Tuesday, October 19, 2021

QUAD – THE WAY AHEAD

by Admiral Sunil Lanba (r.)

Adm. Sunil Lanba (r.), Former chief of Naval Staff, India Navy

The former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe laid the foundations of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, also known as Quad, in the year 2007  with the vision of upholding “freedom and prosperity” in the Asia-Pacific region. The Quad, best described as an inter-governmental consortium between US, Japan, Australia and India. Globally it is believed that the rationale for this group was, ostensibly to counter the rising aggression and prominence of China in the Indo-pacific region. However, in 2007, the Quad only held a single round of dialogue and joint maritime drills and thereafter lay dormant. It was during the ASEAN summit of 2017 that the leaders of the four countries came together again and resuscitated the Quad arrangement. The focus was issues of common interest in the Indo-Pacific.

 The Quad resumed in 2017 with a meeting at the official level and a joint secretary represented India from the MEA.  China’s aggressive expansionist policy has been the primary reason for the revival of Quad. China is positioning in the South China Sea (SCS), Ladakh and Hong Kong has made Quad members feel the need to take an active stand together. The meetings graduated to foreign minister level in 2019 and the first summit of the leaders of the Quad nations took place virtually in March this year. The four members have become more circumspective towards China amidst the disagreements and differences over territory, trade, violations of human rights, including tensions along the Sino-Indian border, claims of Chinese influence and intrusion in Australian politics, China and Japan’s dispute over Senkaku Islands and the call to investigate the current Covid pandemic. After its revival in 2017, the Quad nations now exhibit deeper levels of cooperation and engagements in spheres of security, foreign policy and domains of military and naval cooperation.

The joint statement issued post summit in Mar 2021 committed to ‘‘promoting a free, open rule-based order, rooted in international law to advance security and prosperity and counter threats to both, the Indo-Pacific and beyond. We support the rule of law, freedom of navigation and overflight, peaceful resolution of disputes, democratic values and territorial integrity. We commit to work together and with a range of partners.’’ In addition, experts and official will continue to meet regularly and the foreign ministers will have dialogues often and meet at least once a year. The leaders have committed to holding an in person summit by the end of 2021 and endorsed the first joint initiative of Quad to provide vaccines to the WHO COVAX programme for distribution in the Indo-Pacific.

One notable engagement of Quad members were the Malabar exercises held in 2020. The Malabar exercise was the leading interoperability naval exercise between the U.S, India and Japan. Last year Australia joined the exercise, made it quadrilateral, and gave a new dimension to the global perception of Quad.  India has great potential in the Indo-Pacific Ocean with a large multi dimension naval capability. India needs to proactively engage with the naval forces of Quad members and other countries in the Indo-Pacific region. India has also signed logistic support agreement with the members of Quad and Singapore. These serve to help support naval operations in the Indo-Pacific as and when required. There has also been growing engagement and visit of Indian Naval ship to Vietnam. One of the longest standing engagement and exercise in the maritime domain has been with Singapore, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2018. The potential to further engage with more nations in the Indo-Pacific region remains high and India has lent its support for the Quad Plus narrative whereby a broad based approach is provided to alleviate challenges brought on by the current pandemic.  India’s intention to support the Quad core group’s regular meetings with the Republic of Korea, New Zealand and Vietnam has certainly encompassed a broad approach.  India’s embrace towards a Quad Plus mechanism aligns well with the current foreign policy ambitions of increasing multilateral and mini lateral partnerships. The Quad Plus proposition compliments India’s vision of an inclusive Indo-Pacific construct.

The Quad may develop into a rolling coalition, allowing countries to make unique contributions at key times to deprive China of its ability to secure a fait accompli. Instead of pooling resources to create an unwieldy organisation, countries could work bilaterally and trilaterally to respond in novel ways as the strategic environment changes. This collaborative arrangement made up of a network of bilateral and trilateral partnerships makes the organisation flexible and agile in its response to diverse threats.

The technological and national power gap between USA and China is narrowing whilst between China and India, it is widening and it remains an ever-increasing need to build one’s own national power in all dimensions to be able to stand up against the growing might of China. 

About the author: Admiral Sunil Lanba is a former Chief of Naval Staff, Indian Navy & Chairman – COSC.

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