Source: India and the New ‘Quad’ in West Asia; Express Opinion by C. Raja Mohan, Youtube
On 18th October 2021, the Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar, along with his Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid held an in-person inaugural meeting in the virtual presence of the United States Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and the United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, effectively situating the foundations of an “international forum for cooperation”. Foreign Minister Jaishankar later tweeted on the “fruitful” nature of the meeting. At the same time, his Israeli counterpart depicted it as a “synergy” combining forces in the focus areas of trade, technology, maritime security while transcending mere governmental collaborations.
Such promises of ‘strategic cooperation’ sparked the convergence of a ‘New Quad’, a buzzword that has gained increasing prominence in India’s foreign policy dictionary. While the push for a multilateral grouping with the West Asian nations has been dubbed as a natural ‘come hell or high water’ move for the United States to subdue the recalcitrant dragon in the East, it is India’s revived interest in the Indo-Pacific Quad and its foray into the Middle-Eastern Quad that has piqued the interests of analysts, primarily because it marks a decisive break from India’s traditional strategic bilateral ties.
Quadrilateral Security Dialogues – the Crème de la Crème of Asian Geopolitics
India’s rendezvous with the Indo-Pacific Quad alongside member nations of the United States, Japan and Australia began due to the devastating aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which killed over 200,000 people.
India’s Indo-Pacific membership reflects its ‘Look East’ policies, which appraises East Asia as a region of strategic interest and inclines towards an integrated global order stretching from “Hollywood to Bollywood”. Historically, however, India’s foreign policy has been predisposed towards strengthening bilateral alliances with the raison d’être of capacity building and trade enhancement. Rooted in the Nehruvian ideologue of ‘non-alliance’, India has traditionally sidestepped participating in multilateral alliances to steer clear of warring blocs, particularly in volatile regions such as the Middle East.
The bedrock of India’s geopolitical relation’s plane underwent a fundamental change with its pronouncement of the revival of the Quad in 2017. Of particular relevance was the surge in the significance of the ramifications of the East on global geopolitics, with world powers embracing themselves for counterbalancing the dragon’s roar. The period witnessed the aggressive expansionist tendencies of China manifesting in the form of territorial disputes with India and Japan along with the Jinping administration’s deliberate attempts at thwarting American economic and ideological interests in Asia. After its informal leadership summits in Wuhan and Mamallapuram failed to intercept China’s continued intransigence along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), India has revamped its efforts towards the establishment of a rules-based international order conjointly with the Quad leaders in the form of bilateral agreements and naval and military exercises with the underlying goal of security deterrence. Contemporary challenges of vaccine distribution and climate crises have also posed as strategic constituents of the Quad plan needing cohesive responses.
The ‘New Quad’- India’s Gateway to the West
With one foot in the Indo-Pacific Quad and another extending towards the West-Asian multilateral forum, India today seems well poised to straddle the realm of geopolitics beyond the ASEAN conclave. As the United States continues recalling its troops from the Middle East to pave the way for delegating responsibility to regional actors, the notion of a trilateral concord under the aegis of the Abraham Accords signed between the UAE and Israel was deemed a spontaneous outcome.
For India, however, close camaraderie with akin ‘minilaterals’ represents a double-edged sword. Undoubtedly, the shift in India’s locus of attention from bilateral relations conducted in separate silos to a more integrated regional approach cements the nation’s emergence as a key player rather than a neutral spectator of events unfolding in the global political panorama. Congenial relations between the Indian political elite and their counterparts of the member nations have been best summed by Foreign Minister Jaishankar, who stated that “the three of you are among the closest relationships we have, if not closest”.
The strategically significant nature of the Middle East is palpable by the fact that India is the largest buyer of Israeli military equipment, which has lent credence to the bolstering of defence cooperation between the two nations. Meanwhile, Indians constitute the largest expatriate community in the UAE, a country that is a vital source of India’s energy security. Its bilateral ties with the US progress on a ladder of economic, military and cultural ties ad infinitum, despite changes in the upper echelons of government. Today, both nations acknowledge the paramount significance of balancing power relations in Asia amidst escalating Chinese intercession, which necessitates the pruning of China’s political and economic influence in the Middle East.
Analysts have, however, pointed towards the fractious nature of the Middle Eastern region, which would require India to navigate multiple “fissures” to avoid getting caught in the snarls of regional proxy militia wars. As the three-member nations hint towards the platform’s operation as a means for countering Iran, India must circumnavigate such ambitions to prolong the longevity of its bilateral relations with Iran, which represents a crucial region for connecting India to the West. Furthermore, India has to walk the tightrope while juggling various geopolitical associations with competing intentions.
The ‘New Quad’s unique positioning of advancing economic collaborations through American and Emirati financial resources, Israeli technical expertise and Indian manufacturing propensity without any strategic framework represents a step towards engaging in ‘soft’ issues instead of hard-line military stances. While its trajectory remains uncertain, the New Quad, wrapped within the might of four vital actors of the geopolitical stage, represents the gleaming mirage of a diamond that India, being one of its facets, can employ to its advantage to consolidate harness its presence in the West.
About the Author:
Harshita Khaund is a student of Political Science Honours in her second year of BA at Indraprastha College for Women, University of Delhi. Her realms of interest include International Relations and Security Studies, emphasising the MENA region.