Potential Threats to IORA Cooperation in Indo-Pacific Maritime Security: Indonesia’s Perspective


Ilustrasi IORA Business Summit yang diadakan di Jakarta, Maret 2017. Foto: JP/Anton Hermansyah

The Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) is an important part of either the geopolitical or socio-economic context in the Indo-Pacific. The region is the focal point to both traditional and contemporary threats as there are many converging issues within the region’s architecture. For Indonesia, IORA is an important manifestation of Jokowi’s global maritime fulcrum policy (Rezasyah, 2017). Ever since Indonesia held the IORA’s 2015-2017 Chairmanship, it’s evident that Indonesia was refreshing its trust and stamina in IORA after the decreasing optimism shown by the country back in 1990-2000s (Prasetyo, 2016). Although IORA was established in a more economic-driven regime, the platform managed to rejuvenate itself to include maritime security (Agastia & Perwita, 2015). I argue that this was triggered by the concerns of IORA states regarding the unsecured maritime lines from maritime terrorist and piracy activities, in which it may degrade mutual interests’ over the expected cooperation to maintain the strategic potentials of the Indian Ocean. Maintaining strategic interest over the IOR region means two things: preparing to face the unstable and politically prone region (Michael & Sticklor, 2012); and bracing ourselves in standing against the ASEAN’s growing interest to maintain its rule-based order centrality (Solidum, 2003). The IOR’s rich potential of energy will impose very large scrutiny towards the world’s 2/3 reserve gas and oil potential under the Indian Ocean from the major powers (Kaplan, 2010).

IORA maritime security faced several notable challenges, speaking from Jakarta’s perspective, Indonesia is still optimistic about ASEAN’s growing assertion by connecting their interdependence with the IOR states. Plus, the mechanisms stipulated under the APSC pillar are pretty much ready in responding to transnational and US-China growing rivalry (Acharya, 2001).  With IORA’s status as a non-binding cooperation, the platform still needs to work more on putting extensive peer pressure to comply with its member states and contribute in formulating  proportionate Indian Ocean’s architecture. This so-called peer pressure in politics will eventually drive an actor’s behavior into drastic changes on their domestic status quo (Carraro, et al, 2019). With maritime control becoming a major element in substantiating a nation-state interests, then it means that naval power projections are arguably a tangible feature in that sense. What is it then for Indonesia in IORA? To deliberate on this question, arguably Indonesia is a country that is focusing on Indo-Pacific discourse, however, the reality is Indonesia tends to be more dominating in the Pacific rather than the Indian Ocean. Therefore, Indonesia’s chairmanship in ASEAN back in 2015-2017 and Jakarta’s maritime policy articulation (Prasetya & Estriani, 2018) would be a tangible contributor in empowering Indonesia through its middle power diplomacy. This means that Indonesia needs to establish its “look west” policies in embracing their participation in IORA to enforce a strategic bridge between the ASEAN and the prone IORA whilst rekindling the maritime soul of the Indian Ocean and encouraging a more friendly partnership to stimulate positive results. 

Maritime Security in Indo-Pacific: Navigating IORA for a Concrete Cooperation

The Indian Ocean is the most difficult area to understand. The reason is because this region is connected and intersects with Arabia, the Middle East, Africa, Sub-Saharan, and South Asia (Gupta, 2010). Therefore, there is a huge potential that needs to be utilized in the midst of the projection of competing geopolitical forces in the Indian Ocean region. Indonesia under the administration of Joko Widodo really puts forward the maritime cooperation dialogue as previously discussed. The change in Indonesia’s policy paradigm in maritime diplomacy makes Indonesia want to position its maritime affairs as a country that lives from the sea (sea-based) rather than living from land-based resources (Rezasyah, 2017). President Jokowi on several occasions has continued to emphasize that the sea is the spearhead of sovereignty and saves the economy that will prosper the Indonesian nation. So we can see that Indonesia’s vision to become a maritime axis is the main content in maritime diplomacy at IORA. The threat of maritime insecurity such as cases of illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (IUUF) certainly pushes Indonesia’s position in creating a world maritime vision adopted through Presidential Decree No. 16 2017.

In measuring the success of solutions to overcome IUUF, Indonesia through the post-chairmanship IORA can integrate the established norms into the ASEAN cooperation framework. To prove it, ASEAN has various partnerships between regions such as through the ARF mechanism which also discusses the maritime security agenda. So that in this case ASEAN can learn from IORA, and it is important for ASEAN regionalism and attention to the Indian Ocean region which geopolitically intersects with ASEAN, especially on non-traditional issues (Bhattacharyya, 2010). Indonesia can continue the institutional building that will not be lost in alleviating IUUF. The various degrees of political, economic, and military interests of various countries in IORA also make IORA must learn from ASEAN, which is still able to maintain the ASEAN Way in the midst of these various degrees of interest. (Chew, 2011) considers maritime cooperation to be very closely related to other contexts because maritime is a medium of communication of ideas and cultural exchanges in the past. The strength of this relationship is also Jokowi’s vision to develop Indonesia’s maritime diplomacy through the IORA as well as strengthening investment in seaports and fishery infrastructure in achieving absolute benefits from maritime cooperation (Connelly, 2015).

Indonesia’s Challenges and Way Forward Towards IORA Maritime Diplomacy 

IORA is well aware that the Indian Ocean region apart from geopolitical advantage, also saves abundant marine resources. Marine resources rich in fish and other maritime diversity have become an identity for intra-regional cooperation of IORA member countries (IORA, n.d). IORA in 2018 – 2020 established a framework that produces action plans for sustainable fisheries management issues to protect the 28.5 million people employed in the fisheries sector. 47% of the 441 fishery resource reserves have been exploited and 18% of them have been exploited irresponsibly (IORA, n.d). IORA cooperation forum that has been formed since 1997 has the main goal of increasing prosperity and maritime economic cooperation, in which IORA has become a cooperative association with the third largest maritime area with 21 member countries and seven dialogue partners (Lisbet, 2016).

Although IORA is the most strategic naval energy line housing 1/5 of the world’s maritime distribution movement in oil and gas (Laipson & Pandya, 2009), Indonesia seems to not do enough in embracing the maritime fulcrum concept (Putra, 2017). It can be seen that Indonesia is lacking in its participation as a “maritime peacekeeper” and preventing national terrorism and extremism (Prasetya & Estriani, 2018). To the other issues, we need to see that the region is now moving forward, hence Indonesia must be able to project and ensure that each ASEAN member state can scrutinize over. With multiple additional entities present in the IOR with diverse priorities and interests, it is also important to understand that the region is now trying to utilize its communal interest (Bateman & Bergin, 2019). Although this may become a strategic advantage for Indonesia to bind more actors in a more harmonized regional norm-shaping, what Indonesia needs to prepare is the intervention of the non-IORA state. Not only that, but the non-traditional issues posed by the underdeveloped African countries also brought the proliferation of piracy and armed maritime operations that undermined the IORA presence and superiority over these threats. 

With the current maritime concept is strong holding the aspects of capabilities and capacities through military and non-military instruments (Sanders, 2014), the mobilization of resources may be other challenges not only for Indonesia but also the IORA players as a whole. With 95 percent of the world’s oil trade is passing through the IOR region (Shekhar, 2018), then it is evident that major powers like China and the US will be putting more demand for the IORA itself to produce concrete results together with the limited capacity of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Indonesia then will have the urgency to fulfill its based load industry and maritime defense preparedness to contribute and reflect its maritime concept in Indo-Pacific not limited to the IOR region, but also globally as the leader of ASEAN (Nugraha & Sudirman, 2016). 

Indonesia also has the challenge where the country has to navigate its pacifist approach by formulating a correct foreign policy and response to the proliferation of many naval exercises done in the region (Tertia & Perwita, 2018). The formulation of Delhi’s new Act East Policy within the Indian ocean is also an important contention to be responded to by Jakarta. Because eventually India might be using IOR as the benchmark of its maritime diplomacy into the South China Sea, and Indonesia is separating both countries geographically. We can’t close the possibilities that India will eventually take the diplomatic or the militaristic fight to China’s front yard. Because India is looking forward to more increased participation in the South China Sea, and sharing a more enormous interest to counterweight China as they are also the key ally of the US in the Indo-Pacific (Scott, 2017).


Indonesia’s chairmanship of the IORA has certainly had a significant influence on Indonesia’s maritime diplomacy. The maritime vision under President Jokowi, which is proof of the development of the concept of archipelago insight (wawasan nusantara), makes maritime strategy must involve all actors in a collaborative approach. The establishment of the Maritime Security Agency (Badan Keamanan Laut/Bakamla), one of which aims to oppose IUUF, can be seen as one of the efforts to promote the issue of unconventional maritime cooperation and the integration of early detection with other actors. Indonesia has previously issued Law No. 32 of 2014 concerning maritime affairs, which provides a good landscape for coordination between government agencies in maritime security, so that marine crimes have decreased by 90%.

Apart from that, Indonesia also has an interest in the development of a blue economy in 2015 which has been formed through the IORA Blue Economy Core Group. The role of this group is for the consultative process that Indonesia uses to increase GDP growth in the Indian Ocean through a safe and sustainable maritime economy, as well as to encourage IORA’s technical capacity building. The IORA principle as an organization based on open regionalism and membership growth itself is still facing some criticism. Challenges such as the lack of clarity of objective achievement and uniformity of views of IORA member countries, where Small Island Developing States (SIDS) place more emphasis on climate change and maritime environmental issues, while Australia, India, and South Africa focus more on maritime security issues in the traditional context.


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Hino Samuel Jose and Raynor Argaditya are International Relations students from Universitas Pembangunan Nasional Veteran Jakarta. They can be found on Instagram with the usernames of @samueljose737 and @raynorargaditya_

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