Quadrilateral Dialogue was formed in 2007 as four countries— the US, India, Japan and Australia — came together. However, it did not take off initially for a number of reasons and was revived in 2017 after almost a decade due to reasons such as growing convergence among countries, increasing significance of the Indo-Pacific region, rising threat perceptions vis-à-vis China among others.
The conception of QUAD can be traced in the evolution of Malabar Exercise. Malabar actually began as a simple Passage Exercise called as PASSEX in 1992 between the Indian Navies and the U.S. but could not progress further in the wake of 1998 India’s nuclear tests in Pokhran. It then resumed again in 2002. Since 2002, then, QUAD has become an annual feature. It became a trilateral exercise with the addition of Japan in 2015.
Since then, QUAD then emerged as a platform for diplomatic consultation and coordination of participant countries who meet regularly at the working- and ministerial levels to discuss mutual interests such as ensuring free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific and rules-based international order.
The objective of the Quad remains the same-
- advancing the security and the economic interests of all countries having legitimate and vital interests.
- to develop a new strategy to keep the critical sea routes in the Indo-Pacific free of any influence (especially China). This has become imperative in the light of Information exchange for enhanced Maritime Domain Awareness is a prominent theme for the Indian Navy with the increased presence of the Chinese Navy in the Indian Ocean. China after 2008, had an enhanced presence in the Indian Ocean Region in the guise of anti-piracy patrols to such an extent that it deployed submarines for the purpose as well. This culminated in China formally opening its first overseas base in Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa in 2017,
- Thus, from an Indian angle, the rising dominance of China is the new and emerging security concern.
What is the significance of QUAD for India?
Image Source: The Japan Times
India’s involvement as a partner in the Indo-Pacific region can be broadly classified into three groups: the Quad, ASEAN, and Western Indian Ocean.
India as a Net Security provider
India has to be a Net Security Provider in the Indian Ocean Region. For India to assert this role as a Region, its dominance in the IOR needs to be maintained and sustained. QUAD provides India a platform to enhance security through partnership in the region as well as emphasize that its idea of Indo-Pacific stands for a free, open, and inclusive region. Inclusive here means one that includes all countries within the geographical concept as well as others beyond with a stake in it.
The Quad provides a platform to India to seek cooperation from like-minded countries on various issues such as ensuring respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty and peaceful resolution of disputes.
It also demonstrates a united front to check the unceremonious and belligerent activities of China against India. This is especially crucial in present times as relations between India and China have ebbed due to border incursions along Tibet India border at more than one place.
China’s increased aggression in the South China Sea and its likely impact on aggravating regional tension. Quad seeks to check any aggression.
Chinese strategy of surrounding India through String of Pearls is a direct challenge to the maritime sovereignty of India and therefore needs to be countered.
Framing post-COVID-19 international order: The pandemic has brought a profound transformation globally adversely affecting global supply chains, manufacturing activities and overall economies of countries. QUAD can help India not only to recover from the effects of the pandemic through several integrated and coordinated responses but can also help secure for itself a place in the new world order. One of the first steps taken in 2021 has been enhancing such coordination. The vaccine project will be a good test for QUAD governments to evolve a cooperative structure.
Convergence on other issues: India has converging interests with other Quad members on a variety of issues such as connectivity and infrastructure development, security including counter-terrorism; cyber and maritime security; reform of multilateral institutions, etc. ◦ Support from Quad members on these issues can go a long way for India in realizing its strategic and economic goals.
Supplementing India’s defense capabilities: Cooperation in the field of defense among Quad members through joint patrols, exchange of strategic information, etc. can help India overcome its imitations related to its naval capabilities, military reconnaissance as well as technology and surveillance capabilities.
Ensuring a free Indo Pacific: Indo Pacific must be peaceful, accessible, dynamic, governed by international law and bedrock principles such as freedom of navigation and peaceful resolution of its disputes and that the countries concern should be able to make their own choices and that too without coercion.
Counter-terrorism Tabletop Exercise (CT-TTX) for QUAD countries to enhance cooperation and enhance shared capacities to deal with emerging terrorist threats and also assessed CT response mechanisms for the same.
What are the underlying challenges?
The situation in which QUAD has been revived and especially recent engagements in the form of Malabar Exercise 2020 are seen to be perceived as dominated by a counter-China narrative. In as much as it may look like, there are certain aspects that may not be points of convergence.
- The objective needs a more precise definition: The Quad needs a more coherent purpose, strategic objective and an institutional framework.
- China’s influence: China has strong economic ties with Quad members, especially Australia, which can be used to coerce or influence countries in its favor. This can turn out to be problematic for India.
- Maritime orientation: The maximum focus on the Indo-Pacific makes Quad a maritime, rather than a land-based grouping. This has some valid questions, on the nature of cooperation towards the Asia-Pacific and/or Eurasian regions.
- Different capabilities and burden sharing: The present four members of the Quad do not have the same levels of financial resources, strategic awareness, and military capabilities in the Indian Ocean. Convergence on a lot of issues are missing. Creating an imbalance.
- Doubts on maintaining and sustaining relations with China: China perceives Quad as an Anti-China coalition. India now is almost a nodal country facing the risk of allowing its relations with China to ebb further and maybe inviting some wrath in the form of jeopardizing its cybersecurity as its proceeds to increase its engagement with the Quad.
- Differing perspectives. On various issues there are differing perspectives, such as the crisis in Myanmar viewed through different lenses between the USA and India. Similar has been India’s silence to Japan’s conveyed concern that China is seeking to change the status quo in the East and South China Sea.
- The unhappiness of Japan and Australia towards India to stay out of Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.
- India has done well to overcome its old attachment to the concept of nonalignment which was relevant in another context.
- QUAD is not an alliance, neither having any collective security obligation, but more a form of geopolitical assurance.
- Many countries willing to join QUAD even Taiwan willing to be a part of it.
- Advantages in Space- QUAD members joining hands in Space gives them enormous advantages, and also counter China. This includes (a) reduce the very high costs of the construction of a space dock to facilitate the construction of inter-planetary vehicles (IPVs). (b) every member state bring advantages that complement each other and would lead to a successful exploration to Mars, and the establishment of the support facilities that will be essential for the successful mining of the asteroid belt, (c) All member countries bring a very high degree of convergence in space application such as The U.S. has the advanced technological base necessary for the advanced avionics that will form the backbone for the construction of a space dock, and the construction of the IPVs both; India has a highly educated and cheap workforce, that will make space much less expensive; Australia has the natural resources to provide for the manufacture of the steel to construct space docks, and Japan to provide advanced robotics, and automated machinery.
- An increased convergence of geostrategic economic and even cultural interests based on new rules and protocols of cooperation with each other.
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