Since Pakistan acquired the nuclear capability in May 1998 by denoting six nuclear devices in response to India’s five nuclear tests, Western media has been the most ardent critics of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal due to domestic instability in Pakistan. Also, Abdul Qadir Khan’s illicit nuclear proliferation episode has added fuel to the fire because of which Western media and authors started doubting Pakistani scientists and engineers. The two retired Pakistani scientists meeting with Osama Bin Laden in Kandahar is the best evidence provided by the Western authors in this regard. The most controversial discourses by Western scholars often described Pakistan’s nuclear weapon as the ‘Islamic Bomb’ as a threat to Middle East. For instance, Al. J Venters’ Allah’s Bomb: The Islamic Quest for Nuclear Weapons, Steve Weissman and Herbert Krosney’s Pakistan’s Islamic Bomb: Nuclear Threat to Israel and the Middle East, aBBC documentary on the same title was telecasted in 1980, and the biography titled Dr. A. Q. Khan and the Islamic Bomb of Dr. A. Q. Khan, written by Pakistani journalist Zahid Malik.
The impetus to accuse Pakistan’s nuclear weapon as the Islamic bomb to Western media was provided by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s historic speech on the Islamic bomb. Later, Zia ul Haq also claimed that Pakistan would be the first Muslim nuclear state. Israel was the first state which was worried about the Islamic bomb as it was assumed that Pakistan might provide a nuclear security to Muslim states. There is no strong evidence to prove this hypothesis. However, Pakistani Jamaat-e-Islami senator Khurshid Ahmad is in favour of providing extended deterrence to Muslim states.
Another interesting episode in the history of Pakistan’s nuclear development was the threat posed by extremists or terrorists that might seize the nuclear assets in Pakistan. Terrorists attacked the nuclear weapons facilities including a nuclear missile storage facility in Sargodha, a nuclear air base at Kamra, and a Taliban suicide attack on entry point to one of the armament factories at the Wah Cantonment in Pakistan.
Nuclear expert, Shaun Gregory’s study entitled ‘Terrorists Tactics in Pakistan Threaten Nuclear Weapons Safety’ cannot be ignored in this regard. He argued that Pakistan nuclear sites are located near the borders where Taliban and Al-Qaida are dominated. The security personals with access to the nuclear weapons cycle might be willing to collude with terrorists. Also, the terrorists might get hold of fissile material and nukes in Pakistan. Surprisingly, Gregory argued that the ISI exists with strong anti-West sentiments and there is possibility of connection between security forces and Islamists in Pakistan. Additionally, Philip Bobbit’s study Terror and Consent states that Pakistan army might decide to transfer nukes to terrorists.
The western and few Pakistani analysts’ observation on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons safety and security resulted into the debates within Pakistan, the main mission was how to secure the nuclear warheads from terrorists. Also, Seymour Hersh’s puzzling report increased the anxieties to Pakistan. Hersh argued that at least two occasions the US Special Forces have prepared plans to take control of Pakistani nuclear assets in case they fall into the wrong hands. Pakistani military has already in their minds the pre-emptive strike threat to Pakistan’s nuclear facilities from India and Israel, the Hersh’s report has alerted Pakistan about the possible US attack.
Hersh’s report has not seriously taken by Pakistan, however, safety of nukes is now the paramount responsibility of Nuclear Command Authority (NCA)and Strategic Plans Division (SPD)of Pakistan. The new discourses on Pakistan nuclear programme, for instance, Feroz Hussan Khan’s Eating Grass and Naeem Salik’s Learning to Live with the Bomb provided detailed study of Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine, command and control structure. In Hans Born, Bates Gill, and Heiner Hanggi’s edited book Governing the Bomb, Zafar Iqbal Cheema argued that due to the Export Control Act of 2004, there is no possibility of any illegal nuclear exports from Pakistan. Also, with the help of United States, best practices related to protecting fixed installations, convoys transportation, sensitive nuclear materials, material production control &accounting, export and border controls, and personal reliability programme has been shared with Pakistan by the US. The US is confident about the safety of nuclear assets in Pakistan. The former US President Barack Obama to the US military officials have vehemently supported the nuclear control and command structure of Pakistan. Similarly, former British politician David Miliband and French military official Erard Corbin de Mangoux have praised Pakistan’s nuclear control and command structure. Also, some Indian nuclear strategists have openly acknowledged Pakistan’s NCA, SPD, and nuclear control and command system, for instance, Bharat Karnad and M. K. Narayanan.
However, some experts like Scott Sagan is still worried due to operational control of nuclear arsenals in the hands of military in Pakistan.Hassan Abbas’s book Pakistan’s Nuclear Bombclearly displayed that Abdul Qadir Khan’s illicit nuclear episode was supported by politicians and military in Pakistan. Also, Hussain Haqqani in his piece Reimaging Pakistan argued that there is a nexus between the politicians, Islamists and army in Pakistan. The followers of Maududi’s version of Islam (Jamaat-e-Islamia) which talks about the political revolution are within the military, scientists, judiciary, academic, and media in Pakistan. Also, Haqqani argued that although Pakistan possesses nuclear weapons, it is still scared of India.
There is a possibility that that radical Islamist type personals might join the security forces particularly who are trained for security of nuclear installations in Pakistan. Also, there might be sympathisers of Islamists within the nuclear establishments. One employee dealing with nuclear installations was caught for distributing the religious pamphlets among his colleagues in Pakistan. Naeem Salik argues that Pakistan has developed a mechanism to identify an extremist person. However, it is difficult to figure out who is extremist and who is not. The facial expressions can hardly help Pakistani officials dealing with nuclear control and command system to identify an extremist person. The great source of alarm is that there is possibility that the officials dealing with recruiting the persons for security installations might be themselves the followers of extremism. Also, the sympathiser of terrorists can easily join the security forces for nuclear installations in Pakistan.
Undoubtedly, Pakistan managed to satisfy some Western nuclear strategists and politicians regarding the nuke security with the help of its NCA, SPD and control and command structure. Also, Pakistan had actively participated in many nuclear summits (Washington DC in 2010 and Seoul in 2012) to gain experience and knowledge to secure its nuclear assets from falling into wrong hands. Additionally, Pakistan has supported the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism. Interesting, according to the Nuclear Threat Initiative’s Nuclear Materials Security Index of 2014, Pakistan has won the seat in updating nuclear security regulations, to implement best practices and has overtaken India. However, Scott Sagan, Shaun Gregory, Philip Bobbit, Bruce Riedel, David Sanger, Joby Warrick, and Seymour Hersh are worried about the nuke security in Pakistan.
I am also worried due to the domestic instability and the religious-political-army nexus in Pakistan. The Islamists might prefer religion (violent Jihad) than army security during the crisis situations in Pakistan. For some Muslims, violent Jihad is part of their faith to fight against the enemies of Islam. Since Pakistan military has killed terrorists in Pakistan, in response, terrorists started attacking the military units and schools in Pakistan. Also, Ahmadiyya Muslims were forcibly declared non-Muslims in 1974, since then, the persecuted minority community have been seen as anti-Pakistan and anti-Islam. Ahmadi scientists and engineers who were busy in helping the nuclear development of Pakistan were forcibly removed during the Zia rule on the baseless charge of threat to Pakistan’s security. Astonishingly, Pakistan did not acknowledge the Nobel laureate, Dr. Abdul Salam’s role in nuclear development of Pakistan. Also, Islamists forced Pakistani government to remove the renowned economist, Dr. Atif Mian’s name in the Economic Advisory Council due to his Ahmadiyya faith. The minority community is also struggling to save their lives and property in Pakistan because for some Muslims it is part of Jihad/Islam to kill the blasphemers.
Recently, Pakistan’s supreme court has acquitted Asia Bibi (a Christian) after accepting her 2015 appeal against her sentence. She was arrested on the blasphemy charges. The supreme court’s verdict regarding Asia Bibi has resulted into protests supported by Islamists in Pakistan. The Dawn newspaper reported that ‘the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan called for ‘mutiny’ against the army’s top brass and the assassination of the top court’s justices.’ In response, Director General of Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), Major General Ghafoor advised the religious-political parties to refrain from dragging army into the matter and legal actions would be taken in case of any violation. Also, prime minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan warned the protestors to refrain from clashing with the state. As expected, the weak Pakistani government was forced to accept the demand of agitators to put Asia Bibi on exit control list. Also, Asia Bibi’s lawyer Saiful Mulook left Pakistan due to threats to his life by Islamists. The killings in Pakistan is not difficult as in other states. Politician Salmaan Taseer was killed in 2011 by his body guard due to Taseer’s personal views on blasphemy laws in Pakistan.
The Islamists are powerful and there is a strong evidence that they enjoy a popular support from the public as well as a minor support from the civil and military officials in Pakistan. Former military official, Feroz Hassan Khan has admitted the power of Islamists and their threat to Pakistan’s nukes. Pakistani government can secure nukes from extremists as long as there is a peace between military and Jihadi organizations. Hussain Haqqani’s book Reimagining Pakistan have narrated about the new Jihad so-called ‘Ghazwa-e-Hind’ (Battle of India) that inspired the Jihadi groups in Pakistan to lunch the terrorist attacks across the border. The Jihadists also want the implementation of Sharia in Pakistan and to retaliate the deaths of famous Jihadists at the hands of Pakistani military. Haqqani states that there is possibility of future tussle between the Jihadists in Pakistan due to different interpretations of the Ghazwa-e-Hind. Thus, not only nukes but Pakistan as a whole is in great danger because some Jihadists have claimed Pakistan as part of the Ghazwa-e-Hind, too. Naeem Salik, however, is not confident about the total breakdown of the state structure as well as the complete meltdown of military in Pakistan that might led to an imminent takeover of power in Pakistan by religious extremists. Also, moderate mainstream religious political parties have never won more than five to seven percent of the votes in any national election.
Nevertheless, the historical experience is a valid evidence that Pakistan might fall into the hands of extremists. The extremist ideology is not confined to religious people only, people involved in media, military, judiciary, bureaucracy, and academics are also influenced by radicalism in Pakistan, Haqqani stated. The former president of Pakistan Zia ul Haq was the follower of Jamaat-e-Islamia. Zia implemented the blasphemy laws that resulted into persecution of minorities in Pakistan. The minority communities especially the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community were isolated in their own country. The Jihad policy was also introduced during Zia’s rule. Thus, this is not a distant dream when extremists might rule Pakistan and hopefully, Islamists would prefer to provide extended nuclear deterrence to Muslim states as senator of Jamaat-e-Islamia Khurshid Ahmad have stated. Khuram Iqbal in his piece The Making of Pakistani Human Bomb argued that suicide bombers (young, rural, and semi-literate) are the deadliest in the world and suicide terrorism is caused by religious fundamentalism. In case terrorists got access of some nukes in future in Pakistan, there is a possibility they might prefer suicide nuke bombings, too.
AUKUS: A Harbinger to Nuclear Race between India and Pakistan
In the latter half of the 2021, Washington initiated strategic trilateral defence pact with the UK and Australia, colloquially called as AUKUS. AUKUS is a strategic security framework to assist Australia in building nuclear-powered submarines to extend interoperability, mutual benefit, and commonality.[i]
Aside of assisting Australia building nuclear-powered submarines, the core purpose of AUKUS is to contain China’s meteoric rise and its growing naval expansionist desire in Indo-Pacific region in general and particularly in the South China Sea. AUKUS aims to have a surveillance over the sea routes and then maintain strategic dominance in the Indi-Pacific region, particularly in competition with China.[ii] AUKUS reflect the Indo-Pacific ambitions of U.S. and the manifestation of the U.S. Foreign Policy under Biden’s administration, as Antony Blinken stated in his early speech after assuming the office, that China presents America’s the “biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century.”[iii]
AUKUS and repercussion for Nuclear Non-Proliferation
The new Security Pact, AUKUS, has certainly overshadowed the aims of Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad)[iv] by bringing back the geo-strategic and security competition in the Pacific. It has rung the alarm bell in the region as the Pact has the potential to disturb balance of power among the countries influence by AUKUS. China, Russia, and Japan have been more reactive and raised concerns against Australian accusation of nuclear-powered submarines as pact has the potential to jeopardize the nuclear weapon free zone status of Southeast Asia. In response to it, China’s Foreign Minister Spokesperson Zhao Lijian has termed AUKUS as a violation of the Treaty of Rarotonga (1985), which made an assurance to a nuclear-free South-Pacific region.[v] Similarly, many political analysts and nuclear experts are of the view that the trilateral security pact poses grave threat to the nuclear non-proliferation regimes[vi] such as Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). In 1970, NPT was entered into force with a clear objection of preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, promoting peaceful use of nuclear energy, and achieving nuclear disarmament.[vii] On the contrary, AUKUS explicitly promotes export of nuclear facilitates for security purposes and promotes nuclear proliferation, horizontally as well as vertically. After the creation of Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG), AUKUS is yet another setback to the global efforts of nuclear non-proliferation.
Nuclear competition between India and Pakistan
Unlike, balance of power among countries in Pacific, India and Pakistan face direct implication of AUKUS, as it may ignite a nuclear-race between India and Pakistan. The geography of India and Pakistan is such that it has always been difficult for both neighbouring yet rival countries to avoid great power competition whether it was the World Wars or Cold War. Although India has had successfully maintained neutrality towards great power competition since its independence in 1947, India non-alignment policy may fad owing to assertive China and geo-strategic showdown in the Pacific.
Other than five nuclear state (the U.S., France, UK, Russia, and China), India is the only non-NPT nuclear state to possess nuclear-powered submarine i.e. INS Arihant, leased by Russia. With time the technology became outdated and India needed an up-gradation to its nuclear-powered submarine program but NPT and other nuclear non-proliferation regimes are the main hurdle for India to modernize its naval defences. After the inception of AUKUS, the tides have turned, as AUKUS is a possible platform for India to bargain for better nuclear technologies to augment its nuclear-powered submarine to secure its strategic interest in Indian Ocean and Pacific region. The point of concern is that the sharing and production of nuclear-powered subs intricately link to nuclear weapons and sharing of sensitive nuclear technologies,[viii] which will be possible through the platform of AUKUS. This has sparked a debate among security and regional experts that AUKUS will disturb the balance of power and rekindle nuclear race in the region. Hirofumi Tosaki, Centre for Disarmament-Centre for Science and Technology, showed distresses by stating that the exemption granted to Australia acquiring nuclear-powered subs will motivate other countries that they too should have such options.[ix] Likewise, Zhao Lijian has also warned that the security pact will undermine the peace and stability of the region.[x]
AUKUS will create avenues for the regional powers to make similar arrangements between like-minded allies, and one such scenario can be possible between China and Pakistan. The security pact will incite China to look for ‘partner in crime’ and China cannot trust any country other than Pakistan. The friendship dates back to 1963 when both nations reached an amicable settlement, and delineation of borders. China is also Pakistan’s biggest trading partner when it comes to the imports of military hardware. Besides, China has been playing an important role in strengthening Pakistan’s defence. China has gifted PNS Tughril (Type 054A/P) and J-10C fighter jet to Pakistan and its collaboration over JF-17 Thunder bear testimony to their long-standing bilateral relationship. Furthermore, cooperation between the navies of the two countries have been unprecedented in the recent years. In 2017, Pakistan signed agreement with China to acquire four Type 54 Guided Missile Frigates, which were the most technically advance Chinese frigates of the modern era.[xi]. Yet transfer of nuclear-powered submarine to Pakistan is not a Chinese agenda so far, but India’s proximity with AUKUS can motivate China to equip Pakistan with nuclear-powered subs to balance with India. In any possible scenario, strengthening Pakistan’s naval force is not a choice for China but its own strategic interest.
Similarly, AUKUS has the potential to entice India to upgrade its nuclear-powered submarine capability as India is a strategic partner to the U.S. and enjoy close partnership with the UK and Australia. According to the regional experts, AUKUS is mostly like to expand and India is the strongest contender among other regional allies such as South Korea or Japan, as India and AUKUS shares a common enemy i.e. China. Moreover, AUKUS without India will not serve the purpose of AUKUS and AUKUS is not only a partnership to develop nuclear-powered submarine for Australia but also a strategic agreement to cooperate over AI in the Pacific. India also will not leave any opportunity to modernize its out-dated nuclear technology and naval capabilities. Moreover, ‘No First Use’ of nuclear weapon policy of India is hallowed and nothing more than a political gimmick as the Western powers are keep on modernizing and equipping India with nuclear arsenals, knowing the fact that India is renowned for nuclear theft and failures. Since 2014, BJP is trying to reverse and update its doctrine of ‘No First Use’, owing to the emerging challenges to its frontiers with Pakistan and China. Being a strategic partner of the U.S., India’s bilateral relations with other members of the AUKUS, i.e. UK and Australia, has touched new heights. Australian High Commissioner in Delhi (India) Barry O’Farrell stated that this century belongs to India and welcomes Indian forces in Exercise Talisman Sabre, a biennial exercise led by the Australian Defence Forces and the U.S. military. Additionally, MILAN 2022,[xii] a multilateral naval exercise, is yet another evidence that the West is building India’s naval expertise and schooling India to operate in high seas, before offering a membership to AUKUS. Owing to the proximity and strategic partnership with the major contenders in South Pacific, India and Pakistan might take a side not by choice but by their geo-strategic compulsion.
Global order is facing a tumultuous times since the economic crisis of 2009, as nothing is certain. Although India is not a member of AUKUS, India is a natural partner to AUKUS. The legitimate security concerns of India in the retrospect of border skirmishes with China and Chinese expansionist policies in the Pacific, AUKUS elite will be forced to cooperate with India over nuclear-powered submarine. India was then a non-NPT member when the U.S. lobbied to make India member of NSG. So, nothing is certain but if India join AUKUS there is a possibility that China will help Pakistan to acquire nuclear-powered submarine which will eventually start a new era of nuclear race in Asia in general and particularly between arch-rivals India and Pakistan.
[i] Panda, Jagannath. “Is ‘AUKUS Plus’ a viable option?” The Diplomat. January 26, 2022. https://thediplomat.com/2022/01/is-aukus-plus-a-viable-option/
[ii] Cheng, M (2022). “AUKUS: The changing dynamics and its regional implication.” European Journal of Development Studies, pp. 03.
[iii] Luca, De Dan & Williams, Abigail. “China poses ‘biggest geopolitical test’ for the U.S., Secretary of State Blinken says.” NBC News. March 04, 2021. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/china-poses-biggest-geopolitical-test-u-s-says-secretary-state-n1259489
[iv] Smith, Sheila A. “The Quad in the Indo-Pacific: What to know.” Council of Foreign Relations. May 27, 2021. https://www.cfr.org/in-brief/quad-indo-pacific-what-know
[v] Musto. A, Ryan. “Does AUKUS violate the pledge of a nuclear-free South Pacific?” The Diplomat. October 22, 2021. https://thediplomat.com/2021/10/does-aukus-violate-the-pledge-of-a-nuclear-free-south-pacific-china-thinks-it-might/
[vi] Kibe, Hidemit Su. & Akagawa, Shogo. “AUKUS pact delivers blow to nuclear non-proliferation regime.” NikkeiAsia. October 21, 2021. https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Comment/AUKUS-pact-delivers-blow-to-nuclear-nonproliferation-regime
[vii] Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). https://www.un.org/disarmament/wmd/nuclear/npt/#:~:text=The%20NPT%20is%20a%20landmark,and%20general%20and%20complete%20disarmament.
[viii] Cheng, M (2022). “AUKUS: The changing dynamics and its regional implication.” European Journal of Development Studies, pp. 05.
[ix] Matsumoto, Fumi & Jibiki, Koya. “AUKUS sub deal triggers debate on nuclear safeguards.” NikkeiAsia. December 01, 2021. https://asia.nikkei.com/Politics/International-relations/Indo-Pacific/AUKUS-sub-deal-triggers-debate-on-nuclear-safeguards
[x] Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson’s remark. Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the Commonwealth of Australia. September 23, 2021. https://www.mfa.gov.cn/ce/ceau/eng/sghdxwfb_1/t1909396.htm
[xi] Salik, Muhammad. “Sino-Pakistan defence and Strategic Cooperation.” Global Village Space. May 07, 2021. https://www.globalvillagespace.com/sino-pakistan-defence-and-strategic-cooperation/
[xii] “Indian Navy-led multinational exercise MILAN 2022 begins in Bay of Bengal.” Naval Technology. February 29, 2022. https://www.naval-technology.com/news/indian-navy-led-multinational-exercise-milan-2022-begins-in-bay-of-bengal/
What makes India’s participation in the Quad intrinsically unique?
In this essay, I try to shed light on the geopolitical imperatives that make India’s involvement in the Quad intrinsically unique and distinct from the other members.
The prime ministers of India, Japan, Australia and the President of the United States met in Tokyo, for the second in-person Quad summit on 24 May 2022, coming three months after the foreign ministers of these countries met in Melbourne, for the fourth time in three years. In addition to two virtual summits in the month of March in 2021 and 2022, the leaders also met in-person in September, last year, in Washington DC. In the last two years, the Quad has gathered rapid momentum with regular multi-level interactions, and the scope of co-operation has widened.
While the Quad is not a formal collective security alliance, Japan and Australia are two of the ‘major non-NATO allies’ of the United States in the Indo-Pacific, meaning, the three countries are already allies, with or without the Quad, which brings us to the question of India’s participation. Indian involvement brings about an existential purpose to the four-nation grouping as it reflects the growing geopolitical heft of the Indian Ocean region and India as an emerging Asian power in the strategic thinking of the three countries, particularly of the United States, the de-facto leader of the grouping.
Growing strategic insecurity emanating from the perceived disruptive rise of China in the last two decades, especially after 2012, has been a factor that brought these four countries together, ever since the grouping was revitalized in 2017 after a gap of ten years since the idea of the ‘Indo-Pacific’ was put forward by the former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. China and Russia are the only two countries in the world that outrightly rejects the term ‘Indo-Pacific’ and favours the usage of the term ‘Asia-Pacific’ instead, as they consider it as a US-led strategy to counter China.
The Russia factor
While India is a democracy, just like its three Quad partners, it also happens to be the only member of the grouping that has neither openly criticised nor imposed sanctions on Russia for its military intervention in Ukraine. Moreover, no other Quad member is as overwhelmingly dependent on Russian arms supply as India is, even though measures to diversify India’s imports are actively underway. Currently, up to 70 per cent of India’s military hardware is estimated to be of Russian origin.
The post-Cold War years saw India reaching out to Southeast Asia, a region that lies at the centre of the Indo-Pacific, and also to the United States. However, the fading aura of ASEAN-led regional institutional mechanisms, which India has been involving since 1992, in balancing mounting Chinese power can also be stated as one of the key factors that led to the rise of the alternative plurilateral groupings in the Indo-Pacific like the Quad and AUKUS (Australia, United Kingdom, and the United States security partnership) in the last few years.
Even after the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991, the successor state of Russian Federation continued to be a close strategic partner and major defence supplier of India. Just last year, in 2021, India and Russia observed the golden jubilee of the signing of a landmark friendship treaty between the two countries during the Soviet-era. Russian President Vladimir Putin was welcomed in New Delhi in December 2021 for the annual India-Russia summit, and two months later, Russian forces breached the Ukrainian borders, pushing global political stability into the brink.
Varying geostrategic imperatives
Unlike the predominantly maritime geostrategic imperatives of other Quad members, India’s geography is connected with the Eurasian continental landmass, of which Russia has the commanding position, as much as it is connected to the Indo-Pacific oceanic continuum. In fact, the biggest and most pertinent of India’s security challenges arise from its land borders. While Japan is an archipelagic country located entirely in the northern Pacific, Australia lies in between the Indian and Pacific Oceans to the south, and the United States is sandwiched between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans to its east and west respectively.
Moreover, India happens to be the only Quad member that shares a land border with China. The 3,488-km-long undemarcated Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China’s Tibet Autonomous Region is often regarded as the world’s longest disputed border. Apart from these differences, India also happen to be a participant in Russia and China led groupings such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa grouping), which constrains India’s options in a full-fledged involvement in US-led groupings such as the Quad or any other. New Delhi views its involvement in the aforementioned groupings as an indicator of reformed multilateralism, which has been traditionally seen as West-dominated, and wishes to chart its own place in the emerging multipolar world order.
India’s opportunities as the scope of co-operation in the Quad widens
Even after four summit-level meetings, four ministerials and numerous issue-specific working groups set in action, the Quad has not yet openly acknowledged the elephant in the room, i.e., China, or its higher purpose of balance of power, which essentially ought to give a security dimension to the grouping. But it is yet to see progress. Accommodating and reconciling India’s varying interests with the grouping’s larger collective agenda is a big challenge too. Items in the Quad’s agenda since the very first virtual summit in March 2021 include a partnership to manufacture and distribute vaccines to needy countries of the Indo-Pacific region drawing on each other’s strengths, critical and emerging technologies, climate resilience, cyber security, space, fostering people-to-people ties through educational opportunities, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) and so on.
The launch of the Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness (IPMDA) at the recently-concluded Tokyo summit could enable information-sharing across the existing regional fusion centres. It can also bolster India’s involvement in an agenda item that is closely related to security – maritime data sharing. Being the regional leader in the Indian Ocean, India’s naval surveillance capabilities, including the Gurugram-based Information Fusion Centre-Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR), can be better utilised to achieve the grouping’s collective objectives, aimed at identifying illegal activities in the region’s seas.
Another key initiative launched on the sidelines of the Tokyo summit is the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), which adds a key economic pillar to Washington’s engagement in the region, especially in the backdrop of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which India also opposes due to concerns on its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Moreover, India’s pharmaceutical industry can play a major role in the vaccine initiative announced last year, which is yet to materialise fully.
India’s ties with the US shapes its involvement in the Quad and vice versa
India’s deepening ties with the United States is also playing a significant role in shaping India’s participation in the Quad and in expanding the currently identified generic agendas of co-operation to a more security-oriented one, for which the recent signs are positive. While the previous Trump Administration subtly welcomed India again to the Quad, in 2017, the Biden administration cemented on the ties and has been largely following a policy of continuity towards India. The decision on whether to impose sanctions on India under CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act), owing to the purchase of Russian weapons, is put on hold, and is unlikely to be imposed as the ties between the two countries continue to remain robust, despite the Russia factor, both bilaterally and under the Quad framework.
In 2018, the United States renamed its oldest and largest military command, the Pacific Command, to the ‘Indo-Pacific Command’, in a largely symbolic move acknowledging India’s growing importance in US strategic thinking and calculations for Asia. In the same year, the annual India-US ‘2+2’ ministerial dialogue was also inaugurated. Two years before that, in 2016, India was made a Major Defence Partner of the United States, followed by the inking of a series of foundational pacts for military inter-operability, the last one being the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), signed in 2020.
At the same time, while one Quad member Japan hosts the largest number of US military bases in the world, coming further under the US alliance protection and the nuclear umbrella, the other Quad member Australia is part of other US-led groupings in the region such as the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence network, ANZUS (Australia, New Zealand and the United States) treaty and the recent AUKUS grouping. However, India has never been part of any security alliance right from its independence and has followed the path of ‘non-alignment’ (during the Cold War years), which later metamorphosed into ‘multi-alignment’.
India’s simultaneous involvement in a diverse set of groupings with varying purposes, goals, and participants, and being close to both Russia and the US at the same time is indeed sheer diplomatic skill. However, the fact that being a vibrant democracy and a key maritime power in the Indian Ocean region brings India closer to the Quad’s shared values and interests. The Quad today reflects the need for balance of power in the Indo-Pacific, where-in a power transition is underway with the rise of China. The Quad is largely reflective of a Western-led response to this power transition, while Indian interests are aligned both in being part of the Western-led response, i.e., Quad, IPEF and IPMDA, and also in acting as a key independent pillar in the changing regional and global order.
Is Fatigue Causing Twists and Turns in Russia Ukraine War?
As Russia Ukraine war completes three months, both sides are witnessing spectacular twists and turns, showing that reality is biting both sides. Few would have predicted a month ago that President Putin would be willing to swallow the bitter pill of Finland and Sweden’s bid to join NATO, which effectively amounts to NATO’s eastward expansion, adding over a thousand kilometres of direct land border between Russia and NATO, and respond only with a weak warning to react to increased weapon deployment in these two countries.
Likewise, the rhetoric of Ukraine winning the war overhyped by US led NATO through exhaustive information and perception war, seems to be fading with surrender of over 2000 Azov fighters in Mariupol, cutting off of Ukraine from Sea of Azov, besides losing a large chunk of land in Donbass Region. President Zelensky acknowledgement of diplomacy being only answer, highlighting concerns for people and soldiers is not too late, if those interested in prolonging this war let him act on it.
Parties to the Conflict
The war is sparing no-one in the world from inflationary pressures, having doubled the figures of global food insecure population, due to acute food shortage, triggering the blame game by both sides to seek concessions. While Russia can be accused of launching pre-emptive ground offensive on Ukraine, NATO can also be accused for creating conditions threatening Russia by continued eastward expansion and proxy war. While the kinetic, contact, hybrid war is on between Russia and Ukraine, the US led NATO is fighting a non-kinetic, non-contact, undeclared war in economic, information, diplomatic and political domains, against Russia; hence de-facto parties to the war.
Russian Stakes and Compulsions
After three months of war, while Russia can draw solace by sizeable territorial gains and linking Donbas with Crimea after capture of Mariupol, but at a very heavy cost of men and material, besides an unprecedented economic stress due to crippling sanctions by the West. It has made President Putin revisit his stance on Finland and Sweden, as it is cost prohibitive for Russia to open another front with NATO on Finland borders. It therefore makes better sense for him to achieve the desired end state in ongoing conflict with Ukraine by liberating Donbass Region, landlocking Ukraine and deal with Finland later. Russia realizes its limitations in economic, diplomatic, information and political warfare domain; hence more territorial gains on ground to landlock Ukraine by extending land bridge between Crimea, Odesa to Transnistria and liberating Donbass is the best option for it, to gain better negotiating position, to have the sanctions lifted.
Ukrainian Stakes and Compulsions
President Zelensky appears to recognise that neither he nor the western propaganda-based information war, which has made him a hero and outright winner, can be sustained in the long run, having lost more territory than size of some European countries, left with devastated towns, over four million refugees, heavy casualties, and the surrender of his overhyped Azov Regiments. While additional aid and weaponry with $40 billion cheque from US and $16.4 billion from EU can boost his combat power, but regaining lost ground from Russians is going to be extremely difficult, as they will use built up areas for defending their gains, as Ukraine did. Prolonging war doesn’t guarantee peace for Ukraine, but it may result in greater territorial loss, unending proxy war, and a long-term Russian threat.
NATO’s Stakes and Compulsions
NATO seems to be emboldened by soft Russian response to the bid of Finland and Sweden to join NATO, with a confidence that Russia has been adequately weakened to challenge eastward expansion of NATO; hence, it is keen to add these two countries with strong militaries, to secure its northern flank and have a better collective security posture in the long run. It also makes sense in context of Sino-Russian footprints in Arctic region and North Atlantic Ocean. Towards that aim, it is ready to sacrifice some of its energy and economic interests for the time being.
It is too early to predict how long this show of unified strength will continue, because the war is certainly not making Europe peaceful, with millions of refugees and non-state actors activated and a longer border with belligerent Russia, which will reorganize itself, learning from its miscalculations. While NATO may be able to handle the objections of Turkey and Croatia with few concessions/addressing security concerns, but the disagreement regarding long term energy security may not be easy to handle, once the rhetoric of united NATO starts fading with economic fatigue and energy deficit.
Is USA the Beneficiary?
In short term USA can rejoice some immediate gains. It has been able to get control of NATO, weaken Russia, create market for its arms dealers, energy companies and infrastructure contractors. It has been able to block strategic Nord Stream1 and 2, and encourage EU to find alternate energy sources, thereby reducing Russian influence drastically.
It has, however, incurred certain long-term losses, the most serious of which is driving Russia into a stronger China-Russia Axis than ever before, which is beyond its individual capabilities to handle. True, this battle has revitalised NATO, but it has also strengthened the Russia-China-Iran nexus, or anti-West alliance. Sanctions have fueled calls for an alternative financial system to avoid financial paralysis caused by a monopolized dollarized financial system, which could harm the US in the long run.
The US’s global exhibition of backing proxy war by enabling Ukraine/Zelensky to fight to the bitter end in order to achieve its geopolitical aim of weakening Russia, with no American losses has tarnished the US’s reputation as an ally/partner. Indeed, more than $56 billion in funding for a proxy war in Ukraine, which is more than double the amount spent in Afghanistan’s 20-year war, reveals misplaced priorities, unless US is counting on making much more money from increased weapon sales by prolonging the war.
It has put Taiwan, Japan and South Korea on notice facing similar threat from aggressive China, to which US has been extremely shy of sanctioning it, despite later breaching territorial integrity of many democracies in South China Sea, violating Taiwanese air space at will, and incremental encroachment in Himalayas. The world, struggling with financial, food and energy crisis, doesn’t want any extension of war, on any pretext.
The visit of President Biden to Indo-Pacific is significant to restore declining confidence of allies and partners in Indo-Pacific, without which, taking on China challenge is difficult. Many in this region accuse Biden administration of reactivating Cold War 1.0 with Russia, diluting Cold War 2.0 with China, which is a bigger global challenge with better economic muscles. The proposed launch of Indo Pacific Economic Forum is to lure more regional countries to gain lost ground in economic engagement vis a vis China.
In a situation where NATO continues to persuade Zelensky to fight, giving hopes to recapture entire territory of Ukraine, and the Russians continue incremental efforts to achieve an end state of landlocked Ukraine and independent Donbass, the war will continue. Neither the sanctions have deterred Russia, nor blocking gas flow by Russia will deter NATO. As long as Ukraine is ready to be used as a tool in big power contestation and NATO continues to add fuel to the fire, the chances of talks or any mediation seems to be a remote possibility. In Russia Ukraine war, there will be no winners, but a new set of security and economic challenges will impact entire world.
Having tested US responses in Ukraine, the growing Chinese aggressiveness in Indo-Pacific is a wakeup call to US to avoid losing influence in the region, especially after losing considerable strategic space in the Middle East and Af-Pak regions. Chinese footprints in the Solomon Islands surprised US and Australia. Regular violation of ADIZ of Taiwan, belligerent North Korea threatening South Korea and Japan, reassertion of Chinese and Russian claims against Japan indicate that US resolve is under greater threat in the Indo-Pacific, where it has obligation to defend Japan and South Korea and strategic necessity to save Taiwan. It is also not easy to find another Zelensky/Ukraine in Asia, willing to act as proxy of NATO. It is for this reason President Joe Biden needs partners in Indo-Pacific, strengthen/expand Quad, and put up viable alternative economic, infrastructure, technological and supply chain in Indo-Pacific with allies and partners. The UK Foreign Minister’s call for Global NATO seems far fetched at this point of time, but indicates desperation for global support to face the reality of threat from growing Chinese Russian alliance.
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