The Spirit of the Quad: India needs a Red Pill to Swallow
Global Law Assembly.
Yesterday, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended the maiden summit on the Quadrilateral Framework with President of the US Joseph R Biden, Australian PM Scott Morrison and Japanese PM Yoshihide Suga. The summit, in my view at least marks the very beginning of the Quadrilateral framework in some forms as much as possible. The summit seems to be convincing for the strategic thinkers in India and might be reconciling for the strategic think tanks in Washington DC. However, as the summit has ended, I would like to assess the problems and successes in the Quad Summit, which for a better future, India must not forget.
The Remarks and 'The Spirit of the Quad'
The best remarks which were given in the Quad Summit were neither from President Joe Biden, neither Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but from the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, which must be read very clearly. Scott Morrison, interestingly, emphasizes upon the security conundrum behind the purpose of the Quad, which was seconded in indirect ways by Japanese Prime Minister Suga as well. Mere calls of 'Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam' by PM Modi is only symbolic, but not far-reaching, because we have to admit it that India is the main member of Quad, which has to shape its vision of the Indo-Pacific very clearly. The POTUS himself does deviate the purpose of Quad from maritime security to mere vaccine development challenges (he did give clarion calls on the security and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific, which was only symbolic but too thin), which even if does seem reasonable for their domestic issues, still seems to be too much to be expected anyways. Thus, the remarks from India and potentially, the United States have been quite disappointing.
Second, the Quad leaders' Joint Statement, known as 'The Spirit of the Quad', is not so historic. There are some interesting and essential inferences, which I would like to draw:
The Quad is here to stay and would surely endure for years to come;
The Quad's international legal and political basis is yet unclear, because ASEAN-centrality does not align the 4 key countries actively. I would argue that Quad is still a passive framework, but it is hoped that as PM Morrison said, the Indo-Pacific would shape the future of the 20th Century after all;
ASEAN-centrality and a key focus on territorial integrity with a specific concern to uphold international law is reasonable enough despite the fact that they need some key strategic implementation in the coming years so forth;
ASEAN centrality must be understood on the basis of the following fronts: (a) the Centripetal nature of Chinese diplomacy and maritime intrusions must be closely assessed; (b) India must dominate ASEAN centrality and learn from countries such as Singapore, Viet Nam and Japan of course, and not the United States; (c) Instead of treating ASEAN centrality with an anti-China motive at a highly absolutist aspect, let us see how soft power and its coalescence with hard power would shape the freedom and openness of the Indo-Pacific with obviously a specific and hawkish outlook towards China; and (d) the United States is an unreliable ally in matters related to soft power diplomacy, which means that India must decrypt and lead the weaponization of soft power, not through weak narratives, but constructive developmental projects and initiatives (Vaccine Maitri & Cooperation with Maldvies are two amazing examples so to mention);
The mention of the situation in Myanmar is utterly bizarre for the Quad, which also shows it to be conciliatory statement fostering much support more or less for an unreliable United States, whose foreign policy decisions are based on futile domestic issues with an entirely partisan mentality;
The issue of climate change has been put in place by wealthy countries and blocs such the US and the European Union to shift the blame of climate change on the developing countries. While climate change is a global issue, the way the United States has dealt with the same postures maintained under former POTUS Barack H Obama has been anyways shown here in the Quad leaders joint statement;
There was no mention of cooperation over vaccines through TRIPS+ waiver from the World Trade Organization, which shows the duplicity of the United States to attack India indirectly by taking advantages of the US-India relationship boosted under Donald J Trump's Presidency for 4 years & paralyse any chances to change the directionality of India's pursuits in soft power diplomacy;
The Expert Groups and the Roosevelt Moment for Joe Biden Administration
There are three expert groups, which have been constituted in the Quad framework for now and a Quad Vaccine Partnership has been generated for now. Let us focus on the role of the two important expert groups (taking India into context), which are:
The Quad Climate Working Group
The Quad Critical and Emerging Technology Working Group
The Quad Climate Working Group
India can effectively contribute to shape the considerations of the Quad climate group by indigenizing and reducing costs in capacity building per se. Already done with UNOPS and African countries, India can effectively contribute in developing climate entrepreneurship and foster it in the Indo-Pacific region considering the frugal ecosystem of the region as well, which Australia and Japan must also support moderately with technological advancement in place.
The Quad Critical and Emerging Technology Working Group
NITI Aayog does not have a clear and aspiring technology policy till date, even in the field of other critical technologies so far except few in fintech and other operative forms of technologies (disruptive). It is therefore important for India to harness its potential, develop and dominate their own technology standards in the context of the Indo-Pacific region, considering the technological capabilities of China. This process is long-run and cannot be achieved by frugal innovation but following some footsteps of the models made successful by India's DRDO and ISRO.
Why is There a Roosevelt Moment for Biden
There are reasons why Joe Biden may portray a similar Roosevelt moment as the US President. The role of the United States in the 2nd World War was critical not because it was capable enough to defeat the Axis powers with strategic capabilities, but due to its pivotal role in shaping the global order. Quad is nothing more than a reconciling extension of an America-centric multi-polar global order, where if the US becomes centrifugal, like what Trump did in his first presidency, then countries in Europe and even the Middle East would have to pursue their own paths to shape the realpolitik. The Abraham Accord countries are already shaping their own avenues of cooperation, and even India, the UK and France are shaping their Indo-Pacific ambitions with ASEAN without the United States. The US has two choices - either to extend their soft power empire and strengthen India's chief role in the Indo-Pacific region with better intentions, or weaken its strength due to petty domestic issues, which are anti-realist, and does not reasonably serve the international community. Although, the Democrats and the Republicans in the US have shown political consensus on various issues of imposition in the name of Bush Doctrine and transitional justice, which have been justified as a part of the rules-based international order, but if we take the Russian criticism of the rules-based order, it is evident enough that the freedom to transact and shape the realpolitik must retain with key actors such as India, Japan, Israel and Saudi Arabia accordingly. With some moderate exceptions, the Trump Presidency was never an establishment presidency, because it vigorously shaped the way a US Foreign Policy on the Indo-Pacific should be. India can learn from its own history of the Chola Empire and shape its maritime policy in a good deal of time despite a big lack of political consensus from India's opposition parties.
Since America is unreliable, India must partner with France, the UK and Germany to develop deeper strategies in the Indo-Pacific.
India must develop its international legal vision for the Indo-Pacific with maintaining a bargaining coverage on ASEAN centrality;
South Korea must join the Quad to ensure that the North Korea denuclearization issue becomes a matter of pressure on the Biden Administration to prevent any shift in their Trump-led foreign policy on the Korean peninsula;
India must weaponize and protect its soft power assets - much study on information warfare, cultural relations, administrative policy, technology education and climate change is needed, beyond the usual issues;
India must look beyond the Anglosphere and pursue the Europa countries beyond France, the UK and Germany. If they try to pursue the Gulf countries and even the Eastern European nations to support, then the unreliability of the United States might be balanced with time considering the inherent political issues within the American foreign policy establishment;
India needs to harness work on critical and disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence with an outlook where the ethical standards are Indian, and coherent to ASEAN, if not reconcilatory too much to the Europeans and the Americans to counter China's AI weaponization;
A long India approach of dealing with development and economics would stabilize the soft power leverage of India within the Indo-Pacific, where development has to be gradual and deeply rooted;