May 21, 2023

Sliding into Military Alliance

THE Quad, consisting of four countries, the United States, Japan, Australia and India is gradually taking the shape of a security alliance which was the intent of the original name of the grouping – the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue.

The security angle was highlighted by the recent meeting of the military chiefs of the four Quad members held in Sunnylands in California on May 15-17, the Indian Chief of Defence Staff Anil Chauhan attended the meeting. From the American side it was the Commander of the Indo-Pacific Command, Admiral John C Aquilino.

This first meeting of military chiefs has taken place on the eve of the Quad Summit to be held on the sidelines of the G-7 Summit in Hiroshima, after US President Biden had to cancel his visit to Australia where the Summit was to be held on May 24. This will be the third in-person meeting of the leaders of the four countries. Prime Minister Modi will attend this meeting.

As far as the United States is concerned, it had always intended the Quad to become a security alliance directed against China. India, while joining the Quad, had taken cover behind general formulations such as “free and open Indo-Pacific”, maritime security and cooperation for humanitarian and disaster relief operations.

External Affairs Minister Jaishankar had said in a meeting of ministers of foreign affairs of the Quad in February 2022 that the Quad “is for something, not against someone”. But this is mere sophistry. The fact is India has fallen in line with the United States’ Indo-Pacific strategy to counter and isolate China. In another extension of military cooperation, it has been decided that the Malabar naval exercises, this year in August will include Australia.

The media was briefed about India’s participation in the California meeting by an anonymous official of the Indian security establishment that, given China’s aggressive posture on the border and showing no intention of settling the border issue bilaterally, “India has to decide to take help from multilateral platforms such as Quad, to rein in the rampant aggression of the PLA on the land as well as in the Indo-Pacific”. This is the justification made for India going ahead with military cooperation with the US and its allies in the Indo-Pacific.

The United States has made no bones about why it wants India in its Indo-Pacific strategy and the role it is expected to play in it. It is not only in the Indo-Pacific that the Modi government has allied with the United States, it has also joined the Quad set up in West Asia comprising India, Israel and USA, the so-called I2U2. Again, under US auspices a meeting has been held recently on May 7, in Saudi Arabia where the Saudi Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman met with the national security advisors of the United States, the UAE and India. The agenda reportedly was for strengthening cooperation and building infrastructure in the region connecting to India. This move has to be seen in the context of the US worry at the rising influence of China and its diplomatic intervention which led to the agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran to restore diplomatic ties and normalise relations.

The steps being taken to hitch India to the America’s aggressive manoeuvres against China is something which is applauded by the strategic experts and commentators in the corporate media. As against the dominant rhetoric about the benefits of an India-US alliance and convergence of interests, the alternative approach finds hardly any space in public discourse. There should be a realisation that the United States is purely interested in maintaining its hegemony in the Indo-Pacific region which is being increasingly challenged by the rising strength and influence of China. When there is growing multipolarity in the world and even medium powers who are allies of the United States are seeking to assert their strategic autonomy, it will be short sighted for India to get entangled in US led strategy and security groupings.

India’s problem with China is primarily the border dispute and the deterioration in maintaining peace and tranquility on the Line of Actual Control due to China’s recent actions. This is something the two countries will have to talk and mutually resolve, a process which has to be pursued with patience and determination.

India has nothing to gain from weakening trade and economic ties with China, given the fact that China is a key player in the global economic and trade relations. Even after the chill in relations set in after the Galwan clashes, bilateral trade has grown and stood at 135.98 billion dollars in 2022. Even the United States has stopped talking about ‘decoupling’ from China’s economy and talks instead of ‘derisking’ economic ties. The current thinking in some sections of the establishment in India of delinking economic ties with China is surely self-harmful.

India as a major developing country with enormous economic potential is in a position to take full advantage of the developing multipolarity to establish fruitful relations with all other major countries and regions for the advancement of its own interests. Tying oneself to the American chariot is not the way to go forward.

(May 17, 2023)