COVID-19 Op-ed

A Critical Security Analysis of Indonesia’s COVID-19 Responses: Is the State A Security Provider or Threat?

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Rafyoga Jehan Pratama
Graduate Student, Graduate School of
International Cooperation Studies

In a traditional security sense, the State is the referent
unitary object of security (Peoples & Vaughan-Williams, 2010).
It is said that whenever the state is safe from external military threat, the
people is automatically secure. This pictures the nuance that state is the
core security provider for its people. Such assertion is then debunked by
critical security studies proponents since as time goes by, many states are
appeared to be the threat to its own people. This article aims to
contextualize this scholarly discourse with the Indonesian government’s
responses to COVID-19 in the country. It would argue that a state who fails
to manage the crisis could be said to be the threat to its people, regardless
of being its intentions.A main framework in critical security studies is to
depict that the referent object of security is the individual (Peoples
& Vaughan-Williams, 2010). As the challenge to the traditional
understanding, it argues that the threat against human security is way beyond
military threat, thus the analysis of security should also be
broadened (Newman, 2010). To protect individuals, there are many
security aspects that should be also focused upon, such as environmental
security and health security, which is a significant part of human
rights.Health is considered a national security threat if it jeopardizes the
ability of a state to function and to protect itself  (Elbe, 2009).
Under this metric, the spread of Covid-19 is considered as health security
issue since the virus clearly appears as a significant threat to all layers
of society. Since this threat has no certain antidote and vaccine, both State
and the population are obliged to be committed to health protocols in
flattening the curve. For effective compliance by a huge population like in
Indonesia, it requires comprehensive coherent and firm policies by the
government to assure that protocols are being followed.State, by design, is
expected to lead the country in combatting a public health crisis, on top of
protecting rights and freedoms. It has the authority to establish policies
and the power to sustain social order and justice. In light of the pandemic,
it is the fundamental state responsibility to provide health security to both
citizens and non-citizens, regardless of gender, socio-economic status and
geographic location.At 147,211 cases and 6,418 deaths as of 20 August 2020,
the Indonesian government is still struggling with the wrath of Covid-19.
First and foremost, it has been implementing inefficient policies. The
Indonesian government authorized health protocols and restrictions with
unclear guidance and enforcement. Throughout the pandemic, the government had
enacted many ambiguous policies on work, travel and social gatherings,
causing public confusion (‘New normal’: Indonesian army set to enforce
COVID-19 measures, 2020). Since the policies are sometimes also not coherent
among its ministries and institutions, it is difficult to convey clear
unified message and information to the people (Palma, 2020). The data
transparency is also being questioned since the government were reluctant to
openly inform the people about the development of the pandemic. The
untransparent data presented as well as dismissive statements made by the
government have escalated the harm caused by the pandemic across the country,
as it failed to raise public awareness and formulate effective
policies (Daraini, 2020). The government officials and ministries also
took and made unscientific approach quite frequently, making the situation
worse (Allard & Lamb, 2020). It appears that not only that the
policies were not formulated thoroughly and scientifically but also poorly
communicated to the people.The material resource, especially on budget
utilization in the general pandemic management as well as public health is
also problematic as it could not catch up with the rapidly worsening
situation. President Joko Widodo appeared to be furious during his speech
towards the ministers, especially when he pointed out that Indonesian
government have allocated around $5.2 billion for health budget, but the
Health Ministry spent only 1.53 percent at that time (Tambun &
Andriyanto, 2020). Meanwhile, the death toll is increasing and medical
workers are burnt out, as Indonesia’s fatality rate is still among the worst
in Southeast Asia (Lindsey & Mann, 2020).Seeing the debilitated
wellbeing of the Indonesian population, could frequent policy blunders by
State during deadly global pandemic be seen as security threat? In order to
avoid such judgement and to maintain its legitimacy as security provider, the
State should base its health security decisions on scientific data or
evidence. Should State be able to accomplish this well, it could effectively
achieve more beyond health security, including economic recovery and
political support from the public.References:‘New
normal’: Indonesian army set to enforce COVID-19 measures
. (2020,
May 20). Retrieved from Al Jazeera:,
T., & Lamb, K. (2020, August 20). Endless first wave: how
Indonesia failed to control coronavirus
. Retrieved from Reuters: Daraini,
I. N. (2020, April 21). Data Transparency and Misinformation of
COVID-19 in Indonesia
. Retrieved from Pusat Penelitian Politik
S. (2009). Virus Alert: Security, Governmentality and the AIDS
New York: Columbia University Press.Lindsey, T.,
& Mann, T. (2020, August 13). Indonesia’s coronavirus
fatalities are the highest in Southeast Asia. So, why is Jokowi rushing to
get back to business?
Retrieved from The Conversation:,
E. (2010). Critical human security studies. Review of International
, 77-94.Palma, S. (2020, April 18). Confusion
blights Indonesia’s battle against coronavirus
. Retrieved from
Financial Times:,
C., & Vaughan-Williams, N. (2010). Critical Security
Studies : An Introduction.
New York: Routledge.Tambun, L. T.,
& Andriyanto, H. (2020, June 30). Health Minister Under
Pressure for Spending Too Little During Pandemic
. Retrieved from
Jakarta Globe:

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