Much has been already written on the autonomous weapon systems (AWS), and repeating the same conceptual description would be unnecessary. Here, we shall briefly discuss the difficulties in objectifying AWSand understand the current developments on the concept of Human control on AWS. The essay shall analyze Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and International Committee on Red Cross (ICRC) combined report (Boulanin, Neil, Netta, & Peldan, 2020) released in June 2020, and Ajay Lele’s article titled ‘Autonomous Weapon systems. To have a construct for the discussion ahead, let’s define what exactly the AWS in this article is.AWS is understood as the military-grade machine that can make their own decisions without human intervention(Lele, 2019). If that is broadly the understanding of AWS, defining Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS) turns out to have similar problems as in defining Terrorist. It is because of the subjectivity involved in the term ‘Lethal.’ For example, cyber warfare can be equally or more lethal than an airstrike. Are cyber-attacks assisted by Artificial Intelligence (AI) considered as LAWS? No consensus arrived for the latter.
If that is the dichotomy involved with the objectification of definition, the term ‘autonomy’ of the machine system itself is contextual. This makes it difficult to arrive at a universal legal consensus. During the World Wars, remote-controlled tanks, guided missiles were considered as autonomous as they could make decisions regarding their physical movements without soldiers manning them directly. take another example – It is impossible for a pilot while flying at the speed of Mach, to observe the targets with a naked eye. Decisions must be made within a fraction of second, to which the human body is not made of. There, the decision is made by computers along with high precision cameras. Isn’t that autonomous when the vision is considered? Consider US Tomahawk missiles. A sub-sonic cruise missile capable of maneuvering its way towards the target without constant human supervision. Even this is autonomous!
But the concern involving the development and deployment was not like that of today’s AI-based AWS. No matter how advanced the autonomy was, the decision making power, control regarding the actions on the filed was the pure prerogative of humans. The introduction of AI changes that. We have arrived at a junction in history where no human can comprehend the societal structure(Winner, 1978, p. 290). Even within the military, the complex inter-dependence of technology and humans have gone to an un-comprehensible level. AI involved weapon systems have aggregated the ‘black-box’ concern, pushing all the states to re-visit the humanitarian, ethical standards of the AWS.
As of current AWS deployment, airborne autonomous systems are saddle at Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAE), land-based robots at the preliminary stage (US SWORDS TALON), and Sea-based are missile systems assisted with auto-detection systems. However, the threat of machines taking the cognitive decisions without any human input is possible only with Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) and Artificial Super intelligence (ASI). The ASI is not yet invented and scientists are not sure if it is possible but it is strongly opined by some that it is not impossible and likely to be realized by the 1st third of the next century (Bostrom, 1998). Such super intelligence would be considered to have the capacity to become an uncontrolled offensive system but largely the current developments fall under controlled – defensive systems (Lele, 2019).
On these AWS, the 8 years long persisting concern of expert groups on emerging technologies figures two main aspects – human control, and accountability of AWS. The 2019 report of the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) has drawn four principles on which further AWS policy research would be undertaken. They cover the aspects of International Humanitarian Law (IHL), Human control and accountability, the applicability of international law on the usage of AWS, and the accountability of development, deployment and usage must adhere to Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) and necessary international laws.
AWS -Ethics and Human Control
The aspect of human control of AWS is the major ongoing debate in international fora. Previously, it never happened that a military operation is completely carried autonomously by munitions and thus, no laws are governing such aspects. These ex-ante debates on the probable loss of human control are anchored to the machine’s uncertain capabilities on predictability, ability to analyze the environment, and differentiating civilians and combatants. While humanitarian law is unquestionable agreed on while deploying the AWS, the ethical standards to be made are much more complex because of their subjectivity. The ethics of a soldier is different from the ethics of civilian. The debates of ethical standards on AWS are of two types, Result driven (consequential approach), action-driven (Deontological approach). The latter depends on the moral judgments of the user. It considers the rights of both combatants and civilians alike while engaging in conflict. The former includes the probable consequences of the military operation. The international norms would take both the approaches into considerations in arriving at the final draft as the research is ex- ante.
For a proper subjective understanding, brood over the question – ‘Save her fellow soldier or save civilian? Which is ethical?’
To have ethics-based human control over the AWS, there are three ways – strict control of the weapons, control of the environment, and to have a hybrid human-machine interaction. Out of these, the last option is the most sophisticated and challenging. It involves humans in the loop and the entire decision making would be left to the human. She would be responsible for the identification of the target and analyzing the environment supported by the AI-based analysis. In the current stage of AI development, this becomes necessary as the intelligence of algorithms does not match that of a human.
Technology is always used to enhance their capabilities and to ensure their dominance of force. AWS would be an exceptional addition to its arsenal and probably be a leap forward for the military. While it is so, human control becomes more necessary so that AWS is used for the tactical and strategic advantage of the commanders but not as the commander itself.
The challenge which all the militaries across the world face are the knowledge required to operate such sophisticated AI-based weapons. To take control of the AWS as when required, the supervisor of the systems should have enough knowledge about the working of the system including the working of the algorithm. In addition to that, deployed AWS will not always be operated by the controller. It would be left auto most of the time which makes the operator dormant. SIPRI report provides a concept of ‘safe human-machine ratio’ to overcome the challenges of human-machine interaction. This formula is provided to have optimum operational personnel. If more humans are involved in the loop, co-ordination becomes difficult and less makes it strenuous to handle the decision making.
Nh = Nv + Np + 1
Nh– number of humans needed
Nv – number of vehicles
Np– number of payloads on those vehicles
+ 1 – additional safety officer.67
However, these three approaches are mutually dependent. On the whole, the report advises establishing a structural, cognitive, educational framework to embed humans into AWS working.
Proceeding further, who, what, when, how are the univocal questions arising with the human control of the AWS. The questions who supervises and what provides a technically similar scenario to the already deployed systems like THAAD. The commander in control of the strategy, deployment, and decisions will have the obligation to ensure that the usage is in line with the IHL. Answering the question when, the involvement of humans is considered not to be just at the stage of usage, but even in the pre-development and development stage according to the GGE report. The last question of ‘how?’ involves the extent and type of human control. It requires proper Compliance with applicable international law along with the ability to retain and exercise human agency and moral responsibility for the use of force and its consequences and ensuring military effectiveness while mitigating risks to friendly forces.
Even if the supervision becomes mandatory, the AWS systems suffer from three different challenges viz. Human inclination towards machine bias, out of the loop controls, under-trust. The probable solution appears again to have a sophisticated human-machine interaction with a new structure to educate, train the operators.
Characteristics to be considered in drafting norms
The key characteristics to be considered –
|Type of target Type of effect Mobility Types and capabilities of sensors System complexity Duration of autonomous operation.||Predictability ObservabilityControllability||The physical and cognitive abilities of humansThe user’s ability to understand the system; andThe distribution of human control.|
1st column indicates the developmental and operational limits of the AWS. Of course in the view of ethical and humanitarian concerns, if there is a scientific solution for the latter, there may arrive a situation where the military establishment would consider realizing Elllul’s technological society.
2nd column emphasizes the restrictions on the operations to avoid civilian harm. One can think of not approving the usage of AWS in civilian spaces. Well, there is always a counter-argument that machines might be more efficient in differentiating combatants to innocent civilians, given their sematic censors, facial recognition algorithms. Surprisingly, the report has not touched on this aspect.
3rd column, human-machine interaction is a vivid encouragement of human supervision and retaining the ability to intervene in the AWS at any point.
Finally, the overarching concern regarding human control and ethical usage looms on the efficient international norms. The problem of accountability and ethical debates shows that states are not concerned with the technology itself but the absence of laws. So the debate should revolve around the establishment of legal structures, both nationally and internationally to develop and use AI systems in the military. The above-categorized attributes become central in drafting the human control structures to deploy AWS into the armed forces. The complex interconnectedness of AI development and its integration into the latest weapon systems requires states to have their norms on AWS while adhering to common consensual international laws. This makes states retain their authority to determine the extent of human control and at the same time encourage the international scientific community to actively engage in the development of scientific solutions to uncertain autonomy.
On a concluding note, reiteration on the objectivity and contextual definitions of AWS, fear of un-ethical calls being taken by the autonomous systems and the loss of human agency takes us to the texts of French Philosopher, Jacques Ellul. His account -‘The technological society’ provides that the agency of humans would be completely taken over by techniques and technology with the current development and advancing dependence of humans on technology. Such a society with ubiquitous technology would restrict the knowledge systems of human civilization. With this hindsight, if one reads George Orwell’s 1984, it is sure that they would strongly advocate a ban on AWS development. However, Winner’s ‘autonomous technology’ provides an excellent scrutiny on Ellul’s work, reiterating the importance of understanding the change that the technology brings into the society, and how the social structures change accordingly so that they could accommodate such development. Based on Winner’s account, the SIPRI report and Lele’s article which has been critically looked at here would provide the best possible way towards incorporating AWS into the military with necessary considerations to account for while drafting the international norms. However, it is in the ethos of military to adopt the advance technology and improve their efficiency.
Bostrom, N. (1998). How Long Before Superintelligence? International Journal of Future Studies, 2.
Boulanin, V., Neil, D., Netta, G., & Peldan, C. (2020). Limits of Autonomy in Weapon Systems: Identifying Practical Elements of Human Control. Stockholm: SIPRI.
Lele, A. (2019, January- March). Debating Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems. Journal of Defence Studies, 13(1), 33-49.
Winner, L. (1978). Autonomous Technology. USA: MIT Press.
 This is for states to arrive at common consensual norms in the development and deployment of AWS.
 Whose intelligence is far ahead of human intelligence. Having the capacity to cognitively comprehend wide variables in the surroundings and calculating numerous aspects simultaneously.
I deliberately chose this articulation‘embed humans into AWS’ because the training of operators, providing a sufficient number of them to an AWS system, involving them in the process, etc. arrives from the pre-conception that soldiers should be able to learn and use AWS. It is seldom thought that AWS should be designed in such a way that it should meet the requirements of a particular commander.
United States Donates $9 million in Weapons, Equipment to Support Somalia National Army
Official reports here said the United States through its diplomatic office in Mogadishu has presented $9 million in weapons, vehicles, medical supplies and other equipment to the Somali National Army (SNA). The ceremony was attended by Minister of Defense Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur Jama and U.S. Ambassador Larry André.
Aside from heavy weapons, equipment included support and construction vehicles, explosive ordinance disposal kits, medical supplies, and maintenance equipment for vehicles and weapons. Most of the supplies are already on their way to Hishabelle and Galmudug States to support SNA troops.
“We cheer the success achieved by Somali security forces in their historic fight to liberate Somali communities suffering under al-Shabaab,” said Ambassador André. “This is a Somali-led and Somali-fought campaign. The United States reaffirms commitment to support country’s efforts.”
Minister of Defense Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur Jama thanked the United States, saying, “Allow me to convey the appreciation of the Federal Government of Somalia to the Government of the United States of America for the continued support to Somalia’s peacebuilding process and the support for the fight against terrorism. This support comes at a critical time for our forces as we boost their capabilities to combat al-Shabaab.”
The Minister was joined by Chief of Defense Forces Brigadier General Odowaa Yusuf Rageh for the ceremony.
The weapons, including light and heavy machine guns were purchased with U.S. Department of Defense funding. They are marked and registered pursuant to the Federal Government of Somalia’s Weapons and Ammunition Management policy, designed to account for and control weapons within the Somali security forces and weapons captured on the battlefield.
Notification to the UN Security Council is conducted by the Federal Government of Somalia in close coordination with the Office of Security Cooperation of U.S. Embassy Mogadishu in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions.
The weapons will support SNA-Danab battalions, including battalions currently participating in operations in Hirshabelle and Galmudug. The weapons will provide a significant increase in the lethality and mobility of the SNA-Danab units participating in these operations. Somalia and its neighbouring States have come under frequent heightened militant attacks in the Horn of Africa.
From Strategic depth to Strategic Threat
On 30th December, in broad daylight, the hub of Peshawar and administrative center was targeted by the militants with the explosion of a deadly bomb, leaving behind 59 dead. the attack was claimed by the TTP Mohmand faction, whose leadership is allegedly residing in Afghanistan.
The issue of Afghanistan has occupied a consequential part of the strategic culture of Pakistan. Following the partition, with the specter of Pashtun Nationalism looming large on the horizon, policymakers in Pakistan opted for a policy of Islamic Nationalism, which became a cornerstone of strategic thinking during the era of General Zia-ul-Haq in the wake of the Afghan Jihad War in 1979.
Islamic nationalism was seen as only the means through which Pashtun Nationalism could be confronted and subdued.
With the adoption of this policy, swiftly and generously, aid from US, UAE and KSA began to inundate the territory of Pakistan, carrying each their national interests with it.
Within a short period, thousands of new madrassas were established, cultivating youngsters by inculcating the concept of Jihadism.
This formation of an alliance with the US in the Afghan Jihad war was driven by two factors; first, to subdue the dominant Pashtun Nationalism with Islamic Nationalism, and second, to establish an Islamabad-friendly regime in Afghanistan so that any terrorist group could not use Afghan territory while keeping New Delhi at bay, by not letting her establish any foothills in Afghanistan.
Fast forward to 2023, the facts on the group are now telling a different story. Islamabad’s once “strategic depth” is now becoming a distant dream as Pakistan is now confronted by insurmountable problems from all sides
According to the data collected by the Pak Institute of Peace Studies, Islamabad, in the past two years, Pakistan has encountered 100 terrorist attacks, and yet, the recent surge of terrorist activities shows no signs of cooling down in the formidable future. This is clearly evident from the news coming from the casualties on the daily basis of the security forces of Pakistan, mostly on the border areas, and the havoc it caused to the infrastructure. Officially, it is estimated that in the last six months, around 350 military personnel have lost their lives, while the outlawed group has claimed even more than that. These occurrences elucidate the failure of the Pakistani state to effectively persuade the Taliban regime not to let the Afghan territory be used against Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty.
Now, who is to be blamed, if not our flawed policies, and the masters of shortsightedness. Lately, upon leaving his office, the ex-COAS scapegoated Imran Khan who initiated the dialogue with the outlawed group, TTP. While Imran Khan, on the other hand, said that the army was on board when the negotiation decision with the TTP was taken. These inconspicuous but powerful statements clearly reveal the uncertainty of our policymakers while dealing with a sensitive topic. Besides that, it also shows how the wizards of policy making and governance are not on the same page while dealing with the Afghanistan issue.
Recently, a document was released by the National Counter Terrorism Authority and presented to the senate committee where discoveries pertaining to the ceasefire between the government of Pakistan and TTP were made. According to the report, the truce initiated by the PTI-led government last year had utterly emboldened the TTP.
With careful planning and shrewd utilization of resources, they were able to revive themselves both logistically and materially. Once the truce between the two parties was over, yet again, a surge in violent attacks was documented.
Beside the challenge of TTP, the Afghan Taliban shows no signs of a positive stance for the Durand line issue. In an interview, the information minister, Zabiullah Mujahid, said, “The issue of the Durand line is still an unresolved one, while the construction of fencing itself creates rifts between a nation spread across both sides of the border. It amounts to dividing a nation”.
Another prominent concern is the time to time border shelling. On Dec 11, 2022, the Taliban forces heavily shelled a town on the outstrips of the Pakistani border leaving behind seven civilian casualties. A few days later, on Dec 15, another exchange of fire took place, claiming one more life. Although, not much heed has been given to such reports, it seems the genie is out of the bottle now.
Last but not least, the Taliban had even scapegoated Pakistan through which the US drone was flown that killed the top Al Qaeda leader, Ayman Al Zawahiri.
The cherry on top happens to be the readiness of the new system to exhibit the disposition of candour in their interactions with India. The Taliban defense minister, Mullah Yahoob, has expressed his desire for the training of Afghan troops by Pakistan’s arch-rival India. If this goes according to the plan, the dependent policy of Afghanistan on Pakistan will diminish and create new challenges for Pakistan. India, by using Afghan soil, can embolden and logistically support the liberation movements in Balochistan and Sindh, thus exacerbating the already precarious situation.
It’s high time to call a spade a spade!
Our Policymakers must accept that the old strategic depth policy inside Afghanistan has begun to fail. Taliban 2.0 are entirely in contrast to its 1.0 version in terms of statecraft. They are more pluralistic in their policies, and economically, they are far more independent compared to the 90s. This time, they want to cut deals directly with the regional states. It may appear unilateral, but rather it’s a mutually desired engagement as other states have expressed interests in establishing relations with Afghanistan while considering them a new and inevitable reality.
Meanwhile, China is feathering its own nest, and is more concerned about the East Turkmenistan Islamic Movement (ETIM). She does not want Afghanistan to be used as a pawn by an insurgent group in the great game against China.
Considering these dynamic global realities, Pakistan must abrogate its old policy towards Afghanistan and focus on a unanimous policy towards Afghanistan. For the success of a cohesive and effective anti-terrorism strategy it is contingent for policymakers to align their viewpoints against the new resurgent groups. And last but not the least , a collective action by the military, politicians and society is necessary.
Deciphering Quad’s expanding agenda in the Indo-Pacific
Here, I try to throw light on Quad’s expanding regional agenda and where it is headed to.
The third in-person Quad summit took place in Japan’s Hiroshima, the rendezvous of this year’s G7 summit. Following each annual summit, regional observers eagerly look forward to big announcements from the four-nation grouping, via its joint statements. The Hiroshima statement mentions, “Harnessing our collective strengths and resources, we are supporting the region’s development, stability, and prosperity through the Quad’s positive, practical agenda. Our work is guided by regional countries’ priorities and responds to the region’s needs.”
Every Quad summit since 2021 had seen new initiatives or collaborative ventures being announced that are further carried ahead in the subsequent years. At the same time, Quad has also supported the leadership role of regional institutions of the broader Indo-Pacific region such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), and the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA). The grouping also welcomed the Indo-Pacific vision statements of these organisations and also of extra-regional countries and organisations like the European Union (EU).
An oft-repeated sentence in all Quad joint statements is “the promotion of free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific with respect for a rules-based order and international law”, which hints that the grouping has a “balancing character” against coercive behaviour by any regional power. However, the tangible areas of cooperation of the grouping had kept hard security at bay, until recently.
Even though the Quad is not a collective security alliance, the meeting of military chiefs of the four Quad nations in California, United States, earlier this month, in a clear indication of enhanced security cooperation with apparently China in mind. Moreover, they have participated in the Malabar naval exercise four times – in 2007, 2020, 2021 and 2022. Later this year, Australia will host the 2023 edition of Malabar naval exercise. Meanwhile, Quad’s Maritime Security Working Group held its first meeting in Washington earlier this year.
The Hiroshima joint statement further goes on to mention, “We seek a region where no country dominates and no country is dominated – one where all countries are free from coercion, and can exercise their agency to determine their futures. Our four countries are united by this shared vision.” However, this vision has its limitations as long as Quad exists short of an alliance. At the same time, the grouping has charted for itself a wide-ranging area of mutual cooperation.
A new ‘Quad Partnership for Cable Connectivity and Resilience’ was launched in Hiroshima, recognising the urgent need to support quality undersea cable networks in the Indo-Pacific. The leaders, via the joint statement, also announced a ‘Clean Energy Supply Chains’ initiative and its allied set of principles for accelerating the region’s clean energy transition along with a fellowship scheme to boost infrastructure expertise across the region.
The Quad has agreed on a set of principles to augment cybersecurity in the Indo-Pacific along with a new Space Working Group to explore avenues to deliver Earth Observation data and other space-related applications to assist nations across the region to strengthen climate early warning systems and better manage the impacts of extreme weather events. The existing Vaccine Partnership has been elevated to a broader Health Security Partnership.
In a first in the Pacific, the Quad has agreed to join hands with the island nation of Palau to establish Open Radio Access Networks (Open RAN), with the aim of expanding and modernising telecommunications networks in the crucial subregion. A private sector-led Quad Investors Network (QUIN) is also launched to facilitate investments in strategic technologies such as clean energy, semiconductors, critical minerals, and quantum computing.
The first Quad summit
Two years ago, the White House became the venue for the first in-person Quad leaders’ summit. In fact, there was one more summit-level meeting that year, in March, but in virtual mode. The joint statement following the March 2021 virtual summit was titled “Spirit of the Quad”. It saw the initiation of three key working groups – on vaccine distribution, on climate change, and on critical & emerging technologies – the earliest areas of cooperation since the grouping was elevated to the apex level.
Other than the initiation of the aforementioned working groups, the leaders also pledged “to respond to the economic and health impacts of Covid-19 and address shared challenges in the cyber space, counterterrorism, quality infrastructure investment and HADR…” Moreover, the March 2021 summit specifically took cognizance of issues such as the role of international law in the maritime domain, challenges to rules-based order in the East and South China Seas, de-nuclearization of North Korea and the need for restoring democracy in junta-ruling Myanmar.
In September 2021, in their first in-person deliberations, Quad leaders extensively looked into how vaccine distribution progressed since their first virtual meeting six months ago and what more can be done in this regard by making use of each other’s comparative advantages and strengths. The leaders also launched the ‘Quad Principles on Technology Design, Development, Governance, and Use’ to guide responsible innovation, a fellowship scheme for science and technology students from Quad nations, and has enhanced partnership in the fields of infrastructure, cybersecurity, outer space and humanitarian support to Afghanistan.
March 2022 saw an emergency virtual meeting by Quad leaders in the wake of the Ukraine crisis. Two months later, in May, they met in person in Tokyo and called for demonstrating that Quad is “a force for good, committed to bringing tangible benefits to the region”. In this regard, they launched a new partnership for maritime domain awareness in the Indo-Pacific (IPMDA) to work with regional partners in combating illegal fishing and responding to disasters by making use of information fusion centres in the Indo-Pacific sub-regions of the Indian Ocean, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands and by providing near-real-time, integrated and cost-effective data to maritime agencies in these sub-regions.
Tokyo also saw the announcement of a new HADR partnership to further strengthen collaboration in effectively responding to disasters in the region. A new working group on counterterrorism was announced during the Quad foreign ministers’ meeting in March 2023 in New Delhi, India. The next summit was scheduled to be held in Sydney, Australia. But the U.S. President’s inability to attend the summit led to its cancellation and instead the four leaders met in Hiroshima on the sidelines of the G7 summit. Japan, thus, got to host two Quad summits in a row. In 2024, it will be India’s turn to host the leaders’ summit.
All Quad countries, along with several other regional countries, chose to participate in the U.S.-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF) launched in Tokyo, just ahead of the 2022 Quad summit. This gives Washington an expanded economic footprint in the region at a time when Chinese economic engagement with regional actors is increasing steadily and progressively. 2022 also saw the launch of the ‘Quad Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation Package’ (Q-CHAMP) and the ‘Quad Clean Hydrogen Partnership’.
A partnership that predates its name itself
In fact, cooperation among the United States, India, Australia and Japan predates the idea of the Quad itself. Nearly two decades ago, when the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004 wreaked havoc in the Indian Ocean, the four nations came together to coordinate humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) operations by forming a ‘Tsunami Core Group’ and acted as first responders to the looming humanitarian crisis and their collective effort continued till mid-January 2005 before handing over the mission to the United Nations.
So, even before the idea of Quad as such took shape, the four-nation grouping had its first item in its agenda – HADR. The phrase “Quadrilateral Security Dialogue” (QSD), predecessor of the present-day Quad, and the maritime construct of “Indo-Pacific” made its entry into the politico-diplomatic lexicon only three years later, led by the persuasive leadership of former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe. The first QSD was held in May 2007 on the sidelines of the ASEAN Regional Forum in Manila, only to get disbanded the following year due to Australia’s withdrawal and differences on what the grouping’s aims and objectives should be in the years ahead.
Australia backed off primarily due to the diplomatic pressure and the prospect of a promising economic relationship with a rising China. Together with unfavourable regime changes in Canberra and Tokyo in the end of 2007, the Quad remained in a dormant state for about a decade from 2008 to 2017. The fact that China successfully managed to persuade Australia to come out of the Quad just a year after its formation says a lot about Beijing’s negative perceptions of the grouping, or to be precise the perception of it as a U.S.-led attempt to build an “Asian NATO” to contain its rise.
The grouping was given a new life in 2017 when the Donald Trump Administration in the United States (January 2017 to January 2021) took a special interest in reviving it by initiating a working group for ‘consultations on issues of common interest in the Indo-Pacific region’. From November 2017 to March 2021, senior officials from the four Quad nations met seven times and the foreign ministers met thrice, one each in 2019, 2020, and 2021 respectively.
The grouping was finally upgraded to the summit-level in 2021 and then it was followed by in-person summits in 2021, 2022 and 2023, while the foreign ministers continue to meet annually as a precursor to the summits. Today, there is a greater convergence of interests between the Quad partners, which is unlikely to shrink any time soon. The disruptive nature of China’s rise has been a constant factor that has influenced, and is influencing, agenda-setting within the grouping, particularly as a “balance of power” mechanism.
Today, the broad range of areas where the Quad countries cooperate on, as mentioned earlier, happen to be arenas of wider strategic competition with Beijing, even though they don’t wish to acknowledge it explicitly. Taking into account the current trajectory of conflictual nature of geopolitics in the Indo-Pacific, these areas of cooperation and arenas of competition are poised to expand further and further with time. However, what needs to be seen in the years to come is the extent to which Quad dares to tread when it comes to the realm of hard security outside of a formal alliance.
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