The recent turn of events regarding Pakistan’s maritime ambitions and development programmes, can be seen as an attempt to maximize power. This power politics is quite obvious, as China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project sets new horizons for regional connectivity and trade for Pakistan, which concerns India to the very core. The theory of Offensive Realism provides an in-depth theoretical framework to explain these state affairs. According to realism, the international political structure is anarchic, which is why no state can fully trust the intentions of another state, however, interest-based cooperation is possible (Pak-China economic cooperation), but survival of the state is the top priority of every state. The most efficient way to secure state survival is to maximize their relative power, which implies that there will be a constant security competition in the world, which divides the state’s power into two components; Latent (economy and population) and actual power (military). This determines Pakistan’s ambitions to acquire modern technology and increase its naval power in the Arabian Sea, however, the theory fails to explain the importance of economy and the power maximization in the economic sense. The reason being addressed is the transition of politics in the post-cold war era, which is heavily centred on economy, rather than the previous model, which suggested a central focus on building conventional military strength only. Therefore, economy holds the actual power in the contemporary era, which means Pakistan would not only ensure safe navigation of commerce that China would attract, but also enhance its naval capabilities and technologies to maximise power through a Blue Economy.
This paper provides a qualitative analytical research of the subject matter, based on data collected through mostly secondary sources and a primary source. The paper is descriptive and provides a thematic qualitative analysis to interpret the subject matter under discussion.
The recent years have marked a steady shift in national and international level, towards maritime development and security of Pakistan. On 23rd March, 2015, the president of Pakistan deliberately announced the extension of Pakistan’s continental shelf from 200 nautical miles to 350 nautical miles, however, the Exclusive Economic Zone or EEZ remained 200 nautical miles. This announcement was made after the approval of United Nations Commission on Limits of Continental Shelf (CLCS) for extension, based on scientific data which was collected through a number of surveys, conducted by the National Institute of Oceanography in collaboration with Naval Hydrographic Department, under the supervision of the Ministry of Science and Technology. This meant that the Pakistani naval fleet can ensure maritime security from further deep into the sea. To do so, Pakistan has yet to acquire the required technologies and equipment, which it claims to be operational by the fiscal year of 2030. With the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project, the demand for maritime security has increased, as CPEC is a sub-project of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, it holds tremendous significance in the entire mega-economic project. The reason being addressed, is the geo-strategic location of CPEC and future Gwadar Port city, which would attract a number of threats such as piracy, terrorism, illicit trafficking and other potential proxy skirmishes. Furthermore, the exploration of natural resources in EEZ would require more stability in the region to proceed with and large-scale investments to build and renovate Pakistan’s Blue Economy. This paper provides an analytical overview of the maritime development plans, Pakistan’s naval strategy, potential maritime opportunities and addresses research questions, such as What does Pakistan need to acquire for a blue water navy? What are the challenges that stunt our potential opportunities? And most importantly, what does Pakistan need to ensure credible deterrence and stability in the region? The paper also provides possible immediate implications of all the factors on the region and ends with a brief conclusion.
Blue Water Navy
The term implies a navy having the capability to operate in the deep seas far from its base, however, it lacks a proper definition, as it is varied according to different countries. ‘Blue-water navy’ was first used by United Kingdom Royal Navy, to address their naval expeditionary fleets. An Indian analyst defines it as “A Blue Water Navy is one that has the capacity to project itself over a much bigger maritime area than its maritime borders. Simply put, it is a Navy that can go into the vast, deep oceans of the world. However, while most navies have the capacity to send ships into the deep oceans, a Blue Water Force is able to carry out operations far from its borders, without being required to return to its home port to refuel or re-stock”.
Presently, United States Navy, Royal Navy, French Navy, Republic of Korea Navy, Russian Navy, Indian Navy, Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force and People’s Liberation Army Navy are the navies which are considered to have blue-water fleets. Pakistan would be the ninth country of the world to acquire a blue-water navy. To achieve this purpose, Pakistan requires a lot of equipment and advanced technology to take its first step in the high seas by the year 2030. The assets being acquired or developed are as follows;
Frigates are anti-submarine warships and Pakistan has made an agreement to acquire four of these frigates from China, to replace their outdated Amazon Class Frigates. These Frigates incorporate cutting-edge technology, with a 32x cell vertical launch system armed with HQ-16 surface to air missiles. It has a displacement of more than 4000 tons. It is also equipped with anti-ship cruise missiles, advanced radars and remarkable self-protection system, which is why it holds crucial significance for the Chinese naval fleet. Also, Pakistan’s frigate fleet of f-22P will undergo a mid-life upgrade program to extend its life and capabilities. These frigates are expected to join service by 2025.
Hangor Class Submarine
These are of Chinese origins and their specifications are known to be classified, however, they are considered to be a variant of Chinese Diesel-electric submarines of unspecified class. Pakistan was the first to operate a submarine in the South Asian region and its French made Agosta class 70’s submarines are highly outdated according to the modern-day technological advancements. Pakistan has not only ordered eight of these Hangor class submarines from China, but also aims to modernize its Agosta 90-B submarines to the fullest. These are expected to be delivered and operationalised by 2028.
Jinnah Class Corvette
Corvettes are relatively small warships than frigates, they displace approximately 2000-2500 tons and are used in Stealth missions. Pakistan aims to acquire four of these corvettes, two of them are being built in Pakistan, in collaboration with Turkey and two of these Ada Class corvettes are being built in Turkey itself. These Ada Class corvettes, once operationalised, will be named as Jinnah Class corvettes, in the honour of our nation’s founding father. Pakistan plans to arm these corvettes with a locally-built Harba anti-ship cruise missile system, as Pakistan is known for its ingenious missile deployment tactics on air and water crafts.
Maritime Air Wing
The maritime air wing is needed to support the surface vessels in a rapidly escalated situation and the wing can also serve as a quick reaction force. Advanced aircrafts are being employed in the wing such as JF-17, having anti-ship capabilities to take out enemy’s surface fleets and ensure coastal and territorial security. The naval air units are meaning to replace their outdated aircrafts with the modern alternatives and some of them are meant to be upgraded. Minhas air squadron is upgrading its equipment and technology and the wing has also planned for other squadrons with the same abilities along the coast line. Furthermore, other unmanned aircrafts with similar anti-ship capabilities are also being employed in service.
Offshore Patrol Vessel
An offshore patrol vessel is a highly multi-purpose watercraft used to perform managerial operations in the state’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). It can carry out anti-surface and anti-air operations, maritime security operations, 24-hour helicopter operations, combat search and rescue, surveillance and intelligence gathering operations. In addition to mechanical and technological virtues, the vessel will also provide disaster relief and ensure coastal area security as well. Pakistan has ordered two of these patrol vessels from Netherland based Malaysian company Damen. One of them is under construction at Romania and both are expected to be delivered by the fiscal year of 2022.
Coastal Defence System
Including secondary support military support at hold, such as offshore multi-purpose patrol vessels and a marine air wing with anti-ship missile system, Pakistan has set up a Chinese C-602 anti-ship cruise missile system based, Zarb Defence System. Some analysts say that these up-gradations are being made in order to tackle the new aircraft carriers that India tends to acquire.
After employing a Naval Strategic Forces Command, which became a part of three major unified Pakistan Armed Forces commands, Pakistan Navy conducted the launch of Babur-III cruise missile from a submarine and ever since that launch, naval strategists are working on a second-strike capability through nuclear armed, nuclear propelled submarines to ensure the maximum ultimate security. Although there’s no news on this, but with a second-strike capability, Pakistan would again have the advantage of India’s self-deterrence and can most probably accomplish major national interests in that manner.
The current era holds a bad reputation of international politics, things have become extremely complex and alongside the psychological and Cyber Warfare, information warfare has also been contributing to military strategies for a long period now. Therefore, Pakistan is haggardly acquiring up-to-date modern technologies and other intelligence gathering assets, such as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and tactical air and water drones.
Pakistan Navy has recently commissioned a 17000-ton Fleet Tanker which was built in Karachi with help from Turkey, which consists of a state-of-the-art medical facility to provide disaster relief to combat and auxiliary units. Other than that, the navy requires more and advanced logistical assets to ensure better execution and a quick response to threats.
With growing advancements, replacements, up-gradations and employments, Pakistan navy is building Pakistan’s largest naval base, named after the country’s founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The Jinnah Naval Base will incorporate all the capabilities at a safe location, way outside the reach of the Indian military.
Every naval strategy is broken down into two sub-strategies; (a) a developmental strategy and (b) an executional strategy. Before looking in to a country’s naval strategy, one must be aware of all the aspects of the sub-strategies to gather a complete perspective of the whole, grand strategy. Among the sub-strategies, an executional strategy, is highly covert and confidential, even the naval leaders irrelevant to the project are unaware of the executional strategy, which is necessary to avoid leaking or outsourcing the confidential information to the enemy state and eventually, an inevitable failure. Executional strategy on one hand, provides practical operation information, short manoeuvring strategies and the actual date and time for every move. Developmental strategy on the other hand, lists out most of the tools needed in the executional strategy, for example, induction of offshore patrol vessels like OPV-1800, is a part of the developmental strategy. However, the outlined developmental strategy can indicate the thematic interpretation and presentation of the executional strategy, for example the OPVs are sought to be inducted in response to the Indian acquisition of new aircraft carriers. Similarly, with such new developments and advancements, the overall naval strategy of Pakistan seems to be much more of a power-oriented strategy, developed to assure efficient credible deterrence against the rival state and sustain a prosperous ‘Blue Economy’.
Since China is investing heavily in Pakistan, on CPEC in particular, it affects the political profile of Pakistan as a ‘heresy’ to the American ‘inquisition’. In all fairness, Pakistan may have its own set of national interests, but that does not matter, because China follows its ancient ‘Tianxia’, an “all under heaven” doctrine that sees the world as a shared community, while the United States follows a more rigid “Hobbesian state of nature” doctrine, that sees the world as a battleground of anarchy. Therefore, Pakistan being an under-developed country, could be submissive to China on a minute level and that being said, implies that Pakistan may support China’s national interests as well (which are in total opposition to the US’ national interests) and that’s how Pakistan has become a ‘heresy’ to its hegemonic ‘inquisition’.
Now is the time for India to maximize its naval capabilities and the work has already begun. In particular, acquiring aircraft carriers and making advancements to their practical weaponry execution systems, the Indian naval transition from being a ‘buyer’s navy’ to a ‘builder’s navy’, since “all 41 of the new vessels are being constructed in India”, whereas Pakistan has only a few vessels under construction. This maps out the difference between Pakistan and India’s magnitude of the state economy and to put a cherry on top, India is most likely be submissive to US national interests, meaning that Pakistan definitely needs to worry. Still, Pakistan could be able to circumvent Indian naval strategies with the acquisition of a nuclear-powered submarine.
India already has two nuclear submarines in service and with the Indian “plan to build six advanced attack submarines — to be nuclear powered but armed with conventional missiles and torpedoes — is being monitored closely and the first of the boats could roll out in a decade if things go as per plan”, there would be a constant threat to the maritime national security of Pakistan. Although Pakistan’s submarines have never been detected, during both; wartime and peace, even still these submarines are not capable of staying under the surface for longer periods of time, a few months top, in comparison to the thirty-year span of a nuclear-powered submarine. Therefore, if Pakistan is able to build a nuclear-powered submarine than it would acquire a second-strike capability and a reputably untouchable navy in the ‘Indian Ocean Region’ (IOR). A former naval expert, Ex-Director General Naval Intelligence, Rear Admiral (Retired) Abdul Hameed Meer stressed on the significance of a nuclear-powered submarine that “Pakistan must acquire nuclear propelled submarines in order to outgrow India’s numbers and mark a flag of dominance in the Indian Ocean Region”. Henceforth, acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines would be considered as a milestone in all of the Pakistan Armed Forces achievements combined.
With projects under construction and developments being made, a lot of opportunities come to light, both tapped an untapped. The state’s heavy naval build-up is not the aftermath of power maximization entirely, but a necessary antecedent to assure a prosperous ‘Blue Economy’. This term has a proper background to it and reviewing so, it was analysed that the particular term was used decades ago, but none paid heed to the matter at all. Earlier than that, its descendant, ‘Green Economy’ was used to promote environment-friendly economic solutions to boost economies through a greener environment and less pollution. However, that failed, as exploitation of the finite land resources had devastating effects on the overall earth’s climatic behaviour, up to this day. Hence the gradual transition towards naval build-ups and expansion of EEZs, portrays a steady locomotive in the global community. Economists suggest “Blue Growth is usually determined on three main factors; first the value addition into global economy, second the potential of sector with respect to the future economic trends, and thirdly the categorisation of sector in terms of being sustainable”, implying that the state’s fisheries and aquaculture sector demands severe strategic up-gradations and expansions in order to contribute a lion’s share of revenue to the net GDP of the state, through ‘Blue Growth’.
Fisheries experts have stressed on the required developments in the fisheries and aquaculture sector, “Capacity-building programmes and improvement of infrastructure of landing fish and shrimp, as well as production facilities to enhance exports to new destinations for better returns”, implying that deep structural problems are one of the major internal issues stunting the growth of economy. Although, sea trade contributes about 95% of the world GDP, Pakistan’s fisheries and aquaculture sector only contributes a mere 0.41% in the state’s GDP, which is drastically low, as seen by economists. EEZ of Pakistan holds enough natural resources that, if they are tapped through proper domestic channels and techniques, through skilled human resources and attracting foreign investments (from countries like Turkey, Norway, Japan and other EU countries expand the area of expertise of the fisheries sector), then the state’s economy would no longer need to thrive on the hook of an internal collapse. The expert also said, “We have the renewable natural resources, technology and human resources which can be put to gainful employment with net benefits to exchequer in the shape of foreign exchange”, implying that the current rate of the Pakistani Rupee can finally regain its worth after a long time. Therefore, Ministry of Commerce, and Ministry of Food Security and Research should take a proper notice on the cruciality of the matter at hand.
Keeping the ‘Blue Growth’ aside, there are a number of possible regional implications which are hard to enumerate. Matters of international stature, their internal politics and intangible threats such as the Covid-19 are some of the many fuelling components that make up the contemporary chaos around the globe. Anyhow, major regional implications include the following;
- Diplomatic ties among the nations of Central Asia, Middle East and Pakistan would strengthen, resulting in new markets for trade, favourable terms of imports and a decent amount of recovery to the value of Pakistani Rupee.
- Heavy naval build-up is expected in all of the countries that China has invested in, that is for the core reason of safeguarding the maritime security of their mega-economic Silk Road project.
- On the other side of the fence, American Naval fleets have also indicated a certain interest in the South China Sea, East China Sea and the Indo-Pacific Ocean Region. Their plan to surround China from every possible corner is quite pessimistic and also away from the reality.
- India, would obviously enjoy a warm support from its hegemonic friend, implying that the Indian Navy being far ahead in numbers and advancements, would also then submit to the US’ national interests.
- Although, there are various ongoing ocean-friendly, sustainability programmes in the Indian Ocean, still there is a serious risk of increased water pollution in the region. With accidental oil spills, a massive quarter of marine life has suffered one of the most flaunting idiosyncrasies of mankind.
- Rising tensions in any part of the international waters, directly effects the possibility of a low-intensity conflict in the IOR.
- India would definitely seek to destabilize the region through chaotic aversions, a low-intensity conflict or perhaps another charade of brutality in Kashmir.
Conclusively, the emphasis on the importance of maritime security and coastal defence of the system, accentuates the well-being of a prosperous economy and a steady ‘Blue Growth’. Pakistan’s ambitious road to a blue-water navy may bring the state what it has longed for decades, ever since the independence; dominance. In the most uncertain of times, a highly complex nature of power politics limits the predictability of the distant future. Although there is much ambiguity in the matter, Pakistan has held on to the ‘slow and steady’ policy to build a sophisticated political profile, in order to progress as an influential power in the region. However, with such security advancements and complete surveillance, this security competition may lead to heightened tensions, not only in the Arabian Sea, but also far deep in the Indian Ocean Region. To avoid such skirmishes, cooperation and Confidence Building Measures should be taken in a proactive manner. By increasing cooperation, inter-dependence would most likely prevent countries from harsh political gestures and interpretations. Not to forget, the trade-war between the United States and China, and the rising tensions between the two states directly effects the very nature of the scenario. Therefore, if things go as per plan, the developments may take the state’s economy to new heights, alongside the improved political stature, Pakistan may be very close to becoming a ‘developed state’.
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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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