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Boris Pistorius in Jakarta – on the right, Indonesian Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto


Dita Alangkara / AP

Indonesia's armed forces could soon receive aircraft from Germany. Defence Minister Boris Pistorius has promised Indonesia the delivery of two A400M aircraft.

On the sidelines of a meeting with his counterpart Prabowo Subianto in Jakarta, Pistorius said that Berlin had largely prepared the approval for an export license for the two transport planes. A decision is expected in the coming weeks. Arms export decisions must be formally approved by the Federal Security Council. Apparently, however, there is already agreement in Berlin to give the green light for arms exports.

Indonesia has long been interested in the A400M to modernize its air force. Only recently, when the military was loaned several A400Ms from Malaysia after a natural disaster, the Indonesian Air Force was impressed by the modern transport aircraft, as it can also be used on short runways.

The A400M is now considered reliable after years of problems. The German Air Force and many EU nations have the aircraft in use. For Indonesia, the delivery of the two promised aircraft would probably only be the start of a larger A400M program.

With this announcement, the German government is continuing its course of binding key players in the Indo-Pacific region closer to itself as strategic partners. During his appearance at the "Shangri-La Dialogue", the most important security conference in the region, Pistorius had already hinted at a change of direction on the issue of arms deliveries with regard to partners such as Indonesia last weekend.

The "turning point" announced by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) after the Russian invasion of Ukraine also includes "a rethinking of our arms export policy, especially in supporting partner nations with their legitimate claim to self-defense".

India and Indonesia as potential partners

For months, the German government has been making intensive efforts to win India and Indonesia as partners and to cautiously pull them over to the side of Europe and the United States on the issue of Ukraine. Along with China, both countries are considered the economic powerhouses of the Indo-Pacific region.

At the G7 summits in Elmau and Hiroshima, Federal Chancellor Scholz had already invited the heads of state from New Delhi and Jakarta as guests, with a recognizable ulterior motive. True, both states have agreed to the condemnation of Russia by the United Nations. So far, however, they do not want to bring themselves to impose economic sanctions, and both nations continue to do business with Russia.

After the short visit to Jakarta, Pistorius stressed that he wanted to expand military cooperation with Indonesia. For example, joint exercises with the Navy, which plans to send another frigate and a supply ship to the Indo-Pacific in 2024, are conceivable.

Already in 2021, the frigate "Bayern" took part in a multinational mission in the region to control sanctions against North Korea. Even if the military contribution of a ship seems minimal in contrast to the massive US presence, the Bundeswehr's contribution was praised internationally as a symbol that Berlin wants to get more involved and no longer shies away from conflicts with China.

Indonesia has more than 270 million inhabitants and economic growth is five percent. In recent months, according to diplomats, Jakarta has been striving for a stronger foreign policy role, but does not want to be co-opted by major powers such as the United States or China.

Instead, the government is focusing on the greatest possible flexibility. This is precisely why, Pistorius had already said during his appearance in Singapore, Berlin must pay more attention to partners like Indonesia. If the German government follows this course, arms exports to other Indo-Pacific countries would probably also be possible in the future.

Indonesia wants to remain flexible

Indonesia's stance was made clear at the Shangri-La Dialogue. There, Defense Minister Subianto somewhat surprisingly presented a peace plan for Ukraine: an immediate ceasefire, followed by a buffer zone between the Ukrainian and Russian armies, secured by an international peacekeeping force.

Such a plan is strictly rejected in Europe and the United States. Pistorius also said during an appearance at a military academy in Jakarta that only Ukraine itself can decide when and how it wants to conduct peace negotiations. In addition, it must be ensured that the aggressor Russia will not be able to make any territorial gains through a deal in the end.

This is in line with the German government's previous line, according to which any solution that Russia can claim as a success would have fatal consequences for the world order. "If Russia wins a victory, it would be a signal to any revisionist power that such invasions are possible," Pistorius said. This also applies to the Indo-Pacific region, where China has massively expanded its military supremacy in recent years. Only at the weekend, Beijing had once again made it clear that the use of the military in the Taiwan issue was an option.

From Indonesia to India

Pistorius traveled from Jakarta to India. There, too, he will try on behalf of the German government to persuade the government in New Delhi to take a clearer stance towards Russia. Similar to Indonesia, India is also very interested in arms exports from Germany, especially submarines.

At a meeting in New Delhi on Tuesday, the heads of several German armaments manufacturers will meet with Pistorius. This involves submarines that Thyssen-Krupp Marine Systems wants to build in cooperation with Indian industry.