By Don Mclain Gill
On July 28, the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, who was on a two-day visit to India, emphasised that the Quad is not a military alliance, but an arrangement to spearhead regional cooperation and security while maintaining international rules and values.
In a similar vein, the Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, added that certain countries must go beyond the idea that “other countries are doing things that are directed against them”. However, despite all this, China continues to react negatively and insecurely towards the Quad. Interestingly, a handful of countries also seem share this perspective in varying degrees.
As the Quad continues to cement its role in the Indo-Pacific and beyond, there have been discussions on a particularly interesting five-way arrangement. Since a proposal was made by an Iranian envoy to Pakistan last year, commentaries have been increasing about a potential China, Russia, Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey regional security arrangement. Moreover, it can also be speculated that such a grouping may also aim to counter the Quad’s growing influence. However, the effectiveness of such a team may still be highly questionable.
The reality is that an arrangement between countries that do not share similar values and are compounded by mistrust, cannot go far in achieving a significant degree of cohesion. Moreover, this particular arrangement is merely defined by countries that loosely share narrowly defined strategic objectives. Given these factors, such an arrangement to counter the Quad’s influence may not go according to plan.
Areas of convergence
What brings all five countries together is their varying degree of grievance and opposing strategic interests against at least one member of the Quad. China and Russia have been against the four-way arrangement due to their fears of being contained and isolated. Both countries have often collaborated in an attempt to balance against the Quad. As a reaction to the first Quad Summit this year, China lashed out by stating that, “enclosed small cliques with ideology as the yardstick is the sure way to destroy the international order”.
Russia, on the other hand, made similar comments by arguing that Western countries are engaged in “Anti-China games” by promoting “Indo Pacific strategies” and “the so-called Quad”. Moreover, heavy Western-led sanctions on Russia due to the situation in Ukraine in 2014 have led it to fall into China’s embrace as an economic alternative.
Iran’s relationship with the US has been on the downward trend, especially as it is facing the negative implications of the crippling sanctions imposed by the Trump administration. Moreover, during such turbulent times, China has presented itself as a key partner by defying US sanctions and importing oil from Iran.
Furthermore, in March, both countries concluded a major strategic pact worth a whopping US $400 billion to purchase Iranian oil, boost investments, and deepen military cooperation. Along with China, Russia has also cemented its position as Iran’s important security partner.
Despite being a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), Turkey’s dissatisfaction towards the US stemmed from the Trump administration’s decision to slap sanctions on it under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) for importing S-400 Russian missiles last year. In addition, India’s befitting push-back to Turkey’s internationalisation and interference in its internal affairs in favour of Pakistan has also compelled it towards an anti-Quad group.
Pakistan, on the other hand, will inevitably support any arrangement that will go against or challenge India’s influence. According to the former Indian Ambassador, Mr. Vishnu Prakash, “Islamabad is happy to jump onto any bandwagon that it is even remotely prejudicial to India’s interest.”
China has been a fundamental pillar in Pakistan’s attempts to balance against India. Moreover, Pakistan continues to support Turkey’s ambition to take over the leadership role of the Islamic world due to the latter being the most vocal supporter of Pakistan on Kashmir. Furthermore, Pakistan has been trying to strengthen its strategic relations with both Russia and Iran while taking advantage of India warming up to the US.
Are they enough?
However, these motivators are not enough to forge a robust regional security arrangement, let alone a formidable balancing coalition against the Quad. Despite certain objectives that bring them all together into one field, all five countries do not share common values and principles that can be drawn from to solidify their arrangement. Being authoritarian and theocratic in nature, these countries do not have enough room for flexibility in the long term. Furthermore, each of the countries has an ongoing dilemma of mistrust towards one another.
China and Russia may be crucial strategic partners in their quest for certain strategic objectives; however, a closer look shows that Beijing’s engagement with Russia is significantly selective and based on its personal gains. China has shown its unwillingness to support Russia on multiple occasions including its refusal to back Moscow on Crimea and Ukraine.
In addition, China has also been increasing its strategic clout in traditional Russian spheres of influence such as Central Asia. With China muscling in on the former Soviet Republics through increased arms sales, training programs, and new military outposts, Russia’s influence and interests may be significantly undermined in the long run.
While economic relations between Turkey and Iran are improving, the same cannot be said for the strategic realm. Turkey and Iran have mostly been on opposite sides in a number of regional geopolitical issues such as the Syrian conflict, the situation in Iraq, and engagements with Israel. Furthermore, when Turkey cut its purchase of Iranian oil, it sent mixed signals for the viability of their bilateral relationship.
Turkey’s relations with Russia are also not all that rosy. Despite attempts to warm-up, there are serious areas of mistrust between the two countries. Turkey’s interests to deepen its influence in the South Caucasus and Central Asia along with its active military support for Ukraine continue to provoke its relations with Russia.
Pakistan, on the other hand, also has considerable obstacles in narrowing the gap with Iran. Being largely dependent on Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan finds it difficult to maximise its partnership with Iran on a wide variety of issues. Furthermore, China’s relations with Turkey are also mired by controversies particularly due to the former’s unjust treatment towards the Uighurs.
The reality of the situation is that the largely talked-about five-way regional arrangement cannot go far in presenting itself as a formidable counter to the Quad, let alone a robust and united grouping, due to several issues of mistrust and the pursuit of narrow, self-centred strategic objectives. Whereas the Quad focuses on overall stability, transparent development, and order amongst all countries in the region, this arrangement may end up being caught in each other’s ambitions, which in turn can compromise the goal of providing any significant positive benefits to the rest of the world. This will not only limit its scope but also prove to be catastrophic for the overall balance of peace.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s).