The Strategist

Quad: The Making of a Robust Entente?

12 Mar, 2018    ·   5446

Vice Admiral (Retd) Vijay Shankar argues that only a system based on practical rather than moral or ideological considerations can confront Chinese ambitions in the Indo-Pacific

Vice Admiral Vijay Shankar
Vice Admiral Vijay Shankar
Distinguished Fellow
The force planner’s primary task is to ensure that the military element of national power alongside economic and political elements supports national strategy. India had in 1950 defined national goals in the Preamble and Directive Principles to its Constitution. It then became a part of each political dispensation to contribute towards nation-building. Is this happening?

The history of the National Defence Academy provides intriguing perspective that underscores the apathy that the Indian military was subjected to by the post-independence administration. Two issues separated in time by seven decades warrant attention. Firstly, how was it that the Indian political leadership of that era, 'statesman' such as they were, failed to understand security, the fundamental imperative of nation-building? Secondly, contemporary geopolitics has prompted the emergence of a security entente - the Quad - that could assure stability in a region at the substratum of global security. Disdain towards the first led within a decade to the 1962 debacle in the Himalayas; while the latter, if not understood for its primary security connotations through indifference and sloth, may well lead to a fiasco at sea.

The government of Anglo-Egyptian Sudan awarded a sum of GBP 100,000 in 1941 for sacrifices made by Indian troops. Two Indian divisions confronted Mussolini’s armies that threatened the Suez and, indeed, the British Indian empire. By the end of the campaign, Italian forces from Eritrea and Abyssinia were routed. A quarter of a million prisoners were taken and the Axis threat to India was from the West quashed. A grateful imperial office made the grant. However, by the end of the war, India's impending independence left the British government in a quandary: how best was the quick dissipating empire to capitalise on these equally depleting monies? It was at Field Marshall Auchinleck’s (then commander-in-chief of the Indian army) intervention that temptation to appropriate for any other cause was evaded and a decision made to establish a National War Academy.

What remained after allocation to Pakistan proved just adequate to acquire land and commence to build. By 1955, the imposing Sudan Block that housed the humanities and administrative departments dominated the Khadakvasla valley. The establishment's insouciance was apparent when no further budgetary allocation was made. Admittedly those were hard times, yet to deliberately oversee the stillbirth of a primary security building block is perplexing. It is to the credit of the military leadership that the remaining infrastructure was constructed using ‘internal resources’. No help came from the government, which barefacedly had deemed the military superfluous. One is then at a loss to explain the foolhardy ‘forward deployment strategy’ at a time when preparedness for war was so parsimonious. The 1959 Chinese incursions at Longju and Kongka La and the 1962 drubbing were consequent.

The profound influence of sea-commerce on the wealth and energy of nations is well known. The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) has evolved in response to increased Chinese revisionist trends and the need for a strategic security architecture that could lend stability in the Indo-Pacific. The founding countries - US, Japan, India and Australia - driven by a concept of cooperative security, launched the idea in 2007. The strategy however appeared a non-starter with Australia's early withdrawal. It has been recently revived to counter China’s intrusive military power and its unrelenting thrust for an exceptionable proprietary mercantile empire stretching across the region: the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The only historical parallel to the Quad is the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). World War II had left a devastated Europe sans security that it could neither afford nor envisage, while a militaristic Soviet Union was threatening elected governments with its lure of a utopian fair-to-middling for all. The Treaty was signed in 1949 to contain Soviet expansionism, counter the revival of nationalist militarism, and for the advocacy of European integration. Three remarkable articles were at the core of its charter: Through Article 5, the new Allies agreed  that “an armed attack against one or more of them be considered an attack against all.” Article 3 provided for cooperation in military preparedness while Article 2 lay the under structure for non-military cooperation. Global events of the 1950s and 60s had a dramatic effect upon NATO, for it rapidly adopted an integrated command structure, a permanent secretariat, and doctrines to wage conventional or nuclear war. In time, political stability was restored and there was growing recognition of the new order.

The Quad's charter is yet to be fleshed out; but conceivably, it will have three objectives. The first, to reinforce a rule-based regional order that rejects nationalistic militarism of the kind that has emerged in China. Second, to promote a liberal trading regime and freedom of navigation, essential to secure passage of close to 60 per cent of global trade through the Indo-Pacific. The third, to provide security assurances. However, just as behind the scenes machinations from Beijing splintered the Quad at inception, the entente faces similar fragmenting stresses that threaten the whole. India is locked into a long-standing border dispute with China. Similarly, Japan has maritime disputes in the South and East China Seas while China’s new Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) provides the recipe for mutual interference in the air. Australia on the other hand depends on China for approximately 22 per cent of trade. And there is China’s assignee, the maverick nuclear-armed North Korea, whose influence cannot be set aside.

As the Quad pushes to get the initiative to fly, success will likely hinge on how they hold their ground against pressure from China, nature of the security architecture, and an understanding of the peril-to-the-whole. Key to the structure will be the charter's constitution in terms of identifying the geographic entity within which it would operate, investments in cooperative security, and apportioning responsibilities. The question is whether the leadership recognises that Chinese realpolitik is at play, and that only a system based on practical rather than moral or ideological considerations can confront it.