What's happening at the
Thursday 17 Aug 2017 | 05:59 | SYDNEY
Thursday 17 Aug 2017 | 05:59 | SYDNEY

Condemned to Crisis?

20 Jul 2015 14:05

'Condemned to Crisis?' is a new Lowy Institute Paper now available for purchase as an e-book or in bookstores. The Paper will be launched at the National Press Club, Canberra, on Wednesday.

In Condemned to Crisis?, the third volume in the new Lowy Institute Papers series, former Australian diplomat and intelligence analyst Ken Ward makes an argument that runs counter to years of conventional wisdom in Canberra on Australia's relationship with Indonesia.

Ward argues that crisis is inherent in the relationship, so Australian leaders should lower their expectations. Rather than reaching for a grand strategic partnership, he suggests the best we can hope for is to manage tensions. And he argues that in managing the inevitable crises, Australian leaders should seek to tailor their comments on the relationship to the sensitivities of audiences in Jakarta rather than at home. 


21 Jul 2015 13:42

Those lucky enough to have worked with Ken Ward over his many years of government service will smile as they read his fine Lowy Paper on Australia's relations with Indonesia. It has just the same droll and occasionally mordant tone that characterised his work in DFAT and elsewhere, as well as his precise eye for detail and talent for exposition. It is no surprise, then, that Condemned to Crisis is one of the best things written for many years about the contemporary management of this relationship, and a model of plain and forthright exposition. I strongly recommend it.

Ken's central message is simple enough. He thinks that crises in the relationship are inevitable, but that governments can manage them better by understanding Indonesia's perceptions and sensitivities better and by not allowing the media or opposition to set the terms of discussion. Meanwhile, we should not be too ambitious about the relationship: it serves our interests well enough as it is, and we should not expect it to get much better or exaggerate how much it matters if it doesn't.


23 Jul 2015 14:06

The great strength of Ken Ward's Condemned to Crisis? is that it confronts head-on some of the false constructs surrounding Australia-Indonesia relations. Although many of the arguments have been made by other Indonesia experts over the years, Ward's call for a more realistic approach to the relationship, particularly during the current administration in Jakarta, is refreshing for its frankness.

Upon reading Ward's analysis, one is reminded of a 2008 report produced by two highly regarded Indonesianists, Andrew MacIntyre and Douglas E Ramage, Seeing Indonesia as a Normal Country: Implications for Australia. The central premise of the paper was that democratisation had conferred a kind of political normality to a turbulent, post-authoritarian Indonesia, which with it carried great promise for bilateral relations. 


27 Jul 2015 08:55

Maybe it's just the title – Condemned to Crisis? – that gives Ken Ward's book such a downbeat despairing tone, as if the accident of geography has locked us in an unhappy marriage with Indonesia and there is not much we can do about it.

Of course we should be realistic: we won't ever have the sort of familial ties that we have with New Zealand. The intrinsic sensitivities will be more substantial than the petty sibling rivalries we have with our Kiwi brothers. But we don't have to accept serial crises as the norm.

In examining the history, we should separate the problems which were unavoidable from those which were 'unforced errors' or 'own goals'. We can avoid the latter by trying harder.


27 Jul 2015 16:16

Ken Ward is to be congratulated for a straight forward and sober analysis of the Australia-Indonesia relationship. In his own matter of fact style, Ken takes us through a complex relationship and provides unique understanding and insight.

His core point is that the Australia-Indonesia relationship has been, and will always be, punctuated by varying degrees of crisis. He argues that is something we just have to get used to and we should reset our expectations accordingly. In Ken's view, the best governments can hope to do is better understand Indonesia's point of view. Policy settings and the political narrative can be managed with those sensitivities in mind, rather than responding to a media and/or opposition driven narrative.


28 Jul 2015 12:35

In a new Lowy Institute Paper, former ONA analyst Ken Ward makes the case for 'more realistic' expectations for the Australia-Indonesia relationship.

He writes that despite years of Australian governments prioritising the relationship, it continues to be marked by tensions and crises. The recent execution of Australian citizens for drug crimes in Indonesia, despite our diplomatic protests, is presented as an example of why we should lower our expectations for a close relationship with our nearest Asian neighbour.

The Paper's title poses a question: is the Australia-Indonesia relationship condemned to crisis? In answering this question, Ward explores Australian and Indonesian history, domestic politics and communication and culture in search of triggers for the disputes that continue to erupt between the two nations, and analyses how these disputes are handled. Leaving aside the factors of history and domestic politics, which will surely be highlighted in other reviews of the Paper, I'd like to focus on the aspects of communication and culture, which arguably can have significant impact on the other causes of crisis and how they are handled.

Ward debunks the idea that Australia and Indonesia are too wildly different in terms of culture to ever understand each other.


28 Jul 2015 17:00

I couldn't agree more with Hugh White's commentary on Ken Ward's new book Condemned to Crisis? published by the Lowy Institute and Penguin Australia. White argues that Australia must build its relationship with Indonesia based more on how it perceives its northern neighbor is developing, rather than on historical experiences.

White agrees with Ward that Australia's approach to Indonesia is outmoded and needs rethinking. Ward argues that Canberra must discard the long-held policy mantra, embraced by all prime ministers since Paul Keating, that 'no country is more important to Australia than Indonesia.' 

Both Indonesia and Australia have changed since then, and this hasn't been fully reflected in the way they conduct relations, perhaps more so on the Australian than the Indonesian side (which deserves a separate article). While both White and Ward recognise the changes that have taken place in post-Suharto Indonesia, they fail to grasp the implications for bilateral relations and for the geopolitical environment in Asia.


29 Jul 2015 16:17

By Ken Ward, author of Condemned to Crisis?, a new Lowy Institute Paper published by Penguin Australia. 

At the book launch for Condemned to Crisis? in Canberra last week, Anthony Bubalo described my text for the first time (at least for the first time in my hearing) as an 'essay'. This is my own preferred description of it. I also see it as subjective and selective, faults that can, I hope, be forgiven in an essay.

I chose to focus on the diplomatic relationship between the two countries as this was the arena in which my reliance on public data seemed to be the least crippling a constraint. Had I tried to write about the bilateral defence relationship, for example, I would have been forced to carry out many confidential conversations that I could not have reported adequately, if at all.


12 Aug 2015 17:00

'Condemned to Crisis?' is a new Lowy Institute Paper now available for purchase as an e-book or in bookstores.

Geographical proximity and the need to address shared security challenges have married Australia and Indonesia together, if inconveniently. But Ken Ward's Condemned to Crisis? warns us of the danger of putting too much expectation on the relationship. To that end, he offers some interesting observations.