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Nation

The rise of Indonesia

Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim country by population and is one of South-East Asia’s most dynamic economies.

Located at the juncture between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, it has the potential to become a leading regional power.

However, its location is also a source of considerable challenges that Indonesia will have to manage attentively in the coming years.

Indonesia’s Geography

The very name Indonesia is revealing: it comes from Greek and means “Indian Islands”. As a matter of fact, Indonesia is an archipelago located at the eastern edge of the Indian Ocean, and this is a key factor that has shaped its geopolitical thinking.

In terms of dimension and configuration, Indonesia is a vast but fragmented state. It counts over 18,000 islands; the most important of which are Sumatra, Java, the southern section of Borneo, Sulawesi and the western part of New Guinea.

These islands, covered by a thick rainforest rich in wildlife, have a volcanic origin. This means that Indonesia is vulnerable to seismic events and tsunamis; something that has a negative impact on its human security environment.

The country extends over almost 8 million square kilometres if we take into account its maritime space including the Exclusive Economic Zone, or EEZ. Combined with its archipelagic nature, this makes it difficult for the central state to exert its power over all the territory; also, because fragmentation is reflected in demographic terms: the population exceeds 260 million citizens divided in more than 300 ethnic groups; and this has important implications on the country’s geopolitics.

Moving on, Indonesia’s position has a deep impact on its foreign affairs. Located at the crossroad between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, Indonesia plays a pivotal role for international maritime trade.

Sumatra is the southern boundary of the Malacca Strait, one of the world’s busiest waterways and a strategic chokepoint. But Indonesia also controls other important straits; notably Sunda, Lombok and Makassar. These are all essential for trade between Europe and Asia, but also for the latter’s energy security.

Most of the oil it consumes transits through these narrow passages; which explains their geostrategic relevance. Indonesia hugely benefits from its role as a gateway between the two oceans, but this also brings considerable strategic problems because foreign powers have always been trying to control the archipelago.

This continues today: China, the US, Japan and India all have major interests at stake in the Indonesian Straits, and are trying to expand their influence on the country. Finally, the archipelago also hosts important natural resources like oil, gas, minerals, timber and fish. These commodities are a source of wealth for Indonesia, but also another driver for the presence of external powers.

Indonesia’s Geopolitical Thinking

Indonesia’s nature as an archipelago and its “crossroad location”, a concept known as posisi silang, have shaped its geopolitical thinking since it gained independence from the Netherlands in 1949. Indonesia had to assert its authority over its surrounding seas to ensure its prosperity and security. A first step in this sense was …

The Saudi Palace Plot – Will Mohammed Bin Salman Succeed?

The Saudi Palace Plot

In January 2015, Salman Bin Abdul-Aziz, took the throne following the death of his half-brother, Abdullah (A son of the founder Ibn Saud)

Behind-the-scenes a power struggle was taking place for King Salman to crown his son, Mohammed Bin Salman, a prince and name him his chosen successor.

This power struggle became public on November 4th 2017 when Salman and his son had more than a dozen princes and former high-level officials arrested, including a world-famous billionaire.
The reason for their detention is simple: Salman is trying to remove obstacles that could prevent Mohammed bin Salman from succeeding him.

King Salman is the first monarch in the history of the modern kingdom to buck this particular tradition. Usually, a successor is chosen by consensus among the sons of the founder of the kingdom.

But now that the second generation is nearly all dead, and now that there are too many third-generation princes to convene, it has become more difficult to choose who will become the next king.
He has bucked other traditions too. Salman has strengthened his son’s claim by bestowing on him sweeping powers over security and economic affairs.

Mohammed bin Salman is the defense minister, the head of a strategic economic council, controller of Saudi Aramco and, after Nov. 4, the chief of an anti-corruption agency.

And Salman did all this by removing from power his half brother and his nephew, both of whom were crown princes. He has also sidelined powerful members of the clerical and tribal establishments.

Some rumors suggest that the purges were made in response to a plot against Mohammed bin Salman. It’s unclear if that is actually the case.

But whether the rumors are true or whether the arrests were pre-emptive, the outcome is the same: There are fewer threats to a Mohammed bin Salman reign.

Arresting these individuals accomplishes two things. First, it guarantees their capitulation to Mohammed bin Salman.
Second, it gives the Salman faction more mileage out of the anti-corruption drive.

Between that and their attempts to secularise Muslims in Saudi, the king and his son are moving away from the traditional sources of support (clerics and tribal establishments) and toward new ones: popular appeal among the country’s youth, which makes up about two-thirds of the population.

They are using populism to inoculate themselves from the potential consequences of their power grab. In the process, though, they are inadvertently laying the foundations for the next crisis. Relying on popular support means they will be forced to enact more reforms than they actually want to – or are even capable of. Despots who try to be populists usually end up being neither and, in their failure, lose power.

It is too early to tell what will be the outcome of the power struggle. Whoever comes out on top will be unable to ignore the fact: that Saudi Arabia is a country in decline, largely because of low oil prices but also because of the general disarray in …

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