Monday, September 25, 2023

Indonesia's 'Soft Approach' against Terrorism Vetoed by US, So What's Next?

Arfin Sudirman
September 18, 2020 | 10:39 pm
The Al Hidayah Islamic Boarding School in Deli Serdang, North Sumatra, was founded by former terrorism convict Khairul Ghazali, after he graduated from the government’s deradicalization program initiated by the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT). (Antara Photo/Irsan Mulyadi)
The Al Hidayah Islamic Boarding School in Deli Serdang, North Sumatra, was founded by former terrorism convict Khairul Ghazali, after he graduated from the government’s deradicalization program initiated by the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT). (Antara Photo/Irsan Mulyadi)

Indonesia's proposal to promote Prosecution, Rehabilitation and Reintegration (PRR) as part of counter-terrorism program during the Indonesian Presidency of the UN Security Council (UNSC) was vetoed by the United States. Why was Indonesia so concerned in proposing the PRR?

Encouraging the PRR agenda at the multilateral forum as a follow-up to the UNSC Resolution 2178 and UNSC Resolution 2396 to neutralize ISIS legacy was actually one of Indonesia's goals to promote a soft counter-terrorism approach since the 2002 Bali Bombing. As a response to the US global war on terror following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on American cities, Indonesia appears to have taken cautious step in combating terrorism. However, Indonesia's consistency in implementing a soft approach such as collaborative deradicalization program between state and non-state actors should have been considered and implemented collectively by the UN Security Council.

Two Main Approaches
In order to understand Indonesia’s consistency in encouraging soft approach on terrorism, we need to explore through the basic perspective of Global Security. Theoretically, there is a debate between traditional school that prioritizes state-centric approach in providing security and defense against non-traditional school that prioritizes a broader and comprehensive approach and thus requires collaboration between state and non-state actors especially in combating contemporary transnational threats. This theoretical debate is the most common and classical debate in the study although there are several other alternative approaches as a result of this academic debate.

The emphasis of traditional ideas in addressing existential threats is generally manifested in a form of militaristic approaches such as warfare and modernization of defense technology to create deterrence effect, while non-traditional ideas are manifested in a more proportionate and down-to-earth approach by assessing the scale of the threat. 


Since 1945, Indonesia has been practicing a comprehensive approach in securitizing existential threats, both domestically and externally. Although it raises lots of criticisms, this approach has been relatively unchanged. It is due to the fact that inter-states war has been sharply decreased since the end of the Cold War, which opened door to the balance of power. 

However, if you look at the bigger picture, the intra-state conflicts are actually increasing and require more complex approach.

If we look at Indonesia's efforts to push the PRR agenda ahead of the Presidency at the UN Security Council, it seems that Indonesia's message is clear: to encourage international community to work together in overcoming Foreign Terrorist Fighter (FTF) among ISIS deportees and returnees in an attempt to avoid internally displaced persons and uncontrolled refugees who could potentially spread violent ideology in their home country.

According to the UN Secretary General's report last year, there were 70,000 people in just one refugee camp in Syria with around 24,000-30,000 foreign nationals. Meanwhile, according to data from the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT), there are around 1,500 Indonesian citizens who have become FTF of the ISIS, with approximately 700 Indonesians still in Syria and Iraq and 100 more believed to be dead. This number is quite large and very sensitive if it is not addressed comprehensively because most ISIS member or FTFs involve children and women.

Thus, this non-traditional PRR agenda is considered a more effective and comprehensive approach in a hope that it will break the cycle of revenge and violence that generally occurs in war or traditional approaches. In contrast to developed countries that prioritize traditional approaches to counterterrorism, Indonesia has a philosophical foundation in promoting PRR against FTF at the international level, namely the constitution or UUD 1945, article 26 about Indonesian Citizens, the Law no. 12 of 2006 on Citizenship and Presidential Regulation No. 2 of 2007 concerning Procedures for Acquiring, Losing, Cancellation, and Recovering Citizenship of the Republic of Indonesia. 

These policies emphasize that an Indonesian FTF who used to be an ISIS member has never lost its citizenship because politically Indonesia has never recognized ISIS as a sovereign state based on the Montevideo Convention in 1933. Consequently, former ISIS members of Indonesian citizens must be repatriated and sentenced in accordance with the laws and regulations that apply nationally such as the Law no. 5 of 2018 on Terrorism or the Law Number 35 of 2014 on Child Protection and they must participate in a total deradicalization program before fully reintegrating with society.

P-5’s Conservatism
In addition, there is also a political dynamic that can challenge Indonesia's diplomacy as one of the 10 non-permanent members of the UN Security Council, which is related to the conservative attitude of the Council’s five permanent member states (P-5) in their security and defense policies. It should be acknowledged that the P-5 countries have so far been well-known as countries that uphold a traditional or militaristic approach in dealing with all kind of threats, mainly due to historical, economic and political factors. 

In fact, in order for the PRR agenda to get approval in the UN Security Council, the P-5 hold a decisive role because of their veto power. China, for example, has a different idea regarding PRR. It fears that the PRR could backfire on the Uyghur issue. The US veto against the Indonesian proposal suggests that the P-5 countries remain to have conservative views on this particular issue.

To sum up, it is true that terrorism has never been categorized as a threat to state sovereignty given its illegitimate nature. Therefore, conventional war cannot be applied in the fight against terrorism because, as Ken Booth and Tim Dunne have warned in “World in Collision” (2002): "The Problem of fighting a war against terrorism is that one never knows. If it has been won… when, then, can the victor's flag be raised? Terrorists can lie in waiting or they can move to cells in other territories." 

Therefore, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, we hope that Indonesia's diplomacy as a non-permanent member of the UNSC on the issue of counter terrorism can remain consistent for the sake of Indonesia's national interests which is the mandate of the UUD 1945, namely protecting the entire Indonesian nation and all Indonesian interest as well participate in the exercise of world order and eternal peace.


Arfin Sudirman is the head of Padjadjaran University’s International Relations Department.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Jakarta Globe.

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