“I know Hasjim Djalal very well. He is one of the veterans in the law of the sea. How is he doing now?” This was part of my conversation with an expert from Iceland after presenting my paper in Oslo, Norway, concerning Indonesia’s extended continental shelf.
Djalal is internationally known as a prominent expert in the law of the sea. He is an icon in the field from Indonesia — one of the largest archipelagic nations in the world.
During the 25th anniversary of the United Nations Conventions on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in New York last year an expert from Virginia, United States, told me: “Before this man (Prof. Djalal), Mochtar Kusumaatmaja was another tiger from Indonesia. When he spoke, everybody was shaking.”
Both Kusumaatmaja and Djalal are prominent experts in the law of the sea. They were also intensively involved in the drafting of the UNCLOS (1973-1982). Not only are they highly respected in Indonesia, they are also recognized worldwide.
During a short break in the conference in Oslo, I was wondering whether or not Indonesia has prepared younger generations to continue what Prof. Kusumaatmadja and Prof. Djalal have done. I am not a lawyer, but have been doing a bit of work in the area of technical/geodetic aspects of the law of the sea since 2004.
In my humble opinion, Indonesia really needs more young people interested in the development of ocean affairs and the law of the sea. Being a large archipelagic nation with more than 17,000 islands, Indonesia desperately needs more people with expertise in this area.
A senior researcher in the Max Planck Institute, Heidelberg, Germany, stated that Indonesia has not enough international lawyers focusing on this topic. He, interestingly, compared Indonesia with Malaysia and found that Malaysia is slightly better in this case.
He also suggested that Indonesia should invest more in education. “Buy more books and send more young people to reputable universities in Europe, Australia and the United States,” he said. When I mentioned the funding issue, he added: “I believe there is a lot of money in Indonesia. It is just not used for good education at the moment.” This statement might be inaccurate, but this is how he sees Indonesia from the outside.
Indonesia is now 63 years old. Since its independence in 1945, Indonesia has been down a long and winding road of maritime affairs. It started by claiming a three-nautical mile territorial area from the coast of each island which divided Indonesia into different sovereignties.
This issue was then overcome by the 1957 Djuanda Declaration which claimed all water inside the archipelago belonged to Indonesia; this was the seed of the Wawasan Nusantara (Archipelago Principle). The concept was then formally accepted by the international community by its adoption in UNCLOS. Indonesia is also known as the father of the archipelagic state concept. This has been noted as a remarkable contribution from Indonesia.
It might not be fully true that Indonesia has not prepared younger generations to be prominent experts in ocean affairs and the law of the sea but this concern is, in my opinion, partly right. Regeneration might have been taking place but the echo is inadequately heard — at least this is how the international community sees it. I personally know some good people in this area but also believe that much remains to be done.
Two issues, in general, are the main challenges: Lack of maritime-oriented study/activities, and research result dissemination. Indonesia has been focusing on land-oriented studies and activities for sometime now.
Instead of believing that Indonesia is a maritime nation, we are happy to see our country as an agricultural State. This consequently brings a different strategy in our approach to education. One example: It is not easy to find a library with accurate and complete collections of ocean affairs and law of the sea in Indonesia.
Even worse if it is compared to the Max Planck Institute, or the Netherlands Institute of the Law of the Sea in Utrecht, or even with the Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security in Wollongong, Australia. The Indonesian Center for the Law of the Sea (ICLOS) at Padjajaran University, which should be one of our centers of excellence, seems to be less active in making contributions.
With regard to research result dissemination, Indonesia also needs to do better. We must admit that without extensive publications in English, the international community will not recognize us, no matter how good our research is.
Indonesia has many cases and research topics that are publishable but once again, the spirit and willingness to publish them needs to be encouraged.
Another concern is conference funding. There are times when Indonesian experts could present good papers at international conferences but they cannot secure adequate funding to deliver their presentations. Support from their institutions (universities and research institutions) or from the government is usually limited. The competition, most of the time, is too stiff, if there is any. This should be considered when creating Indonesia’s education policy.
In summary, Indonesia has homework to do to encourage its bright young people to learn more about ocean affairs and law of the sea with all of its scientific and technical aspects. Being a large archipelagic country, Indonesia needs more heroes to continue what our pioneer generations have begun.
The writer is a lecturer in the Department of Geodesy and Geomatics, Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta. He is currently an Australian Leadership Award Scholar (PhD candidate) at the University of Wollongong. This is his personal opinion.