The creation of AUKUS has made China upset. But it must be seen if QUAD and AUKUS will complement each other or compete for relevance. To answer this, we will have to look closer at both these alliances and about their purpose, their plan, and their sphere of operation. What is the QUAD purpose? It is a mixed bag, from disaster relief to military exercises and the COVID-19. Most of the alliances were created with an objective, but QUAD was not. Its agenda is evolving and adapting to new challenges, and this makes the QUAD different or more effective, if one could say.
A rigid agenda can become counterproductive. Take the example of NATO. It was created to tackle the Soviet Union. That mission is over. Now NATO is confused. It does not know its mission and agenda is. AUKUS is very similar. Its purpose has been categorically spelt out in a joint statement. It said that “Through AUKUS, our government will strengthen the ability to each to support our security and defence interest. So basically, it is a military alliance that is clear. You will not see AUKUS producing the vaccines or holding a Climate summit. It is all about strategy.
Now it brings us to strategy; both alliances operate in the Indo- Pacific. Both are attempting to target China, but their approaches are different. The QUAD is pitching itself as an alternative to the Chinese system. Their democracies, they embrace the free market and follow international rules. They plan to sway countries away from China. But how will they do that? First, vaccine diplomacy is very important. The QUAD is producing one billion doses of vaccine in India. They will be distributed across Southeast Asia. Right now, most of these countries are using the Chinese vaccine. The important thing that they are going to do is to focus on the supply chain and technology. The QUAD is discussing the 5G network and semiconductor.
China has monopolized both these sectors. The QUAD wants to provide a stable and transparent alternative. Number three is the infrastructure project. China’s Belt and Road Initiative has strangled Asian countries with debt. The QUAD is discussing more sustainable and fair projects. Less debt, more progress and development is what the QUAD is aiming at.
AUKUS has a different plan. They want to tackle China militarily with nuclear submarines and long-range Tomahawk missiles, and joint drills. So AUKUS is not creating an alternative to China. It is pure military deterrence.
The third factor is membership. QUAD has India, Japan, the US, and Australia, and the AUKUS has the US, United Kingdom and Australia. There are some overlaps, but there are significant differences too. For starters, AUKUS has a non-Pacific member that is the UK. The United Kingdom is an Atlantic nation. Their interest in the Indo-Pacific is PM Boris Johnson’s grand plan. He is talking about a Global Britain, so he has to be in the Indo-Pacific. On the other hand, QUAD is made up of four Indo- Pacific countries. It is more diverse, and Japan and India give QUAD an edge. They can relate to local culture. They have a long-standing history with the region.
What about AUKUS? It is an alliance of three Western societies. Australia may be located in the Eastern Hemisphere, but Australia is a Western nation for all practical purposes. The UK, the US and Australia have been allies since the first World War. AUKUS is expanding their partnership to a new theatre, which is the Pacific. It was reiterated that whereas AUKUS is a nascent security alliance, Quad remains a ‘plurilateral grouping of like-minded countries that have a shared vision of their attributes and values.’
Now the key difference, QUAD focuses on the Indo- Pacific region that has always existed, but its geopolitical value is recent, probably from early 2010. Before that, the area was the only Asia Pacific. Now they are talking about Indo-Pacific. What is the difference? Indo-Pacific includes parts of the Indian Ocean that is right up to the coast of Africa. Whereas Asia-Pacific does not. It includes that part of Asia that lies in the Pacific region. For QUAD, that is not an issue because India has a direct take in the Indian Ocean. That may not be the case for the AUKUS. None of the members have invested here. Guess who has? It is China. Experts say that Africa is the next flash point. If that is the case, then the Indian Ocean will be heating up. Had AUKUS not been created, then in all possibilities, the QUAD could have become militarized to dominate the Indo-Pacific region against China.
The QUAD is there, but AUKUS is not. So, what is the judgement? Will AUKUS and QUAD compete, or will they complement each other. So, as we stand, there is no scope for competition. These alliances have different plans with different objectives different strategies, and they could work in tandem. AUKUS focuses on deterring China. The QUAD builds an alternative for Pacific nations. It is a win-win for all sides, but a lot depends on the leadership in all cases, especially for the US and Australia that how much are they interested in QUAD. There is no rule that both the alliances cannot work in the same theatre. Do not think that it is overcrowded. The answer is no. But instead, it is more trouble for the Dragon.
The writer is an Inspector General BSF (Retd)