Singapore and Indonesia Squabble over Defense Pact

The joint defense pact that Indonesia wrung out of Singapore earlier this year after a stare-down over sand barges destined for reclamation projects in the city state appears to be in trouble, with Indonesian lawmakers seeing a dark threat to national sovereignty in the hastily concluded pact.

Under the agreement, which is inextricably tied to a long-awaited extradition treaty between the two neighbors, Indonesia is to provide land, sea and airspace within its jurisdiction for Singapore's armed forces to conduct training exercises. It was approved by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in April.

The defense deal was to resolve several issues, among them the extradition treaty. Action was prompted late last year when Indonesia stopped the passage of barges of sand from its islands to Singapore in an effort to force ratification of the extradition treaty.

Indonesian lawmakers have criticized the latest version of the Defense Cooperation Agreement, arguing that the benefits Indonesia stands to gain from the extradition treaty are questionable and that the country would be selling its sovereignty to Singapore under the pact. Their objections are largely unspecified with the exception of one specific clause in the pact, which would permit Singapore to invite "third parties" to join military exercises.

Singapore needs more area for training. At 660 square kilometers, the island is so small that its jets can hardly get their wheels up before they are in Indonesian or Malaysian territory. However, following complaints that Singapore frequently violated Indonesian sovereignty during joint military exercises, including involving US and Australian military units, Indonesia unilaterally stopped the use of training areas, mainly in the South China Sea, in 2003 and froze defense cooperation.

Lawmakers have also expressed concerns over what they claim is a lack of detail in arrangements for naval maneuvers and missile exercises by Singapore in Indonesian territory.

Local analysts say Jakarta moved too fast to sign the treaty because the government wanted the extradition treaty. Negotiations for the defense agreement, which would help both countries cope better with disasters and security threats, officially ended on April 23. Since then, Indonesia has asked for substantive changes and new conditions

Singapore’s Foreign Ministry warned in a statement that the terms "cannot be changed casually or piecemeal, without risking the whole package." That package includes the extradition agreement eagerly awaited by Indonesian prosecutors who hope to hunt down white-collar fugitives hiding in Singapore. Jakarta also hopes to recover some of the billions of dollars of embezzled government funds believed to be in Singaporean banks after being carted away during the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis by wealthy Indonesians on the run.

The depth of emotions displayed by legislators suggests the only resolution to the impasse for both countries may be to renegotiate. For example, the powerful Commission for Defense and Foreign Affairs in the House of Representatives now says the pact would 'jeopardize' Indonesian national interests.

Those sentiments were echoed by the leader of the United Development Party, Lukman Hakim Saifuddin, who told Indonesian language newspapers that implementation of the pact would actually be a violation of a 2002 national defense law that prohibits Indonesia from signing defense pacts with other countries.

Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono has taken legislators to task over their opposition. "How can parliamentary members of a vast country like Indonesia be afraid of Singapore, which is only a small island state?" he was quoted as saying at a recent hearing.

Balance of Power

By any measure, Singapore's defense capacity is huge for a country of only 660 square kilometers (264 square miles) of territory. The prosperous island-state, with a 76 percent ethnic Chinese majority, sits between Indonesia and Malaysia and has been skittish about its largely Muslim neighbors since the 1960s. Singapore practices what it calls a “poisoned shrimp” strategy – it might be swallowed by one of its neighbors, but doing so would kill the neighbor.

Accordingly, Singapore’s defense budget, at US$6.9 billion annually, is nearly 3.5 times as big as Indonesia’s. Singapore’s defense budget comprises 30 percent of its national budget and slightly over 5 percent of GDP. The Indonesia Air Force and Navy get a mere US$494 million each.

Singapore has 50 upgraded A-4SU Super Skyhawk fighter-bombers, 30 F-16C and F16D fighters, and 20 of the latest F-5E/F Tiger II fighter jets. Another12 F-15SG super fighters are on order.

Of the Indonesian Air Force’s combat fighters, 10 are F-16s, but only four are ready to fly, according to Air Force Chief Air Marshal Herman Prayitno. Prayitono plans to tool up with Russian Sukhoi fighters and expand to 10 squadrons over the next 15 to 20 years, but currently the country has only two Sukhoi Su-27s and eight SU -30s plus 10 highly capable Sukhoi Flanker fighters and a dozen US built F-15s.

By the end of next year Malaysia will have 18 Sukhoi-20MKM jets intended to replace 14 US-made F-5E jets, which have been in service for two decades. Two Sukhois have already been delivered this year, and the Malaysian Air Force also has 18 MiG-29N Fulcrums.

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