ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute held a webinar by Dr Evan Laksmana to discuss how Indonesia can remodel its maritime governance system to enhance law enforcement in its massive Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which is central to Indonesia’s aspirations to become a regional maritime power. A former Wang Gangwu Visiting Fellow at ISEAS, Dr Laksmana is currently Senior Research Fellow at the Centre on Asia and Globalisation, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore (NUS).

Dr Laksmana analysed maritime governance frameworks from across the region. With Ms Hoang Thi Ha as moderator. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Dr Laksmana argued that Indonesia’s maritime ambitions are held back by the country’s fractured maritime governance framework. Between multiple law enforcement agencies such as the Maritime Security Agency (BAKAMLA), the Indonesian Navy (TNI-AL), the fisheries ministry’s enforcement units, the transportation ministry’s Ocean and Coast Guard (KPLP), there is no unified or coordinated maritime security strategy. These agencies often have overlapping responsibilities, resulting in the non-optimal utilisation of maritime security assets and bureaucratic turf wars. Given the increasingly interlinked nature of maritime security issues, Indonesia’s maritime security bodies will need to improve inter-agency coordination. For instance, illegal fishing activities by Chinese vessels have geopolitical dimensions, and dealing with such challenges would require the various agencies to stop working in silos.

To understand the possible reforms that Indonesia can adopt, Dr Laksmana analysed maritime governance frameworks from across the region. He examined three models: the “United Force”, the “Unified Command” and a looser power-sharing model. The “Unified Force” model refers to the full integration of various agencies dealing with maritime security issues, in which resources and personnel training are centralised under a single institution. The “Unified Command” involves a partially integrated maritime security infrastructure where individual agencies exist but operate under a centralised commanding authority. The last model is a relatively looser power-sharing arrangement where some coordination occurs between the various maritime security agencies but there is no central command or authority; this best represents the current maritime security governance framework in Indonesia.

Dr Laksmana stated that many countries in the region are trying to move towards the “Unified Command” mode of maritime governance. He also noted how maritime governance reforms can be implemented either in a more organic bottom-up approach (focussing on incrementally improving the level of coordination between agencies to meet operational demands) or as a result of a top-down structural reconfiguration. Countries will also need to decide whether they wish to start small with specific maritime security issues before expanding, or start with reforming the overall policy framework before narrowing down to specific issues. These models are certainly not mutually exclusive and most countries often implement a mix of approaches. In most cases, countries typically need an overarching national maritime security strategy to guide the reform process.

Dr Laksmana offered several concrete reform options for Indonesia. To kick start the reform process, he argues that Indonesia should start with improving law enforcement in its EEZ. This area of maritime security governance has identifiable challenges and less bureaucratic players involved, making it an issue where coordination is more easily achievable. Indonesia also needs to consider having a new system that integrates high-level strategic planning and lower-level operational decision-making. A possible option would be to have a National Security Council under the President which a Unified Command-type National Maritime Command Authority would report to. In the transition towards a single National Maritime Command Authority, Dr Laksmana suggested that there could be zone-based regional commands, modelled after the Indonesian Army’s existing regional commands. These regional commands may work on a dual authority model where the BAKAMLA would hold command and the Navy and other agencies providing support.

To work towards these goals, Dr Laksmana argued that a comprehensive national maritime security strategy is firstly needed. The existing National Ocean Policy—an amalgamation of existing maritime security policies of multiple agencies—do not provide sufficient guidance. To ensure that the dual authority model is workable, the BAKAMLA will need to be significantly expanded to bolster its EEZ law enforcement capabilities. The current decentralised maritime informational infrastructure also needs revamping, while more inter-agency training and exercises should be encouraged. These measures would help build capacity for future larger-scale coordination under a regional or national maritime command.

Dr Laksmana however concluded that such reforms could only be pursued with a strong, sustained commitment of the President. As such, the timeline for these reforms may not likely be within the Jokowi administration’s current term as it is too preoccupied with the COVID-19 pandemic and the economy. During the Q&A session, Dr Laksmana answered questions about Indonesia’s past attempts at maritime security governance reforms and why they failed, the resources assigned to BAKAMLA, the prospect of Jokowi’s “Global Maritime Fulcrum” concept, the possibility of his policy proposals being accepted by the current maritime security establishment, and the practice of coordination between BAKAMLA and TNI-AL assets in the North Natuna Sea. A total of 89 participants attended the webinar.

89 participants attended the webinar. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)