Does AUKUS cast a shadow over Quad?

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Does AUKUS cast a shadow over Quad?

Monday, 27 September 2021 | NISHTHA KAUSHIKI

Does AUKUS cast a shadow over Quad?

With a vision of deterring China and ensuring free international waters, there should not be any doubt that AUKUS will cast a shadow over Quad

The decision to form AUKUS came two weeks of the US withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. It displays the geopolitical resolve that the US has to counter the Chinese threat in the Indo-Pacific region,which is increasing with each passing day. Many experts now think that AUKUS might strategically and tactically sideline Quad. That is not the case. The objectives, either stated explicitly or otherwise, are the same. Chinese expansionism has driven this new military alliance, but both Quad and AUKUS complement each other if seen strategically.

With India and Japan, there are essential constraints that make them more susceptible to the Chinese threat. Apart from the common factor of geographical proximity to China, both aspire to become permanent members of the UNSC. An upfront, direct military alignment against China might adversely affect those aspirations. Individually, India has also to deal with an unholy alliance of China, Pakistan, and the Taliban. Apart from this, it is concerned about Russia's shifting foreign policy priorities towards a Sino-Pak alliance. On the other hand, Japan faces issues such as the dependence on raw materials and food supplies and ageing workforce apart from its Article 9 clause that prohibits the re-armament of Tokyo.  

The emerging arrangement seems to present before the world a ring of defence, paving the way for future multilateral alliances against Chinese expansionism. A very look at the map of the oceans will give us a common understanding that the South China Sea, Pacific Ocean, and the Indian Ocean taken together are very difficult for either of the powers to defend by themselves. There have to be multiple security arrangements for a strong defence. In the present circumstances, if India and Japan decide to institutionalise a military alliance with the help of the US, Beijing might resort to increasing its aggressiveness either in the SCS or on the Indo-China border, a purpose which then might be self-defeating.

Thus, strategicmanoeuvrability is probably a part of the solution. India and Japan together can possiblyhold back China on account of their non-participation in any military bloc while simultaneously keeping up the ante against its hegemonic diplomacy. For this reason, India's joint battle commands need to be operationalised soon. The absence of any institutionalisation will also give time for both India and Japan to modernise their maritime assets. India, in particular, needs to speed up on the interoperability within its forces. France then plays an essential role for India and Japan,apart from other European countries, followed by Israel.

Concerning Japan, it has to gradually move beyond its circumstantial clause that led Tokyo to adopt a 'peace constitution'. From "self-defence", it has to evolve a "maritime defence" force to handle Beijing. The move might instigate some powers like South Korea to put forward their anti-Tokyo stance. However,time demands that those countries that are not compatible with each other bridge their strategic differences and work for a common cause, especially when they have a shared substantial threat and are covered under the US security umbrella. Thus, an expansionist China allows them to resolve their differences and work for a common goal. 

British and American submersibles, anti-ship missiles and other striking capabilities would deter China from threatening the countries. In case of severe provocations and open hostilities, the second layer, the AUKUS, can be a deterrent and a defender at the same time by providing a tactical cover-up for essential sea routes in the Southern and Eastern Indian Ocean apart from the Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea. It then might try to divertattention to the Malacca Straits against India or Japan, but the Indian Navy would present a formidable force there, thus making its ‘Malacca Dilemma’ a reality.Additionally, the 'five eyes' intelligence sharing mechanism also increases the concerns for China.

Nevertheless, without any institutionalised alignment, it might be difficult for China to go in for the first move against a'non-militarily aligned' country such as India and Japan and create more complexities. In case of severe threats and imminent attacks, the two might not hesitate to join AUKUS formally. Joint sea denial strategies then have an essential role to play in the upcoming multilateral security arrangements. Thus, it would not be wrong to envision a consortium of powers guarding the entire Indo-Pacific region, with each player understanding its role and responsibilities well.It is for this reason that both India and Japan have together welcomed the new alliance AUKUS.

One can easily recall that in 2010, Yang Jiechi, China's then foreign minister, on his trip to the ASEAN summit in Hanoi, commented, "China is a big country, and you are small countries, and that is a fact".  Today, the time is ripe to reverse the 'big fish-small fish' syndrome. China has reiterated that the Quad will find no support within the Asia Pacific countries. Beijing perhaps fears the expansion of Quad to include other democratic, “like-minded countries” such as Vietnam, the Philippines, South Korea, and Taiwan. All of them have coastlines and have been harassed by China for long. Other pertinent issues such as Chinese illegal fishing, climate change and natural disasters also underline the need for security overlaps with the other countries. Hence, Quad +4 can be envisioned. The small countries with the support of various extra-regional powers have to make formations via unwritten multilateral security arrangements.

The scope of an expanded Quad can include joint technical cooperation and military exercises to increase the interoperability of the forces between themselves andwithin their forcesto counter the military challenges before them. As states have security and economic convergences, an understanding can be built to 'strategically encircle' China and keep it guessing on multiple fronts. In essence, the Quad then remains the strategic linchpinof navigational freedoms marked by a "free, open, transparent and inclusive Indo-Pacific region" apart from focussing on other new and emerging technologies such as artificial intelligenceapart from climate change.India and Japan thus will have a more significant role from here onwards.

Developments in Afghanistan, China-Pakistan’s unconditional support to Taliban and the shifting sands of alliances in the Asian region strongly indicate that the time for multilateral re-alignments and acknowledgement of the reality has arrived. AUKUS fulfills this purpose and consequently occupies the space of an"institutionalised security alliance" having a formalised treaty, ready for action either as a deterrent or more if the situation demands. The ‘friendly’ nuclear submarines will detect and intercept the Chinese nuclear submarinescollecting essential data of the Indo-Pacific Ocean. In this direction, Quad and AUKUS are entirely complementary to each other. Having a joint shared vision of freedom of the high seas and a common challenge of deterring China, there should not be any doubt that AUKUS will cast a shadow over Quad. Apprehensions concerning this new approach should not be viewed from the prism of China. Instead, it should be taken as a part of comprehensive diplomacy not only for deterrence against China's compulsive 'cabbage policy' but also for the peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond.

(The writer is an Assistant Professor at Central University of Punjab, Bathinda. The views expressed are personal.)

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