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Rediscovering the Sea: Comparing New Maritime Orientations of Turkey and Indonesia

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Sea has once more become one of the most contested regions in the arena of international politics. One of the main reasons is that sea hold reserves to crucial energy and food resources. These resources are needed to sustain the basic needs to be used for supporting the industries and ensuring human developments. Sea also becomes a new area of influence that countries use to increase their leverage in the midst of geopolitical contestation. This condition eventually propels some countries to rediscover their once-forgotten maritime orientation again. This article would like to explore how Turkey and Indonesia are implementing their new maritime orientation in the second decade of the 21st century.

Turkey and Mavi Vatan Doctrine

In Turkey’s case, the geopolitical game is currently focused on two main areas: The Eastern Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea. Dominant players in international politics have recently turned their faces to the Eastern Mediterranean as a new energy source. Especially after 2010, at the time when Egypt and Israel discovered their natural gas reserves. However, as a peninsular state, Turkey has more than 8,333 kilometers of coastline. The country also has more than 462,000 square kilometers of potential maritime jurisdictional area. In these years, Turkey is also conducting oil and gas exploration activities with six oil and gas exploration and drilling vessels in the Black Sea and East Mediterranean Sea. However, Turkey’s efforts seem to bother some countries in the region. Turkey’s relations with neighboring Greece came to the brink of a hot war due to the continental shelf discussions.

On the other hand, France saw the Mediterranean’s developments as an opportunity and managed to sell Rafale jets to Greece. Countries such as Israel and UAE have also clearly positioned themselves, particularly after November 27, when Turkey and Libya signed a maritime agreement that established the EEZ of both countries under UNCLOS principles. Although Turkey’s bilateral relations experienced a downfall with the mentioned countries (Israel, UAE, and France), Turkey is continuing in a determined manner for the first time in the history of exploration and drilling activities. These activities continue today under the doctrine of the “Mavi Vatan” (Blue Homeland) doctrine. So why Blue Homeland doctrine is essential for Turkey’s new maritime orientation?

The concept of MaviVatan was first indoctrinated in 2006 by Retired Admiral Cem Gürdeniz. According to Gürdeniz, the scope of Blue Homeland doctrine consists of all maritime jurisdiction zones (inland waters, territorial waters, continental shelf, exclusive economic zone), declared or undeclared, and rivers and lakes. The Blue Homeland, in an exact sense, is an extension at sea and seabed of our homeland located between 26-45 East longitudes and 36-42 North latitudes. The Blue Homeland is the name of the Turkish zone of interest and jurisdiction over salty and fresh waters located between 25-45 East longitudes and 33-43 North latitudes. On the other hand, it designates Turkey’s maritime policy as its grand strategic goal for its people in the 21st century. It symbolizes the redirection from a land-based to a new sea-based orientation.  

Nowadays, Turkish authorities and the Turkish people are undoubtedly appreciating the intensity of petrol and gas exploration activities at both seas after Turkey’s long hiatus at two seas. Some authorities even trace back this hiatus to the Ottoman Empire’s 16th century, supposedly the most glorified Ottoman maritime era. Contrary to the previous periods, the Turkish government’s realization of these exploration activities and the investment of national capital and ships’ deployment receive significant support from the Turkish people. This policy also alleviates the public’s reaction against the Turkish economy’s deterioration, which is in a downward trend, especially after the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is also important to point out that the sharp decline of the Turkish Lira against the U.S Dollar since January 2020 has become another critical issue that has been observed closely by Turkish people. Amid the economic crisis, Turkish people consider the Eastern Mediterranean’s developments and the relations with their neighbor Greece, also a Turkish ally in NATO, as a more outstanding national issue. These developments bring some relational problems to the homeland.

Nevertheless, both the public opinion from the pro-government and opposition sides have united a legal pot in Turkey’s most prominent cause. This unity was rooted in the Turkish public’s concern on the Black Sea’s economic potential and the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. After some exploration period, President RecepTayyip Erdogan announced that the Fatih drillship discovered 320 billion cubic meters of natural gas reserves off the Black Sea coast on August 21, 2020. Although the Turkish people welcomed this news with great joy, experts argued that the mentioned gas extraction would take approximately 3-5 years. The Turkish government is planning to extract the gas resources during the 100th anniversary of the Republic of Turkey in 2023.

Indonesia and The Vision of Global Maritime Fulcrum

Despite holding status as one of the largest archipelagic states globally, Indonesia did not pay much attention to its maritime policies until very recently. Some works have been done in the past to operationalize Indonesia’s sovereignty in its ocean. Deklarasi Djuanda (Djuanda Declaration) and Wawasan Nusantara (Indonesia’s geopolitical outlook) are fundamental works that tried to strengthen Indonesia’s status archipelagic nation. Nevertheless, the strong focus on land-based security and defense policy has forsaken Indonesia’s maritime credentials.

The rediscovery of the sea and maritime policy in Indonesia began when Marty Natalegawa (Indonesian Foreign Minister, 2009-2014) tried to formulate a new approach towards the current geopolitical issue in the Asia-Pacific. According to Natalegawa, the key to managing the potential conflicts in Asia-Pacific is maintaining the “warm peace” through ‘multi stakeholdership.’ Multi stakeholder ship could be defined as a way to ensure that the conflict between parties contested zone (such as the Indian Ocean or the South China Sea) is solved through continuous dialogues and deliberations. This idea proposed by Natalegawa was also known as “dynamic equilibrium.” The legacy of dynamic equilibrium was carried on by Natalegawa’s successor, Retno Marsudi (Indonesian Foreign Minister, 2014-now). Using the principle of inclusiveness and multi stakeholdership, Indonesia is trying to reinstate itself as one of the key leaders in ocean governance. Through Global Maritime Fulcrum (GMF) vision, Indonesia was keen to take greater responsibilities in domestic maritime and global ocean politics. Related ministries and agencies, such as the Coordinating Ministry for Maritime Affairs, were created following the vision. During Indonesia’s chairmanship in the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), Indonesia has tried to put its ideas on maritime governance issues by proposing IORA Concord. IORA Concord has become one of the roadmaps that reflects Indonesia’s agenda as a global maritime fulcrum.

The idea attracted the Indonesian society’s attention since many thought that this would be one of the main breakthroughs that would create a more significant impact on the Indonesian economy and Indonesian foreign policy. Many Indonesian lawmakers have also indicated their support toward the GMF. Lawmakers also noted that the Indonesian government should fully utilize and dedicate all of its resources so that the people could enjoy the maximum benefit from this policy. In this context, lawmakers highlighted that the Indonesian government should protect its ocean resources, particularly in the fisheries sectors. Some ideas under the GMF doctrine were realized. One of these is creating fisheries’ docks and tollaut (sea highways) that help with the distribution of needs and resources through Nusantara’s vast islands.

Nevertheless, the GMF was eventually abandoned during the second term of Joko Widodo’s presidency. The coordinating ministry responsible for the maritime issue is still operational, but this coordinating ministry’s works focused on managing foreign trade and investments in Indonesia. Some limited activities to ensure coastal security is still handled by the coordinating ministry with the Ministry of Defence. Unfortunately, the works to ensure the resource sovereignty in the Indonesian oceanic territory remains in limbo.

Conclusion

Turkey and Indonesia have dedicated themselves to assert their identities as maritime nations. Despite having differences in geographical and geopolitical conditions, both governments have similarities in considering the sea as part of their future. Taking notes of the geopolitical conflicts and the potential of undiscovered resources in their oceanic sovereignty zones, Turkey and Indonesia establish doctrines that align with their foreign policy principles. Turkey, perhaps trying to achieve its economic goals for the first time in its history with a genuinely neo-realist and active policy in both seas. However, this neo-realist attitude is seen as disturbing steps by other states trying to have a say in the region. Even though the AK Party government has not given up its determination and attitude with the support of its people, Turkish authorities have idealistically emphasized that they are ready to talk with other states in the context of good faith.

Meanwhile, Indonesia is staying away from the bigger goals of becoming a regional leader in maritime governance. The main factor that finally determines Indonesia’s current maritime vision is the fulfillment of Indonesia’s economic and development goals. Therefore, most maritime sectors’ works are more focused on attracting investors and building infrastructures instead of constructing a grand vision and comprehensive policy frameworks that entail all sectors. A more pragmatic and bilateral-oriented Jokowi is trying to avoid more problems to gain more advantages. Finally, in Indonesia’s case, foreign policy must be home-originated and based on domestic needs, but a more confident stance needs to be taken.



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