Reviving the Undead: Phenomenon of Re-Spacing in Context of Indonesia’s Security Issue

Reviving the Undead: Phenomenon of Re-Spacing in Context of Indonesia’s Security Issue

Ghifari Athallah Ramadhan

University of Indonesia


Abstract. The 21st century marks the beginning of the phenomenon that is called “de-spacing”. Territory and geography, once very important in the field of international relations, began to lose its importance. The importance of those two was replaced by the idea and issue of globalization and liberalization in many parts of the world. As such, it is easy to see buzzword such as “borderless world” to describe how this contemporary world would look like. However, the reality is quite different. Scholar such as Robert Kaplan has said that what happens now is what he calls “the revenge of geography”. What Kaplan means by that is geography did not lose its importance but increasing its importance also the relevance. One could see how Russia still trying to control Ukraine since Ukraine is buffer zone between Russia and rest of Europe. Thus, the idea of de-spacing is concomitant with the idea of re-spacing, the return of importance of geography into international relations. As a developing country, the promise of de-spacing in Indonesia is very common. What I want to show through this writing is that Indonesia should focus on its security issue based on geography. I identify many geographical features of Indonesia and how it will affect its security. For conclusion, I believe that concept of de-spacing is not neutral and could be used by a country to dominate other country. As a result, we have to be careful with every idea of de-spacing.

Keyword: Geography, Indonesia, Security



The 21st Century Marks the Return of Geopolitics”-Marty Natalegawa1

If I was asked who is one of the most influencing international relations’s scholar that i have read so far, I would answer Robert D. Kaplan. His idea in his book Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and Battle Against Fate really influenced me, especially his conception of “de-spacing” and “re-spacing” which I elaborate and add some of my thought about the phenomenon through this writing. In this writing, by reflecting on some Indonesia’s defence policy, I would argue that Indonesia should focuses also on geopolitical reality compared to the phenomenon of de-spacing in security issue such as terrorism.


The most important event in the history of international relations, either international relations as a phenomenon or international relations as a science, is the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. The treaty marked the end of the ability of Catholic Church to interfere in domestic affair of a nation-state. Before the treaty, the Catholic Church even has the rights to decide who will rule a nation-state because ultimately ruler of a nation-state would be to some degree responsible to the Catholic Church. The advent of Christian Reformation and also the beginning of the Enlightenment era brought change to many established aspect, including the Catholic Church’s involvement in domestic affair of a nation-state. As such, after the treaty, any foreign involvement in a country’s domestic affair is prohibited and ruler of a nation-state would have the ultimate power in dealing with his/her country’s domestic affair. In simple way, the Treaty of Westphalia established the popular political concept of “sovereignty”.2 After sovereignty became the norm of international relations, an also popular implication will follow. The implication is the concept of “territoriality”, that is, a power of a nation-state’s ruler would be limited into a geographical space. With the concept territoriality, the border between nation-state becomes political and border were drawn between nation-state. These two concept, sovereignty and territoriality, always becomes one of the most important issue of international relations.3 Territory of a nation-state would be viewed as a symbol of sovereignty and breaking unlawfully into a nation’s territory would cause some international problem. For example, North Korea is continuously irritated by United States and South Korea who keep doing military exercise near North Korea’s territory. This issue is important for North Korea because if this continue, North Korea’s sovereignty would be seen as little or having none, because another country could do military exercise near its territory.4


Having laid the foundation of this writing, one would see a different international world today. The promise of globalization, advancement of technology especially transportation and information, the movement of people, goods, or ideas, shows how the concept of “space” as a geographical concept is no more important. This is then exacerbated by the fact that nation-state is no more a single actor in international relations.5 One could see the prominence of another international actor such as multinational corporation (MNC), international organization such as United Nations or IMF, and non-governmental organization such as Greenpeace. The proliferation of international actor shows how the traditional actor of international relations, the nation-state, has lost its position as single and most important actor. We see in today’s contemporary world on how a non-state actor could exert its power into nation-state.6 It is maybe best exemplified by international organization such as IMF which imposes a strong term and condition that a nation state must abide to when asking for funds. As a result, the nation-state is losing its power in term of sovereignty for the promise of globalized world usually is “borderless world”7 or “connected world”. On the one hand, as have been shown, non-state actors are also eroding the power of nation-state. This then makes many to ask the relevancy of nation-state. Book such as The End of Nation State by Kenichi Ohmae shows this trend. The few preceding paragraph basically tells how the premise of de-spacing could be positively promising but also dangerous.


Even though it is what people think how the world would look like in the contemporary international world, one could see a world that is quite different with that. Yes, there are many evidence of the so-called “borderless world” that is best shown in case of the use of social media that connects people from many parts of the world. A message that used to take days or even months to reach other could now be reduced to a few hours or even in instant. This age of constant connection8 (to use Joseph Ramo’s word), not only limited to social interaction but also to other such as economic activities. World economics nowadays is very connected that even one economic disturbances in one country could affect another country. But, these things that I have mentioned is only limited into social life, or using the international relations term, the “low politics”. The traditional “high politics”, which involved the interaction between nation-state, is still conventional. Even many countries are open to the promise of “de-spacing” such as opening the border, many countries undergo the opposite direction: “re-spacing”. The national border that first shown as not important because the prospect of globalization now become important again. China who claimed some pieces of islands in South China Sea or Russia which would never let go of Ukraine because its importance of buffer zone between Russia and and the rest of Western Europe.9


The trend of re-spacing doesn’t happen only in traditional actor in international relations, for it also happens to non-traditional actor in international relations. The most astonishing example of this is the phenomenon of ISIS. The phenomenon of ISIS shows how there is a change in the phenomenon of terrorism. Before ISIS, most terrorist group focus on creating fear and chaos as big as possible, but not with intention to create its own country. The conquering territory of Iraq and Syria will make nation-state think that terrorism is now not limited to security disturbances, but also on how a nation-state could be completely conquered by a terrorist group. Not only the importance of geography has returned, the limitation of it also returned. ISIS, for example, conquered an area called Fertile Crescent. Fertile Crescent is an area which now comprised of some territory of Iraq and Syria, known for its fertile soil and has been a place of civilization for many years. Another characteristic of it is that Fertile Crescent is always be a place for power struggle and its ownership has been changed time to time.10 The implication of this is that ISIS conquering the territory is no new thing and also ISIS conquered in this territory is also no new thing. The territory that has conquered by ISIS is bordered to the east by Iraq and to the north, west, and south by desert and mountain. The attack then will happen from the east to the west and it could be proven by the picture that I will attach. But, one thing for reminder, is that geography does not act as determinism because how people respond is also very important. The success of people in a geographically hard area such as Greenland shows what I mean. As such, the concept of geography, whether its limitation or its power, and in particular the concept of sovereignty, is always and will still the most important concept in international relations.




Picture I: Territorial Map of ISIS per January 201511




Picture II: Map of ISIS Territory per 10th August 201712


Having said about the importance of geography, what does Indonesia position on this concept of re-spacing? To answer that question, first we have to talk about the geographical feature of Indonesia. Indonesia is one of the archipelagic country in the world, with number of islands sometimes said reached almost 17,000 islands. With large area that spans more than 8000 km from west to east,13 Indonesia is the largest archipelagic country in the world. Indonesia is also located in between many important places in the world: between the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean and between Asia and Australia continent. Indonesia also has many important geographical place in the world. Strait of Malacca, which is located between Sumatra Island and Malayan Peninsula, is one of the busiest place in the world with more than thousand ships crossing it every day. Since many valuable cargoes pass the strait every day from Indian Ocean to Pacific Ocean, the strait has been attacked various time by pirates.14 To combat this issue, Indonesia and Malaysia are doing join navy patrol to combat the problem. Another geographical feature is the SLOC (Sea Line of Communication) which is located in many Indonesian seas.15 SLOC is used for another country’s ship when they want to pass. As such, Indonesia has many places that is important not only for Indonesia but also to other countries.



Picture III: Map of Indonesia16

How the geographical condition of Indonesia affects its security policy?. The location of Indonesia itself which is located between two continents and two oceans is both a curse and a blessing. As a blessing, Indonesia’s capital of Jakarta is located very far from the contemporary security threat, China. If any country wants to attack Indonesia from north, they would have many filters before arriving in Jakarta. They would have to pass Sumatra and Kalimantan islands, and when they arrived the military powers would have been reduced. Also as an archipelagic country, the mass movement of ground troops would be very hard and as a result a sudden attack with many military personnel would be hard if not improbable. What an enemy of Indonesia could do is deploying naval and air power—both are expensive and would be hard for many Indonesian neighbor (excluding China and Australia) to afford.17 Another geographical advantage of Indonesia regarding its territory which share border with other country such as in Kalimantan island, Papua island, or Timor Island, is that most of these islands except Timor is heavily forested and cannot be attacked easily by ground force. Timor Island present different story, for its dry climate and a never-ending savannah could be a very good place to launch ground invasion.18 At first, one may think that the only country that could attack it is East Timor, not a country with strong military tradition. But this may not be the case at all in the contemporary times. Australia, which has a good relations with East Timor could use East Timor in case of ground invasion to Indonesia and thus took control of Timor Island. This is worsened by the contemporary military movement of U.S. Marines to Darwin, North Australia. A join ground invasion by Australia and U.S. is something that should be considered seriously by Indonesian policy maker and armed forces. In this case, Indonesia blessing is that an invasion would take a long time before it arrives to the capital of Jakarta. This is very different with many European countries that is continental, i.e. located in one geographical area very close to another without big ocean between them. An attack in a continental country could spread easily to another country thus brings more cost of war.


I will now consider to talking about the sea and air. Sea is a very good place to attack Indonesia because the number of ship that Indonesian Navy has would not be enough to stand a huge naval invasion. This is worsened by the fact that most of Indonesian main navy’s port are located in Java island and it would be very hard if suddenly the ship breaks down and need repairing while it is doing duty in outermost island of Indonesia. It is not a new story that sometimes other country’s ship is not chased eventhough it violates the territorial sovereignty of Indonesia because the naval warship does not want to waste fuel. Indonesian government has been trying to solve this issue by trying to create eastern port for the navy that could cover many outermost areas.19 If this proves to be successful, a case of naval invasion mostly would be prevented from the eastern part of the country. Sea is, again, becomes natural barrier of Indonesia. By looking at geography of Indonesian sea, the sea is divide into two parts. One is Sunda shelf that is located in the western part of the country and the Sahul shelf located in eastern part of the country. Sunda shelf is shallower compared to the deeper one in Sahul shelf.20 As such, big military ships could not come from the west side of Indonesia because the shallowness of it. This will be very useful because if the eastern main naval base has been built, many attack with big ships from the east could be prevented or combatted. The presence of many Indonesian latest military airplane such as SU-27 or even the planned SU-35 in Sultan Hassanudin Makassar air base could provide the necessary reinforcement for the Indonesian armed forces.21 Also, with news that Indonesia is going to acquire new submarines from another country could be deterrent in this region because the stealth nature of a submarine.22


Air is, totally different story. Air does not provide any geographical advantage nor disadvantage for any country. What can be done is putting a lot of radar and air support to intercept any air threat. In this context, sea and land become the supporting geographical factor for air. Aerial warfare does not exist in vacuum: for any kind of aerial warfare need place to launch the airplane whether it is sea (such in case of aircraft carrier) or ground (such as the normal airport). Not many countries have their own aircraft carrier because its expensive price and maintenance (even Thailand has it, but it has no aircraft).23 But aircraft carrier is nevertheless one of the strongest weaponry in today’s military world. It combines two important factors in aerial warfare that is speed and mobility. Even though with its advantages, having an aircraft carrier would be a hindrance for Indonesia because the price and maintenance cost. What would I recommend for Indonesia is to build many airports for its military aircraft in many of its outermost island. The problem of Indonesian air force in term of placement is that many of its military airport are located in Javanese island, far from many outermost islands of Indonesia. It may be useful in case of Australia, but with the advent of China and threat from the north or east, it would be much better to concentrate air force there. Besides, the close proximity of Indonesia and northern part of Australia means that any sudden movement could be detected by Indonesian radar in Java island. Moreover, even air does not provide any advantage, air is still important for Indonesia. Because Indonesia is strategically located between two continents and two oceans, many airplanes whether commercial or military would have to pass Indonesian territory. This is shown when the airplane of Israeli prime minister airplane wanted to go to Australia, Indonesia did not allow the airplane to pass because Indonesia does not have relations with Israel. As such, the airplane had to go around the longer route.24 What I want to show is Indonesia could use its geographical advantage whether it is the sea (as shown by the SLOCS) and also by the air (as is the example of the Israeli prime minister’s case).


After saying what Indonesia could harness and also taking advantage from its geographical position, I would like to add bit more about the one of the most recent security issue for Indonesia, the problem of non-traditional security threat in form of terrorism. Indonesia has battled a lot with the issue of terrorism whether it is done by group of terrorists or by a lone wolf terrorist.2526 Many people are saying that the way to combat non-traditional security issue such as terrorism is by non-traditional measures also. Such measures usually involve non-physical way such as education or deradicalization, or in the George W Bush word, “wining the heart and mind”.27 It may be true for some cases, but the current development of terrorism shows something different. As have been stated earlier, many terrorist groups are focusing on conquering territory such as in the case of ISIS. Indonesia should be cautious with this development because ISIS has conquered territory such in the case of controlling the city of Marawi in the Philippines.28 It is not impossible for them to continue attack Indonesia. As such, Indonesia has to focus on the territorial integrity by realizing the geographical advantage that has been stated above. It will be important because by making ISIS territorial claim as a failure, the terrorist movement could be limited. After that, I believe, eventhough terrorist try to instill fear to the society, they would not finish their goal in achieving a territorial claim.


In short, I would like to reiterate that the promise of de-spacing that is exemplified by promise such as globalization should be taken with caution. For a conclusion, i would like to add that either de-spacing or re-spacing is also a man-made phenomenon because it is made possible by the advancement of technology. As any social phenomenon, de-spacing could be politicized for a realist political goal, re-spacing. A nation-state could create euphoria of de-spacing to the other nation-state which will weaken the targeted nation-state. This is very true in the era of neoliberal economics, where the most important force is the market and bordered country with nationalistic trade policies is usually shunned upon. This then would create a de-spaced country which and then the country with neoliberal economics would enter and gain many advantages while the de-spaced country would take many disadvantages. After that, it will return to the idea of realpolitik where power and geopolitik is the most important issue. What is Indonesia’s position in this de-spacing issue?. According to writing of Sri-Edi Swasono, professor of economics from University of Indonesia, Indonesia is quite de-spaced country. in his writing, Mr Swasono tells that many Indonesian, especially the youth, does not have knowledge about geography of his or her own country.29 They do not know where Waingapu, Larantuka, or even Timor island are. This would be a sitting duck for many countries with neoliberal economic policies or country with realpolitik that would reap advantage from Indonesia while the Indonesian itself does not know his or her own country is in danger because all that he or she learns is about “borderless world” that actually only gives advantage to country with neoliberal economic policy. As such, any promise of de-spacing such as the open border or borderless world discourse must be treated with suspicion to not harm the national security. De-spacing would then be followed by re-spacing. What Indonesian current government being doing, with the focus not only on non-traditional type of security but also to traditional type of security is the right way to deal with re-spacing issue.



1 Marty Natalegawa, (speech, Asia-Europe Institute, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 3rd August 2017).

2 Jason Farr, “Point: The Westphalia Legacy and the Modern Nation-State”, International Social Science Review, Vol.80, No.3/4, (2005), pp.156-159.

3 D. Lindsay, “Sovereignty”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, New Series, Vol. 24 (1923 – 1924), pp.235.

4 Kim Hong-Ji, “U.S. ‘Bombs’ North Korea in Military Exercises in Korean Peninsula Drill”, News Week, 22nd

March 2017,, accessed 8th August 2017.

5 Farida Lakhany, “How Important are Non-State Actors”, Pakistan Horizon, Vol.59, No.3, (July., 2006), pp.37.

6 A. Reynolds, “Non-State Actors and International Outcomes”, British Journal of International Studies, Vol. 5, No. 2 (July., 1979), pp.91-95.

7 Henry Wai-Chung Yeung, “Capital, State, and Space: Contesting the Borderless World”, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Vol. 23, No. 3 (1998), pp.291-292.

8 Joshua Cooper Ramo, The Seventh Sense: Power, Fortune, and Survival in the Age of Networks, (United States: Little, Brown, and Company, 2016), pp.11.

9 Tim Marshall, Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps that Tell You Everything you Need to Know about Global Politics, (London: Eliott and Thompson, 2016), pp.ix.

10 Rebecca Kraft Rector, The Early Valley Civilization, (London: Rosen Young Adult, 2016), pp.27-30.

11, accessed 10th August 2017.

12, accessed 10th August 2017.

13 “8.154 Kilometer dari Sabang sampai Marauke”,, 24th October 2013., accessed 8th August 2017.

14 John F Bradford, “Shifting the Tides against Piracy in Southeast Asian Waters”, Asian Survey, Vol. 48, No. 3 (May/June 2008), pp.473.

15 Ji Guoxing, “SLOC Security in the Asia Pacific”, Center Occasional Paper, Asia-Pacific Centre for International Studies, February 2000,, accessed 8th August 2017.

16 “Map of Indonesia”, Map of the World,, accessed 8th August 2017.

17 Akhyari Haryanto, “Which Military Ranks Southeast Asia’s Strongest?”, Seasia, 24th January 2017,, accessed 8th August 2017.

18 “Climate: East Nusa Tenggara”,,, accessed 8th August 2017.

19 Elza Astari Retaduari, “Penyebaran Pangkalan TNI, Komando Armada di Papua Segera Dibentuk,” 20th January 2017,, accessed 8th August 2017.

20 Tomas Tomascik, Ecology of Indonesian Seas, Part 1, (United States: Tuttle Publishing, 2013).

21 “Indonesia’s AF Expresses Continued Interest in SU-35s”, Defence Industry Daily, 7th August 2017,, accessed 8Th August 2017.

22 Franz-Stefan Gady, “Indonesia Commissioned First Attack Submarine in 34 Years”, The Diplomat, 3rd August 2017,, accessed 10th August 2017.

23 Jeremy Bender, “Thailand Has an Aircraft Carrier with No Aircraft”, Business Insider, 20th February 2015,, accessed 8 August 2017.

24 Elle Hunt, “Benjamin Netanyahu Took Two-Hour Flight Detour to Avoid Indonesian Airspace”, The Guardian, 22nd February 2017,, accessed 8th August 2017.

25 Prashanth Parameswaran, “Indonesia, Malaysia, Boost Military Ties in Islamic State Terror Fight”, The Diplomat, 21st July 2017,, accessed 8th August 2017.

26 “Indonesia, Russia to Work Together to Fight Terrorism”, The Star, 9th August 2017,, accessed 10th August 2017.

27 Elizabeth Becker, James Dao, “A Nation Challenged: Hearts and Minds; Bush Will Keep the Wartime Operation Promoting America”, The New York Times, 20th February 2002,, accessed 8th August 2017.

28 Bill Neely, “Battle to Recapture Marawi, Phillipines, from ISIS Is Warning from Asia”, NBC News, 8th August 2017, accessed 10th August 2017.

29 Sri Edi-Swasono, “Kesadaran Geografi Kita”, Kompas, 17th April 2017.



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Wai-Chung Yeung, Henry. “Capital. State. and Space: Contesting the Borderless World”. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. Vol. 23. No. 3 (1998). pp.291-309.




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