Greta Nabbs-Keller is a Brisbane-based consultant who has recently submitted a PhD examining the impact of democratisation on Indonesia's foreign policy.
To construe Indonesia's response to the Snowden intelligence leaks purely in terms of 'chest-thumping' or as an appeal to domestic political constituencies ahead of the 2014 elections is to fundamentally misunderstand Indonesia's national self-conception and the nature of its contemporary relationship with Australia.
In the fifteen years since the demise of Suharto's authoritarian regime, democracy has been internalised within Indonesia's national identity and projected in its foreign policy.
This fact, combined with the personal offence caused by allegations that Australia's Defence Signals Directorate attempted to tap the phone of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) and his wife, goes some way to explaining the president's anger and indeed, broader elite frustration with Australia.
From an Indonesian perspective, the Snowden revelations indicate that despite Indonesia's political transformation and the effort SBY has personally invested in rebuilding and reinvigorating relations, Australia is stuck in old paradigms when it comes to its northern neighbour. 'These US & Australian actions have certainly damaged the strategic partnerships with Indonesia, as fellow democracies', tweeted the president.
What the Snowden leaks suggest to Indonesia is that old threat perceptions die hard in the dark recesses of Canberra's intelligence apparatus.
Jakarta Post chief editor and influential foreign policy actor Meidyatama Suryodiningrat highlighted the problem of Australia's outdated constructs in a recent article. Suryodiningrat argued that Australia's intelligence approach to Indonesia was steeped in a Cold War context: 'It all goes to show that while the world has changed, Australia's mind-set has not'.
There is little doubt that the leaks have been deeply damaging to Indonesia-Australia relations, with Indonesian leaders seeing them as evidence that Australian conceptions of their country remain incongruent with Indonesia's contemporary realities as the world's third largest democracy, emerging economic powerhouse and responsible international actor.
Furthermore, the intelligence revelations challenge the popular orthodoxy of officials on both sides, which is that the problems in Indonesia-Australia relations lie mainly in negative constructs at the people-to-people, rather than government-to-government, level. And the leaks have alienated key champions of the relationship on the Indonesian side.
Most Australians probably know little of SBY's vital cooperation with Australia during his tenure as Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs (Menkopolkam). In stark contrast to President Megawati, who was too busy to attend the twelve-month commemoration of the 2002 Bali bombings, SBY delivered a deeply moving speech and emerged as a critical interlocutor for the Howard Government in its counter-terrorism efforts in Indonesia.
As president from October 2004, SBY's appreciation for Australia's generous tsunami relief and reconstruction efforts in Aceh was reflected in his bestowing of Indonesia's Medal of Valour to nine deceased (and two injured) Australian Defence Force personnel involved in a Sea King helicopter crash while delivering aid to victims of the 2005 Nias earthquake.
Then in 2011, according to Indonesian sources SBY intervened to stem public criticism of Australia by his foreign minister Marty Natalegawa. The Foreign Minister was reportedly angered by Julia Gillard's announcement that up to 2500 US Marines would be rotated through Darwin, made without proper consultation with Jakarta.
In the short term, it seems likely that Australia has lost a vital champion of the bilateral relationship. But beyond the urgent need for Prime Minister Abbott to personally contact SBY or better still, fly immediately to Jakarta to mend the diplomatic rupture, Canberra may need to convince Jakarta on two fundamental issues. First, that Australia's threat perceptions have caught up with the realities of Indonesia's contemporary political context and its strategic significance to East Asia. And second, that policy innovation and renewal in Australia with regard to Indonesia is not being impeded by outdated perceptions.
From crisis comes opportunity. These are issues which Canberra will need to convince Jakarta about if it is to stem longer-term damage from the Snowden leaks.
Photo by Flickr user CTBTO.