India & QUAD: Weaknesses and Limitations in the Security Sector

Updated: May 26

Aman Kotecha,

Research Contributor,

Internationalism Research.

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue popularly known as Quad can be described as a deliberate informal forum between Japan, Australia, the United States of America and India which is preserved by an exchange of information, military drills and semi-regular summits among member states. The Quad was initiated in 2007 as a dialogue by Shinzo Abe, the Prime Minister of Japan with the support of Manmohan Singh the Prime Minister of India, Prime Minister of Australia John Howard and Dick Chimney the Vice President of the United States of America. The dialogue between member states was occasioned by joint military exercises and Exercise Malabar. The Quad was widely seen as a response to the growth of Chinese military strength and economic activities, which led to China issuing a formal diplomatic protest to member states.

After ten years, after its inactivity, Quad was resurrected in 2017 to support an Indo-Pacific region.[1] While the four-member states differ in their perception of threat, military power, the capacity to carry the cost of retaliation, constitutional imperatives and strategic culture, these differences somehow place weakness and limitation on Quad even though all countries have a common interest of maintaining a stable balance of power in the region.

All four member states of the Quad are in agreement that Chinese actions and policies create a threat to their common interest. However, member states differ in some respects, which is vital for practical cooperation among member states. One of the ways they differ in their perception of threat, which is a massive hindrance to the collective action of member states and a significant factor in limiting actions that can take together in defending their common interest when it is being threatened. This divergent perception of threat is as a result of several factors, most notable is the existence or absence of having a direct territorial dispute with the People’s Republic of China, what Beijing perceives as a potential risk of retaliation, the military and economic power of each state, which each of the member states possesses both individually and collectively should there be retaliation, other national priorities and a threat to each member state and most importantly the limitation of each member state and national strategic culture. While Australia, Japan and the U.S. have notable differences, with India looking to be a clear outlier.

From the middle 2012 till now, Japan has experienced a sustained challenge to its sovereignty from China over Senkaku Island, which China claims belongs to them. Since 2012 when the Japanese Government nationalized the Island, they have been subjected to direct challenges both by land and by sea from China. China maritime law enforcement vessels, fishing vessels, the maritime militia have frequently entered the territorial sea bordering the Island to challenge the Japanese coast guard vessels.[2]

In 2013, when China declared an Air-defence identification zone over a large portion of the East China sea, Japan was forced to defend its airspace from unauthorized entry by Chinese military craft. The increase in air and sea operation has posed a severe threat of overwhelming Japanese capabilities. Japan has responded to this threat by boosting its capabilities to act alone or together with other member states. Tokyo has put in place various measures to defend the Island and also deal with North Korea threats. Japan's current defence plan includes outlays for defence equipment and modernization of weapons, and Japan has upgraded two of its self-defence ships to be able to accommodate F-3513 stealth fighter jets.

The Abe led Government has committed a more proactive contribution to peace which involves the cabinet-level interpretation of Article 9 of pacifist constitution to allow the SDF to carry out collective security measure to aid security partners and allies and new policies to allow for the joint development of weapons, export arm, joint arms production to partner and allies. Japan has already succeeded in influencing both the Obama and Trump administration to affirm that Japanese defence falls within the purview of Article 5 of the U.S-Japan Mutual Treaty.

Japan has strongly advocated for a Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, and this is the reason for Tokyo’s calculation of the cost and risk of Japan failing to respond to China assertiveness, before Shinzo Abe second term in power in 2012 he advocated for a democratic security diamond between the four-member state in the Indo Pacific linking of China territorial claim in the east and south China sea.[3]

Japan and India are the only Quad states that have a direct territorial dispute with China.[4] India is more vulnerable than Japan to Chinese retaliation. The area of dispute between India and China is the State of Arunachal Pradesh which China claims to be part of South Tibet.

The Indian Government has always reported that Chinese forces always crossed into Indian territory to carry out a test on the undermasted 3,488km line of Actual bordering both countries. From 1981, both countries have held 22 rounds of border demarcation meetings between both countries with little or no progress made in resolving the border issue. The recent conflict between both countries was a 73 days standoff in Doklam Plateau, a territory that is subject to dispute between China and Bhutan, which is close to the North-Eastern State of Sikkim in India. The standoff started when a Chinese platoon entered the plateau and was subsequently followed by a road construction crew and large Chinese military men. Bhutan beckoned on India to send troops to prevent China from carrying out their intended road construction. Indian main concern was to prevent the territorial gain which China would have in threatening the security of the narrow Siliguri corridor which joins India to its the North Eastern States. The refusal of India to back down in Doklam was as a result of their success in countering the salami-slicing tactics used by China India taking a strong stand makes New Delhi vulnerable to retaliation along the border if Quad decides to take on a military dimension. India shares the same common interest with other Quad member states, but unlike other members, India is less able to withstand the cost that it would incur if they become an active partner. This can be as a result of India’s internal weakness, a lack of an external alliance partner, proximate adversaries and a strategic culture which prevents the formation of a formal alliance, Since China’s PLA are capable of salami-slicing, New Delhi has used most of the available defence resources in countering the border threat as a result of which the Indian Navy has minimal projection capability in the South China Sea. Beyond that, their potential contribution to the maritime capabilities of QUAD in protecting its position in the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal as its primary place of operation would be a tough act. India's diffidence in agreeing to a joint patrol with the U.S. on the South China Seas can be stayed to be as a result of its limitations in capability and to avoid the wrath of China.

Australia is more secure than India or Japan in its immediate environs because they have no dispute with any of its neighbouring countries or China, Australia alliance with the U.s adds another boost to its relative comfort. The rise of China is changing the calculus for Canberra has made Australia rely heavily on the U.S. to play the role of an external balancer, a role which in recent times have come under strain as Chinese continues its assertiveness in Canberra.

Australia was among the first countries to react to the Permanent Court of Arbitration on its judgement on the South China Sea dispute, Australia described the judgement as legally binding and called upon China to accept the outcome of the judgement. Australia was also among the first countries to stop Huawei from participating in the roll-out of 5G network citing security challenges that were likely to occur. Before this decision in 2012, Australia banned Huawei from bidding for a contract in their country's construction of the National broadband network for fear of a cyberattack originating from China. Although Australia has shown measures to resolve domestically, Australia could still be targeted by China as both countries are major trade partners, which is a deterrent to Australia participation in Quad. In 2019, Australia's total export to China accounted for 7% of its GDP and 36% of all export made in the year. In Australia service sector, Australia enrolled the highest number of Chinese tertiary student globally, Chinese tourist in 2017 accounted for 27 per cent of spending made by international tourist, 8n recent time China has retaliated on any country that has challenged its position on the South China Sea, Australia may sign be subject to Chinese retaliation.

Australia's vulnerability to China retaliation may be exaggerated; Australia resources are well traded on the international market. China trying to restrict the importation of iron ore from Australia may be detrimental to China as Australia supplies iron ore at a cheaper cost than its competitors and China happens to be in dire need of it for ongoing construction in its provinces. Over the past three years, Australia has continuously countered Chinese behaviour by challenging policies made by China to interfere with the integrity of Australian democracy, China issuing an official threat has not led to any change in Australia government policy like the banning of Huawei from the recent 5G roll out. Australia's resolve to push for military cooperation with another member state of Quad has not been affected by China’s threat of economic coercion. While Australia is enthusiastic about adding military cooperation to the Quad, it seeks to do so in ways that are less overtly about conflict unless China escalates its assertiveness.

The interest of the U.S. in using a military dimension to Quad is direct and straightforward. The U.S. sees China as a competitor, among the four-member states of Quad, the U.S. has the most remarkable capacity to withstand Chinese retaliation. Trump administration has resolved to challenge China economic practices and withstand Chinese retaliation.[5] However, in the Indo-pacific, the U.S. cannot achieve its strategic and economic aim without deepening their already existing partnership and developing a new partnership with states that have the same mindset.[6] The United State presence is dependent on the existing partners and allies that value its balancing roles, Washington is aware that China is in a contest to checkmate the resolve if states that intend to continue their defence relationship with the U.S. as the state stands the risk of China limiting its investment.

We have been able to point out the differences between the Four Quad member states in terms of strategic priorities, ability to bear the cost if China’s retaliation, strategic culture, constitution imperative, These differences limit Quad cooperation.


[1] “‘Quad’ reviews situation in Indo-Pacific region”, The Economic Times, November 4 2019

[2] David E. Sanger, “Philippines orders the U.S. to leave the strategic naval base at Subic Bay”, The New York Times, December 28

[3] “What Does the Nine-Dash Line Mean?”, The Diplomat, June 2 2016,

[4] “Power Play: Addressing China’s Belt and Road Strategy”, Centre for a New American Security Report, September 20 2018,

[5] See Lavina Lee, Democracy Promotion: ANZUS and the Free and Open Indo Pacific Strategy, (Sydney: U.S. Studies Centre, July 2019),

[6] Steven Feldstein, The Global Expansion of A.I. Surveillance (Washington: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, September 2019),

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