ISSN 2330-717X

Crystal Gazing The Quad Future: India – OpEd

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The idea of the Quad emerged way back in 2004. The Quad is a grouping of the US, India, Australia and Japan. Why the name Quad? Quad simply is slang for Quadrilateral meaning a four-sided figure having four straight sides. The Quad of the future may be Quad plus or Quad by geographical directions to counter the spread of Chinese influence across all spheres. Lately a ‘Middle Eastern Quad’ (US, Israel, UAE, and India) has taken shape to counter China. The new avatar of the Quad(s) has emerged as a force to resist Chinese maritime aggression as it is expanding its maritime presence across the South China Sea, the Indian Ocean, from the Straits of Malacca to the shores of East Africa and parts of Europe.

China will have bases in Myanmar (port of Kyaukphyu) in the Bay of Bengal, in Sri Lanka (Hambantota port) and in Pakistan’s Gwadar port. China’s reach is now up to Israel and the Red Sea. The US  withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban taking over of their country on 15 August 2021 have changed the power equation not only in the region, but indirectly China has challenged the super power status of the US. The US now to retain its status appears to be on a spree to form alliances to counter the Chinese designs.

The China factor has been a catalyst in bringing the four countries on a common platform. With the bilateral relations with Beijing strained during recent years, these countries are keen to find multilateral frameworks to meet the China challenge. These include the China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) capabilities, counter their thrusts into the South China Sea, the Indian Ocean and along the land borders with China.

The Quad should have had a security dimension, but it is believed India shied away from that idea as it believes in ‘non-military alliances’ – the way forward. The ‘Middle Eastern Quad’ or Quad 2 is also aimed to persuade these countries to  take on China. The Quad however is “not a military alliance.”

Ever since Biden took over as the President, there has been a push to provide a fresh momentum to make the Quad effective and the US during the pandemic has influenced other members to follow. The first Quad summit hosted by US President Joe Biden in-person on September 24 brought a firm focus to the evolving partnership. The released joint statement stressed “shared security and prosperity” and “a free and open Indo-Pacific.” The statement recommitted “to promoting the free, open, rules-based order, rooted in international law and undaunted by coercion, to bolster security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.” It also emphasized “the rule of law, freedom of navigation, peaceful resolution of disputes, democratic values, and territorial integrity of states.”

The joint statement has promised redoubling the efforts “to ensure that the Quad is a force for regional peace, stability, security, and prosperity.” But if the Quad is “not a military alliance” one wonders how it really can provide security other than through diplomatic and economic pressures. If Quad is “not a military alliance” at the moment then why is China so hostile against this grouping?

the Quad also aims to build partnerships with ASEAN, as they could be beneficiaries of these initiatives, and need not depend solely on China. Physically and ethnically most ASEAN countries are closer to China. China through its BRI, maritime Silk Road projects and other initiatives is already way ahead.

For India, the advantage of the Quad is that it has a set of countries with which it shares democratic values and a strategic perspective. They are good options for India’s development and maritime security efforts. As each Quad member strengthens its resolve to be useful members the response of Quad will improve. The development agenda brings options to India of the advanced technology where it can be an effective partner and build its own capabilities as it sets out to deal with the strategic and trade challenge of China.”I tell the world, ‘Make in India’. Sell anywhere but manufacture here. We have the skill and talent for it.” said Narendra Modi.

China is likely to remain the biggest challenge for India and the world at large. With the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and the Taliban takeover of the country and further coming closer to China and Pakistan poses yet a greater danger to India. India’s strategy to meet this collusive threat needs a review. There is no alternative to India but to raise the level of military preparedness on the land frontiers and protect the country’s maritime boundaries along with other naval powers in the Indo-Pacific, including through Quad.

The only fear is how far each Quad member will go to reduce the economic trade interdependency on China, which is very large for all. There is a strong presence of US expatriates in Shanghai, China’s financial headquarters. In 2019, the US’ exports to China reportedly totaled $106.4 billion and the goods imported totaled $451.7 billion. Economic and strategic competition between the US and China is forcing Gulf nations to choose between the two. UAE’s top trading partners are China, India, Japan, the US and Saudi Arabia. UAE is now a member of the ‘Middle Eastern Quad’ (US, Israel, UAE, and India) or Quad 2.

The US announced a new trilateral defence partnership with Australia and the UK (AUKUS), angering France and leaving friends confused. The Pentagon and the security establishments are gunning for China’s military show of strength in the South China Sea and elsewhere. 

Quad members have different challenges like the BRICS members. While India has a higher level of threat from the north and the west as also from the Indian Ocean in the south. Japan faces very different challenges in its backyard and in the Senkaku Islands. In the case of Australia facing  challenges on the trade and commerce front  as its trade balance with China is passing through a difficult phase. The US has very different concerns while dealing with China. It has to protect the security interests of its allies in the region, tackle the issue of China’s thrusts into the South China Sea, the Indo-Pacific region, resolve the trade wars  and most importantly not to let its superpower status be eroded by China.

For India to be part of two Quad coalitions allows it to spread its influence  from the Indo-Pacific to the Mediterranean. India should seriously go ahead with India-France-Japan trilateral as a security framework in the Indo-Pacific post AUKUS as France seems to have been left out of AUKUS.

The best way for India is to strengthen itself through greater cooperation on trade, security and geopolitical issues among like-minded democracies. If Quad(s) fall short of these parameters then India should move ahead with its interests, and must look at newer partners and not just get sucked into various groupings resulting in towing the US line.

Kautilya’s advice for a nation is to only follow its self-interest and not get locked into permanent enmity or friendship with a nation. India over the years has grown in confidence  and has a reasonable influence on world events now. Quad is not a security alliance as of now, but it can develop into a  Security alliance of some kind in the foreseeable future. Or Quad may enlarge itself to include many more nations and still not be a Security alliance – only time will tell and how China reacts to these developments. 

*Patial RC is a retired Infantry officer of the Indian Army. Possess unique experience of serving in active CI Ops across the country and in Sri Lanka. Regular writer on matters military and travel in military professional journals.Has been a keen mountaineer and a trekker. 

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