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Release peace: the magazine

Release peace: the magazine

Analysis & Background Stories on International Affairs

What is "The Quad"? A global security alliance is taking shape.

Article by: Dominika Urhová

An alliance for the 21st century?

Deep in the Indo-Pacific a dialogue between the United States, India, Australia, and Japan is being re-born to keep a certain rising dragon at bay. Though originally established for the purpose of maritime cooperation after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the coalition now has a much broader agenda and one specific goal: to maintain a democratic and inclusive Indo-Pacific. After Australia walked away from the first attempt of the Quadrilateral security dialogue in 2008, the rise of China and its increasing military and economic aspirations in the region have sparked a burning flame in the Quad countries, giving rise to what is now known as ‘the Quad 2.0’. The future hope for the coalition is that with their joint capabilities, the Quad will be able to safeguard a stable balance of power in the Indo-Pacific preventing China from further altering the landscape of the region.

Though the objective is clear, and the ambitions are high, what is less well understood are the internal dynamics of this democratic diamond. While some speculate that the Quad has the potential of becoming an Indo-Pacific version of NATO, others wonder whether the heterogeneity of the group makes the countries likely to accomplish their common goals.

What brings them together?

As China's territorial disputes with India and Japan continue and its influence in the Indo-Pacific increases, it is not surprising that the concern among the Quad reaches a new peak. From a geostrategic point of view, the cooperation between the Quad countries is fuelled by a fear of China becoming a dominant actor in the region. In such a scenario, the existing balance of power and the influence of traditional players would be at risk, much to the dislike of the United States and Australia, who have fought long and hard to create an environment entrenched in democratic values. Instead, dominance over the region by China might enable it to impose its own rules on the region and prevent the outreach of any external power. A second source of concern comes from China's often forceful assertions about its rights to the territories in South and East China Seas, where the onset of conflict could severely undermine the region's prosperity. Even more so, enforcing China's nine-dash line claim in the South China Sea could have potentially devastating effects on free trade and the United States’ ability to not only pursue military actions but to play the role of a mediator to ensure long-term stability of the region.

As China launches its Belt and Road Initiative (also known as “Silk Road”) projects across the region, the extent of its power becomes even more tangible. Silk Road is one of the biggest infrastructure funding schemes that ever existed and is supposedly based on the principles of mutual benefit and non-interference in recipient countries' domestic affairs. Though attractive to the recipient countries, the Quad members perceive it as a threat to their own economic influence in the region.

What sets them apart?

Though the Quad members reached a consensus on the potential consequences of China’s dominance in the Indo-Pacific, there is an apparent divergence in the threat perception between them. This is determined by member countries’ relationship with China, the existence or absence of territorial disputes and their capabilities to withstand potential retaliations from Beijing. These differences may be crucial in determining the effectiveness with which the Quad members move towards achieving their common goal.

India and Japan

Japan and India are the two members that have direct territorial disputes with China. However, there is a considerable difference between how these two actors can handle disputes with Beijing. Japan faces military operations at sea and in the air and has repeatedly decided to increase military actions in the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands region. Though Tokyo’s efforts to protect the territory and its sovereignty have been increasing, it still faces limited military capabilities beyond its territorial dispute. Deepening the Quad cooperation is therefore in Japan’s interest if it wants to secure its position in the region.

India is in a relatively more vulnerable position and has been in the past somewhat hesitant about actively strengthening its cooperation with the other Quad members. China’s relationship with Pakistan, and especially the long-lasting border dispute between China and India along Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu Kashmir are reminders of the potential risks and costs of engaging in a conflict with China. On top of that, unlike Japan, whose Mutual Defence Treaty with the U.S. encompasses the defence of the Senkaku Islands, India does not have a formal alliance with the world’s leading military power. This is a result of its principle of “strategic autonomy” which was originally formulated during the Cold War and emphasises India's ambitions to make decisions without the influence of external powers. The threats are in India’s immediate proximity and the main priority continues to be defending its position in the Indian Ocean and avoiding overt provocations. Whether or not it will want to deepen its relationship with the Quad depends on what the cooperation can bring to the table and whether it can be useful for protecting India's national interests, without further stirring up a conflict with China.

Australia and the United States

Unlike the other two members, Australia and the U.S. do not face any direct territorial disputes with China and can therefore be more comfortable in their immediate environment. Their formal alliance also contributes to this greater sense of security. Although some argue that Australia is vulnerable to economic retaliation, the consequences of such a scenario might be overstated. Australia’s resources are exported at lower costs and are considered of higher quality than those of many of its competitors, while its much-cited exports of tourism and education to China make up only 1% of Australia’s GDP. So this is unlikely to disconcert Canberra in the long run.

For the United States, deepening the relationship with the other three members is vital if it wants to achieve its economic and strategic aims. China directly challenges its position in the region as the United States' dominance relies heavily on its partnership with like-minded countries and their recognition of the U.S. as being the balancing-power in the region. This may be at risk if countries are unwilling to continue their relationship with the U.S. if they fear losing access to Chinese trade and investment.

Is India making the Quad complete?

The future of the dialogue depends on the Quad countries' abilities to work around their diverging perceptions of the risks and costs of deepening their cooperation. The first Quad leaders meeting in 2021 shows signs of a mutual understanding of the urgency to strengthen the partnership to work on a myriad of economic, political and strategic issues to ensure a stable balance of power in the Indo-Pacific. Even India, until recently the most reluctant member of the group, is showing a change of heart.

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