Jakarta – In the view of Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, it does not always have to be about military posturing, playing one superpower off another or having the armed forces scurrying about in the name of national security.
There is still a lot to be done during times of peace, whether that is to modernize decades-old artillery, build crucial interpersonal links with neighbors or just make a stake at keeping the peace in one's own backyard.
For the latter issue, Prabowo clearly put in the effort to speak at the 17th regional security summit known as the Manama Dialogue, a carbon copy of the Shangri-La Dialogue that is held in a territory considered at the heart of traditional United States foreign policy: the Middle East.
At the event, the former army general spelled out Indonesia's defense posture as one that "does not have territorial aspirations outside of Indonesia's national boundaries" and one that "has no need for projections of power" that stray too far outside of its region of influence.
That said, he also underlined the nation's commitment to maintaining relations with all countries and to stay neutral in disputes as a reflection of the Non-Aligned Movement.
As one part of Indonesia's twin-headed diplomatic machine, the Defense Ministry under Prabowo has played an understated yet effective role in maintaining ties with the country's many partners while "window-shopping" for new weapons systems and artillery.
Prabowo, for example, witnessed the contract signing for two Airbus A400M Atlas heavy transport aircraft, which can also provide air-to-air refueling capabilities to jet fighters, with an option of four more aircraft during the Dubai Airshow last week. In September, he witnessed the contract signing of two Arrowhead 140 frigates with British shipbuilder Babcock, undeterred by the United Kingdom's alliance with the US to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines.
This can-do attitude has helped the country get unstuck from its problem of maintaining an aging arsenal and the tight budgetary deficits that prevent it from spending big. It has also helped prevent Indonesia from getting pulled from all sides by the tense superpower rivalry that simmers in its own backyard.
In this context, it should come as no surprise that Prabowo's first-ever physical meeting with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in Bahrain during the weekend was replete with niceties but seemingly little else.
For the most part, their meeting could be seen as following up on the Aug. 1-14 Garuda Shield, a US Army Pacific-sponsored joint exercise hosted by the Indonesian Army in South Sumatra, East Kalimantan and North Sulawesi.
The ministers also spoke about officer education and training, a spokesperson for Prabowo said, while a Department of Defense spokesman said they also talked about the regional security environment. The Indo-Pacific was the running theme of their meeting, despite it being held far from the open waters of the Indian and Pacific oceans.
As it turns out, actions do speak louder than words.
Staying true to its independent and active foreign policy, Indonesia does not want to enter be seen as too closely allied to any foreign power. Instead, it wants to play the role of everyone's trusted friend – a moniker that is much needed at a time of great uncertainty in geopolitics that teases another probable Great Game.