The consolidation of the Quad is an important political pivot in the reconfiguration of the Asian order. For the United States, this signals a commitment to remain engaged with the Indo-Pacific and to lead a more coordinated effort to contain China. For India, the big political signal is that it is ready to be part of a group that will deny China the opportunity to upset what this group believes to be a world order based on the principles of democracy and an Indo -Pacific free, open and inclusive. . For Australia, this is a clear signal that the die is cast. China’s assertion left these countries with no other option. The Quad is part of a churning out security architecture in Asia. It will be more confrontational, with all the risks that this entails.
The innovative shape of the Quad is also said to reflect this churning. The value of most groups is often not specific policies, but the socialization they produce. The Quad is not an alliance. It aims to ensure an open order in the Indo-Pacific, but it is not a full-fledged security pact. It is supposed to pursue general objectives: humanitarian aid, climate change, vaccines, technological coordination, securing supply chains, trade and the general perspective of a democratic and inclusive world order.
But the euphoria aroused by the political signals of this new experience should not make us forget certain important trends. The Quad was born against a backdrop of colossal failure and contradictions, as much as against a backdrop of rising China. He will have to overcome the shadow of these failures.
First of all, the group staked its claim on shared values. But he must recognize the deep crisis of democracy in the constituent members challenged by plutocracy, ethnic division and dysfunction. The United States has, at least nominally, recognized that its own democracy is not out of the woods. Indian democracy is in trouble. Australia’s virtual abandonment of its own citizens stranded during Covid did little to shine its credentials for democratic humanitarianism. If being part of such a club can induce a deeper awareness that the credibility of their democracies is the greatest asset these countries have to preserve in law and in deed, it will be for the good.
Second, the Quad targets the Indo-Pacific and is not a security alliance. Fair enough. But there needs to be more evidence that these countries are ready to listen or are listening to each other’s security needs where it really matters. Australia is perhaps the biggest beneficiary of Quad. Japan has always been under the umbrella. But India’s biggest challenges will be its neighborhood: Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and China. Perhaps Biden’s decision to step down was the right one. But the manner signaled a perennial trait of American power: its reluctance to listen deeply to concerns and views that are not its own. It is to India’s credit for having above all held firm. But we must not delude ourselves that socialization in the Indo-Pacific translates into more leverage where we need it most: in our neighborhood or in our relationships with other powers like Russia, where the fate of the world order will be decided. as much as in the Indo-Pacific.
Third, take critical technologies, supply chains, and infrastructure. This group has the clout to make a great research collaboration. It can assist in the further development of critical technologies and can presumably coordinate the setting of global standards. In areas like cybersecurity, there is room for great cooperation, but whether the United States will actually share its most advanced capabilities is an open question. But we need to be aware of two caveats. First, this collaboration occurs just as India and the United States are becoming more protectionist, skeptical of global trade agreements, and have competing interests when it comes to shaping development policies. India. Certainly an open, inclusive and fair world order, which also simultaneously reconfigures supply chains to reduce dependence on China, requires more engagement in a global trade order that includes more countries. than another exclusive group. These countries also have the ambition to create an alternative to One Belt One Road by providing investments and loans.
But the brutal truth is that the United States has long since gutted all vehicles to do so. Covid could have been a great opportunity for these countries to provide alternative financing for development. To take just one example, the World Bank has been systematically damaged and there is no big push from the United States towards infrastructure investment or development finance. So there will be a lot more noise and fury in this area with little incremental gains.
Take Covid. In a way, these countries come to the table after failing the test once. If India had recovered even six months earlier, it would have skimmed the global vaccine assistance space. Now he’s going to play catch-up. But the harsh truth that advanced countries are hoarding vaccines and reluctant to increase production in the face of global shortages, often signaling “we come first, the rest of the world be damned” has left a bad taste. If you are an Indonesian or an African or a Nepal, you would be right to ask yourself if the Quad is more credible on this point than China. Maybe the Quad will learn from its mistakes. But he has already lost an opportunity to restore his humanitarian image.
And finally, there is climate change. This is where there is a lot of commotion. Audiences in more countries are paying attention; the technological options of the world have multiplied and innovation is being exploited. But it’s an open question whether all of this will be enough to limit global warming to 2 or 1.5 degrees centigrade. But climate change is an issue that will require the greatest engagement with China, and Europe will be a big player. Arguably, the United States and India will have more acute contradictions in this area, given the history of broken commitments and the lack of funding commitment. The additional gains of the Quad on the issue of climate change will be marginal.
Thus, the political pivot that the Quad represents can be welcome. But the Quad is consolidating at a time when its rating on the three “C”, Climate, Covid and Critical Technologies is, from the point of view of the rest of the world, already a “C”. The Quad is an important political signal, the effectiveness of which can be undermined by its material lukewarmness and its institutional contradictions.
This column first appeared in the print edition on September 26, 2021 under the title âLes C du quadâ. The writer is editor-in-chief, The Indian Express