India’s Tryst with the Quadrilateral Initiative (Quad)
Our lives had significantly and suddenly taken a veritable 180 degrees turn, and the world had been brought to a grinding halt by the blight of the world pandemic. As the clouds of uncertainty gradually disperse, giving way to a better understanding of what needs to be done, we must think about the road ahead. The pandemic has managed to bring some of the most powerful and economically sound states to their knees, initiating a wave of economic downturn along with a knotty political crisis that will take a heavy toll on the current and future generations. Out of this chaos, numerous lessons were learnt, but one thing that was made abundantly clear was that this pandemic has acted like the great equaliser. As we attempt to step into the new world, the international community has placed two specific countries under the scanner. The first being the Chinese Republic, which has of late been making the headlines for its aggressive policies. The second country being India, which in the past few years has experienced a meteoric rise in terms of its importance in the global arena.
Both India and China have been breathing down each other's necks, and find themselves involved in a power battle in one of the most geopolitically sensitive zones, the Indo- Pacific. The Indo-Pacific is one for the busiest zones in the world and is responsible for 75% of the world merchandise trade and contributes a whopping 60% to the Gross Domestic Product. China’s presence in the region has marked its expansionist policies, while India has extended its reach and influence by collaborating with countries such as the United States, Japan and Australia. The confederation of democracies with heavy presence in the region has effectively been termed as the Quad. After years of inactivity the forum has resurfaced in the form of high level dialogues, foreign minatorial level and several biannual senior official level meetings. When referring to the Quadrilateral initiative, it has become evident that the convergence of the Quad has run parallel to the increasing realisation of the member states, to the risk posed by China. There have been further concerns about a new power based international order that has displaced the rules based order, an international order defined by a set of institutions and norms.
India has come a long way, from its days of nursing a utopian belief of Indian-Chinese partnerships under the Congress government of the 1960s. The country has constantly acted like a roadblock to China’s ambitions of connecting the world, on the basis of the ancient Silk Road, through the new trillion Dollar Belt and Road Initiative. However, their troubles do not end as these countries find themselves at loggerheads over the Himalayan region, in the Indo- Pacific. The Quad, India’s new diplomatic and a highly possible militaristic option, consist of three other nations, which are the United States, Japan and Australia. This informal group of nations traces its origins to the early years of the 21st century at the time of the Great Asian Tsunami on the 26th of December, 2004. It was the joint exercises by the navies of the nations to provide assistance at this time that was viewed by the Chinese as a future threat, and labelled the joint exercises as the Quadrilateral initiative. Quad 1.0 was a stillborn child. However, this does not seem to be the case with Quad 2.0, as the initiative has seen active participation by the four democratic nations that are a part of it.
The most noteworthy event under the Quad umbrella, is the Malabar exercise. This year owing to the pandemic, the exercise had been called off altogether. If India decides to conduct its exercise in the coming years, and at the same time overlook mounting Chinese pressure and involve Australians in the same, it will be the first step towards militarising the Quad. India in the past few years has led the charge in developing relations among member nations, especially after the Dokhlam standoff. Taking note of Chinese policies and military capabilities, countries such as Japan outlined the need for a free and inclusive Indo- Pacific without any overarching Chinese control. The Indian Prime Minister also used the Shangri-La dialogue as a platform to intimate nations of India’s plans for the future with regards to the Indo-Pacific. Having realised that in the post COVID world, international attention will be on the Indo-Pacific, the Quad alliance is important for India to build an alternative supply chain, for essentials such as COVID vaccines and also in an attempt to once again stabilise its economy. Military strategists in recent times have been vocal about the need to develop the Andaman and Nicobar islands. The country will also have to rethink granting access to the island to other nations, as at the moment the Japanese are the only one with access to the Indian islands. Granting access to the United States, who are actively establishing their presence in the region and are developing the Wake islands may go a long way in cementing the relationship between the US and India, and at the same time provide the Indian Navy a suitable partner in the region. Developing the Islands is necessary if India plans to restrict Chinese access to the Sittwe Port in Myanmar and Chittagong in Bangladesh; and Indian Ocean in particular. India also needs to consider establishing a better military and defence presence in the Horn of Africa. Not particularly in Djibouti, which essentially is ground zero, owing to the large military bases maintained by a number of countries. India, in the past has followed a rather inward looking foreign policy, on the principles of maintaining its national integrity by solely protecting its geographical borders. However, given the current international trend, investing in countries like Sri Lanka and Maldives for military advantage and showing some tough love to Bangladesh, would give India the much needed leverage against the Chinese.The basic point being, that if Indian presence is challenged in the upper reaches of the Himalayas, the Indian republic should take the fight to the seas, where it still holds a strategic advantage through the informal Quad alliance.
There remains no doubt that the strengthening of relations between the Quad nations is a response to China’s assertive policies and authoritarian turn the country has taken under the leadership of Xi. How far will the initiative go, depends a great deal on New Delhi’s plans. Today, India seems more prepared than it was a decade ago to enhance the Quad’s capabilities, as a result of the escalation of tensions between the two neighbours in the Galwan Valley. With the Indian foreign policy showing a more amiable turn of mind towards Australian needs, the relationship between the two countries have improved significantly removing the last standing obstacle within the Quad members. While India has taken the lead in opposing the Belt and Road initiatives, and the Australians blocking Huawei, the Chinese now face insurmountable pressure from all four Quad member nations. It is this ability within the Quad member states to stand up to Chinese pressure and say a resounding ‘no’ that differentiates them from the other nations in the region. The primary objective of the Quad is not launch a Soviet-era containment policy, rather it is the present a united front of democracies active in the region, against Chinese adventurism and endeavours.The more the Quad and similarly invested accomplices talk in a unified voice, and the more plainly they articulate their center advantages, the costlier it becomes for China to test or challenge them. The objective is to win without battling, and the Quad makes such a victory more probable.
Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Sciences in Politics and International Relations from University College London, his interests are geopolitics, International Relations, Military History, Contemporary European and Indian History.