Lieutenant General PR Shankar (Retd.),
The QUAD summit will be held in Japan soon. This in many cases indicates the arrival of QUAD. The physical signal to China is that the incident is happening closely in Japan. Significantly, South Korea is now planning to join QUAD. In addition, other countries have begun to see QUAD as a reality in dealing with China, and have begun to look to it for a leadership role in the region. Overall, there is no doubt that QUAD will stay here and grow. This is one of the reasons why Chinese think tanks are beginning to weigh heavily and there will be some reaction to these developments.
One of the predictable responses is to weaken the QUAD and create self-doubt in its formation. That effort is already underway. Chinese strategists have always believed that strong US-India relations are questionable in the long run. They have always believed and declared that India is the weakest link of QUAD’s Indo-Pacific architecture. Many Chinese refer to the structure as a three-plus one and not a quadrilateral. Surprisingly, the disruptive Three Plus One concept has also found resonance in some circles in the United States. They feel that India’s reluctance to align itself with any group and the complex history of US-India relations prevent India from becoming a full-fledged member of that group.
Another important point of contention is that the United States, Japan and Australia are fully developed and rich countries, not India. So there is a huge status difference. Moreover, India’s inability to open its economy, like the other three in QUAD, will be a barrier in the long run. Importantly, the United States, Australia, and Japan have long been partners in alliances with common-use systems. It is seen by many that QUAD is an unbalanced structure where India is odd out. Then there must be the favorite theme of the destroyers … The advantages that India derives from QUAD are no more than the disadvantages of staying in it. The main drawback that has been put forward is that in the event of a dispute with China, other QUAD members will not come to India’s rescue where the expectation is that India will contribute to their protection by taking tough action against China. Such doubts and thoughts are expected. However, all of these issues need to be looked at in a broader context.
A handful of security issues beyond the Indo-Pacific China and the connected Pacific factor. At the very top of the list is undoubtedly the Chinese demand and desire for undue influence in the Indo-Pacific region. This includes issues related to maritime security and Chinese expansionism through the BRI. On the western edge of the Indo-Pacific, there are issues related to terrorism and energy resources in the Middle East. The nuclear triangles of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan-India-China have also cast their shadow in the Indo-Pacific Ocean. At the center is crisis-stricken Myanmar. Ultimately, the denuclearization of South Korea and Japan will have an impact on the region due to the Ukraine crisis. Many of these have more to do with India in the IOR than others. However, most of these problems require a common Indo-Pacific approach and cannot be isolated or addressed by India alone. Moreover, almost all issues require a multidimensional approach beyond the capacity of a single country. Therefore, it is mandatory to develop a joint approach. This should be the Indian thinking at the upcoming QUAD summit.
China turning factor. Doubtless, China is the most important and major security challenge for India. The Chinese threat is both direct and indirect. It is conventional and hybrid and will be played in gray areas most of the time. To counter and counter such threats, India needs to bring together the QUAD countries to build an intelligence gathering and sharing platform and structure. Good intelligence is a great tool to prevent and deter any threat. The process of gathering and sharing intelligence needs to be emphasized and formulated. If this is achieved at this summit, it will be a great step. The best way to deter China is to put it in a two-pronged position. It is also acknowledged that of all the major powers, only India and the United States have the ability to balance China militarily. China’s assessment is that the United States, Japan and Australia are relying on India to put pressure on China in the Indian Ocean, creating an unfavorable two-front conflict situation for Beijing. So this aspect needs to be leveraged and formalized in the larger structure of QUAD. QUAD should be pressured into a pledge of mutual support that is clearly outlined. For China, the promise of a multifaceted threat is more important than its interoperability. This should be the Indian thrust line. Indirect threats through neighbors need to be tackled further through diplomatic, economic and other means. It needs to be broad and include the entire Indo-Pacific. It will be in India’s interest that more countries look to QUAD for a bigger solution An agreed framework and approach needs to be developed to address issues beyond traditional security threats.
Preventing China’s expansionism is a major issue. China wants to enter the Indian Ocean as part of its two-ocean strategy aimed at connecting the Chinese-led Pacific and Indian Ocean economies. It wants a dedicated entry and exit into the Indian Ocean for China from a military standpoint. Any major presence of the Chinese navy in the Bay of Bengal or the Arabian Sea is highly undesirable from the Indian point of view. In this context, China’s control demands that QUAD countries increase India’s capacity to prevent this widespread infiltration and close access points to the IOR. While the USA will always participate in military assistance, other QUAD members will have to pitch non-military assistance. In this context, it is important that QUAD focuses on countries such as Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia and Bangladesh, which are central to the Indo-Pacific and China’s two-ocean strategy architecture. The QUAD summit needs to outline this vision. The US president, who is meeting with ASEAN leaders in Washington, has already emphasized the importance of this aspect of engagement. China’s sarcastic response underscores the importance and sensitivity of the move.
India itself is expected to usher in a new wave of reform and development after the epidemic unfolds. The international community is also looking at stable and effective long-term options for secession from China. It is also well known that India is the only alternative to China in scale and capability. The Ukraine war has redefined all these issues. It is time to turn these vague thoughts into concrete. To that end, the QUAD Summit will do well if some specific outlines of economic, trade and trade cooperation are scripted. The range of issues that can lead to the development of such cooperation is unlimited. This could include the modernization of Indian agriculture on the one hand and the development of defense technology on the other. QUAD could look at the clean energy sector which is not only a global concern but also a major need for India’s ever-increasing demand. QUAD has already discussed whether it will be in the new technology research and sharing agreement. These ideas need to be figured out. It would be really great if this summit could turn into a global growth engine as a road map for quad development. The time has come for QUAD to move from lectures to effective results.
India has two thorny issues to solve with QUAD. India’s friendship with Russia will be a complication in dealing with QUAD. To that end, we need to talk to other members of QUAD on uncertain terms. If India is to move away from Russia, the United States and Japan must come forward to provide India with the technology to become self-sufficient in defense, and Australia must guarantee the supply of nuclear raw materials. It must be reiterated that India’s reliance on Russia has developed in the first place because of its rejection of Western technologies. Also, the weaning process will be slow as any hasty move will weaken India militarily which will be detrimental not only to India but also to QUAD. The second issue that QUAD needs to be aware of and work on is the issue of China-Pakistan Nexus and terrorism arising from Pakistan. This is very important at a time when Pakistan seems to be on its way to Sri Lanka. The complex US-Pakistan relationship will also have an impact on QUAD. The Quad Forum will have to outline tough measures to gradually pull the reins of Pakistan and keep Sino-Pak relations out of hand. These two issues must be included in QUAD’s workable agenda.
Ultimately, it would be wrong for us to fall for the propaganda that India is not a major factor in China’s strategic calculations. India is high on its agenda, though it has deliberately chosen to remain silent about it. During the ensuing epidemic and the Ukraine war, India’s centrality in global affairs multiplied. To that extent, a large portion of future global growth is predicted on India’s overall success. Conversely, in the current geo-strategic environment, India’s success is largely linked to the success of QUAD. Given India’s geographical location and its military might, its ability to block the Malacca Strait, and its dominance over the Indian Ocean, there is no doubt that there is no QUAD or Indo-Pacific strategy except India. When one looks at it from the point of view of the bird’s eye, it is a matter of mutual necessity. In this environment of mutual necessity we have to move forward with QUAD without a second thought. The forthcoming Summit of QUAD Leaders presents a great opportunity for India to express what it expects from QUAD as outlined above so that a workable road map of a free and open Indo-Pacific is visible. Time to talk.
(The author is a former director general of artillery.Financial Express Online cy. Reproduction of this content without permission is prohibited).