Re-framing Australia-Indonesia security


Against a background of recurring crises in Australia’s most sensitive security relationship, the overriding aim of this project is to explore a new approach to the security aspects of relations between Australia and Indonesia.  This approach is based on new communities of shared interests to face the challenges of emerging global problems faced by both societies. On the basis of careful examination of the potential and limitations of existing policy currents and a mapping of existing networks of social relationships between the two countries, this project aims at providing an empirical and theoretical foundation to a new set of policy approaches to Australia-Indonesia security relationships.

Climate change, energy insecurity, and pandemics will certainly interact with existing conflict patterns. To take but one plausible example, global warming will influence already massively degraded fishing stocks in the seas of eastern Indonesia which provide the basic protein requirements for most of the population of that large region. The implications for migration into Papua and further pressure on the fishing grounds of off northwest Australia are easy to imagine – as are the political consequences. To take another example, the haste with which both countries are expanding their involvement with the nuclear fuel cycle – uranium mining and possibly uranium enrichment in Australia, and nuclear power generation in Indonesia – legitimated by climate change concerns, is set in the context of their past nuclear proliferation attempts, and mutual suspicions, whether correct or not, about current strategic nuclear thinking.

All three global problems foreshadow deep threats to the fabric of Australian and Indonesian life, and all require, for even their partial amelioration, cooperation between the two countries – and between the two societies. This in fact offers both a challenge and a chance to restructure the pattern of conflict into which we are increasingly locked by the dialectic of Indonesian militarisation and Australian community-based concern about human rights.

The key hypothesis is that global problems manifest in the fabric of the two societies, and whose causes lie beyond their national systems, not only will generate deep security challenges but also new possibilities of cross-border communities of shared interest. The secondary hypothesis is that this process will enhance the capacity to manage the difficult bilateral problems already evident by placing them in a context of larger security collaborations.

The project has six long-range goals:

  • to map the existing social relations between Indonesian and Australian society
  • to document the manifestations and likely impact on the two societies of a set of three global problems: climate change, new infectious diseases, energy insecurity
  • to map the articulation of these shared global problems on the security relations between the two countries, both in terms of “hard” military security and human security
  • to develop policy responses by both government and civil society
  • to map the existing social and ecological relations between Indonesian and Australian socio-ecological systems as a pre-requisite to understanding the impacts of climate change on security issues
  • to develop a model of bilateral policy responses to shared global problems potentially applicable to other cases.



Project Coordinator: Richard Tanter