Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) – For Free & Open Indo-Pacific [Updated]

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Quad Plus, which includes Quad countries along with South Korea, New Zealand and Vietnam, initiated weekly video conferences since March 20 to discuss the common issues pertaining to COVID-19 pandemic. These discussions have brought Quad back into focus as one of the important groupings in the Indo-Pacific. While the expansion of the alliance to ensure international cooperation to deal with this crisis a step in the right direction, the ultimate objective of countering China’s aggression has been put on the backburner though Beijing has increased its hostility in the South China Sea and Sino-Indian borders.

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What is QUAD?

  • QUAD or Quadrilateral Security Dialogue is an informal strategic dialogue meant to provide free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific.
  • The members of the QUAD include India, US, Japan and Australia.
  • This strategic grouping is largely viewed as a counter to China’s increasing influence in the region.

How did it come to be?

  • The QUAD was initiated in 2007 but was disintegrated following Australia’s withdrawal from the group.
  • The formation of this strategic grouping can be traced back to the Tsunami Core Group in 2004-05.
  • On 26th December 2004, Indonesia was hit with 9.1-9.3 magnitude Earthquake. This led to the triggering of the devastating tsunami that affected the coasts of countries like India, Sri Lanka, Thailand etc.
  • During this deadly calamity, the Quad countries quickly and efficiently coordinated with each other to undertake a huge humanitarian rescue operation.
  • The initiation of QUAD was done by Japan. The Japanese government was willing to include India and other like-minded individuals to look into the common interests within the region.
  • The US too endorsed this initiative in addition to Trilateral Strategic Dialogue in which US, Japan and Australia are members.
  • Australia, on the other hand, considered this an “informal” dialogue due to its different stance on the China issue.
  • This caused the ceasing of the progress by QUAD grouping.
  • The Quadrilateral was later revived in 2017 when the foreign ministers of the member countries met in Manila on the sidelines of the ASEAN and East Asia Summits to discuss areas of mutual interests in the regional and global context.

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Why did Australia change the previous stance?

  • Australia’s location is the reason for its new and assertive response with regards to the QUAD.
  • Australia is a country that is located at a point where any tensions arising from the South China Sea or the Indian Ocean could have a direct impact on its security and economy.
  • China’s proactive expansionist policies in the Indo-Pacific region are a cause for concern for all the countries located in this area. Australia is a significant player as it is strategically located.
  • Though Australia views China as a potential ally on the economic front, it is still against China’s interventionist policies, paving way for its closer ties with the US and other Quad members.

What is the potential of QUAD?

  • Counter to China: The QUAD can help counter China’s BRI. The closer ties with like-minded countries within the Indo-Pacific region can put stop to China’s growing hegemony in this region.
  • Rule-based order: This strategic grouping can promote order based on international laws to ensure peace and economic development within this region.
  • Increase scope for countering North Korea: North Korea’s growing dominance in the Korean Peninsula is a threat to the status quo of international politics. With closer ties within QUAD, US will be able to help provide security in the region.
  • Balance of Power: This dialogue has the potential to create a balance of power between China and the democratic countries.
  • Increase the potential of Act East Policy: This strategic alliance can provide a platform for increasing the potential of Act East Policy of the current Indian government.
  • Enhance India-Australia ties: The diplomatic ties between Australia and India have not been smooth. This grouping might help improve the relationship between the two countries.
  • Collective Defence: The collective security grouping within this region help counter all forms of threats arising within this region.
  • Help oppose China’s permanent military presence in the Indo-Pacific: Considering China’s expansionist and tyrannical policies, its presence in this region will not be fruitful to any of the countries in the IOR.

What are the drawbacks of QUAD?

  • No formalised security structure: During the initial stage of formation, the objective of the alliance was to forge a maritime alliance for efficient operation during natural disasters like the 2004 tsunami. After it was reinitiated in 2017, the main goal was to counter China. The QUAD is still at a premature stage. Objectives of QUAD are vague and implicit. It is mainly due to Australia’s and India’s stance with regards to China. India is keen on maintaining its strategic autonomy and not taking sides either with China or the US. Australia’s economy is highly dependent on China.
  • The increasing dominance of the US: This alliance will be a threat to India’s dominance in the IOR.
  • The US’ protectionist foreign policies: The US have become unreliable security partner in recent years. It cannot be relied upon to provide security against Chinese tyranny within this region.
  • A threat to India’s neighbours: The increasing dominance of the US, India, Australia and Japan would cause adverse effects on smaller and economically and militarily weaker neighbours. This would make them warier and they may tilt towards China for protection.
  • Lack of Clarity on India’s position: India until now, hasn’t taken any clear stance with regards to this security alliance whose sole aim is to counter China’s military dominance in the Indo Pacific. According to India, Indo-Pacific is a free, open and inclusive region that promotes mutual prosperity and progress. This does not include pan-regional inclusiveness. India’s current position in QUAD is only to advocate the principles and ideas and not countering China’s hegemony in the region.
  • Lack of substitute for China in the economic front: China has become economically dominant. Even the US is not able to provide efficient economic trade like that of China. Many poorer and smaller countries are betting on China to help in their economic development. They can’t find the same in India. This has caused liability with regards to countering China.

Current Status:

  • Following its revival in 2017, subsequent meetings amongst officials in 2018 and 2019 focused on mutual interests though they have so far shied away from adding a military aspect to it.
  • In a sign of further progress and political commitment, the 2019 Quad meetings were elevated to the foreign minister-level.
  • These institutional developments show that the concerns that led to the grouping’s revival in 2017 not only remain relevant but also have deepened.
  • China’s military aggression in the Indo-Pacific has become even more prominent in recent times, leading to many more countries endorsing the concept of Indo-Pacific.
  • This is the reason behind the slow but steady institutionalisation of the Quad. This also increases the possibility of the expansion of Quad.

What is “QUAD Plus”?

  • On 20th March 2020, the Quad countries (Australia, India, Japan and the US), along with New Zealand, South Korea and Vietnam met via video teleconference to assist each other amid the on-going coronavirus pandemic.
  • This grouping, now termed as Quad Plus, met again on March 27 at the vice-ministerial level to discuss not only the remedies for the COVID-19 but also the issue of economic revival post the pandemic.
  • However, whether this is even a “Quad Plus” meeting is unclear, as there was no formal mention about it at all by the said countries.
  • The current plan is for this grouping is to convene every week to discuss a range of issues, including cooperative vaccine development, addressing questions around stranded citizens, minimising economic impacts etc.

Why is the inclusion of “plus three” countries significant?

  • Each of the “plus three” parties is an important partner for the Quad countries.
  • Vietnam is a key strategic partner for all four Quad members.
  • South Korea, despite its troubled ties with Japan, is also a significant ally for the US and Japan. Its success in containing the COVID-19 outbreak especially makes it even more substantial in current times.
  • New Zealand’s inclusion is noteworthy because of its reluctance to target China.
  • It did not initially endorse the Indo-Pacific concept, maybe because of its unwillingness to jeopardise its ties with Beijing on which it has high economic dependence.
  • Understandably, it preferred the term Asia-Pacific instead of Indo-Pacific.
  • However, in February 2020, this view had changed after the country formally adopted the Indo-Pacific formulation because of its increased security concerns with Beijing. This is probably the reason behind it joining the Quad Plus grouping.
  • New Zealand’s path to Quad is similar to the evolution in Indian thinking.
  • Like New Zealand, India too was traditionally reluctant to choose between the US and China.
  • However, Beijing’s coercive approach to deny India the strategic space it seeks in the Indo-Pacific and global platforms like the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) has led to New Delhi shifting its partnership with others in the Indo-Pacific.

What are the issues with QUAD Plus?

  • The expansion of Quad grouping is relevant in the current scenario.
  • However, if the Quad Plus is sustained, it may jeopardise recent years’ progress in the Quad’s primary long-term mission – to signal unified resolve to counter China’s growing dominance in the Indo-Pacific.
  • Although the Quad Plus would certainly agree with the core objective, none of the plus states would particularly be enthusiastic about publicly joining a group that attempts to counter Beijing.
  • For instance, South Korea would rather concentrate on North Korea and not focus on China.
  • This is because, when the US, in March 2017, deployed Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) launchers to South Korea to defend against North Korean missiles, Beijing retaliated by crushing South Korea’s economy, the effects of which still linger today.
  • Meanwhile, New Zealand may value its economic ties with China, its largest trading partner, over creating political waves. The country seeks inclusiveness and dialogue rather than great power rivalry.
  • Vietnam’s membership would be vital for the Quad, as the inclusion of a Southeast Asian country would weaken Beijing’s claim that the Quad is simply a group of extra-regional major powers attempting to “contain” Chinese power.
  • However, Vietnam would also be unlikely to support Quad Plus unless Chinese aggression at the South China Sea forces it to do so.
  • Furthermore, Vietnam’s Three Noes defence policy (no alliances, no foreign bases on Vietnamese territory and no aligning with a second against a third country) would stop it from participating in a grouping that aims to counter China.

What can be the way ahead for Quad Plus?

There can be three possibilities for Quad Plus:

  • The Quad Plus may prove to be extremely successful in the COVID-19 context and has the potential to overtake the original Quad. This would return the Quad to a primary focus on disaster relief efforts and would be problematic for joint attempts to counter Beijing.
  • If the Quad Plus ends after the pandemic recedes, the Quad should be able to continue focusing on China.
  • Another possibility is that both the Quad and Quad Plus continue to exist and work together. This scenario would likely to minimise disruption as long as the existence of the latter does not detract from the ultimate aim of countering Chinese aggression.

What should be the way forward?

For India:

  • India’s maintenance of strategic autonomy is a necessity as it helps in the flexible approach in balancing the relationship with the US and China.
  • India must focus on Neighbourhood first policy before entering into any formal military alliance with the QUAD countries.
  • After taking these aforementioned measures, it should promote the strengthening of the Quad grouping.

For Quad:

  • The grouping must first construct fixed objectives with a focus on the mutual interests of all the parties involved.
  • As one of the main aims of the grouping is to counter Chinese military aggression in the Indo-Pacific, creating a working group for defence and infrastructure cooperation can further tighten the Quad activities.
  • The 2+2 format is particularly salient as all member countries maintain 2+2 level meetings with one another. Broadening the current Quad format of foreign ministry officials-level meeting to include representatives from defence ministries would be necessary the first step towards a whole-of-Quad “working 2+2”.
  • Leader-level summits can create opportunities for collaboration between different ministries and departments.
  • Quad should coordinate to ensure regional economic and developmental assistance, especially for smaller island nations in the Indian Ocean Region.
  • The “Blue Dot Network”, which was announced on November 2019, is an initiative of the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), Japan Bank of International Cooperation (JBIC) and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). It provides the ideal vehicle for realising an infrastructure aspect of Quad.
  • Including India in the “Blue Dot Network” to create a roadmap to sustainable infrastructure for developing countries would enhance Quad countries’ presence in the region.
  • It would also enable the restructuring of various inter-Quad infrastructure initiatives, including India-Japan sponsored Asia-Africa growth corridor.
  • Linking Quad nations on mini-lateral financing would help reduce the funding gap afforded solely by the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
  • In order to build in the military aspect of the grouping, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief roles of the grouping must be enhanced.
  • This can further include other areas of common concerns like counterterrorism and maritime security.
  • These developments could greatly enhance the member countries’ relationship, reduce Chinese aggression and promote free and open Indo-Pacific.

Conclusion

Currently, the existence of Quad Plus has overshadowed the Quad, with full focus on the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, China is increasing its presence at the South China Sea and its belligerence at the Sino-Indian border. Therefore, it is vital for all the member nations, while dealing with the pandemic, to not forget the ultimate objective of countering Beijing’s military dominance, as it is jeopardising their economic and security interests.

Practice question for mains:

Quad is becoming a key post-COVID-19 coalition. What are the reforms that need to be made to ensure the realisation of its full potential? (250 words)

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