Melbourne was still dark, under a light rain and with a temperature of 8 degrees Celsius, but these conditions did not stop thousands of Melbourne residents congregating at the Shrine of Remembrance, a national monument in the town centre. It was 5 a.m. and a bugle sounded the start of proceedings.
It was April 25, 2012, the day Australia commemorates Anzac Day. On this day, people pause from their daily lives to remember the fall of 8,000 soldiers of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) at the Gallipoli landings in Turkey, 97-years-ago during World War I.
Nowadays, ANZAC Day has also become a day of public admiration for all Australian servicemen and women, past and present. That is the way Australians value their military services.
A number of young Indonesian Military (TNI) officers – Maj. Agus Yudhoyono; Maj. Frega Wenas and myself, Maj. M. Iftitah Sulaiman S. – have accepted the Australian government’s invitation to visit a number of military establishments as part of the annual Young Future Leaders 2012 programme. Apart from being given the chance to see various attractions, there will also be interaction with Australian leadership candidates.
The question is why does Australia – a commonwealth country – want such close military ties, with the aim firmly on future leaders? What are the benefits for Australia and Indonesia?
On July 3, 2012, in a bilateral meeting between President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Australian prime minister Julia Gillard in Darwin, an agreement was made to elevate the military relationship of the two countries in the region, especially in handling disasters.
In addition to Indonesia, Australia and the US, President Yudhoyono also proposed to the Australian PM the involvement of all Asean countries, Japan, India, Korea and China in disaster management training. The goal is clear: This will build trust throughout the region.
President Yudhoyono’s way of setting out diplomacy through people-to-people contact in order to guard the peace, as he stressed in the Great Hall of Australia’s Parliament House on March 10, 2010, has captured the attention of Gen. David Hurley, chief of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) as well as the Indonesian Military (TNI) chief Adm. Agus Suhartono.
This concept of diplomacy is not just up in the air, as personal relationships often streamline duties in the field, both in peace operations, as well as in humanitarian assistance. However, while personal relationships have endured between the two countries independently, there has not been an umbrella organisation to formalise this.
Then, in 2011 the TNI and ADF agreed to form the Defense Alumni Association or Ikatan Alumni Pertahanan (IKAHAN) Indonesia-Australia, which was launched on March 22, 2011, in Jakarta.
IKAHAN membership is characterised as being open to all military personnel from the two countries that have undertaken personal exchange to the other country through visits, study or joint exercises.
A number of activities have been designed for IKAHAN. One of them is this Young Future Leaders Programme. Another is a programme that invites the 15 top graduates from the Indonesian Defense University and the Staff and Command Schools (Sesko TNI, Seskoad, Seskoau and Seskoal) to Australia to familiarise themselves with the Australian
military and culture.
IKAHAN’s presence as a diplomatic medium needs to be appreciated. Although Indonesia and Australia are neighbours, the divide between the two countries – particularly with regard to culture – runs deep.
Australia can learn a lot from Indonesia in interpreting the concept of Unity in Diversity, which has always made Indonesia successful in numerous UN missions.
On the other hand, the TNI can also gain benefit, especially with regard to the elevation of its professionalism. Besides having primary weapon platforms and systems that are modern, Australia has a lot of experience in many types of theaters since World War I through to contemporary operations in the Middle East. Through IKAHAN, the two countries can share information and experience.
Further to this, the TNI can also improve its personnel’s proficiency in English. At this time, English is still an obstacle for the majority of TNI soldiers in communicating in international forums, such as on UN military operations.
Today, the Indonesia-Australian military relationship has reached its peak in both countries’ history. The two countries obviously want these good relations to continue. As a consequence of peaceful times, the two countries can concentrate on growing the level of the economy in order to benefit their people.
IKAHAN today has become a new phenomenon in global military diplomacy. A number of countries have shown an interest in establishing a similar model – Australia-Indonesia young military officers’ relations – which has become the reference for armed forces leaders.