Table of Content
2. Background: The Quadrilateral Security Dialog (QUAD)
3. Discussion: Quad as an “Asian NATO
3.1 The contemporary Quad
3.2. Potentials for future development
Table of contents
The current rise of China is viewed with concern and suspicion both in the Indo-Pacific and beyond. To counter this development, the four Indo-Pacific democracies of Japan, India, Australia and the United States revived the so-called Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) in 2017. Against this backdrop, this paper takes a closer look at the return of the Quad and the frequently voiced accusation that Quad is an "Asian NATO" against the rise of China. The paper tries to answer the question if the Quad can rightly be seen as a step towards a military alliance, similar to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in the Indo-Pacific aiming to contain China's growing influence in the region.
To answer this, legal aspects, the interests of Quad member states, potential risks, and practical advantages and disadvantages of a Quad-based military alliance were considered and discussed. The results show that neither the current Quad can be seen as a significant step towards an "Asian NATO" nor that such a development can be expected in the near future. On the one hand, the majority of Quad members are not interested in Quad becoming a permanent military alliance for domestic and foreign policy reasons, especially due to their economic dependence on China and concerns about reprisals in this regard. Second, the establishment of a military alliance is contrary to the interest of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, whose leadership role as a multilateral forum in the region is recognized by all Quad members. Last, the challenges posed by China are complex and, unlike the Cold War, primarily non-military. The establishment of a military alliance would run the risk of not being able to address the problems adequately enough.
In the last part of the analytical paper "The Elements of the China Challenge", published in 2020, the authors of the Policy Planning Staff of the Office of the United States (U.S.) Secretary of State emphasize a number of tasks the United States have to handle in order to adequately meet the challenges posed by the People's Republic of China. Because no state alone can ensure prosperity and security, that the U.S. must therefore strengthen and cultivate its network of alliances and partnerships. Regarding the Indo-Pacific region, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) with its members Japan, Australia, India and the United States themselves has been at the forefront of recent debates on such partnerships. The Quad, which was re-established in 2017 in view of the increasingly intensifying systemic conflict with China, is the subject of much public reporting and academic discourse, not least because it is seen as an emerging military alliance, referred to as an "Asian NATO" with the aim of containing China's rise. This approach has provoked much criticism, not least from China itself.
This paper tries to answer the question if the Quad can rightly be seen as a step towards a military alliance, similar to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in the Indo-Pacific aiming to contain China's growing influence in the region. The paper starts by giving a brief overview of the Quad and its origins before discussing the central question if the Quad can be seen as a step towards an “Asian NATO” via focusing on the internal and external factors of influence.
2. Background: The Quadrilateral Security Dialog (QUAD)
The origins of Quad lie in the joint disaster relief efforts of Japan, India, Australia and the U.S. after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. At the political level, the experience gained from this gave rise to the idea of giving the cooperation between the four countries a formal framework, which at the time was only an ad hoc reaction to the disaster and continuing it. Central to the formation of the original Quad (often referred to as Quad 1.0) was the then Prime Minister of Japan Shinzō Abe, who first proposed the concept in 2007. The first meeting followed shortly in May 2007 and was rounded off by the participation of all four members in the Malabar naval exercise in September, which has existed since 1992 and was originally a purely bilateral exercise between the U.S. and India.
Japan's motivation for initiating the Quad is on the one hand value-driven, in Abe's attempt to create an "Arc of Freedom and Prosperity" with the most important democratic states in the region, but on the other hand also in Japan's general desire to take a leading role in strategic dialogues and diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific (Eisentraut & Gaens, 2018, p.3, 6). In addition, however, there was the desire to be able to balance China, which was already rising at that time, with dialogue as a counterweight (O’Neil & West, 2020, p.32). The first Quad meeting in 2007 already provoked harsh criticism on the part of China, with the accusation of the establishment of an "Asian" or "little" NATO being voiced for the first time here as well. (O’Neil & West, 2020, p.32; Satake, 2020, p.43). The criticism had an impact in 2008 when the then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd cancelled Australia's participation in further Quad meetings. This, combined with India's equally reserved attitude and the resignation of Quad initiator Shinzō Abe as prime minister, brought about an early end to further meetings. The Quad finally returned in November 2017 after nearly 10 years of absence (unofficially called Quad 2.0), not least in response to China's increasingly aggressive posturing in the Indo-Pacific and the Belt and Road Initiative. Recent developments include an expanded meeting with representatives from New Zealand, South Korea and Vietnam in 2020 (called Quad Plus), Australia's renewed participation in the Malabar exercise 2020, and also the first meeting at the level of Heads of State and Government in March 2021. The strategic leitmotif of the four members is the concept of "Free and Open Indo-Pacific" (FOIP), which also goes back to Shinzō Abe. In essence, it involves the preservation of peace, stability, a rule-based order and freedom of navigation in the region, although the strategic priorities of the individual members often differ in detail (Eisentraut & Gaens, 2018, p.6f; Satake, 2020, p.48f).
3. Discussion: Quad as an “Asian NATO”
In the following part the core question "Can Quad be considered an Asian NATO" will be discussed. Beginning with a comparison of the current Quad with NATO, in order to obtain a comparative overview, followed by a look at the possibility of a future development of the Quad in this direction.
3.1 The contemporary Quad
The contemporary Quad of 2021 can hardly be seen as an Asian equivalent of the Euro-American North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In contrast to the Quad, NATO is a formal alliance in the form of an international organization with the multilateral North Atlantic Treaty as its founding document. The centerpiece of the treaty is the duty of collective self-defense in the event of an armed attack on a treaty member, whereby according to Article 5 an attack on one member is defined as an attack on all members and joint capacities are mobilized for defense (the so-called Casus foederis) (The North Atlantic Treaty, 1949). In order to be able to perform these tasks, NATO has a broad structure with civilian and military institutions as well as a permanent headquarters in Brussels. One looks in vain for anything comparable in Quad. Currently Quad neither has a fixed founding treaty nor an institutional structure like NATO's. While one can point to similarities between NATO's goals and Quad's FIOP strategy (such as emphasis on freedom, democracy and the rule of law as core principles), the common intersection here is likely to be in the spirit of its members rather than in the goals of the two institutions. Furthermore, FIOP as a concept is far less fixed than the codified line of the North Atlantic Treaty due to the differing strategic priorities of its members.
So far, Quad's activities have been limited to joint meetings and participation in the multilateral naval exercise Malabar, which on one hand is not part of Quad and on the other in no way comparable to NATO exercises under a joint command. If one wants to categorize Quad as a type of alliance, the term strategic partnership is best suited, in particular due to Quads currently rather informal status (Miyagi, 2019, p.7f, 11).
3.2. Potentials for future development
At this point the question arises to what extent the currently very informal Quad can develop into a military alliance comparable to NATO in the future. In order to answer this question, it is worthwhile to take a look at the member states and how they view such a development.
The United States has been the most open towards the Quad evolving into a permanent defense alliance to counter China, which they describe extensively as a "strategic competitor" and "revisionist power" in the 2017 National Security Strategy (United States & Trump, 2017, p.25, 45). In advance of the October 2020 Quad meeting, former secretary of state Mike Pompeo and deputy secretary of state Stephen Edward Biegun spoke in favor of developing the group into an "Asian NATO" to counter China's growing economic and military strength (Taylor, 2020). This position is thus easily explained by the U.S. in particular benefiting from a strong military alliance in the region in its current rivalry with the emerging great power China. Furthermore, it even withstood President Trump's commonly dismissive attitude towards multilateral cooperation. Such an alliance could help the U.S. gain crucial support for preserving the liberal international order and stabilizing the power balance in the region. In the case of an actual military conflict with China, an Indo-Pacific alliance would also be helpful because in such a situation the U.S. cannot count on NATO support. Although the leaders of NATO member states stressed at the last NATO summit in mid-June that China presents "systemic challenges.", the treaty prevents clear alliance commitments via Art.5 and 6 establishing a clear geographic limitation of the casus foederis to attacks in Europe and North America (Siebold et al., 2021; “The North Atlantic Treaty,” 1949). An extension to the Pacific would require a treaty change which would almost certainly encounter opposition from other NATO members. The current absence of an Indo-Pacific multilateral defense alliance with U.S. membership makes using Quad as a starting point for developing such an alliance a sensible strategic perspective for Washington. Further evidence of U.S. openness to Quad evolving into a defense alliance can be found in the results of a 2019 survey by the Alliances and American Leadership Project from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). This Survey asked 20 so-called strategic elites (nongovernmental experts who are influential in the debate on international or Asian regional affairs) from each of the four Quad member states several questions about their attitudes towards possible developments for Quad (Buchan & Rimland, 2020, p.11). This included their support for establishing a permanent Secretariat with a rotating chairmanship as well as a military task force with joint command (Buchan & Rimland, 2020, p.5f). The answers to question No. 2 "To what extent would you support the creation of a permanent Quad secretariat, with chairmanship rotating every three years among the members?" indicate a tendency of the surveyed strategic elites from the U.S. towards agreement rather than disagreement. (Buchan & Rimland, 2020, p.6). Such a secretariat in itself would not automatically mean the establishment of a military alliance, but it would be an important step toward a general institutionalization of Quad and thus, in principle, a step toward the "Asian NATO". Furthermore, question No. 3 “To what extent would you support the creation of a standing military task force comprised of the four members under the direction of a joint command?” reveals a clear intent of transformation into a military alliance (Buchan & Rimland, 2020, p.6). Regarding the survey results, the majority of strategic elites from the U.S. are among the visible supporters of such a joint-command military task force (Buchan & Rimland, 2020, p.6). However, since the Biden administration took office, the U.S. government has become more cautious towards making the Quad a defensive alliance. At the Quad meeting in March 2021, President Biden was eager to downplay any accusations that Quad was an anti-China alliance, while members of his staff and cabinet either mentioned Quad only with great reluctance or emphasized it simply being a platform for global cooperation (Heydarian, 2021).
While the U.S. can most readily be seen as the proponent of Quad's continued development into a military alliance, India, in turn, can be seen as the biggest opponent of such an alliance. Since the launch of Quad 2.0, there has been a stronger orientation of Indian foreign policy towards cooperation with the West and the nations of the Indo-Pacific (Act East policy) while China's posturing in the region is increasingly perceived as a threat by India as well. India views the Belt and Road Initiative and String of Pearls strategy as an attempt at encircling India, as well as China's increasingly close cooperation with India's neighbor and rival Pakistan (Patil, 2021, p.18, 33). Despite this, there have so far been no statements from New Delhi indicating a desire for Quad to become a military alliance. This is also evident in the answers of the Indian strategic elites in the CISIS survey. While approval, indecision and disapproval for the creation of a permanent Quad Secretariat are still relatively balanced, question 4. on the establishment of a military task force with joint command shows clear disapproval (Buchan & Rimland, 2020, p.6). This lines up with the fundamental non-alignment attitude of Indian foreign policy, which rejects Indian membership in explicitly military alliances. For this reason, India also attaches great importance to emphasizing that Quad is in no way a military alliance and certainly not one that exclusively targets China (Patil, 2021, p.12, 18). India's rejection also has strategic reasons. For one, India and China share a common border in the Himalayas where border disputes have repeatedly occurred, most recently in the summer of 2020 with several casualties on both sides. These frequent tensions have led India to pursue a very closely balanced foreign policy toward China. For example, until recently, India rejected Australia's request to rejoin the Malabar exercise out of concern that it would be perceived as increasing Quad's militarization and provoking Beijing, which is why Australia has only been a participant again since 2020 (Harold, Madan, &, Sambhi 2020, p.12). Indian membership in a military alliance against China could escalate tensions on their common border into open conflict, even a limited war like in 1962, which India wants to avoid at all costs. (Duggal, 2021). In addition, there are also concerns about economic repression. India's growing economic power is dependent on China, which is why India is also trying to limit possible Chinese reprisals to a minimum (Duggal, 2021; O’Neil & West, 2020, p.36f). For India, Quad represents an important forum for adequately countering China's ambitions with other democracies with whom India shares common values and goals without giving the impression of a clear anti-China alliance, thus giving China a clear pretext for reprisals (Harold et al., 2020, p.11; Mohan, 2021).