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What Aukus means for the Quad in the Indo-Pacific: Four top diplomats weigh in

Will the new anglophone trilateral alliance act as an extension or counterweight to the quadrilateral, with China as their central focus?

September 30, 2021 / 11:47 AM IST
on September 15, the US, UK, and Australia announced their trilateral security pact, dubbed AUKUS. [Representative image]

on September 15, the US, UK, and Australia announced their trilateral security pact, dubbed AUKUS. [Representative image]


When on September 15, the US, UK, and Australia announced their trilateral security pact, dubbed AUKUS, for the Indo-Pacific region, it sent shock waves through the global diplomatic community.

In what appeared like a new – and sudden – alignment of powers, the significance of this fresh constellation was not lost on the Quad – an alliance of the US, India, Australia and Japan, whose first in-person summit was held a day after the Aukus announcement.

As part of the pact, Australia would scrap a multibillion-dollar deal it had signed with French company Naval Group in 2016 to build a fleet of conventional submarines. Australia said it would instead build at least eight nuclear-powered submarines with American and British technology.

Opinion in India remains divided on the impact of this new alignment. Some experts believe that Quad may lose its importance as a strategic counter to China.

Others say that it has been strengthened with new aims and objectives included as part of its agenda announced last week.

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Despite the feel-good factor, critics allege that the strategic imperative has been taken out of Quad’s ambit because of Washington’s realistic assessment that India and Japan do not have what it takes to resist China, when it comes to the crunch.

The Aukus, therefore, is the new chosen instrument to send a strong message to China.

Some experts also claim that Americans are unwilling to trust India with technology – its consistent refusal to lease or sell the US Navy hull classification for nuclear submarines to New Delhi, while supplying it to Australia as part of this new alliance, is a case in point.

Moneycontrol talked to four top diplomats to crystal gaze into the future of Indo-Pacific alliances, which have great bearing on India.

 

Navdeep Suri, India's former High Commissioner to Australia, and envoy to Egypt and UAE

 

There is some speculation that Aukus has downgraded Quad. Do you agree?

Not at all. Both are complementary to each other. Aukus is the hard military alliance while Quad looks at many issues, including climate change and cooperation between the various countries in the alliance. Aukus is a close military alliance between formal alliance partners. Security is not a zero-sum game. It shows that India is engaged militarily but there is also convergence on other issues.

Should the Americans feel reticent about sharing technology with India?

Every country is careful about sharing technology--and nuclear technology comes right at the top of that list. It is unreasonable to even ask to share technology and India has traditionally enjoyed strategic independence in that area. So, we can buy S-400 missiles from Russia and Rafales from France; it is our independence.

There is some speculation that the US could ask for Indian assistance for sharing military bases from its mainland. Until now, it has been a strict no-no.

It depends on what both countries decide. India has an agreement to facilitate mutual logistical support during combined training, exercises and disaster relief operations. The agreement is part of the larger security cooperation including maritime, counterterrorism, defence trade and efforts for the speedy conclusion of the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty. So, it all depends upon how we wish to work with the US. Our relations are indeed very close.

 

Rajiv Bhatia, Former Ambassador, Distinguished Fellow, Foreign Policy Studies Programme, Gateway House

 

Has the Quad been downgraded in comparison with Aukus?

My study and research show that the Quad has not been downgraded; it’s just that its agenda has been expanded. Aukus will focus on strategic cooperation, defence and security issues while Quad will keep its focus on the economy, technology, climate and energy security, among other issues. A sober evaluation suggests that Aukus will have both positive and negative implications for the Quad. Expansion of the Quad agenda is on the cards, and will include new areas such as infrastructure and connectivity, education, cyber security and maritime security. But the Quad also has the necessary and backbreaking work of institutionalising itself to do, and the fulfilling of past commitments. With the China challenge now recognised as being both multi-faceted and long-term, the Quad needs to devise a matching strategy.

Can a double alliance like Quad and Aukus manage to neutralise China? Is the getting together of three Anglophone countries a more serious attempt to deal with the belligerent rise of China?

Yes, we can say that. Some evidence of a more muscular resistance to China is evident. At the same time, we must remember that Biden is not ruling out a dialogue with China.

And what about China? How will it handle this `clique’ of countries, as it puts it?

It all depends on how China decides to play its cards. Does it want a war? On available evidence, it does not want a war. It wants to achieve its aims of claiming Taiwan and needling India without fighting a war. But I can say that it will certainly find it more difficult to deal with these new groupings. I would say that India is better placed with the Quad agenda being expanded.

 

Deepak Vohra, Former Indian Ambassador

 

What do you say to the Quad vs Aukus debate?

Aukus is a supplement to Quad. While Quad is committed to development, Aukus is the defence end of the alliance. If China had behaved itself in the South China sea, things would not have reached this stage. What the Americans are giving to Australia are at least eight nuclear-powered submarines, which have the capacity to stay underground for several years at a stretch. What the French were offering instead were conventional, diesel-powered submarines. The nuclear submarines have the capacity to target or keep an eye on China’s eastern seaboard, which is its industrial hub. So, China is naturally worried.

What do you say to those who allege that Quad, more specifically India and Japan, have been downgraded with the arrival of the Aukus?

These experts don’t know what they are saying. As I said, Aukus supplements the Quad. They are two different alliances, geared towards the same aim. The Quad and the Aukus are not groupings of a similar nature. The Quad is a plurilateral grouping of countries with a shared vision of their attributes and values and the four members have a shared vision of the Indo-Pacific as a free, open, transparent and inclusive region. The Quad has also adopted a positive and proactive agenda with an array of initiatives at the global level to address contemporary issues such as the Covid-19 pandemic, supply of vaccines to Indo-Pacific nations, new and emerging technologies, climate change, infrastructure, maritime security, education, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

 

G Parthasarathy, veteran diplomat, Former Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan, Australia and Myanmar

 

Has the Quad been downgraded by the AUKUS?

Absolute nonsense. That is the British viewpoint. The Brits have ruined the deal for the French and Paris is furious. It is complaining to everyone who wishes to hear. If you see the Quad wording, nothing has changed on the agenda, it remains as it was. It was never a defence alliance to begin with.

Can there be two parallel alliances running, with the same agenda, in the same region with similar goals?

Yes, they can. Where is the problem there? The Aukus is the sign of typical British behaviour. They have cut out the French from the submarine deal because they wanted to be there. I don’t think we should read too much into this.
Ranjit Bhushan is an independent journalist and former Nehru Fellow at Jamia Millia University. In a career spanning more than three decades, he has worked with Outlook, The Times of India, The Indian Express, the Press Trust of India, Associated Press, Financial Chronicle, and DNA.
Tags: #AUKUS #Quad
first published: Sep 30, 2021 11:45 am

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