QUAD – Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD)

Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD) is the strategic dialogue between four countries viz. India, United States, Japan and Australia. It was originally initiated in 2007 but later disbanded with withdrawal of Australia. It has been recently revived and is being viewed as response to increased Chinese economic and military power.

What is the background of Quadrilateral Security Dialogue?

The history of quad is linked to Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004. On 26 December 2004, a 9.1-9.3 magnitude earthquake with epicentre off the west coast of Sumatra in Indonesia triggered devastating tsunami waves along the coasts of most countries bordering the Indian Ocean, killing around 2.3-2.8 Lakh people. The Tsunami created havoc Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, Myanmar etc. Hardest hit was Indonesia.

Within few hours, India’s naval helicopters and ships came into action and India provided huge humanitarian relief to not only Sri Lanka but also Indonesia. Overall, Indian involved around 32 ships and some 5000 troops in the international relief efforts. These capabilities surprised the word. In December that year, the US President George Bush announced that India, US, Japan and Australia would launch a coalition to collaborate the massive relief and rehabilitation works. This led to birth of the “Quadrilateral” or Quad.

Why Australia moved away?

Quad as a strategic dialogue was first mooted by Prime Minister Shinjo Abe of Japan in 2007. He was supported by Dick Cheney, Vice President United States, John Howard, prime minister of Australia and Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India. US, Japan and India were already engaged in trilateral Malabar exercise since 2002. However, later Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, mainly on account of his ambivalence over growing US-China tension in Asia-Pacific, left the quad in 2008. The government of Kevin Rudd found this group to be too much in conflict with its economic relations with China, which has been critical of such alliances / groupings since beginning. Due to this, Australia withdrew from further formal disc

Why Australia comes back?

Diplomacy is all about taking moves which serve the best self-interests of a country. In last decade, the balance of power is shifting in Asia-Pacific / Indo-Pacific and emerging circumstances have led Australia to shrug off its reluctance and take more assertive stance. China’s assertive behaviour in South China Sea has caused concerns among almost all states. Australia’s location is such that affects peace and security in Indian and Pacific Oceans has direct impact on the entire Australian continent. Meanwhile, over reliance on China for trade is an uncomfortable but necessary situation with most countries around the world. Some of them see some opportunity in India but engagement with India is questionable due to low scale trade compared to China. Further, all this is said in the light of Australia having no direct dispute with China. But, Australia has been against Chinese modus operandi in many situations which include activities in the South China Sea; Chinese influence on politics is being limited by reforming political donation laws.

What is significance of Australia in Quad?

Australia is regarded as a major maritime democracy in the Indo-Pacific region. So, its contribution to the dialogue in this regard can be immense. The grouping is not solely targeted towards China. These nations share common political values which when brought together will help each other in their progress. There are three trilateral already operating in the region –India-US-Japan, India-Japan-Australia and US-Japan-Australia. If the three are brought together it reduces bureaucratic delays in negotiation. There is historical evidence of the efficiency of the four powers working together in terms of security.

What are objectives of Quad?

Although the primary aim of this dialogue is to expand membership in this security focused group, the ulterior motive behind this is seen by many to form a strategic partnership deal against China’s rise in the region. China has often been accused of unilaterally trying to alter the power axis in the region (especially the Indian Ocean region). It is trying to change the international rule based order in its own manner.

While this may be the motive, the purpose or the course of action of this security dialogue is not yet known. It cannot be compared to a trade negotiation in which involvement of more parties helps in achieving uniformity of standards and higher efficiency in business and economics. Rather, involvement of more participants in a security dialogue poses several challenges for credibility and commitment of each participant.

What are doubts over involvement of Britain and France?

While the coming together of the four powers is understood, there are also controversies of Britain and France’s involvement in the dialogue. They are extra-regional powers although trying to have military stronghold in the Indo-Pacific region. One reason for seeking their involvement could be the unreliability of US. Witnessing the recent bubble burst of USA and its uncertainty in terms of plans and policies, these two powers can come of help. The other point is that these two European powers still have a focus on Russia than on China which can be of utility in case of a military threat.

What is China’s reaction to this QSD?

China not exactly warning the Quad but on a stricter note has issued a statement that it would appreciate mutual trust among countries and regions, but at the same time it has given a hint that it should not be directed against a third party. It has also called the Quad as an Asian NATO.

What can be possible perils of the dialogue?

Although, the quadrilateral grouping will bring developmental projects and economic prosperity but India’s dominance in its neighbourhood will be further eroded. Furthermore, in the name of cooperation India may concede a seeding ground seeding ground to Japanese & US Navies in Sri Lanka. Lastly, India must not neglect its neighbours and should try to balance its relations rationally. The government’s new plan to involve the U.S. and Japan in development projects in South Asia will yield the necessary finances that should not come at the cost of India’s leverage in its own backyard.

Does Quad reflect any change in US policy towards Asia-Pacific?

At the turn of this century, United States was mainly preoccupied with Iraq, Afghanistan and Middle East. This distraction led China to rise as a major economic super power in the Asia-Pacific region. This had undermined the traditional status of United States. United States had followed the policy of soft-containment of China by forging strategic partnerships with democracies all around China, including India under so called “Pivot to Asia” policy.

Why some say that the Quad is America’s new Great Game in Asia?

America used the proverbial farce “Indo-Pacific” instead of “Asia-Pacific” and has continuously wooed India into what may later develop into a military alliance. This is new version of its now abandoned “Pivot to Asia” and re-christening Asia-Pacific region as the Indo-Pacific is not more than a soft sell as of now.

What are pros and cons of India’s Involvement in the Quad?

While it appears to be a good strategy to have a stronghold in the region, it may prove counter-productive for India. India unlike the other countries is not a developed one and has still not gained the status of superpower.  The disadvantages for India could be:

Involved in US China rivalry

With its own relations with China being strained, India would further draw the wrath of China by involvement in this dialogue. China has already warned of being tagged in the dialogue. So any action against it would not be taken in a positive way. India could be an easy target, others being superpowers and India being just a neighboring country.

Political profile

Rivalry with China will also expose India to criticisms from other neighboring countries for seeking external help and involving third parties in the matter. With the political deficit that is persisting in the Indian subcontinent, there is a need to build up healthy partnership with China for its development.

No assurance of support

It may appear like an assurance for support in case of aggression. But history witnessed the fact that no country stood to help India in 1962 during Chinese aggression by virtue of the country being a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement.

Conclusion

Quadrilateral dialogue not only has a security purpose but also focuses on achieving political and economic objectives. However, the involvement of India in this and also the involvement of two external powers may appear to give a negative impression on other parties. It is necessary for these parties to tread carefully before concluding any dialogue and cooperation not aggression is the true word for the Quad initiative.

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