On 17 November 2021, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo officially inaugurated General Andika Perkasa as the new Commander of the Indonesian National Armed Forces. General Andika, son-in-law of retired General Hendropriyono the former head of Indonesia’s national intelligence agency and Jokowi loyalist, replaces the outgoing General Hadi Tjahjanto. He was the sole candidate put forward by Jokowi for Parliamentary (DPR) approval.

The commander of the armed forces plays an influential role in shaping the direction of Indonesian defence policy, as well as the nation’s security relations with its neighbours. With General Andika’s leadership now affirmed, it is worth considering what the future of Indonesia–Australia defence relations might look like under his watch.

Looking to the future first requires some perspective on the past.

Broadly speaking, Indonesia is reticent to engage foreign military enclaves within its own territories. This greatly affects Indonesia’s security cooperation with foreign countries, including Australia.

Even though Indonesia has no formal military alliances, it is engaged in defence and military strategic partnerships with six countries, including the US, China, South Korea, Germany, Japan, and Australia. While these partnerships highlight Indonesia’s capacity to engage cooperatively, the fact that they fall short of formal alliances allows Indonesia to simultaneously maintain its status as a non-aligned state—at least in rhetoric.

Indonesia’s defence relationship with Australia might be bested characterised as dynamic. The 2014 Defence White Paper, created during the end of the second term of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, sets out the government’s fundamental position towards Australia. Partnerships in military education and training, counter-terrorism and transnational crime are identified as key areas for bilateral cooperation. Opportunities for expanded defence engagement include Indonesia’s maritime visions on illegal fishing, sea piracy, and coastal management. While there are no surprises in any of this, equally there’s limited opportunity for more meaningful strategic engagement.

The 2014 White Paper represented an important shift in Indonesia’s defence outlook. Previously seen as inward-looking, non-aggressive, defensive of national interests, and lacking in regional ambition, the White Paper suggested a more engaged, cooperative and outward-looking Indonesia. However, having lasted through nearly two presidential terms under Jokowi, and outliving three defence ministers and two other military chiefs, Indonesia’s defence positioning is due for an overhaul.

And, while it provided the basis for expanded bilateral cooperation, including during turbulent times as well as times of crisis, it is clear that the Australia-Indonesia defence relationship could benefit from fresh and creative thinking.

In particular, Australia is keen to see its northern neighbour engage more proactively in the Indo-Pacific—strategic framing set out in the 2016 Australian Defence White Paper and reaffirmed in the 2020 Defence Strategic Update. It is a position reflected more broadly by other major powers in the region, particularly the US, India and Japan separately and working collectively through the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (the Quad). Despite acknowledgment in recent years from within ASEAN of an ‘Indo-Pacific Outlook’, Indonesia remains lukewarm on the concept.

General Andika brings a reputation for change from his previous role and, having undergone significant professional development in the US, he is likely to be well attuned to Washington’s priorities in the region, to which Australia is firmly aligned. But it’s not yet clear whether he will shift Indonesia’s positioning on the Indo-Pacific.

Looking ahead to the future, the new military (TNI) chief faces immediate challenges. These include overseeing necessary upgrades to Indonesia’s defence and personnel capabilities—particularly in the maritime domain—responding to existing and new terrorist threats as Indonesia looks towards the hosting of major international events including the G20 and shoring up national security capabilities ahead of the 2024 national election.

The national interest offers a rationale for engagement with other countries in international affairs. Outside the somewhat dated terms of existing partnerships, Indonesia has demonstrated little interest in engaging others through more creative strategic frameworks whether in bilateral, regional or multilateral settings.

General Andika’s swearing-in brings new hope that Indonesia might exercise strategic and active leadership in the Indo-Pacific. For Australia, this would signal an important step forward in the bilateral relationship.  But that outcome is far from assured. And given everything else on General Andika’s immediate agenda, remains somewhat unlikely.


Dr Emilia Yustiningrum completed her PhD at School of Government and International Relations, Griffith University in 2021. She is a researcher at the National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN), formerly known as Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), Indonesia.