Since 2007, the leaders of the United States, Japan, Australia, and India have viewed the Indian and Pacific oceans as strategically important regions for each country’s economic prosperity and national security. Since 2017, these countries have worked together on cooperating to ensure that a “free and open” Indian and Pacific Ocean is maintained. This partnership, forged in Manila, is called the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue and this group of countries has pursued closer military and security cooperation under it. However, despite the recent cooperative nature of the partnership, the overall efforts of the Quad to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific Region is beset with challenges and obstacles that prevent further progress on their overall goal.
The Quad as a cooperative partnership was originally created in 2008 by India, Australia, Japan, and United States but in Australia and Japan’s democratic elections, incumbent governments that pushed for the Quad were replaced by opposition governments with different strategic outlooks. The results of changing domestic politics have made the Quad partnership concept dormant until it was revived at a meeting in Manila in 2017 where these four countries came together to reestablish the Quad because of the continued pressing security challenges of maintaining free and open Indo-Pacific oceans. The goals of the new Quad and the countries participating in it are maintaining a rules-based order in the region, ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight in the maritime areas, respect for international law, enhancing connectivity, maritime security, and cooperating on proliferation and counterterrorism.
All four nations part of the Quad partnership joined the Quad because regional security cooperation is important to each nation’s geopolitical objectives and strategic goals. Japan wants to ensure that security threats in the Pacific and Indian oceans do not threaten freedom of navigation which Japan is reliant on for its international trade. India views the Quad as a necessary arrangement to minimize future threats to maritime security in the region and secure defense cooperation agreements which could provide technologies and equipment to modernize the Indian military and navy. Australia views the Quad as a stepping stone to closer military cooperation in future naval exercises to deter provocative behavior of China in the region. The United States interest in the Quad stems from wanting to preserve the existing trade networks in the region and ensure the existing regional security status quo.
Despite the benefits and strategic advantages provided by cooperation within the Quad, further progress and deeper cooperation within the Quad framework will have to deal with multiple challenges. One major challenge is China, due to its opposition to Quad naval cooperation and suspicion that the Quad serves as containment of China in the region. Already, Chinese pressure has manifested itself as India prevented Australia’s involvement in the Malabar naval exercises in June 2018 as a concession to China. China can utilize its economic resources and its own reservoir of military power to secure the assistance of other countries within the region to derail the operational cooperation within the Quad.
In addition, India is critical to the strategic operation of the Quad, but it is also the most resistant country to further and deeper cooperation in the Quad. While the Indian military has an interest in security cooperation to secure assistance in upgrading Indian defense technology, it still prioritizes Indian strategic autonomy. India’s military insists on not sharing data and access to internal communication systems despite involvement in military exercises with other Quad members as well as reluctance to divulge secrets about Indian-Russian jets hampers cooperation in joint-air exercises.
Another major obstacle to future cooperation within the Quad concerns the domestic politics within Australia and Japan. The previous iteration of the Quad ended when Australia pulled out of the arrangement due to the new Labor government interest in closer Chinese relations. Concerns that another change in government might end Australia’s participation in the Quad has made other nations like India more reluctant to engage in the Quad further. The current Japanese government is also having to balance any interest in further cooperation with the Quad with Japanese domestic politics. While the Japanese have passed legislation to expand the activities that the Japanese Self-Defense Forces can engage in, there is still substantial Japanese opposition to the armed forces engaging in operation outside of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Any further deepening of ties between Japanese armed forces and other Quad militaries might have to deal with the domestic backlash.
Overall, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue serves an important purpose in enhancing the security of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The nations of the United States, Australia, Japan, and India have viewed the Quad partnership as an important aspect of the strategic priorities each nation has. However, continued cooperation and deeper ties are challenged by future Chinese pressure, Indian reluctance to compromise the independence of it’s military, and the domestic politics of Australia and Japan.