Balwan Nagial
Balwan Nagial

Geopolitical Deluge and QUAD

“Wisdom is to live in tune with the mode of the changing world.”
Thiruvalluvar

Geopolitics is the use of geography as an element of power. It is generally associated with the logistical requirements of military forces. Location plays an essential role in shaping geopolitics. Securing allies, bases, trade routes and controlling critical natural resources boost the power of nations.

Today, our immediate neighbour China is aspiring to become a superpower to counter the power of the USA. India can not afford to remain ignorant of the consequences resulting from this emerging geopolitics. India must learn to develop competitive instincts to play an essential role in world politics. There has been a substantial change in the geopolitical arena, especially after the withdrawal of US-led forces from Afghanistan and consequently the re-emergence of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Though re-balancing was already evident in world politics, the COVID-19 pandemic has generated greater regional volatility, strong nationalism and partial rejection of globalisation. Moreover, the announcement made the US, Australia, and the UK form a new security partnership known as AUKUS would certainly impact International Relations.

America has recalibrated its posture, and definitely, its response to China’s rise would shape world politics. Napoleon had once said about China: “It is a sleeping giant, let it sleep for if it wakes it would shake the world”. Whether Napoleon’s prophecy has come out to be true or not is a matter of perception, but one thing is undoubtedly true: China is making its efforts to make its presence felt worldwide. The world can not remain insensible to the consequences of rising China.

The first in-person, the Summit of the QUAD’s leaders, was held on Sept 24, 2021, at the White House in the US and was attended by President Biden, Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan. “The leaders have set forth ambitious initiatives that deepen their ties and push forward real-world collaboration on 21st-century challenges: ending the COVID-19 pandemic, including by increasing production and access to safe and effective vaccines; promoting high-standards infrastructure; combatting the climate crisis; partnering on emerging technologies, space, and cybersecurity; and cultivating next-generation talent in all of our countries.”[1] On this occasion, these world leaders committed themselves to refocus their attention unflinchingly on the Indo-Pacific region. They resolved to promote the free, open, rules-based order, rooted in international law and undaunted by intimidation, to reinforce security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond. They said that they would work with different partners in the world and further strengthen the ASEAN countries.

The fact sheet of the QUAD summit.[2]

The leaders of QUAD discussed the various issues and resolved to the extent of unflinching support to make the Indo-Pacific region free,  open, resilient and inclusive.

  1. COVID-19 pandamic and global health. These leaders immediately realised the threat posed to lives by the COVID-19 pandemic. They launched the Covid Vaccine Partnership in March to help augment unbiassed access to safe and effective vaccines in the Indo-Pacific and the world. They took bold actions to enhance the COVID-19 vaccines producing capacity, donated vaccines from their supply, and worked together to support the Indo-Pacific in tackling the pandemic issues. The Quad Vaccine Experts Group is the heart of QUAD collaboration, frequently meeting to discern the up-to-date pandemic tendencies and organise the collective COVID-19 response across the Indo-Pacific, including piloting the Quad Partnership COVID-19 to include:
  • Helping vaccinate the world.
  • Save lives now.
  • Build back better health security.
  1. Infrastructure. Further to its commitment made in G7 Build Back Better World (B3W). QUAD leaders emphasised infrastructure development to focus on digital connectivity, climate, health and health security, and gender equality infrastructure. Since 2015, QUAD partners have contributed more than $48 billion to finance infrastructure development in this region. Many projects, including capacity-building, across more than 30 countries supporting rural development, health infrastructure, water supply and sanitation, renewable power generation, telecommunications, road transportation, and more. Now the QUAD has to:
  • Launch the Quad Infrastructure Coordination Group.
  • Lead on High-Standards Infrastructure.
  1. Climate. QUAD countries share a grave concern with the August Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report findings on the latest climate science, significant consequences for climate action. To mitigate the climate crisis with the perseverance it demands, QUAD countries should concentrate their energies on the themes of climate determination, including working on 2030 targets for national emissions and renewable energy, clean-energy innovation and deployment, and adaptation, resilience, and preparedness.
  • Form a Green-Shipping Network.
  • Establish a Clean-Hydrogen Partnership.
  • Enhance Climate Adaptation, Resilience, and Preparedness.
  1. People to people contact, exchange and education. Today’s scholars will be the leaders, innovators, and pioneers of tomorrow. To shape ties among the next generation of scientists and technologists, QUAD nations are pleased to declare the ‘QUAD Fellowship’. It is a first-of-its-kind scholarship program functioned and managed by a philanthropic initiative and in discussion with a non-governmental task force comprising the leaders from each QUAD country.  The Fellowship will subscribe 100 students per year, 25 from each QUAD country, to follow masters and doctoral degrees at foremost STEM graduate universities in the US. It will act as one of the world’s leading graduate fellowships. Nevertheless, the QUAD Fellowship will distinctively emphasise STEM and bring together the top minds of Australia, India, Japan, and the United States.
  2. Vital, critical and emergent technologies. The QUAD leaders committed to working jointly to adopt an unbarred, reachable, and safe technology ecosystem. Meanwhile, starting a new critical and emerging technologies working group in March this year, nations have organised the workaround for technical standards, 5G diversification and deployment, horizon-scanning, and technology supply chains. Further, it will devolve on:
  • Publish a Quad Statement of Principles.
  • Establish Technical Standards Contact Groups.
  • Launch a Semiconductor Supply Chain Initiative.
  • Support 5G Deployment and Diversification.
  • Monitor Biotechnology Scanning.
  1. Cybersecurity. Building on a long-lasting partnership among the four countries on cybersecurity, the QUAD will launch new efforts to bolster critical infrastructure robustness against ‘cyber threats’ by fetching together the expertise of the QUAD nations and to home on to national and worldwide best practices. The QUAD nations would introduce a Quad Senior Cyber Group. Experts in this field will frequently meet to take further integration of work among governments and industries by driving continuous developments in areas including embracing and application of common cyber standards, the advance of safe and secure software, structuring a workforce of talent; and promoting the scalability and cybersecurity of secure and trustworthy digital infrastructure.
  2. Space. The countries of QUAD are the world’s scientific leaders, including in space. Now, the QUAD countries will commence space collaboration for the first time with a new working group. Specifically, this corporation will interchange satellite data, emphasising tracking and acclimatising to climate change, disaster readiness, and answering the contests in common areas. The QUAD will take the following initiatives:
  • Interchange Satellite Data to Protect the Earth and its Waters.
  • Enable Capacity-Building for Sustainable Development.
  • Consult on Norms and Guidelines.

The world politics shaping after the withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan. Recently the top US general admitted that it was a failure of the US to withdraw US-led forces from Afghanistan. “It is comprehensible, it is apparent to all of us, that the war in Afghanistan did not end in the terms we wanted, with the Taliban back in power in Kabul’’, General Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joints Chiefs of Staff, told the US House Armed Services Committee.[3] This war was a strategic failure of the US though it succeeded in breaking the terrorist threat emerging from al-Queda. It is relevant to mention that in April this year, the US president, Joe Biden ordered for total withdrawal of US-led forces from the soils of Afghanistan by Aug 31, 2021. In a dramatic turn in the history, Taliban took over Kabul on Aug 15, 2021, without much resistance and Afghan Defence Forces collapsed like a pack of cards.

The representatives from China, Russia, Pakistan and Iran, decided on Sept 16, 2021, to intensify communication and coordination efforts on the Afghanistan issue. Nations in the region hope for the new Afghanistan government to be inclusive, anti-terrorist, and friendly. However, as of now, the Taliban government is missing all the targets. On the other hand, India, Iran and Russia are making efforts to bring peace and prosperity to the region and telling the Taliban to be inclusive and open and develop democratic values in the system.

In this tug of war, China and Pakistan duo are at the forefront of the geopolitical situation in Afghanistan. They both became active after the takeover of Kabul by the militant group called the Taliban. Pakistan has raised and trained the Taliban, and the ISI chief rushed to Kabul when forming the government was in progress. China is eyeing Afghanistan’s rich mineral resources and wants to extend its million-dollar dream project of the One-Belt-One -Road (OBOR)/ Belt Road Initiative(BRI) in Afghanistan.

Taliban have already called China their most important partner in the region, and China has pledged about $ 31 million in aid to Afghanistan. Moreover, Pakistan is involved deeply in managing the internal affairs of Afghanistan.

Though Russia initially extended welcome to the Taliban in Kabul but wary of extending support to the new government because it is not inclusive. Also, there are many terrorist groups still working in Afghanistan, and Russia is not comfortable with them. Moreover, Russia has sent military equipment and wherewithal to Tajikistan to seal the borders along with Afghanistan. India shares Russia’s concern. Russian ambassador to India Nikolay Kudashev said common concerns on regional security bring Russia and India together.[4]

The US withdrawal from Afghanistan has left a legacy of insecurities that could be regionally destabilising for the whole of South Asia.[5] The US withdrawal creates a strategic vacuum that other regional powers aspire to fill, especially China and Russia. Whether they will be effective in their endeavours or not, only time will tell. However, under the Taliban, Afghanistan has started opening the manoeuvring space not only for Beijing and Moscow but also other countries like Pakistan, Turkey, Iran, Qatar, etc., which aspire to gain from the crisis in the region.

The resulting struggle between tremendous and middle powers in Afghanistan and surrounding areas will likely create complications for the South Asia region. The withdrawal of the US-led forces from Afghanistan might have pointedly spoiled the US as an enforceable power globally. Nevertheless, it does not mean a loss of strategic control in Asia. The strategic compulsions of the US in Asia, including in the Indo-Pacific, is likely to ensure America’s continued competitive engagement with the region. The US remains dauntingly present in Asia, both in terms of geopolitics and military resources.

 

Indo-Pacific region and the formation of AUKUS.

The heads of Australia, the UK, and the US declared a triangular security agreement known by the acronym AUKUS, the nuclear coalition, which has kindled unique French anger. Short of naming China, the US President announced that “to deal with speedily growing threats”. The US and Britain will share intelligence and cutting-edge technologies like artificial intelligence, cyber-warfare, quantum computing, and nuclear submarine construction with Australia. It will let Australia build nuclear-powered submarines for the first time, using technology provided by the US. However, the three nations are previously allied in more than one way — the US and UK are NATO allies, and the ANZUS pact links Australia, New Zealand and the US. All three nations are also members of the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance.

It represented the convergence of three long-standing trend lines: the exponential growth and assertive use of the Chinese military; the drastic increase in political and economic pressure imposed on Australia by China; and the steadily growing American concerns about China, the balance of power in the Indo-Pacific, and Washington’s determination to align its strategy with the scale of that challenge.[6]

This announcement places a question mark over the continuing relevance of this forum and its long-overdue actualisation as there is the QUAD for the Indo-pacific realm. The inclusion of a much diminished, post-Brexit UK in such a long-range alliance is bound to raise a few eyebrows. It is not clear whether the QUAD and AUKUS will reinforce each other or remain mutually exclusive.
Some believe that the ‘Anglosphere nations’, which share common cultural and historical ties to the UK, inspire more confidence in each other.

Impact on India. The creation of the AUKUS is an attempt to send a more vital message to China. Nevertheless, China’s portrayal of this association as an ‘exclusionary bloc’ should serve as food for thought for two QUAD/Malabar members, India and Japan, who have been excluded from the new grouping.

New USA Partner to Lead in Indo-Pacific: Some significant indicators in the Indo-US security relationship have been; the signing of the pathbreaking Indo-US Civil Nuclear Agreement in 2008, launching of the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative in 2012, the accord of the status of ‘Major Defence Partner’ by the US Congress in 2016, grant of Tier-1 position to India, allowing the export of high-technology substances and establishment of “2+2 talks” in 2018. Moreover, the signing of the fourth and last key ‘foundational agreements’ in 2020 was apparent to have eliminated the final obstruction to closer defence cooperation. Nonetheless, AUKUS may be the beginning of a shift in the US policy about finding a new strategic partner to lead in the Indo-Pacific region, i.e. Australia.

Options for India.

Though the warming of the Indo-US relationship brings comfort to Indians, India should be beware of hyperbole, obscuring reality, in the bilateral discourse. American offers of help ‘to make India a great power’ and declarations that ‘two of the world’s great democracies ought to have the world’s two greatest militaries’ must be taken with a pinch of salt. China, it is said, is indebted its pole position to the advanced technology it was given, or it pilfered from the US  for 30 years or so.

All that India has to display for its ‘strategic partnership’, which is approximately $22 billion worth of military hardware purchased from US companies, is a distinctly retrograde step when we seek Atma-nirbharta and freedom from external dependence. India requires all the technologies presented to Australia, including know-how and know-why of stealth fighters, jet engines, advanced radars and nuclear propulsion for submarines and aircraft carriers.

For India to accomplish its full potential, it will need insurance against hegemony and breathing space to restore its economy. This breather will enable it to catch up with technology and boost its military power. While gearing up to fight its own battles, India would need to hunt for external balancing. Realpolitik demands that India should shed the old beliefs and strike new partnerships wherever convergence of interests occurs.

Build Strong Relations With France and Europe: Europe was essentially a diplomatic backwater for India for a long. As India learns that every European nation, from tiny Luxembourg to a rising Poland, has something to bargain with, Europe has become a booming hub of India’s international relations.

The last few years have seen an intensification of India’s strategic engagement with France. For example, the government has overcome the earlier reluctance in Delhi to work with France on Indian Ocean security.

In the last couple of years, India has made a determined effort to build a new partnership with Britain, the fifth-largest economy globally, a leading financial hub, a technological powerhouse, and punches well above its weight in global affairs.

India Needs to Remember that France, Australia, the UK and US have the common interests in safeguarding the Indo-Pacific and the dangers of letting the current quarrel undermine that larger goal. There are enormous necessities for effective dissuasion in the Indo-Pacific region. Moreover, there is excellent manoeuvrability for the US, UK, France, and European Union to work together with Indo-Pacific partners to develop high technology and defence related industrial cooperation in all the areas highlighted by AUKUS effectual underwater competencies to AI, quantum computing and cyber warfare.

Conclusion: In a geopolitical term, China’s rise poses a significant threat to the world in general to India specific. The country is the most potent rimland state, agile by major land threats on its borders., Galwan dispute is the latest. Through its dream project of BRI, China wants to create hegemony in Southeast Asia, Central Asia, and Europe. Moreover, the vacuum created in Afghanistan by the withdrawal of US-led forces has thrown new opportunities to China.  The Indo-Pacific has entered geopolitics discourse. Various views are being emerged from various corners. Indo-Pacific is here to stay in world politics in the times to come. The world can not ignore three major emerging trends. One, the emergence of India as an economic power; two, the rise of China; three erosion of self-confidence among the ASEAN nations.

In such a dynamic situation, striking a balance in Asia is the utmost responsibility of India. Only a multipolar Asia can lead to having a multipolar world. India’s approach should be to build comforts with nations in the world, not create distances. India must advance its national interests by identifying and exploiting contradictions emerging at the global level. India must pay attention and safeguard its national security and national integrity. This policy will help us to nurture goodwill in the world, of course starting from the neighbourhoods.

Interests of India lie in profound strategic collaboration with France and European Union and the QUAD and the Anglosphere. India’s varied relationships in the West must be exploited to prevent any unpleasant split in the Indo-Pacific coalition.

[1] Fact Sheet: Quad Leaders’ Summit Sept 24, 2021, The White House, https://www.whitehouse.go

[2] Ibid

[3] The US ‘lost’ the 20-year war in Afghanistan: Top general dated Sept 30, 2021.
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/86636368.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst

[4] Taliban in Afghanistan: Will it be India-Russia-Iran vs China-Pakistan. Dated Sept 14, 2021.
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/86191765.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst

[5] Dr Vivek Mishra, The Race to Fill the Strategic Vacuum in Afghanistan Portends Instability, dated Sept15,2021, Indian Council of World Affairs  Sapru House, New Delhi.   Indian Council of World Affairs

https://www.icwa.in. Accessed on Sept 30, 2021.

[6] China Has Only Itself to Blame for AUKUS by Charles Edel, Foreign Policy, China Has Only Itself to Blame for AUKUS – Foreign Policy https://foreignpolicy.com › china-aukus-submarines-defence. Accessed on Sept30, 2021.

About the Author
Colonel Balwan Nagial retired from the Indian Army in 2019 after serving for thirty years. Managed administration, security, project mgt throughout his service. He loves writing and contributing in newspapers and magazines in India. He loves Israeli culture.
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