Spying, Power Politics, and Legal Enforcement

In a calculated timing and fashionable way, the Guardian as well as other foreign media have made public scores of documents leaked by Edward Snowden. ‘Victims’ of this brutal eavesdropping had cried out their outbursts and ‘disbeliefs.’ Many spoken their displeasures and few pursued tough stances. Some others go to the United Nations striving to pass a resolution against extraterritorial surveillance and breach of privacy. Thanks to Mr. Snowden general public are informed about the world of espionage in a hard way. In particular, the revelation was also quite helpful in showing the eternal nuance of power politics in the intercourse between nations. 

E. H. Carr famously proclaimed, ‘politics are, then, in one sense always power politics.’ International politics at its best is not about ceremonial things. It is about the struggle to power of how one could frame the choices of others in their decision-making or how to make others support one’s interests. To what extent such power could be wielded for good or evil, or for productive international relations is another flip of the coin.

Espionage tension and its outcomes

Spy is considered as the third world-oldest profession after politician and cleric. As an art-craft, its roots can be even traced back to antiquity. Intelligence gathered from spying is always instrumental for states to make an informed decision-making or determining the course of policy action against friends and foes alike.

Cyber espionage bears no different, as it is an intelligence operation as well. The notable difference perhaps lies only at the different level of playing field. While cyber-powers racing up their wheels intensifying protection upon themselves and of their allies, this shall tell us another truth. That the vulnerable will always be prone unless they can digitally fortify themselves accordingly.

Knowing such fact, countries looked on to the United Nations. Brazil, Germany, and dozens of other countries including Indonesia, currently working on a draft resolution to be pass at the United Nations. The draft was reported to aim, among others, at condemning and prohibiting the practice of extraterritorial surveillance and breach of privacy. This effort is indeed commendable in successfully conveying the message that eavesdropping is not a pleasant thing and states take serious concern over the matter. World leaders showed no hesitant in displaying their displeasures. Some canceled their visit to US and some ask for explanations and apology.

The recent crises between Indonesia and Australia had shown how serious it is the spying issue to Indonesia as boat people issue for Australia. Decision-making in foreign policy has never been an easy thing, especially in times of tension. The tension between Jakarta and Canberra escalated when the latter shown no serious gestures and efforts in responding to the former’s concerns.

Jakarta has then punched its jabs quite few times. Canberra seems to tighten its double cover while waiting the moment to launch its blows. Prime Minister Abbott stands firm that Australia could not be expected to apologize for action taken to protect his country. Recently, he just expressed his ‘deep and sincere’ regret over the embarrassment suffered by President SBY. 

Many assumed and read his regret as a response to Australia’s domestic pressure and in particular Indonesia’s decision to suspend people smuggling cooperation as well as other cooperation. Nevertheless, the regret itself could hardly be interpreted as a confirmation of the spying allegation, nor a denial to it. This dogged position seems to be unshakeable in the following days to come. But, one would precariously wait for what Abbott would write on his letter in reply to SBY’s letter. Would there be any apology as expected by the Indonesian side?

Foreign Minister Natalegawa had unequivocally stressed that there is no price tag for sovereignty. This statement simply just makes it quite hard to guess what Jakarta can do next. Yet, the decision to recall Ambassador Nadjib Riphat Kesoema from Canberra is certainly not the only hook that Jakarta can blow.

Legal enforcement approach

Diplomatic immunity and privileges are definitely not a blank-cheque to foreign officials to break laws and regulation. Both Indonesian and foreign diplomats, wherever they are stationed are obliged to respect laws and regulation of the receiving state. Article 41, paragraph (1), of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (“VCDR”), to which Indonesia and Australia are states party, clearly emphasized this obligation. The VCDR definitely imposes this obligation upon Indonesia and Australia. Breach of this obligation would not necessarily entail domestic criminal proceeding, though it is not always the practice.

From the Cold War Era, one could learn how spies and espionage activities, when caught, sometimes led to horrific consequences. In late 1950s, President Soekarno caught Allen Lawrence Pope the alleged CIA agent in the latter’s covert action mission to topple the former. Pope was then tried and sentenced with death penalty. US then plea for his release to President Soekarno, meaning urging Indonesia to overrule decision of its own Court.

President Soekarno tactfully seized the momentum. Pope then released. The capture of Pope was certainly added his ‘arsenals’ in the pursuit of Indonesia’s vital interests. President Soekarno knew that this tension should be carefully taken care as it lies near the whirlpool of power politics. History then recorded that through series of calculated moves and measured policies, President Soekarno was able to driven the situation to Indonesia’s interests. Indeed, if there are any lessons on decision making in times of tension that could be drawn from President Soekarno and his aides, they would be the keen understanding and sense of other country’s political sensibility, judicious, perceptive, and coolness of top decision makers.

L’histoire serepete 

In the present situation, it would certainly takes more than only relying on the publicized documents by media. Evidence of any breach of Indonesia’s laws and regulations by any Australian Embassy’s officials could trigger and escalate the tension into a more complex affairs. If it could be proven that state secrets were accessed, the Government has anything at its disposal to exhaust and enforce the relevant domestic laws and proceedings, before any other option can be think of. There is also the idea to render persona non-grata (‘unwelcome person’) or expelling without explanation personnel of Australian Embassy’s officials. Nevertheless, any idea or policy should be carefully thought and tailored.

In a TV interview Foreign Minister Natalegawa warned that, ‘cerita ini masih akan panjang, Australia akan merasakan dampak dari langkah mereka ini,’ (free translation, ‘this matter would not be a short story, and Australia would definitely feel the outcomes of its action’). The current tension had reached a stage, which definitely could not be settled in a blink of an eye. Strong convictions of other’s fault and resentments over its behavior should be mirrored in the lessons of history. Cautious optimism and approach are needed.

History will tell how wise the tension is faced and contained. Each side is definitely expected to be ready to face the consequences of their policies and the corollary events coming out of it. Tension between the two nations would serve as a valuable lesson for young people and future leaders. Cyber defense is certainly one of the many agenda of Indonesia’s nation and state’s building. In the future one would look upon the current tension as an interesting case study of decision-making in times of crises, albeit one’s success or failure.

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