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Q&A With Dhruva Jaishankar: Understanding the Role of the Quad

By Dhruva Jaishankar
September 02, 2022
First formulated in the wake of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, the Quad began as an informal group of like-minded nations working together to lead the international relief effort. While there would be discussions between the US, Japan, Australia and India about the potential for further cooperation, it was not until 2019 that the foreign ministers of the four nations would meet together formally. From there, progress was more rapid and by 2021 the Quad nations were cooperating on COVID-19 response, humanitarian assistance, maritime security and other issues with the goal of bringing about a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific.”

Mr. Dhruva Jaishankar, Executive Director with the Observer Research Foundation America, and Non-Resident Fellow with the Lowy Institute of Australia, joins us to discuss the developing role of the Quad, and its possible mission in the coming years.
Although the idea of the Quad was first formally proposed in 2007, it did not gain a great deal of traction, partly because of ambivalence from US and Australia. During the past 5 years, however, development of the Quad has progressed rapidly. What spurred this change?
I think, to be fair, there was a lot of ambivalence about the Quad all around, including in India. To some degree, there was insufficient trust among all four countries, China was not being as assertive as it has since become, and all four countries had strong economic ties with China that they felt they needed to prioritize. Since the restart of the Quad in 2017, and especially since 2019 when it was elevated and 2021 when it became leadership-led, it has become much more developed. Bilateral military cooperation between India and Australia, or Australia and Japan, has improved. And as the Quad, there are now official working groups on about ten topics - from cybersecurity to humanitarian assistance, education to public health, green energy to infrastructure - working towards specific outcomes. I think three things spurred this change. The first is greater clarity on Chinese intentions, especially following the more assertive phase of Chinese foreign policy under Xi Jinping. The second is greater trust and cooperation among the four, especially in India's bilateral relations with the other three partners. Finally, U.S. politics and policy have played a role, in that there is growing recognition that Washington cannot provide public goods to the Indo-Pacific all on its own, and that the other three Quad countries are willing and capable of burden-sharing.

Do you feel that the Quad should be emphasizing its potential role for achieving humanitarian goals, such as COVID-19 countermeasures and decarbonization, or its military/security role? Or are both roles intertwined?
I'm of the view that security, economic, and social factors are becoming increasingly intertwined in international politics. The sources of economic growth in the near future will have tremendous security implications, which is why Japan's government is also emphasizing economic security. New technologies will have dual use applications, such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing, green and modular energy sources, and automation. So Quad objectives on security and its delivery on global public goods will complement each other, and ideally both should be pursued simultaneously. Take the example of the Indo-Pacific Maritime Domain Awareness initiative that was announced this year. It is genuinely driven by a desire to help littoral countries with challenges such as illegal fishing, smuggling, piracy, and proliferation. But there are obvious security implications as well.

One of your recent articles in Foreign Affairs was titled “The Quad Needs a Harder Edge,” saying that the group needs to put more priority on security. What are some of the specifics that should be happening?
My co-author Tanvi Madan and I outlined a few areas that we believe are worth pursuing on the security side. These include official interactions between defense ministry officials, more seamless maritime domain awareness sharing, operational cooperation such as resupply and replenishment and ship repair, coast guard engagement, coordinated security assistance to smaller countries, rapid response units for crisis management, war-gaming, and issue-specific partnerships with others such as ASEAN member states, European countries, South Korea, Canada, and New Zealand. This kind of cooperation is inherently complex, and in some cases can incur financial and administrative costs, but are within the realm of possibility.

What do you foresee as the future of the Quad in terms of developing new roles, adding new members, etc?
I am doubtful about new members, although one should never rule anything out. The reasons are that there are few other countries currently willing to make major contributions to regional security or public goods. Moreover, there are few candidates that have such strong and broad relations with all four other partners, or similar threat perceptions. Perhaps South Korea, France, the UK, and Indonesia would be the most obvious candidates. More likely, and more realistic, is the prospect of these and other partners becoming involved in specific Quad initiatives. For example, France or Indonesia could add significantly to the Indo-Pacific Maritime Domain Awareness (IPMDA) effort, given their capabilities and assets. Similarly, South Korea and the United Kingdom offer strengths when it comes to supply chain resilience and intelligence, respectively. In terms of new roles, I would also be hesitant to add more to what is already a very broad agenda for the Quad. It first has to deliver on existing commitments. However, one of the advantages of the group being loose and flexible is its ability to set up working groups on new challenges that might emerge. Who would have imagined that global public health would have turned into such a major priority prior to the global coronavirus pandemic.

Dhruva Jaishankar is Executive Director of the Observer Research Foundation in Washington DC. He was previously a fellow at Brookings India and the German Marshall Fund, and is a non-resident fellow with the Lowy Institute in Australia. Mr. Jaishankar is a regular contributor to the international and Indian media, and presently writes a monthly column for the Hindustan Times.
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