Indonesia is staggering like a heavyweight boxer who has absorbed too
many blows in too many places. A faltering economy, a fractious and
feeble central government, communal war and secessionism could
culminate in the state's collapse and the country's fragmentation.
The result would be more than a local disturbance, for Indonesia is
no ordinary place.
With 224 million people Indonesia is the world's fourth most populous
state, a sprawling archipelago of 13,600 islands (3,000 of them
inhabited) nearly three times the size of Texas. While 87 percent of
its citizens are Islamic (no country has more Muslims), Indonesia is
a kaleidoscope of nationalities, tribes, languages and dialects. The
sea lanes that cut through this island constellation--the straits of
Malacca, Sunda and Lombok--connect the Asia-Pacific to Europe and the
Persian Gulf, bringing the lifeblood of energy and raw materials and
providing an outlet for its manufactured exports. Now that
globalization has diminished the distinction between "there" and
"here", the disruptions that East Asia's largest economies would
suffer if shipments are blocked or delayed will reverberate
worldwide. Indonesia is also a fragile democracy in trouble and a
humanitarian disaster-in-waiting that threatens to upend the
strategic circumstances of Southeast Asia. Obviously, then, the U.S.
stake in Indonesia's future is enormous.
The Political Economy of Chaos