Why the United States Should Welcome Indonesia into the Quad Family
In the wake of the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami on December 26, 2004, which ravaged Indonesia and resulted in the tragic loss of over 230,000 lives, the United States extended a hand of solidarity and support. This gesture of aid, at a time when Indonesia was enveloped in darkness, has not been forgotten. Today, almost two decades removed from that calamity, the United States is presented with an opportunity to renew its commitment. The time has come for the United States to forge a stronger bond with Indonesia and welcome it as an ally.
Indonesia presents itself as an exemplary candidate for an alliance with the United States. Not only is it the world’s largest archipelagic nation, but it also boasts the largest population of Muslims and stands as the most populous democracy in Southeast Asia. Indonesia is a nation of immense cultural wealth and astounding linguistic diversity, second only to Papua New Guinea in terms of the number of languages spoken within its borders. It is a nation brimming with potential, both politically and economically. Indonesia’s multifaceted alignments range from sharing religious values with U.S. allies in the Middle East to upholding democratic ideals in sync with Western allies and occupying a pivotal geographical position in the Indo-Pacific, which resonates with regional allies.
The United States has diligently worked to bolster its partnerships throughout the Indo-Pacific, yet it has become increasingly clear that partnership alone is insufficient. The fabric of Southeast Asian-U.S. relations is fraying at a time when the interdependence between these regions is more critical than ever. Thailand has seen its democracy interrupted since the 2014 coup, and the Philippines is grappling with Chinese military aggression in the South China Sea. In this climate, the United States must not only sustain its existing alliances but also cultivate new ones. Indonesia has emerged as an ideal candidate for the United States’ newest ally.
The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) has successfully convened powerhouses such as Australia, Japan, India, and the U.S. to bolster security across the Indo-Pacific. The United States should now take the initiative to invite Indonesia to become an annual participant in the Quad. By integrating Indonesia into this strategic dialogue, the United States would underscore the significance of Indonesia’s role in the region. Membership in the Quad would lay the groundwork for a formal treaty-based relationship.
Indonesia’s foreign policy has historically been characterized by non-alignment, which makes the prospect of joining the Quad a notable departure from its traditional stance. It is imperative for Indonesia to boldly articulate its aspirations and champion the interests of its citizens. Indonesian President Joko Widodo has demonstrated alignment with the United States on significant global challenges such as climate change. It is conceivable that future Indonesian leadership may lean even more favorably towards the United States. The Indonesian Navy and Coast Guard have also fostered a relationship of trust with the U.S. military, particularly as Beijing intensifies its maritime assertiveness within Indonesia’s territorial waters.
Given these geopolitical dynamics, Indonesia’s need for a fortified relationship with the United States is clear, especially in the face of China’s expanding political and military influence. The shared democratic values between the leadership of Indonesia and the United States only serve to strengthen the case for a flourishing bilateral relationship.
The two nations have already engaged in joint military exercises, not only in the contentious South China Sea but also through the Garuda Shield exercises on Indonesia’s Batam Island. Indonesia is confronted with threats not just to its sovereignty over its waters but also to its precious natural resources. The United States has recognized this vulnerability and has taken concrete action, signified by a $3.5 million investment in a maritime training center on Batam Island, located near the North Natuna Sea where Indonesia has experienced tensions with China. These steps are indicative of a burgeoning relationship, one that an official alliance with the United States would solidify, granting Indonesia the security it requires to solidify its role in the Indo-Pacific and the broader international community.
Such an alliance would also catalyze critical infrastructure initiatives. Both Indonesia and the United States are eager to pioneer investments in clean energy and safeguard the South China Sea. The synergistic efforts of the public and private sectors within the Quad countries already demonstrate a commitment to investing in each other’s critical infrastructure. President Widodo has expressed a strong desire to embark on ambitious infrastructure projects; a formal partnership within the Quad framework would facilitate significant collaborations between the United States and Indonesia.
Southeast Asia is currently experiencing a void in American leadership, and the voices within ASEAN seem to be diminishing. A strategic alliance between the U.S. and Indonesia could fill this void and address these concerns head-on. A step towards this would be Indonesia’s accession to the Quad. Such a move would likely be well-received by ASEAN as it promises to create new opportunities for the entire region. As was the case with Quad member India, Indonesia’s traditional non-aligned foreign policy could evolve to embrace closer ties with the United States. This alliance would empower Indonesia to avoid the constraints of Chinese governmental aggression or the pitfalls of debt-trap diplomacy, with the United States committing to Indonesia on multifaceted levels—economically, culturally, democratically, and with regard to international security.
In a world beset by hostilities, a bold and positive narrative is essential, and Indonesia is poised to be the protagonist of this story. The Quad can pave the way for a robust U.S.-Indonesia alliance. Together, these nations will stand at the helm of democratic leadership, proud of their diverse societies, and committed to innovation for the betterment of their people. In such a union, no singular power could undermine the U.S.-Indonesia alliance, for these nations will stand united and formidable in their collective strength.