Debating Indonesia Matters

Indonesia Matters CoverAmitav Acharya Responds to Discussion on Indonesia Matters

By Amitav Acharya

During the launch of my book Indonesia Matters: Asia’s Emerging Democratic Power (Singapore and New York: World Scientific 2014;,on10th December 2014 in Washington, D.C, several important questions were raised by the panelists that could not be addressed before time ran out. As the author, I am grateful for this opportunity to provide brief responses to three key questions. I do so for the sake of encouraging more discussion and debate in Washington and elsewhere about one of the most important countries in Asia and the world.

The central question addressed by Indonesia Matters is this: how did Indonesia overcome the turmoil following the downfall of Suharto and won international recognition as an emerging power? The book argues that Indonesia did this not through military or economic strength, but through diplomacy and normative power, especially a commitment to regionalism.  This approach has lessons not only for Asia but also other aspiring powers in the world.

Question 1: Is there an alternative way of explaining Indonesia’s rise as an emerging power?

Of course there is. At the forum, panelist Prof Donald K. Emmerson claimed to offer what he called a “counter-narrative” to Indonesia Matters, which he described as a “realist” view on Indonesia as an emerging power. A realist would hold that a country can only “rise” or increase its influence in international relations through military power and wealth. Realism cannot explain the fact that Indonesia has become an influential voice in Asia and the world despite lacking in military capacity and wealth comparable to its neighbours. My book holds that Indonesia has advanced its influence by consolidating it democratization, and by developing a virtuous cycle between democracy, development and stability, through its role in ASEAN, and its normative approach to regional and international order.

No panelist offered any real argument to refute the book’s central argument that Indonesia became recognized as an emerging power not because of its military strength or economic power which are limited as yet, but because of its diplomacy and normative approach.

Since the ‘realist’ view is the traditional and established perspective in international relations and the perspective adopted in my book is relatively new, I would think that my account of why Indonesia matters is the real counter-narrative. It broadens the understanding of Indonesia by offering an alternative to the established and familiar perspective on Indonesia.

Question 2: Can Indonesia’s achievements and its role as an emerging power unravel?

At the forum, Professor Emmerson discussed at some length the limitations and vulnerabilities of Indonesia, including the rise of counter-democratic forces, and the economic slowdown. Lest anyone thinks I have ignored these, Chapter 6 of Indonesia Matters discusses several key challenges to Indonesia’s regional and international role. These include: (1) poor quality and uncertain durability of Indonesian democracy, (2) risks of middle income trap for a resource dependent economy, (3) the continuing problems of internal stability, (4) the danger posed by intensified US-China competition which calls into question the previous government’s “dynamic equilibrium” and “million friends, zero enemies” slogans, and (5) inadequate foreign policy capacity and the uncertain impact of leadership transition on foreign policy. (For a summary, see: Amitav Acharya, “From Yudhoyono to Jokowi: Can Indonesia Keep Rising?”

But the major difference here is that my discussion of Indonesia’s vulnerabilities and challenges draws almost entirely from Indonesians themselves from different walks of life. During my research, I came to realize that the best critics (far better than me or Western pundits) of Indonesia’s government, political system and foreign policy are the Indonesians themselves.

Moreover, I believe the five challenges facing Indonesia discussed in my book not only affected President SBY’s foreign policy, but will also set limits to how far President Jokowi can go in altering course in foreign policy.

Question 3: Indonesia’s foreign policy under Jokowi

 Indonesia Matters was completed before President Jokowi assumed office. Its main goal was to offer an analysis of how Indonesia recovered from the crisis following the ouster of Suharto to achieve international recognition as an emerging power. It is not a book about SBY’s foreign policy, but about Indonesian foreign policy.

It is hardly surprising that the new Jokowi administration might craft and conduct its own foreign policy different from its predecessor. In any democratic nation, it is to be expected, as with Modi’s India or Abe’s Japan. Moreover Jokowi takes over at a time when Indonesia’s military and economic conditions have improved substantially relative to 10 years again when SBY took over. So Jokowi has more cards to play with. But there are limits and major shifts would carry costs.

It is too early to say to what extent the new administration, now only a few weeks old, might alter the course of Indonesian foreign policy.  But Indonesia Matters does provide some clues to understanding the challenges and constraints President Jokowi faces. Rizal Sukma, a key adviser to President Jokowi and a panelist at the 10 December event, hinted that President Jokowi will give more emphasis to bilateralism. This may well be true, but one should not forget that his predecessors starting with President Megawati had concluded at least 18 bilateral “comprehensive” and “strategic” partnerships including with the US, Japan, China, Australia, India, and Vietnam.

Some analysts say that that Jokowi’s foreign policy will be more about ‘national interest and less about multilateralism’. To me, such a distinction is simplistic. The two are not mutually incompatible. Being engaged in ASEAN and the G-20 surely serves Indonesia’s national interest. During the last presidential campaign, Jokowi himself pledged to pursue diplomacy and negotiations to resolve regional and international problems, partly in an effort to distance himself from rival candidate Probowo’s “power-based approach, stressing the build-up of military strength” (Indonesia Matters, p.131). Since assuming office, President Jokowi has made a successful round of multilateral summitry including the East Asian Summit, the APEC Leaders’ Summit and the G-20 summit. Indeed, Sukma characterized Indonesia’s role as that of a “middle power”. That very concept connotes the pursuit of diplomacy and multilateralism.

Some see the recent move by the Indonesian forces in seizing and destroying foreign vessels in Indonesian waters as evidence of a radical shift in Indonesian foreign policy. Surely no one can object to a country defending its territorial space from illegal encroachment. And Indonesia claims to do this enforcement within the framework of law. Will this translate into a radical change of course in its foreign policy? Only time will tell.

But my book offers some idea of the costs and consequences of such a policy shift should the Jokowi administration pursue military assertiveness at the expense of diplomacy and ASEAN. By most accounts, as discussed in my book, Indonesia will take another decade or more years to develop the requisite military capability to stand up to its powerful neighbours. Pursuing a militant maritime military role at a time of major military weakness, Jakarta could be heading to a dangerous position if it also downgrades and loses ASEAN’s support.

The message of the book

I conclude the book by arguing that the challenges facing Indonesia notwithstanding, they do not warrant belittling the country’s recent achievements in domestic politics and foreign policy in the name of a “realist” perspective. The bottom-line of my book is this: “Indonesia’s ability to avoid collapse and rebuild itself is one of the most impressive stories of the late 20th and early 21st century. Its journey since the fall of Suharto is all the more inspiring at a time when the world has seen many failing nations, recurring economic crises, and growing radicalism and terrorism.” (Indonesia Matters, p.130).

I stand by these words.

 Indonesia Matters was described by Jakarta Post editor, Meidyatama Suryodiningrat, as “required reading material for Indonesian foreign policy students, diplomats going into foreign service and those going to be posted in Indonesia” (

But Indonesia Matters is not meant for Indonesians alone. The book also calls on American and Western scholars and policymakers to take Indonesia seriously.

We are in the midst of a global shift in power, wealth and influence. Until now, it has been easy for Western scholars and policymakers to dismiss the progress of non-Western countries like Indonesia, some of which are emerging by following pathways that are quite different from those followed by the Western or Asian powers and thus defy conventional wisdom and traditionalist views on international affairs. Hence the perspective adopted in Indonesia Matters may better reflect the complexities of the 21st century.

(Panelists at the the launch of Indonesia Matters included the author, Rizal Sukma, Donald K. Emmerson, Murray Hiebert and Joseph Liow)

Related Articles:

Carl Thayer, ‘Indonesia: Playing With Fire in the South China Sea’.

Joe Cochrane, ‘Many Hope Joko Widodo, Indonesia’s New Leader, Will Raise Country’s Regional Stature’.


From Yudhoyono to Jokowi: Can Indonesia keep rising?

Amitav Acharya

On 20 October 2014, a new President took office in Indonesia. Joko Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, is the second directly elected president after Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (popularly known as SBY), who had won two direct presidential elections (2004 and 2009). Jokowi’s win after an unexpectedly close contest (although he eventually won by a margin of 6.3 percentage points or over 8 million votes) with Suharto-era General Probowo Subianto – who had declared democracy to be incompatible with Indonesian culture – has removed palpable fears that the country’s hard earned democracy might backslide. The fact that Jokowi, a person of no wealth or privilege and a rank outsider to the political establishment (he was a former furniture businessman from Solo who became the mayor of that city and then the governor of Jakarta in2012), could become the president of Indonesia is a triumph for Indonesian democracy. But Jokowi’s victory also comes at a time of growing challenges to Indonesia’s foreign policy and international role at a time the country had received widespread recognition as an emerging power.

A Nation on the Move

Indonesia is the fourth most populous in the world after China, India and the United States. It is also world’s largest Muslim majority country and the third largest democracy. Its economy is 16th largest in the global scale (it came 10th according to a new rankingby the International Comparison Program) and the McKinsey Consulting firm predicts that it will become the 7th largest by 2030. Since the fall of the dictatorship of Suharto in 1998, Indonesia has held three direct presidential elections that are free and fair. During the 2000-2010 period, its economic growth surpassed all the emerging economies except that of China and India and was ahead of the other BRICS nations (Russia, Brazil, and South Arica).

Under SBY, Indonesia had not only consolidated its democracy, but also enjoyed an average annual growth rate of 5.9 per cent from 2009 to 2013, tripled the average per capita income of its people from US $ 1,161 to US $ 3,475, and reduced its poverty rate from 16 percent to 11.25 per cent. In foreign policy, it revived and strengthened its leadership role in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and earned global recognition as an emerging power through its engagement with the G-20 club. What lies ahead for the country under President Jokowi?

Indonesia’s foreign policy and international role since the fall of Suharto, but especially during the past ten years of SBY administration has several aspects that deserves notice from anyone interested in the role of emerging powers in world politics. First, while the rise of other emerging powers including the BRICS, have had to do, first and foremost, with economic growth and military spending, Indonesia is neither the wealthiest nor the most militarily powerful country of Southeast Asia, not to mention th Asia-Pacific region. Despite recent increases in its military budget (which has tripled from US $ 2.12 billion in 2003 to US $ 7.74 billion in 2012)and weapon acquisitions including surface ships, submarines and advanced combat aircraft (including F-16s from the US), it will take decades before Indonesia develops a true “brown water navy” and that can be counted alongside the navy of its neighbor Singapore. And it is not likely ever to match the bigger powers of Asia Pacific such as India, Australia, Japan and China. Instead, Indonesia’s status as an emerging power came on the back of democratization and robust regional engagement. It has depended on the country’s ability to develop a positive, virtuous correlation among three factors: democracy, development and stability, while pursuing a foreign policy of restraint towards neighbours and active engagement with the world at large.

Second and closely related to the above, Indonesia challenges the view among academics and analysts that newly democratic states are likely to suffer from greater internal strife, turn rabidly nationalistic and seek war with their neighbours. Democratization has been a key factor behind Indonesia’s ability to resolve the long-standing conflicts in East Timor and Aceh. And subsequent measures of decentralization have helped to foster greater national stability. And Indonesia under democratic transition has not only revived but strengthened its role as a leader of ASEAN and a key actor in building a new Asia Pacific security architecture.

Third, Indonesia also challenges the view that democracy is somehow inimical to development. With a growth rate above those of the other BRICS save China and India and projected to be among the top ten economies in the world, Indonesia demolishes that view which was popularized by the economic successes of South Korea, Taiwan, and China under authoritarian rule.

An Emerging Democratic Power

Fourth, Indonesia offers a powerful example that the key to becoming a globally recognized and respected power lies in good regional relations. Its Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa would describes Indonesia as a “regional power with global interests and concerns”. (Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, interview with the author, Jakarta, 20 January 2014) We can modify this description slightly to say that Indonesia pursues a “regionalist path to its global role”. According to Natalegawa, many rising powers suffer from a “regional trust deficit” with their neighbours. Indonesia is different. There is much truth to it. Relations between powers such as India, China, Japan, South Africa and Brazil with their neighbours are marked by considerable mistrust and conflict. Indonesia on the other hand is universally acknowledged as a regional “elder”, and enjoys far more cordial relations with all its neighbours. This underpins Indonesia’s ability to play the role of mediator and facilitator in regional diplomacy and conflict management, such as in providing a good offices role in the Thai-Cambodian border skirmish over the Preah Vihear temple area in 2011, and in mitigating ASEAN’s embarrassment in 2012 after the group’s pro-China Chair Cambodia blocked a joint communique of its foreign ministers that would have disapproved Chinese conduct in the South China Sea.

Fifth, globally Indonesia has been an active member of the G-20 group. Indonesia views the G20 as a major platform for its global role. The G-20 is a medium through which Indonesia can share its experiences and “success stories” in development. In G-20, Indonesia aims to represent not just ASEAN but the whole developing world, with particular emphasis on their needs. Indonesia successfully pushed hard for ASEAN to be invited to be an observer to the G20. Indonesia has also promoted development issues within the G20, with a strong priority on infrastructure development, and the reform of international financial institutions. Indonesia also seeks to inject a greater sense of equality in the grouping, mindful of the criticism of the G-20 that it serves as something of a selective financial cartel of nations which, despite comprising countries of both the North and the South, is still dominated inside by the North. Hence Indonesia’s goal would be to keep the G20 to be “a democratic forum in which all of its members have the opportunity of speaking on equal footing with any country” and to prevent it from being manipulated by “any dominating pressure or stringent attitude/ position from the G-20 member states.”

Finally, democratic Indonesia has been an active champion of human rights and democracy in ASEAN and beyond. It has developed closer ties with other democracies, especially US, Japan, Australia and India, but unlike other emerging powers, including democratic India and Brazil. Relations with Australia, often hostile during the Suharto era, improved significantly. Ties with the US have been normalized, with the lifting of sanctions imposed after the East Timor violence in 1999 blamed on Indonesian security forces. And the two countries have signed a strategic partnership agreement.

Indonesia under democratic rule took the lead in recognizing the importance of human rights and democracy in the ASEAN Charter, in the creation of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, and in criticizing Burma’s junta for its lack of progress in political liberalization and latter supporting Burma’s transition to a more open and democratic political system. In December 2008, Indonesia launched the Bali Democracy Forum (BDF). Membership in the Forum is not restricted to democratic countries alone. Hence, the BDF has seen the participation of Burma, Brunei, and even China. Indonesia has made it clear that it will not impose its own model of democracy on others, but through the BDF, share the lessons of its democratization process and help with democratic institution building in others.

Challenges Ahead

As the Jokowi administration takes over, there are many challenges that can potentially derail the country’s recent achievements, including its democratic vitality, economic performance, domestic stability and international role. First, Indonesia’s external environment is becoming more complex and challenging. The early post-Cold War sense of optimism about regional order has dissipated and China’s recent assertiveness in the region has sparked anxieties in Asian capitals, including Jakarta. As noted, Indonesia now accepts that China’s nine-dash line in the South China Sea overlaps with Indonesia’s Natuna island chain, thereby setting the stage for a more confrontational relationship with China. While Indonesia continues to stress its role as a moderator and facilitator in the South China Sea conflict, a further deterioration of the Natuna situation will affect this role negatively.

These developments pose a powerful challenge to two key elements of Indonesia’s foreign policy under SBY, termed “a million friends and no enemies”, and “dynamic equilibrium”, respectively. The latter approach, which has been promoted especially by Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, not only rejects the hegemony of any single power in the region, be it the United States or China, it also departs from the conventional balance of power approach. The goal is not to create order through military build-up, alliances and arms races, but by keeping ASEAN in the middle, like the “conductor in an orchestra”. (Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, interview with the author, Jakarta, 5 July 2011)

One major example of this approach was Indonesia’s role in pushing hard to have India as well as Australia and New Zealand to join the East Asian Summit (EAS) when it was founded in 2005. Another example is Jakarta’s effort to conclude a Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) for the Indo-Pacific region. ASEAN’s Treaty of Amity and Cooperation was originally signed among ASEAN members in 1976 but extended after the end of the Cold War to outside powers such as China, Japan, India, Russia and US. Whereas TAC as its stands now builds great power relations through an “ASEAN plus” formula, (e.g. ASEAN-China, ASEAN- India, ASEAN-US, etc.) the Indo-Pacific TAC would be truly multilateral by “connecting the outer dots”, where big powers like China, Japan and US engage each other in addition to engaging AESAN. The push for this began with Indonesia’s promotion of the 12 principles adopted at the EAS in 2011 in Bali.

Another challenge to Indonesian’s position as a regional mediator comes from the US policy of rebalancing or ‘pivot’ in the Indo-Pacific. The Obama administration has been careful in not forcing its agenda on ASEAN and ASEAN-led regional forums where Indonesia plays a major role. Washington continues to adhere to the principle of “ASEAN centrality” in building an Asia-Pacific security architecture. But if relations between US and China deteriorate further, it will test Indonesia’s ability to influence that architecture. It will call into question the “million friends and zero enemies” policy, which its domestic critics, including some of Jokowi’s advisers regard as “only dreaming” (Sidarto Danusubroto, Speaker of the Indonesian MPR and Advisor to President-elect Jokowi, interview with the author, Jakarta, 18 March 2014)

Fourth, Indonesia’s role as an emerging power is affected by domestic politics and economics. As noted, Indonesia’s international reputation has rested on its ability to make progress on three fronts: democracy, development and stability. But none of the three can be taken for granted. During the last election, Prabowo’s surge showed that a message of nationalism and ‘strong’ government could appeal to a large segment of Indonesian people, even if it meant a downgrading of democracy. Indonesia’s growth has slowed to 5.3% in the first quarter of 2014. Some 28.3 million of Indonesian still live below the poverty line. Its economy needs more infrastructure, education and training and transition from resource dependence to manufacturing to avoid the middle income trap. Corruption remains a major problem, although there has recently been growing vigilance and prosecution of corrupt officials. There remain pockets of internal strife, in places such as West Papua, and the potential for outbreak of terrorism, especially with the number of Indonesian militants training and fighting with the ISIS in Syria and Iraq, remains high.

A fifth challenge is Indonesia’s style of international engagement. Its usual low key diplomacy, its refusal to speak loud and clear, and its tendency to take a balanced position on some especially contentious ones like humanitarian intervention, sometimes exasperates the international community, especially the Western nations. As one senior western diplomat who did not want to be identified told me, “To play a global leadership role, you sometimes need to take sides”.

Finally, there is the issue of presidential leadership. There are concerns within and outside Indonesia about how President Jokowi will handle foreign policy. Would Jokowi be as interested and involved in foreign policy, in pushing Indonesia’s profile around the world, as SBY did with his very active engagement in foreign policy? If not, then much depends on the team the President brings, including the Foreign Minister and the Ministry to run the conduct of foreign policy.

But Jokowi has already shown that he has a clear interest and priority in foreign policy issues. He has made it known that he intends to focus on maritime issues, by both advancing Indonesia’s naval modernization (already started under SBY) and playing the role of mediator in the South China Sea conflict. But much depends on Jakarta’s ability to secure a code of conduct on the South China Sea, which is by no means assured. Jokowi is likely to continue with Indonesia’s strong engagement with ASEAN, but some of his foreign policy advisors want Indonesia to look beyond ASEAN (a “post-ASEAN” foreign policy) and develop a more active strategic ad diplomatic role in the Indo-Pacific region. If this happens, it is likely to weaken ASEAN and the principle of ASEAN centrality in regional security.

Indonesia’s ability to avoid collapse and consolidate its democracy and economy after the fall of Suharto is all the more impressive at a time when the world has seen many failing nations, recurring economic crises, and growing radicalism and terrorism. But whereas there was too little expectation about Indonesia in 1998-99, there is now perhaps too much. Indonesia might or might not be able to live up to all such high expectations. But it seems reasonable to believe that as long as its democracy continues to flourish alongside development and stability. Indonesia’s new leadership has a strong foundation on which to build its foreign policy and international role that will continue to receive strong international recognition and support.

This article first appeared in New Mandala 27 Oct 2014

Questions about ASEAN and the East Asian Summit

Amitav Acharya, Washington,DC


As the 9th East Asian Summit concludes, it is time to wonder where the forum and its principal sponsor, ASEAN are heading. I think the role of the two should be judged in terms of the following issues.

To begin with, there remain questions about ASEAN’s role. To some observers in Washington, Myanmar has done well, or may even have exceeded expectations as chair of ASEAN. But were these expectations too low to start with? Myanmar’s approach has been to accommodate all positions with ASEAN. It has used media creatively to promote knowledge of ASEAN and its reforms.

In the meantime, ASEAN centrality in EAS endures because only ASEAN has the “convening power” in Asia.  ASEAN can be counted for not taking sides. There is really no other country which can replace ASEAN’s role in this sense. But sceptics feel that the principle of ASEAN centrality exists only in theory, not in practice. Territorial disputes like the South China Sea conflict can weaken ASEAN, especially if China pursues a divide and rule strategy. A major progress in concluding a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea is unlikely this year, with Myanmar playing a balancing role between US, China and ASEAN.

The EAS key to emerging regional architecture. But there remain differences among its members. The US would like to use EAS to discuss strategic matters and keep economics out. Japan is not happy with this. There is also the question of a division of labor between the EAS and the ASEAN Regional Forum, which is also geared to strategic issues.

The US wants the EAS to discuss real issues, like the South China Sea conflict. It also encourages more discussion of global issues in ASEAN and EAS, like ISIS, Ebola, and climate change. ASEAN and EAS might pay more emphasis on food security, climate change, health and pandemics. But will it crowd ASEAN/EAS agenda??

The EAS should stay ‘nimble’ as ASEAN had originally wanted, i.e., a leaders’ meeting without a huge bureaucracy. But there is a need for it to develop more coordination among the members between the annual summits and to equip it with a mechanism to convene meetings of ministers or officials when there is a need, such as a crisis.

Another issue here is the role of the US rebalancing strategy. US officials insist that the rebalancing is going well. The US has increased its engagement with ASEAN, ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus( ADMM Plus), and the ARF. The ADMM plus has been active, holding three exercises last year: including ones on humanitarian assistance/military medicine, counter-terrorism, an maritime security.

But skepticism over the US rebalancing strategy persists. Moreover, while multilaterals like the EAS and ADMM Plus help to institutionalize the US presence in Asia, they are not ends in themselves, but linked to America’s bilateral and trilateral security ties. There is little doubt that the US policy towards Asia will not be focused on institutions  alone, but will depend on calibrating the role of institutions and its bilateral relationships. The nature of that mix is not yet clear. At the same time, China’s push for a Free Trade Area of Asia and Pacific competes with America’s preferred Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) the conclusion of which has yet again been delayed. And the US has been lobbying allies like Korea and Australia to stay out of the Chinese initiative for an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Is the US-China rivalry playing out through institutional competition?

Putin is more challenged by EU than NATO & that’s key to addressing Ukraine, Russia-West ties


The late Samuel Huntington described Ukraine as a ‘torn’ country. Anyone who has a more rudimentary sense of geography and history, not to mention demography and domestic politics, would know that. Apparently not the EU.

Most analysts blame the Ukraine crisis on NATO expansion. There is some truth to it. But in reality, its is the expansion of the EU which lies at the heart of the crisis engulfing Europe now. Russia knows for some time (despite NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s diplomatically inept statements to the contrary) that the West would not seek Ukraine’s membership in NATO. This is not just or mainly because he feels EU’s democratic values would threaten his authoritarian regime. It is because Russia feels a sense of competition (rather than threat) from EU expansion in its own backyard.

Russia, which is ironically labeled as an “emerging power” is actually an old-fashioned European great power which still believes in the concept of a sphere of influence, just as Germany, the US (Monroe Doctrine) and other Western powers sought in the 19th century.  The expansion of EU squarely conflicts with that belief.

There is much to admire about the EU, the way it has transformed relationships among the nations of Western Europe,including the historic rivals, Germany, France and US. But the EU is a highly rigid and bureaucratic institution and it sometimes goes too far in imposing its rules and values on other peoples and states.

Moreover, the EU has developed something akin to the ‘standard of civilization” that the European nations imposed on countries whom they colonized. The EU is of course into neo-colonialism, but its insistence that the whole of Europe must adopt its values, institutions and rules ignores long-standing political and geopolitical realities and carries risks of self-destruction.

Now this approach might have had much to do with bringing war back to Europe.

One potential solution to the Ukraine crisis could be to develop a diplomatic and economic framework that allows Ukraine to be part of both the Russian-sponsored Eurasian Union and the EU.

This is not going to be easy task especially at this stage, given the level of tensions and conflict that is now tearing Ukraine apart. But diplomats (including the highly paid EU officials) and policymakers should live up to the challenge to devise this viable long-term solution. It will be a serious folly not to pursue this option, especially as Putin has indicated that he would be willing to live with Ukraine’s participation with both institutions.

A dual membership for Ukraine in EU and Eurasian Union not only reflects the situation inside Ukraine but also is quite common in other parts of the world.

In Asia, regional institutions overlap. China is a member of all the key Asian regional institutions. Even the US-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership, which sets a very high standard in creating a free trade area of the Pacific, is open to China and all other major economies of the region. And it does not preclude a member country from joining other regional bodies. It does not forbid countries from having different values and political institutions or level of economic development in order to qualify for membership.

The US should support dual membership for Ukraine in both the EU and Eurasian Union. While President Obama asserts that the “defense of Tallinn and Riga and Vilinius is just as important as the defense of Berlin and Paris and London”, in reality would the American public really be willing to shed blood for this cause. It also reminds one of the classic Cold War question: would the US sacrifice New York for Copenhagen?

And the EU should listen as well. Economic sanctions and strengthening NATO might help to contain Russian geopolitical expansion, although many would question the hype that Putin is bent on resurrecting the Warsaw Pact. But no amount of sanctions and military readiness is going to help Ukraine if its domestic situations retains its deep fissures.

A persistent state of conflict at the heart of Europe is a frontal challenge to its dream of creating a peaceful and prosperous Europe. It also undermines the EU’s claim to a a role model for other regional groups in the world.