India joining Quad will do more harm than good

While it doesn’t have any pronounced strategic takeaways for India, it does have an inevitable negative fallout.

 |  7-minute read |   14-11-2017
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Why is there so much hullabaloo about the so-called "strategic quadrilateral" involving the United States, Japan, India and Australia? From the Indian perspective, I mean to say.

What India stands to gain from this rejuvenated multilateral forum better known simply as the Quad?

Well, India doesn’t stand to gain much out of the Quad. In fact, it stands to lose more than it can possibly gain. Here’s why.

First of all, it won’t change the dynamics of India’s bilateral relationship with any of the three powers in the Quad initiative – the US, Japan or Australia – as with each of these foreign powers India already enjoys a strategic partnership with varying degrees.

Is the Quad a military alliance like NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) or Warsaw Pact of the erstwhile Soviet era? Is the Quad an alliance at all, even if not a military one? Does one know the architecture of the Quad with respect to what are the duties and obligations of the four member states and the dos and the don’ts of this newest strategic baby?

moditrumpjpg1_111417020924.jpgImage: PTI photo

There are no clear answers to these compelling questions. In any case, the Quad initiative got kicked off on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Manila just a little while ago at the level of middle-level officials of the foreign ministries of the four member countries. This implies that it will take years before the grouping holds a summit-level meeting to steer it to a new direction, if at all it happens.

As for India, it already enjoys a vibrant bilateral relationship with each of the three powers – Japan, the US and Australia. No details are available as of now as to how the Quad will change the diplomatic and strategic dynamics for India if New Delhi were to choose to go full blast on the Quad initiative.

For example, it doesn’t give India any strategic heft vis-a-vis its known rivals if India were to go gung-ho about the Quad. It doesn’t give the kind of strategic comfort which the 1971 Indo-Soviet Treaty gave to India which said that any attack on India would be construed as an attack on the Soviet Union and vice versa.

Japan has the American military umbrella in case it is attacked by a foreign power. Australia too is strategically intertwined to the US for decades. But is this the case for the Indians in the Quad initiative? The answer is a big no.

In other words, the Quad initiative is all bluster and empty talks for India as long as it doesn’t specify the takeaways for India.

Worse, while the Quad initiative doesn’t have any pronounced strategic or diplomatic takeaways for India, it does have a sure and inevitable negative fallout.

One, it will inevitably dump India against China. This has far worse strategic implications for New Delhi as India shares border with China and not with any of the Quad powers: Australia, Japan or the US. A malevolent near-abroad neighbour can be far more irksome than benevolent friends far abroad and India must never lose sight of this strategic reality.

Two, the Quad initiative will hasten a China-Russia alliance. This alliance has been in the works given the fast-changing international power matrix but never against India.

The Quad may change this forever and India may have to deal with a Sino-Russian alliance against New Delhi if the Quad initiative were to take steam.

Three, India cannot be unmindful of a regional and near-abroad power like Iran which is currently being hounded by the Trump administration. This, in turn, would mean that India gets sucked into the West Asia strategic quick sands as Iran cannot tolerate any foreign power peaking up its strategic momentum with the US.

Iran will be more cautious of any regional or international arrangement which weakens its strategic leverage with its arch-rival Saudi Arabia.

For India, both are important: Iran as well as Saudi Arabia. And the strategic importance of Iran cannot be underestimated given the recent dalliances between New Delhi and Tehran regarding the Indo-Iran efforts over the Iranian port of Chabahar which gives India a strategic leverage over not just Pakistan, but China as well.

Four, it would effectively sound the death knell for India’s non-aligned status, particularly considering that India is a founder member of the NAM (Non-Aligned Movement).

For India, joining the Quad initiative with specific geopolitical overtones would do more harm than good.

Fifth and last, Australia is a temperamental power within the Quad and India must not forget that it was Australia which had punctured the Quad balloon at China's behest a decade ago.

There is no guarantee that Australia won't do it again given its close ties with China and Australia's highly favourable bilateral trade relations with China.

India plays the Quad strategic game with China at its own risk. India would do well to keep away from the Quad until the other three member states are able to convince India of its relevance and importance. That stage still has not reached.

Also read: Significance of Modi-Trump meet at ASEAN Summit in Manila


Rajeev Sharma Rajeev Sharma @kishkindha

The writer is an independent journalist and a strategic analyst.

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