A strong leadership with the potential of bringing in more allies from Europe could be a good move
Almost a year after the world order changed due to the pandemic, a new paradigm in global alignments has emerged to navigate the tricky corridors of multinational alliances. The Quad nations consisting of India, the US, Australia and Japan were hosted virtually by US President Joe Biden. The signals emerging, including the Press statement issued after the discussion, showcase the growing consensus among nations to come together to tackle global challenges. This is the opportunity for India to launch itself into the rich and strategically important club of countries. Shedding its post-Cold War chills, India today recognises the growing importance of deep bilateral ties with the US which continue to evolve despite changing political flavours in Washington and New Delhi. The two countries, despite complaining about each other in closed groups, have managed to strategically cooperate in many tricky areas of trade and commerce, emerging technology and regional security. At this stage it would be worthy to mention the Quad statement which reads: “Today we pledge to respond to the economic and health impacts of COVID-19, combat climate change and address shared challenges, including in cyber space, critical technologies, counter-terrorism, quality infrastructure investment, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief as well as maritime domains.” In order to achieve these goals, the Quad leaders have pledged to double their efforts and establish a vaccine expert working group consisting of the best from the scientific, medical and finance communities of the nations concerned, establish a working group on critical and emerging technology like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and 5G, to serve as a facilitation desk for identifying new technologies and developing world standards and finally a climate action work group. It is encouraging to note that despite almost all of these solutions featuring prominently in bilateral dialogues India has had with Quad member states independently, this is the first time the issue has been addressed on a multilateral platform which can be seen as the rise of a truly representative world order.
While much has been said about climate and vaccine cooperation, the issue of joint development of new international standards for emerging technologies needs to be stressed. Any new technology needs to follow certain globally accepted interoperable protocols. For instance, a bunch of plugs for any electronic equipment has to adhere to a certain international standard to be able to be sold globally. If nations start developing goods according to their own country-specific standards, it may lead to forced exclusion of global products in domestic markets and a setback for seamless global supply chains. The issue becomes far more complex with new technologies, with everyone trying to decipher the potential challenges and risks. In India’s case, a weaponised technology-aided neighbour, pushing the envelope on all fronts, could mean unipolar standards dominance world order. This is red alert for all future coalitions as the world has got ample evidence of what a single State-backed technology company can do to disrupt sovereigns. The Quad nations are all technology leaders and need to develop a closer bond, if not assign a working secretariat with permanent staff to be able to shape up the 21st century digital economy narrative. Even though the Quad statement did not mention a joint defence working group, it mentions commitment “to promoting a free, open, rules-based order, rooted in international law to advance security and prosperity and counter threats to both in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.” All of these points are key to defining relationships among the nations and almost all Quad countries have challenges managing the dragon. A strong Quad leadership with the potential of bringing in more allies from Europe and the UK could be a good move going ahead.
(The writer is a policy analyst. The views expressed are personal.)