On September 24, the four leaders of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (“Quad”) countries held their first in-person summit, solidifying the partnership between the United States, Australia, India and Japan in the face of pressing issues facing the Indo-Pacific. Absent from the summit but alluded to in the joint statement was the Quad’s broader network of “like-minded partners,” termed the “Quad Plus.” In March 2020, the first Quad Plus meeting convened representatives from New Zealand, South Korea and Vietnam; while the agenda was originally limited in scope to coordinating COVID-19 approaches, the broader framework has been floated as a group of like-minded countries collaborating on a range of regional and global issues in line with the spirit and scope of the Quad leaders’ joint statement.
The first in-person summit of the leaders of the Quad group of countries, comprising of Australia, India, Japan, and the United States, met in Washington last week. Outer space governance found significant attention, with the joint statement stating that the grouping will explore ways to collaborate as well as share data for a range of peaceful purposes, including tracking changing climate patterns, natural disaster response and preparedness, and sustainable uses of oceans and marine resources. The group also agreed they would work on developing norms, guidelines, rules, and principles that would ensure the sustainable use of outer space.
For the Biden administration, reeling from a spate of recent foreign-policy setbacks, last week’s Quad summit at the White House refocused attention on a key US priority: strengthening alliances amid the greater strategic competition between democracy and autocracy.
Following the summit, US President Joe Biden and prime ministers Yoshihide Suga of Japan, Narendra Modi of India, and Scott Morrison of Australia issued a joint statement affirming their shared values and commitment to defending an open, rules-based order. While its specific outcomes—agreements to cooperate on COVID-19 vaccines and bolster semiconductor supply chains, as well as to establish a student scholarship program—were relatively modest, the summit successfully laid the foundation to advance three strategic goals: countering China, aligning India, and revitalizing alliances.
The emergence of AUKUS is being widely speculated as a moment of alliance power-shift in the Indo-pacific region. Theorizing whether or not Quad may be blocked out by AUKUS when the former’s first-ever in-person summit is about to be conducted on the sidelines of a UN summit is futile without examining the objectives of the two groupings. The United States geo-strategic lead to the East is the axis on which the new tripartite- Australia, the United Kingdom and United States (AUKUS) treaty rests. Signed and sanctioned on 15 September 2021, the Indo-Pacific based pact includes cooperation on artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, undersea capabilities and cyber capacities. The trilateral defence pact launched to counter China, vis-à-vis Indo-pacific partnership rubs off on India as ‘two sides of the same coin’, namely QUAD and AUKUS. The newborn AUKUS pact now appears set to serve as the military lynchpin of the US’s anxiety towards Chinese dominance. While the four-nation grouping of QUAD assimilates similar fears and strengths, the proclivity amongst member nations to change the contours alliance has been ever-present since its inception.
Climate change is one of the most anticipated issues on the agenda of the upcoming first-ever in-person meeting of the Quad scheduled to be held on 24 September. A White House media release indicated that amidst the global dangers confronting the planet’s future, including the crisis in Afghanistan and the COVID-19 pandemic—India, Australia, Japan, and the United States are expected to discuss ways by which they can deepen ties on another looming global danger – the climate crisis.
The Quad’s first in-person meet in late September, to be hosted by US President Joe Biden in Washington D.C., comes only weeks after the end of the two-decade-long war in Afghanistan and the fall of Kabul to the Taliban. The return of the Taliban has redefined the American ‘war on terror’, and new questions are being raised over counterterrorism policies and aims in the post-9/11 era. For the US, the movement from “war on terror” to “over the horizon” counterterror design is a forced shift in thinking with a blueprint that is yet to be formulated.
The Quad, once thought to belong to the graveyard of international relations, is witnessing a Renaissance, with critical and emerging technologies as its keystone. Its resurgence was underscored by the first Quad Summit in March 2021, where the Quad Critical and Emerging Technology Working Group was established by the member countries.
There is a palpable churning in geopolitics and geoeconomics taking place; the US-China trade war, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, and a breakdown of the multilateral system are forcing an evaluation and reconfiguration of global supply chains. The relocation of global supply chains that began with the US-China trade war was further catalysed by the pandemic, which lifted the veil on the grave vulnerabilities in production networks of essential commodities.
High-income and upper-middle-income countries of the world have already fully vaccinated more than 50 percent of their overall population; meanwhile, low-income countries are still struggling at 1-percent levels of full vaccination coverage (see Figure 1). Even the lower-middle income countries have managed to fully vaccinate just over 12 percent of their population—an average pulled up substantially by the over-14-percent coverage that India has achieved, somewhat distorting the overall situation due to its high population.