Information Abundance and the Task of Diplomats: A Self-Reminder

Information gathering has been widely perceived as one of the main tasks of diplomats. In fact, diplomats are not only required to gather information but, more than that, also sort, manage, and analyse the information before submitting it to their respective governments. This task is imperative because the quality of information gathered by diplomats will affect the quality of decisions taken by their respective governments.

The enormous amount of information – one impact of globalization and the advancement of information technology – has been affecting the ways diplomats fulfill the said task. In the past one of the main obstacle for diplomats for being knowledgeable in was the scarcity of information due to limited access. Nowadays, quite the reverse, diplomats are dealing with the information abundance. The main challenge now is not ‘how to find information’ but ‘how to find valid information.’ This is a huge challenge as the incapability to manage information in this digital age can make diplomats misinformed instead of well-informed.

There are at least four aspects diplomats should consider when coping with the information abundance. The first aspect is source. Knowledge on the source – including credibility, competence, and authority to produce such information – is essential. Information from unknown and incredible sources should not be taken as consideration in making decision.

The second aspect is time. The validity of an information can diminish in a matter of seconds. Diplomats should be knowledgeable about the time the information was published or revealed. Obsolete information can lead to erroneous decision. It is also inappropriate for diplomats to send information that has been widely quoted by the media.

The third aspect is the ability to distinguish fact and opinion. While both can be used as consideration in decision making process, diplomats should be able to recognize their significance. Diplomats should also aware that opinion has the element of subjectivity. Moreover, when using opinion as the source of information, diplomats should have knowledge on the credibility of the source of information.

The last aspect is the importance of check and re-check mechanism. Some people intentionally produce hoaxes aimed to give false information based on different motives. It is important for diplomats to check and re-check suspicious information they get and use common sense in making a judgement.

The advancement of information technology poses challenges to diplomats as information gatherer. On the one side diplomats should be able to cope with the superiority of internet in spreading information by collecting unpublished information or information that has not revealed by the media. On the other hand, diplomats should be able to submit information with high degree of validity in timely manner. From this point of view, it is understandable that some scholars argue that the advancement of information technology brings both advantages and disadvantages to diplomats.

Finally, the failure to consider those four aspects in sorting out the information will lead to misinformation. This will not only make diplomats irrelevant but also lead to wrong decision making. In this digital age with the information abundance diplomats should be able to gather not merely information but ‘reliable and relevant information.’


Twitter as Tool of Diplomacy: Lessons Learned from Other Foreign Ministries

In her keynote speech delivered in front of Indonesia’s largest blogger community on 9 October 2016, the Indonesian Foreign Minister Mrs. Retno Marsudi emphasized the importance of social media as a tool for diplomats to obtain timely information and represent Indonesia abroad. Mrs. Marsudi further said that “the biggest mistake is if we are not on social media to do diplomacy.”

The Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) indeed had realized the significant role of information technology in diplomacy since the early 2000s. As part of its organizational reform, the MOFA in 2002 established the Directorate General of Information and Public Diplomacy. The creation of this directorate general indicated that the MOFA had already developed clear vision on the way diplomacy would be conducted in the future.

Compared to foreign ministries in some other countries, however, the use of social media as tool of diplomacy by the Indonesian MOFA is still moderate. To understand this trend this paper focuses on the utilization of Twitter, one among the most influential social media platforms, by foreign ministries in selected countries. The US Department of State maintains ten Twitter accounts in ten different non-English languages namely Arabic, Mandarin, Urdu, Hindi, Persian, Spain, Portuguese, Russia, French, and Turkey. With those Twitter accounts the US Department of States can disseminate information in a more effective way as the contents are presented in the audiences’ respective language.

Regarding the content, the Twitter account @francediplo_EN maintained by the French Foreign Ministry can be used as a good example. The account’s name indicates that the interface language is English. The use of English in this account also signifies the intention of the French government to better penetrate the wider global audience. This account has been disseminating various information about France from several perspectives, from France policies on certain issues to cheese varieties produced by that country.

Another example is @IndianDiplomacy, the Twitter account created by the Indian Foreign Ministry. This account has been disseminating various information about India. Like @francediplo_EN the language used in @IndianDiplomacy is English. The use of English as the interface language shows the intention of the Indian government to reach the wider global audience.

The other feature is the presence of guideline and code of conduct on the use of social media. The United States Department of State, for example, published Foreign Affairs Manual regarding to the use of social media. The manual contains guidelines for (1) conducting internal and external collaboration within the ministry as well between the ministry and other Federal Government agencies; (2) conducting diplomatic activities with non-U.S. Government organizations and individuals on controlled-access Web sites that are not available to the general public; (3)  using social media for official consular, public affairs and public diplomacy activities on Web sites that are available to the general public; and (4) using social media or engaging in activities that are of official concern to the ministry.

The American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) also published Guidance of Personal Use of Social Media for its members. The AFSA clearly mentions that they support the use of social media but, at the same time, emphasize that but any form of communication – via social media, telephone, e-mail, or just old-fashioned conversations – is governed by social norms and etiquette, and requires good judgment and common sense.

After reviewing how other foreign ministries use social media as tool of conducting diplomacy, three lessons learned can be drawn as follow:

  • Clear guidance on the use of social media is a defining element of digital diplomacy. Such a guidance is essential to avoid misuse of social media by employees as well as to enhance the effectiveness of its utilization in achieving the goals. It is interesting to note that the Indonesian MOFA has not published such a guidance.
  • Other foreign affairs ministries maintain more than one Twitter account. Each account has its specific contents, audiences, or even language. Disseminating various kinds of information through one social media account will raise question about effectiveness. The Indonesian MOFA, on the other hand, currently maintains only one official Twitter accounts at the organizational level.
  • The main objective of the use of social media as tool of digital diplomacy is to disseminate information to the global audience. Indeed, disseminating information to the domestic audience is an important element of transparency. The main target of any social media campaign, however, should be the global audience.

Based on those lessons learned, three recommendations can be proposed as follow:

  • The MOFA should develop a comprehensive guidance on the use of social media as tool achieve goals in diplomacy. This guidance should contain, among others, code of conduct for both official and personal use of social media; technical aspects such as standard of account’s name and nomenclature of official accounts; and sanctions for social media misuse.
  • The MOFA should create more than one official Twitter account. The current account can be used effectively to share information to the domestic audience. To reach the global audiences the MOFA should create another account with English as its interface language.
  • The MOFA should establish an inter-unit task force to develop contents of social media campaign and strategies to disseminate them. This task force regularly develops, for example, infographics about Indonesia’s commodities, investment opportunities, and tourist destinations. The task force then sends the said contents regularly to all Indonesia’s diplomatic and consular missions along with the timetable of uploading of the contents. This concerted effort will enhance the effectiveness in disseminating information about Indonesia to the global audiences.

The Foreign Minister – in the speech quoted at the beginning of this article – has laid the ground for the improvement of the use of social media as tool of diplomacy. Now it is the task of the related stakeholders in the MOFA to implement it at the technical level. Reviewing recent development within the MOFA, adopting the above policy recommendations will significantly improve the effectiveness of Indonesia’s diplomacy in this digital era as part of the effort to achieve goals in foreign policy.

Beyond Maritime Diplomacy: Foreign Ministry’s Roles in Implementing the Indonesian Ocean Policy

On February 2017 the government issued the Presidential Decree on Indonesian Ocean Policy (IOP). The decree was designed to achieve the Global Maritime Fulcrum (GMF) vision of Indonesia as a sovereign, advanced, independent, strong maritime nation that is able to provide positive contribution for peace and security in the region as well as to the world.

The IOP contains seven pillars and one of them is maritime diplomacy. The inclusion of maritime diplomacy as one pillar of the IOP can be seen from two points of view. First, it underlines the significance of the international dimensions of the policy. The government, by incorporating maritime diplomacy, realized the key role of international cooperation in supporting its efforts in accomplishing the GMF vision. Second, considering that contribution to regional and global security is mentioned as part of the GMF vision, the inclusion of maritime diplomacy is indeed a necessary. It is impossible to put the IOP in the global context without diplomacy.

The inclusion of maritime diplomacy as well as the presence of the world ‘global’ in the title of the doctrine indicates that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) has huge tasks and responsibilities in the implementation of the IOP. To analyze how the MOFA can significantly contribute in achieving goals of this policy, first we have to look at the definition of maritime diplomacy as stipulated at the IOP. Maritime diplomacy is defined as form of foreign policy implementation which is not only related to maritime aspects at bilateral, regional, and global levels; but also related to the utilization of maritime assets, civilian and military, to fulfill national interests in accordance with national laws and international law.

The above definition indicates the prominence of security-based approach in maritime diplomacy. Such a prominence is also reflected in seven strategic policies to conduct maritime diplomacy explained at the Presidential Decree. Those strategic policies are focused on leadership on maritime cooperation, regional and global security, norm-making, maritime boundaries, submission of extended continental shelf, representation in related international organizations, and verification of names of islands.

Considering this security-based approach, it is important to note that the MOFA should take roles beyond maritime diplomacy. MOFA’s tasks and responsibilities in implementing the IOP should not be limited to conducting maritime diplomacy but engaging to the other six pillars. The main consideration behind this view is the fact that the international dimension of IOP is not only related to security aspect but also, not less importantly, economic aspect. MOFA’s main responsibility in conducting maritime diplomacy, therefore, should not undermine its important roles in the other six pillars.

After reviewing the definition of maritime diplomacy in the context of IOP, the following policy recommendations are proposed to answer the question of how the MOFA can significantly contribute to the implementation process. First, the MOFA should integrate the goals of IOP in its programs. That is to say that the MOFA should be able to incorporate IOP’s strategic policies and plans of action into its existing programs and activities at bilateral, regional, and global levels. To do so the MOFA should develop clear guideline on how its organizational units as well as Indonesia’s diplomatic and consular missions can incorporate the IOP into their respective programs and activities. The MOFA can assign its research and policy development unit – in collaboration with other related units – to develop the said guidance.

Second, considering that the MOFA has the main responsibility in conducting maritime diplomacy, it should also develop a comprehensive guideline on seven strategic policies on maritime diplomacy as emanated in the Presidential Decree. The MOFA should identify existing mechanisms – at bilateral, regional, and global levels – that can be utilized to achieve IOP goals. The MOFA, for example, can use existing maritime-related forums in ASEAN and the UN to promote IOP goals. When necessary, the MOFA may also develop new mechanisms to further implement the IOP.

Third, as stated earlier that the MOFA should go beyond maritime diplomacy, it is important for the Ministry to define its contribution in the other six pillars of IOP. MOFA’s possible contribution in each of those pillars can summarized as follow.

  • Marine and human resources development

The MOFA can contribute by providing analysis on good practices and lessons learned from other countries than have been at the advanced stage on this particular area. The MOFA can also seek technical assistances from related international organization to further enhance marine and human resources development in Indonesia.

  • Maritime Security, Law Enforcement and Safety at Sea

The MOFA can play a leading role in negotiations related to this issue at bilateral, regional, and multilateral levels.

  • Ocean Governance and Institutions

The MOFA can contribute by actively participating at norm-setting negotiations to ensure that Indonesia’s national interests on maritime issues are accommodated in the norm.

  • Maritime Economy Development

The MOFA can contribute by integrating the goals of IOP into its economic diplomacy. Promotion of Indonesia’s maritime commodities, investment opportunities, and maritime tourist destination should be designated as main priorities.

  • Sea space management and marine protection

The MOFA can play an active role in negotiations related to this issue. Main goal to achieve is to ensure that Indonesia’s national interests are proportionally reflected on the outcomes.

  • Maritime culture

The MOFA can contribute by providing good practices and lessons learned from other countries on how to develop good maritime culture.

To conclude, the IOP is a comprehensive policy comprises goals, policies and plans of action in various sectors. Collaboration among stakeholders in the key to ensure the effectiveness of its implementation. To significantly contribute, the MOFA should implement a holistic approach. The MOFA should not restrict its roles and responsibilities only in the pillar of maritime diplomacy. The MOFA has a lot to offer in the other six pillars. We have to bear in mind, however, that the significance of MOFA’s contribution will depend on how it can develop a clear guideline. Without a guideline MOFA’s role will only be sporadic and unsustainable.

Palm oil and challenges to Indonesia’s plantation commodities’ sustainability

According to current statistics published by the Ministry of Trade, in 2017 the plantation sector contributed USD 41.9 billion to Indonesia’s export. This value is equivalent to 27% of overall Indonesia’s export value of USD 153.2 billion. This figure shows that the plantation sector has a significant contribution to Indonesia’s economy. Any disruption to plantation commodities’ global trade, therefore, will significantly affect Indonesia’s economy. Such a disruption will not only reduce incomes from export but also can increase employment rate at the domestic level.

The decision of the European Parliament to propose a ban on palm oil has raised concern about the future of Indonesia’s plantation export commodities. The EU questioned the sustainability of Indonesia’s palm oil in making their decision. Palm oil plantation, according to them, has caused deforestation and increased greenhouse gas emissions. Based on this view the EU decided to exclude palm oil from their Renewable Energy Directive (RED) scheme. Interestingly they still allow all other oilseed crops to continue operating under the RED scheme. Considering that the European Union (EU) is the second-largest Indonesia’s palm oil export destination, EU decision will cause a considerable impact to Indonesia’s economy.

We may consider EU’s decision as an unfair one and as part of non-tariff trade barriers imposed to protect their own agriculture-based oil industry. Nevertheless, we must accept this reality as part of competition in current global trade. Instead of blaming the EU, it is better for us to convince the global audience that Indonesia in on the right track in the efforts to implement the principles of sustainability in its palm oil plantation and industry.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has to lead a concerted effort in encountering EU’s negative views on Indonesia’s palm oil sustainability. The Ministry also has a responsibility in preventing the spread of EU’s view to non-EU countries, particularly in countries currently importing palm oil from Indonesia. We should bear in mind that the EU as a global major power has the ability to influence other countries to follow its policy.

The effectiveness of Foreign Ministry’s efforts in encountering EU’s views will depend on two main factors. The first factor is how far the government can guarantee the sustainability of palm oil plantations in Indonesia. In 2010 the government launched the Indonesia Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) initiative aimed to make palm oil production sustainable and in compliance with Indonesia’s laws and regulations. There are 98 indicators which elaborate seven principles and criteria contained in the ISPO. These seven principles cover 1) the plantation licensing and management system 2) the application of technical guidelines for palm oil cultivation and processing; 3) environmental management and monitoring; 4) responsibility towards workers 5) social and community responsibility; 6) empowering the community economy and 7) sustainable business improvement.

The effectiveness of campaigns on Indonesia’s palm oil sustainability at the global level will heavily depend on the achievement of ISPO targets at the domestic level. Yet in August 2017 the Ministry of Agriculture acknowledged that only 16,7% of palm oil plantations that had met ISPO standards. This figure is alarming. It shows that after seven years we are still far from reaching ISPO standards. It is a huge task for the government and other related stakeholders in palm oil industry to accelerate the achievement of ISPO standards.

The second factor is the way the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – in cooperation with other related stakeholders – handle the campaign. There are some element the Ministry should consider in organizing such a campaign. First, EU’s decision has not been finalized. This means that there is still a room for Indonesia to maneuver by approaching the EU and its member states to reconsider their stances on Indonesia’s palm oil sustainability. Indonesia’s diplomatic missions accredited to members of the EU have crucial role to convince their respective host countries on this matter.

Second, EU’s decision was highly influenced by the interests of its business community. Indonesia, therefore, should not only get in touch with the EU and governments of its member states but also with the European business community. In approaching business community Indonesia should involve private stakeholders in the palm oil industry. Considering that not all of those private stakeholders have experiences in international negotiation, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has crucial role in enhancing private stakeholders’ competence on international negotiation.

Third, Indonesia should continue disseminating good progress of the efforts to achieve palm oil sustainability to counter negative campaigns conducted by other parties on this issue. Indonesia should disseminate related data and information in a concerted manner and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should take a leading role at this stage. The Ministry should enhance coordination with other stakeholders – from both government and private sectors – in developing contains of such campaign as well as in conducting the campaign.

To sum up, Indonesia has to take EU’s decision seriously. We must acknowledge that the EU has crucial role in determining the future of Indonesia’s palm oil in global market, not only because around 16% of our palm oil export goes to them, but also because their decision can influence other parties to follow suit. We should also anticipate the possibility of the application of sustainability standards by the EU in the future to other plantation commodities. It is important for the government and related stakeholders, therefore, to ensure that Indonesia’s plantation sector can meet globally-accepted standards of sustainability on the basis of equality among all members of the international society.

Indonesia’s position in global discourse on corruption

In the 2017 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) recently released by Transparency International, Indonesia is ranked 96th out of 180 countries. With CPI score of 36 Indonesia, unfortunately,  is still perceived as corrupt. Among G20 countries, for example, Indonesia is ranked 16th together with Brazil. Only two G20 countries – Russia and Mexico – whose scores are worse than that of Indonesia and Brazil. Meanwhile in ASEAN Indonesia is ranked 4th after Singapore, Brunei Darussalam, and Malaysia.

We must admit that Indonesia’s CPI score, like it or not, reflects the big picture of corruption as serious problem in the country. This is an alarming situation because in the last 15 years Indonesia has been taking various efforts to eradicate corruption both at the domestic and global levels. Circumstances cited above lead to questions about Indonesia’s stance in the global discourse on corruption. Should Indonesia adjust its approach in the global discourse on corruption? What issues can Indonesia now bring to global discussions on corruption eradication?

In early 2000s, when Indonesia was in the initial stage of its political reform era, the democratically elected government started to put corruption eradication as a matter of priority. In 1999 the law on the eradication of corruption was adopted. In 2002 the government founded the Eradication Corruption Commission (KPK) and Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (PPTAK). The establishment of those two institutions underlined government’s strong determination in eradicating corruption and other related crimes.

This development enhanced Indonesia’s self-confidence in taking a leading role in the global discourse on corruption. Indonesia, for example, actively involved in the negotiation of United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) in 2002-2003. Indonesia signed the Convention shortly after its adoption and became state party to the Convention in 2006. To further show its strong commitment in global campaign against corruption, in 2008 Indonesia hosted the Second Session of the Conference of States Parties of UNCAC. As member of G20 Indonesia also actively participated in various G20 and OECD anti-corruption initiatives.

During this period Indonesia confidently brought its experiences in radically shifting domestic anti-corruption policies to global audience. In many occasions Indonesia shared its ‘success stories’ in eradicating corruption and handed over lessons learned from such stories to other countries. Indonesia also emphasized the importance of technical assistance from developed countries and international organizations to developing countries. The message was clear that developing countries required technical assistance to solve the problem of corruption.

Two decades after political reform Indonesia still faces tough tasks in achieving goals of its anti-corruption policies. Recent data from KPK shows that the number of corruption cases in the country is still high. According to the last annual reports published by KPK the corruption cases investigated by this institution increased from 99 cases in 2016 to 118 cases in 2017. To make this data more miserable, most corruption cases occurred in public sectors.

Corruption is indeed a global problem and all members of international community should work together to eradicate this crime. Despite of the distressing situation at the domestic level, Indonesia should continue its active participation in the global discourse on corruption. In my opinion, however, Indonesia has to adapt this new development by alternating its approaches. It is irrelevant for the country at this stage to bring to global audience similar themes as it brought in 2000s.  Indonesia can no longer share its success stories in eradicating corruption to global audience. Indonesia also cannot assert its experiences at the domestic level as ‘good lessons learned.’ We must acknowledge that despite of various efforts and technical assistance, Indonesia still faces corruption as one of the most serious problems to overcome.

Considering dynamics at the domestic level I would like to recommend the following aspects to be conveyed by Indonesia at global discourse on corruption. First, Indonesia has to deliver strong message to underscore its commitment and determination in eradicating corruption. Indonesia, for example, should persuade global audience to put recent high number of corruption cases investigated by KPK in the context of government’s firmness in combating this crime. Indonesia must also emphasize that this high number should not be perceived as a sign of lack of commitment in eradicating corruption.

Second, Indonesia has to inform global audience its ongoing and upcoming programs and projects aimed to eradicate corruption. It is important to reassure the global community that the government does not work alone in eradicating corruption but with support and involvement of non-governmental elements such as private sectors and civil society.

Third, Indonesia has to emphasize the importance of members of the international society to continue their collaborative works in eradicating corruption. Governments, international organizations, and civil society should work together in finding most suitable solution to combat this crime by examining its context. Indonesia should underline its readiness to work together with other parties in the areas of prevention and law enforcement at bilateral, regional and multilateral levels. Indonesia should also reaffirm its view on the importance of technical assistance for developing countries, particularly in the area of capacity building.

The reality of high number of corruption cases despite of all efforts have been taken has put Indonesia in a difficult situation. Being perceived as a corrupt state leads to the damage of Indonesia’s image as the third largest democracy. No doubt that government and people of Indonesia are bearing the highest responsibility in solving the problem of corruption in their home. Indonesia, however, cannot solve the problem alone. It needs assistance from other members of international society. Indonesia’s active role in the global discourse on corruption, above all, should be aimed to support its efforts in achieving its anti-corruption policy goals at the domestic level.

The importance of ethics in leadership in the absence of solitary standard of morals

Ethics and morals play important role in defining the quality of leadership. People often use those two concepts to analyze behavior of leaders, particularly in distinguishing ‘good’ and ‘bad’ behaviors. We should bear in mind, however, that ethics and morals are two different concepts. In certain situation or context ethics and morals may be in harmony, while in other situation they are at odds. When ethics and morals are in conflict, question about priority emerges. Which aspect leaders should pick out: ethics or morals?

We can start by reviewing main differences between those two concepts. Ethics refers to the rules of conduct recognized in respect to a particular group or culture. The main source of ethics is social system, so people adhere ethics because the society says it is the right thing to do. Ethics of diplomat, for example, refers to the rules of conduct diplomats must abide to be categorized as right. Failure to observe such rules can make a diplomat considered as incorrect.

Meanwhile morals refers to principles or habits with respect to right or wrong conduct. Differ to ethics, the main source of morals is not social system but individual belief. Considering that each individual has their own way of life, standard of morals can differ from one to another. In a larger scope, standard of morals may also vary among different societies. What is perceived as right in one society may be seen as wrong by others.

The concept of ‘moral relativism’ emerged to portray the absence of agreement on single standard of morality. Gilbert Harman in his article titled ‘Moral Relativism Explained’ notes that there is not a single true morality. Harman further notes that:

“There are a variety of possible moralities or moral frames of reference, and whether something is morally right or wrong, good or bad, just or unjust, etc. is a relative matter—relative to one or another morality or moral frame of reference.”

Reviewing the definition of morals, the logic behind the concept of moral relativism is acceptable. Personal experience, level of education, type and scope of interaction, and social environment – all can influence standard of morals at the individual level. At the societal level history and common belief can also effect the common standard of morals. Judging certain standard of morals using those of other, therefore, can lead to unfairness.

Each leaders, as individuals as well as members of their respective societies, may have their own standards of morals. In one aspect they may have common ground in defining what is right and what is wrong. But in other aspect they may have sharp differences on it. What is right according to one leader can be wrong for others.

Ethics can also be interpreted from various perspectives. Unlike morals, however, the source of ethics is not individual interpretation but collective perception within society. Ethics of a profession, for example, is developed based on agreement within an organization or society where such a profession exist. Ethics of diplomat, for instance, was agreed by diplomatic society based on norms, values, and customs observed in conducting diplomacy.

To examine the role of ethics and morals for leaders, let’s put these two philosophical concepts into daily life context. Leaders of an organization – for example the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – may come from various social backgrounds with different – or even opposing – standards of morals. At the personal level it is possible for them to have different moral judgements on certain policy or action.

In fulfilling their duties as leaders, however, they have to observe standard of ethics of the Ministry. They may face ideal situation when their standard of morals and the Ministry’s standard of ethics are in harmony. Back to moral relativism, however, they may face conflicting situation when their standard of morals is on contrary with the organization’s standard of ethics. In this situation leaders should put ethics ahead of morals to justify their conducts.

One of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ leaders may also have leadership role in his community, let’s say as head of neighborhood or rukun tetangga (RT). In his capacity as head of RT he should act based on the standard of ethics of head of RT and not that of the Ministry. In a conflicting situation between morals and ethics, he must refer to standard of ethics of head of RT in making a decision.

Based on the discussion above I would like to draw the following conclusion. First, in the absence of solitary standard of morals, ethics plays influential role as guidance for leaders in performing their duties. An organization should develop its standard of ethics comprehensively and its leaders should observe the standard as their behavior’s guidance.

Second, leaders will possibly find themselves in a conflicting situation when their standards of morals differ from their organization’s standard of ethics. In such a situation leaders must act according to standards of ethics and set aside their standards of morals.

Finally, in this digital and borderless era exchange of ideas and values across the globe takes place rapidly. The existence of various ideas and values within societies leads to the proliferation of standards of morals among individuals. This situation makes the role of ethics become more and more important as guidance for leaders in accomplishing their tasks.


Gilbert Harman, ‘Moral Relativism Explained” accessed on 28 February 2018 on

The Rohingya Crisis and Indonesia’s Possible Leading Role in Securing Asia-Pacific Regional Architecture

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi discusses recent development in the Rakhine State with Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. (Source:

Indonesia perceives regional stability as one of its national interest. Hence, Indonesia has been actively taking part in various efforts to develop a regional architecture in the Asia-Pacific. Pinthong (2015) defines regional architecture as creation of an optimal regional conditions for economies to prosper, societies to progress and human security to flourish. Pinthong further describes that such an architecture involves promotion of order and stability, as well as enhancement of the insurance against outbreak of conflict.

Recent development in Myanmar has been threatening ‘the optimal conditions’ cited above. The outbreak of violence and ensuing humanitarian crisis in Myanmar’s Rakhine State has put collective efforts in developing a regional architecture in jeopardy. Such demeanours are in contradiction of the spirit of protecting human security. Those can also lead to the outbreak of a broader conflict.

Responding to the escalation of human rights abuses against the Rohingya – one of Myanmar’s minority ethnic groups – Indonesia pledged it commitment to take a leading role in assisting Myanmar to end the crisis. Indonesia took this decision as continuation of its engagement-driven policy towards Myanmar. As the biggest nation in Southeast Asia Indonesia played a prominent role in Myanmar’s accession to ASEAN. Indonesia also contributed to Myanmar’s transition to democracy.

Discussing Indonesia’s policy on the Rohingya issue, one may take two reasons into consideration. First, the Constitution of Indonesia clearly mentions that maintaining world peace and order is part of its responsibilities as member of the international community. We understand that the concept of regional architecture substantially connects with the concept of order. Order, as defined by Baylis and Smith (2006), refers to any regular or discernible pattern of relationship that are stable overtime. It also refers to a condition that allows certain goals to be achieved.

Based on this definition, Baylis and Smith further define world order as the degree of order based on the delivery of certain goods including security, human rights, basic needs and justice. From this point of view, crisis in Myanmar has put the regional order at risk. In line with its Constitution, Indonesia has the responsibility to assist Myanmar to end the crisis.

Second, Indonesia has cordial relationship with Myanmar. Last year Indonesian Foreign Minister visited Myanmar proposing a formula to solve the crisis. Indonesia should use the willingness of Myanmar to accept its views as diplomatic asset. Compared to other countries in the region, Indonesia has wider opportunity to urge Myanmar to stop cruelty against the Rohingya.

The next question is how to implement that role at the operational level. During her visit to Myanmar, Indonesian Foreign Minister proposed a plan to solve the Rohingya crisis. The proposal contains five main aspects: humanitarian services, conflict prevention, reconciliation, institution-building, and long-term development. We must bear in mind that the proposal is not only inclusive but also encompassing a wide range of aspects and phases. For sure, Indonesia will not be able to accomplish all of them without partnership with other stakeholders.

Reviewing the inclusiveness of the said proposal, I wish to suggest the following strategies. First, at the bilateral level Indonesia should invite other like-minded countries to participate in assisting Myanmar to end the crisis. At the regional level Indonesia should utilize relevant regional institutions and mechanisms to pursue the objectives of its proposal. At the global level Indonesia should summon non-government organizations and international organizations to take place. Considering the sensitivity of the issue and ensure the effectiveness of this approach, Indonesia should consult Myanmar recurrently on prerequisites of third-parties’ participation.

Second, Indonesia should put humanitarian services as matter of priority. Humanitarian services contain not only delivering logistics but also – more importantly – ensuring that the government of Myanmar utilize its resources to halt the human rights violation towards the Rohingya.

Third, Indonesia should talk with countries that have great political and economic influences on Myanmar. It is indeed important to discuss the proposal with Myanmar’s immediate neighbours like Bangladesh and Thailand. To further enhance comprehensiveness of its proposal, however, Indonesia should also talk with other great powers in the region such as China, Russia, and the United States. Endorsement from those three countries will significantly boost Indonesia’s proposal at multilateral stages such as in the United Nations.

Fourth, still Indonesia must oblige the global norm of sovereignty. Considering that Myanmar is still at transition period to democracy, inappropriate approaches to Rohingya issue may lead them to close their doors to foreign assistances. Indonesia, therefore, must prioritize the constructive engagement policy instead of alienating Myanmar. In other words, Indonesia must perceive Myanmar as part of the solution and not part of the problem.

Myanmar holds the biggest share of obligation in solving the Rohingya crisis. As a part of the international community, however, Indonesia has a responsibility to ensure the protection of human rights as inseparable part of an Asia-Pacific regional architecture. Finally, accomplishment in assisting Myanmar to solve the crisis in the Rakhine State will boost Indonesia’s credentials as an important player in the region. In a wider perspective, Indonesia’s capability to assist Myanmar in solving the Rohingya issue will not only benefit both nations but also put the development of Asia-Pacific regional architecture back on the right track.


Baylis, John and Smith, Steve. 2006. The Globalization of World Politics Third Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Pinthong, Chitriya. 2015. “The Evolving Regional Architecture for the Asia-Pacific: Toward an Indo-Pacific Idea.” Rangsit Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities Vol. 2, No. 1, January – June 2015.

President Joko Widodo visits Rohingya refugees at Cox Bazaar, Bangladesh. (Source: