Developing healthy bilateral and multilateral relations is not only in the fundamental interests of the two or more countries involved, but is also conducive to the world as a whole. The might of a strong nation doesn’t only imply by its will to dominate the other country in a military battle, but is also evaluated on the basis of its economic supremacy and relations with other nations. As it is rightly said that war doesn’t have to be fought militarily in the 21st century; trade, commerce and foreign relations are being considered equally effective variables. The latter (foreign relations) being a key experience during the Covid-19 pandemic, cooperation amongst countries. The main aim of a bilateral or multilateral cooperation agreement is to ensure that international treaties and conventions are observed. The cooperation leads to development, maintaining peace, stability and security for a developing nation with assistance from ally countries.
In the 21st Century, where the world order is constantly changing. Multilateralism or Foreign cooperation between nations and support has become a vital part of a countries strategy to overcome difficulties, ensure peace and development and claim leadership in the post-pandemic world; The New World Order. One such multilateral group that India is a part of is Quad. Let’s find out why The Quad and its militarization is so critical to India’s rise and regional security of the Indo Pacific.
The Indo Pacific Region Explained
The Indo Pacific region is a maritime space that stretches from the Indian Ocean to the West Pacific Ocean. Countries in the Indo Pacific include Australia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Timor Leste, The United States of America and Vietnam. What some of these countries have in common – a dispute with China. The United States of America and Australia have trade disputes with China, while India, Nepal, Vietnam and Japan having territorial disputes with the country. The dragon’s designs and expansionist mindset has jeopardized security in the Indo Pacific. China does not comply with the Internationally accepted maritime laws and has challenged the rules-based order. It has claimed some islands, built a few artificial ones and ended up doing nothing but becoming a threat to peace, stability and security in the Indo Pacific.
Indo Pacific Region
The Quad’s Past and Present
The Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) is a strategic, inter-governmental security dialogue between The United States of America, Australia, Japan and India. The Quad began as an ad hoc collaboration in the year 2004 after the Indian Ocean Tsunami in which over 220,000 people had died across 14 countries making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in history. Back then these four countries contributed humanitarian relief responders, dozens of helicopters, cargo ships and transport planes. The Quad worked towards tsunami relief and reconstruction. When its purpose was solved – the group was dissolved.
In 2006, the former Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe was inspired by the successful template of the Quad and he proposed an “arc of freedom and prosperity” – a group meant to promote freedom and the rule of law. Soon, then Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh visited Tokyo and the two countries expressed their eagerness to begin a dialogue with like-minded countries in the Asia Pacific region. In 2007 US Vice President Dick Cheney signalled interest in a Quad dialogue. In April 2007, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited India and a month later the first meeting of the initial quad was held on the sidelines of the ASEAN Regional Forum gatherings in Manila. In September 2007, Japan and Australia joined the USA – India Malabar Exercises that led to China becoming uncomfortable and started to voice concerns about the Quad – calling it an “Asian NATO”. The resignation of Abe in September 2007, protests in India, and the new prime minister of Australia were key drivers that led Quad to crumble.
A decade later in 2017 – the stage was set for the Quad to return. India and The USA had signed the Logistical Exchange Memorandum of Agreement, 2016. India and Japan had signed the Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, 2016. Japan had permanently joined the Malabar exercises. This led to China becoming more aggressive than ever flexing its military might it had engaged India in the Doklam standoff and ticked off Japan by increasing coast guard activity near the Japanese Senkaku Islands. It had also bribed several Australian politicians and was caught doing so.
Once Shinzo Abe returned to power in Japan he wasted no time in calling for a democratic security diamond – The Quad 2.0. Representatives of the four countries met in Manila in November 2017, with very little hesitation in standing up to China. The Foreign Ministers of the Quad met thrice between 2019 and 2021 and then came the March 12, 2021 summit where the political leadership of the Quad member countries met virtually and discussed topics related to development, Coronavirus vaccination, cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, climate change, and technology.
The Spirit of Quad
Militarizing The Quad
India’s Chief of Defense Staff General Bipin Rawat on September 3rd 2020, claimed that Quad should become a system that ensures Freedom of Navigation (FoN) and Freedom of Navigations Operations (FONOPS) in the Indian Ocean and seas around and the airspace above without fear of any other nation singularly trying to dominate the ocean, clearly displaying India’s change in stance on the Quad no longer being an everything other than military dialogue.
A change in stance was probably brought due to China’s expansionism and muscle-flexing techniques displayed during the border class along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh. Militarizing the Quad would lead to maritime security, given existing cooperation between the countries and the need to ensure Freedom of Navigation, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, energy preservation, and regional capacity-building. Militarizing would ensure that a rules-based order will prevail in the Indo-Pacific region rather than a coercion-based one, practiced by China for the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
The BRI may be an attractive proposition for many countries with limited access to international funding. China’s offer to build infrastructure fast, and apparently with few conditions, could be difficult to resist. But while much of this infrastructure can be beneficial to the region, this isn’t always the case. Some enterprises are vanity projects, secured through pay-offs to corrupt leaders, and others don’t make sense economically. Predatory lending associated with some projects can easily create debt traps like the one of Sri Lanka – who was forced to give China a 99-year lease for the Hambantota port and operational control of strategically important Gwadar Port in Pakistan. With this China is in a position to surround India from three sides and make Hambantota and Gwadar their makeshift naval or military base. The growing militarization of the South China Sea can also be taken into account - where the country is creating artificial islands as military bases in its increasingly aggressive behaviour to claim the whole area as Chinese territory.
The militarization ensuring that the Navies of all four countries working together will be a demonstration of what the power of quadrupling can do in the Indo-Pacific region. From a strategic perspective, the primary value of the Quad is to signal to Beijing that the four states share the intent to counter and thereby deter future Chinese actions to further change the status quo. If we compare militarily China’s personnel (active, reserve and paramilitary) stand at 3.36 million as compared to the Quad’s combined 7.78 million. Only comparing the active personnel, China stands at 2.19 million, while the Quad has a combined 2.93 Million, implying that the Quad is far more superior in terms of combined personnel if up against China.
Left: Quad Malabar Naval Exercise in the Bay of Bengal, November 2020
Right: China's BRI
What does the Quad have for India?
It is speculated that long term cooperation with the Quad could lead to India landing a permanent seat in the UNSC, upgrade in defence manufacturing technology, would help India become a major blue economy and an opportunity to lead in the post-pandemic world, due to the changing world order. New Delhi must also strike a balance to ensure its engagement in the Quad does not jeopardize its standing in the BRICS or SCO where China is a member. Also, India is the only country in the Quad that shares a land boundary with China and it is unclear how the militarization of the Quad in the Indo Pacific waters may alleviate the threat it faces. Regardless, as Mengzi has said, “MILITARY RELATIONS ARE THE BEST BELLWETHER FOR BILATERAL RELATIONS. ”Thus, Militarisation of The Quad could be ventured for a secured Indo Pacific.