My impression is that even during the New Order era, there was never a lack of debate on foreign policy. In seminars, media and think tank people often expressed views that didn’t support those of the foreign ministry. In the ministry, diplomats brought competing ideas to the attention of their superiors.
The debate eventually rose to the level of the directors-general vying for the approval of the foreign minister.
Worth a revisit is the crafting of a policy on Timor-Leste when it was still Indonesia’s 27th province. At a late stage of the process, there was a three-way debate on the issue of East Timor involving Nugroho Wisnumurti, then the country’s permanent representative to the UN in New York; Hassan Wirajuda, then Indonesia’s permanent representative to the UN in Geneva; and then foreign minister Alatas himself.
Each of them had an “intellectual constituency.” Nugroho spoke for all who took a legalistic approach to the issue of East Timor; Hassan advocated a more pragmatic approach, which he would later on call the “policy approach”; while Alatas took the middle ground. After much discussion, Alatas assigned Hassan to draft the policy paper on East Timor.
Hassan then wrote a policy paper following a format he learned in graduate school. The first part consisted of the history of the issue—not a detailed one but certainly a comprehensive history that includes a consideration of the various sub-issues (human rights in East Timor, for example).
This was followed by an analysis of the current situation, the challenges and the opportunities and “trends” emanating from it. A trend is a series of probable events from the current situation to a future one, considering the impact of the regional and global environments. Out of this analysis and consideration of the trends, five policy options were developed.
The first option was essentially for the status quo. Had this been chosen, Indonesia would have simply insisted that East Timor remained as Indonesia’s 27th province, and that was it. The second option was for the early holding of a referendum on the political destiny of East Timor, and if through this referendum the people of East Timor chose to separate from Indonesia, the separation would be carried out in orderly fashion.
The third option was for wide ranging autonomy to be granted to East Timor and after seven years, a referendum would be held in which the people of East Timor would decide whether to remain or to separate from Indonesia. Meanwhile the Indonesian government would try to win the hearts and minds of the East Timorese so they’d vote to stay with Indonesia.
The fourth and fifth options were variations of the third. The option recommended was the third. The rest of the paper dwelled on how this option could be carried out successfully.
The third option, although initially adopted by the Indonesian government, was not fully carried out. In the midst of the Asian Crisis of the late 1990s, President Suharto stepped down and his successor, Bacharuddin Habibie, took the second option.
The point is that if a debate on foreign policy could take place under authoritarian rule, there should be more of it in a democratic Indonesia. During the transition to democracy, Hassan Wirajuda, who had become foreign minister, could finally expand the debate to include other stakeholders—members of parliament, the media, the academe, the youth, etc—through “foreign policy breakfasts” and other forms of consultation.
The practice has since been discontinued, but I understand that the new foreign minister, Retno LP Marsudi, intends to revive it. That’s good news to foreign policy buffs in Indonesia.
The more views brought into the debate, the greater will be the public support for the resulting policy. It will then be a people-driven foreign policy.