• Harsh Suri

The Quad Question

After the mid 20th century, the biggest threat to the Western European and North American states was the Soviet Union. The entire western bloc remained on high alert because of the Soviet Union. This era which we know today as “the cold war era” was not a war but a conflict of ideas, geopolitical standings, economy, and a struggle for power, which decided the central power in the world’s orbit. The Cold war era gave rise to the western military alliance, NATO. Its aim was simple, protection of the western alliance and containment of the Soviet Union. On the geopolitical front, they wanted to keep the Soviets at a disadvantage. Finally, the Soviet Union collapsed, and the western order prevailed. America was the sole power in the global arena. The west now used to being on the top, enjoyed the number one position in the global arena. The West shaped the order and the rules of the world. But now this order is threatened by China. The dragon is booming, and breathing fire and the west is feeling the heat. The west, especially America, now feels the need for an Indo-Pacific alliance to counter the “middle kingdom”.

QUAD AS PER QUAD

The Quad was the arc of democracy in Asia credits to Shinzo Abe. But more than an arc of democracy, Quad strives to be the saviour of democracy, freedom of navigation and is a recognition of common values shared by the member states – the US, Japan, Australia, and India. But the working of Quad as per Quad is not properly defined; it remains a loosely held organisation. Moreover, Quad is a dialogue mission, not an organisation. Quad doesn’t always hold all level annual meetings or regular dialogues. Quad doesn’t have a proper and defined military mechanism. The trilateral dialogue between the US, Japan, and Australia and then the Bilateral dialogue between the US and India makes this organisation a loosely constructed building that cannot face an earthquake. Recently, Quad held a summit in Tokyo, and the members pressed on the fact that they need to define what Quad is. The aim of the Quad has to be multilateral rather than bilateral. Also, if Quad wants to expand, it needs to define the perks of joining a multilateral organisation, in this era of disarray. In the 20th century, we saw that America didn’t only give military assistance to western European nations but also economic assistance. This was the turning point, due to economic, military, and political-ideological factors the NATO remained one, but Quad isn’t. But till now Quad had no need to be like NATO or like a political, economic, and military alliance. But after the pandemic and China’s rising muscle-flexing all around the Indo Pacific region, Quad needs to get a bit serious.

QUAD’S TO-DO LIST

Every organisation has a set of To-Dos and mechanisms by which it works.

First, Quad has to define that and by current geopolitical and economic order. The Quad has to first define what it stands for and what it means. No organisation can move on without clarity of purpose. Quad has immense potential that it can extract in the Indo Pacific, but it needs to dig in deep for that.

The second will be to define its centre of operations and chain of command.

The third will be to create an economic assistance and dialogue lobby. After the pandemic, reliable, widely spread, and sustainable supply chains will be the key.

The fourth will be to hold annual summits, social exchanges, institutional meetings and collaborations.

The fifth will be the most important of all, that is to create military operations, collaborations, and exercise mechanisms. The Indo Pacific region needs to be guarded for keeping sea lanes of communications open. After China’s belligerence in the South China Sea, effective power projection and intent to keep the navigation free has to be at the core of operations.

The sixth will be the tricky one, to extend the Quad influence and membership in the orbit dominated by China. In this point, the Quad has to be a propagator of peace and not tease the dragon.

The seventh will be the establishment of a ministerial-level chain of communications between all the members for smooth proceedings.

The eighth will be sharing of technological knowhow in Artificial Intelligence, Military hardware, reconnaissance, and information technology.

All this is what will be immensely important in the 21st century. Quad cannot shy away from sharing such crucial information and technology between each other. But there are many barriers to this level of cooperation.

GEOPOLITICAL RELEVANCE OF QUAD

Let us get this clear; the Indo Pacific is the most important geopolitical location of current times. A huge amount of oil, gas, and trade passes through this area. Majority of world supply chains and trade is present in this region, from nanochip manufacturing to shipbuilding. A lot of trade and supply comes from this region. It feeds the world, the goods and energy. It needs to stay intact. After the pandemic, one thing became crystal clear to the west and many nations in the east, that you cannot concentrate your trade and supply chains in a single market or country. In the case of global conflict or catastrophe, this dependence and concentration will lead to an even bigger conflict. To secure these supply chains, trade and energy supplies, the relevance of Quad has increased. It doesn’t only aim to contain China’s belligerence but protect the supply chains. The South China Sea region is increasingly becoming a place where conflict may arise in the future. Chinese air space restrictions and sea lane restrictions may trigger a mass conflict. Also, this will have a draconian effect on the world economic cycle.

Enter Quad, by its sheer military size and naval power nations like the US, Japan and India along with Australia being a strategic launch pad can contain the threat by the projection of power. Recently India and the US held a passex, to project power and deliver a strategic message to China. The name Indo Pacific is strategic in itself. This shows America’s intent to bring India and other partners. This is also to show China that the relevance of this region to the US is huge. If ever, China tries to block or restrict the South China Sea route, the US and India can with just one or two aircraft carriers choke China’s supply chains and its energy source through the Strait of Malacca. Quad also becomes important in securing South Korean, Japanese, Taiwanese and other Asian nations trade and geopolitical interests. No one can afford Taiwan falling into the hands of China. If Taiwan goes, Japan will be vulnerable along with South Korea and many American islands in the pacific in the long term. Only larger cooperation between the Quad members will tell how effectively the Quad can be harnessed.

IS QUAD FOR INDIA?

India has a very multilateral or neutral stand when it comes to geopolitics and global influence. India is a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and Quad at the same time. This makes it difficult for us to take an extreme side. But after China’s aggressive stance on our northern borders and anti-India take on the global level, we need to rethink our strategy. Quad by the very value and standings of it is made for India. But to what extent can we go to cooperate with the US and its allies. Does a threat to Japan or Taiwan threaten our core values and influence? The answer is yes; it does. India has a huge trade, political and strategic tie-up with Japan, Australia, Asian tigers and the US. We cannot afford this region to be unstable or Chinese dominated. That will affect us in the long run and twist our arms on the global stage. If not openly, we need to strategically contain China and increase our involvement in Quad. We need to draw lines in organisations like SCO, that is what we stand for. We need to engage with China, but if it threatens us as a sovereign, we need to act. Geopolitics is a long term game, and as China rises, we need to be ready for the future. So, the future lies in Quad for India. We are rising too, and as power rises its orbit increases too. We cannot afford to stay inward as then there won’t be anyone to secure our interests. With the string of pearls, China systematically contains us. We need to have a counter for that, as of now that is the Quad. Containment for containment cannot be the answer only. We need to evaluate our positions strategically.

WHAT TO LOOK UP FOR?

Mid 21st century will be one of the most challenging parts of this century, as China will be preparing to take over the world order. There will be conflicts and problems between the new hegemon and the old, that is America. What we need to look up for is how will the Chinese react to the closer ties among the Quad members and if there is a military bloc against it, how will it counter it. For now, we need to closely monitor the happenings in the region of the South China Sea and the Taiwanese region. Relations between China and Australia are in the ebb of all time. Trade wars and restrictions by the US and China also need to be examined. After the 2020 US elections, if the behaviour of American administration still remains the same, which looks like it will. We need to take out the gist of what this relationship will look like. Moving of supply chains from China to other parts of the world also needs to be seen. How China reacts to the new western behaviour and how it counters that will be detrimental. From trade wars to 5G races, wars have entered every aspect of our lives. So, the question, in the end, will be how long will it take the world to balance and restructure in the post-pandemic era and how will the Quad members allocate themselves in different areas. The extent remains to be seen.

By Harsh Suri kuku.harsh@gmail.com

The featured image is representative of the Quad Alliance, showcasing the four countries involved along with China at the centre.

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