Quad 2.0 expands while America realigns strategy in Indo-Pacific

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Balaji Chandramohan

Balaji Chandramohan

New Delhi, September 12, 2021

Quad expands its strategic reach through Malabar Operational exercise


The American flag waves in the wind off USS O’Kane (DDG 77), as the Indian flag is flown off INS Shivalik (F47) at US Naval Base Guam on August 21, 2021 (US Navy Photo by Valerie Maigue)

The 25th Edition of the ‘Malabar Exercise’ held in the United States military base in Guam involving the navies of the US, Japan, Australia and India had wider strategic connotation apart from the operational significance involving the respective Naval forces.

Operationally, the Navies will develop the necessary interoperability to have real-time intelligence sharing in the open seas, a primary strategic objective of the navies involved.

‘Malabar’ began in 1992 after the end of the Cold War primarily as a bilateral strategic exercise involving the United States and India. It is now the cornerstone of military interoperability among the Quad nations.

Another important strategic objective is to hold the Command of the Sea intact among the four nations, an enshrined aspect of Quad 2.0.

Strategic Cooperation in Indo-Pacific

On that note, Quadrilateral Security Initiative 2.0 is an informal proposed maritime alliance involving the United States, India, Japan and Australia for strategic cooperation in the Indo-Pacific

The concept of Quad was mooted by Japan, India and Australia at different times.

However, the United States happens to be the hub around which the spokes of the wheels of the Quad are extended. The influence of US President Joe Biden will be clearly seen in the upcoming months.

The contours of the Quad was formed at a time when the US was seen as a declining power, confronting simultaneously the rising and resurgent powers and the absence of consensus on how nations should behave in such transitional times.

Covid exacerbates frailty

As an extension, Washington no longer has the will or the ability to be the world’s leading power and the US-led global economic model operative during a half-century has seen its frailties exposed by Covid-19.

In that context, President Biden will continue the Obama-era ‘pivot’ or ‘rebalance’ to Asia strategy, which had set specific targets for relocating the US military away from the Middle East and concentrating maximum US naval assets to ring-fence China in its backyard.

Since Biden is also a professed believer in a multilateral US foreign policy, it is expected that Washington will team up with other China-wary countries and form a united front.

In that context, despite the shortcomings, the US will take a stronger line on Chinese influence in the Pacific, which will include reassertion of US naval dominance in the wider Indo Pacific waterways and sea lanes of communication used by the Chinese for trade and the prioritisation of US defence ties to the countries surrounding countries.

Quad Partners at their 2020 Engagement (US Navy Photo)

Cementing relations

America will continue to work to cement its chain of security partners throughout the region, which now include Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, Brunei, Singapore and Indonesia as well as Australia and New Zealand.

The US is also pursuing improved security ties with Malaysia and Vietnam, both of which have their own concerns about Chinese regional expansionism and in the Vietnamese case history of enmity with its larger neighbour.

The Defence Treaties of the US with Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines have often been seen as a strategic partner’s reiteration of its commitment to the security of these countries. Through the rebalancing strategy, the US seeks to reassure its allies that it stands by them in the face of an increasingly assertive China.

As a part of its long-term national interests, the American Strategy considers engagement with other countries of the Indo-Pacific as vital to its foreign policy objectives.

The seriousness of the US in ‘rebalancing’ to the Asia-Pacific can be gauged from some of the decisions of the earlier US administration such as the closing down of two military bases in Europe and shifting its military weight to the Asia-Pacific despite the defence budget cuts. This makes it clear that the US is prepared to go the distance if required but will not compromise the core components of its ‘rebalancing’ strategy.

The United States’ Pivot approach to China was a continuation of the Grand Strategic vision envisaged under Barack Obama’s Presidency continued under the Donald Trump administration which is likely to continue under President Biden.

The objective under the Obama administration was to demonstrate the commitment of the US to give greater priority to focusing its power and resources toward the Indo-Pacific region.

Malabar Exercises in progress (US Navy Photo)

About Quad 2.0

The Quad 2.0 was formed on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and East Asia Summit held in November 2017 with the proposal for the maritime alliance being mooted by Japan.

As an Indo-Pacific Maritime Alliance, Quad 2.0 would work to negate Beijing’s expanding maritime presence by planning for enhanced command of the sea in the Indo-Pacific on the part of its four members, thereby denying that advantage to China, which is an important prerequisite for Beijing’s island chain strategy. That will be reflected in the concentration of forces and for the fleet co-operations of the Quad 2.0, as envisaged.

Further, as more nations join the Quad bandwagon involving countries such as New Zealand, Vietnam and Indonesia, it will be reflected in the way Malabar exercises would be conducted in the years to come.

The Malabar military exercise 2022 will have a wider strategic connotation including reaffirming the faith involving Quad 2.0.

Balaji Chandramohan is Indian Newslink Correspondent based in New Delhi.


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