Quad: The Making of a Robust Entente


Vice Admiral (retd.) Vijay Shankar

(Published in the author’s column “The Strategist” on the IPCS website on 12 March 2018 and available at http://www.ipcs.org/article/india/quad-the-making-of-a-robust-entente )

The force planner’s primary task is to ensure that the military element of national power, alongside economic and political elements, can support national strategy. In 1950, India had defined national goals in the Preamble and Directive Principles to its Constitution. It then became a part of each political dispensation to contribute towards nation building. Is this happening?

The history of the National Defence Academy (Bal, Adarsh) provides intriguing perspective that underscores the general apathy that the Indian Military was subjected to by the post-independence administration. Two issues separated in time by seven decades warrant attention. Firstly, how was it that Indian political leadership of that era, “statesmen” such as they were, failed to understand the fundamental imperative of nation building: Security? Secondly, contemporary geo-politics has prompted the emergence of a security entente, “the Quad,” that could assure stability in a region at the substratum of global security. Disdain towards the first, led within a decade to the ’62 debacle in the Himalayas; while the latter, if not understood for its primary security connotations through indifference and sloth, may well lead to a fiasco at sea.

The Government of Anglo-Egyptian Sudan awarded a sum of Pound Sterling 100,000 in 1941, for sacrifices made by Indian Troops. Two Indian Divisions confronted Mussolini’s Armies that threatened the Suez and, indeed, the British Indian Empire. By the end of the campaign Italian forces from Eritrea and Abyssinia were routed. Quarter of a million prisoners taken and the Axis threat to India from the West quashed. A grateful Imperial Office made the grant. However, at War’s end, impending independence of India left the British Government in a quandary; how best was the quick dissipating empire to capitalize on these equally depleting monies? It was at Field Marshall Auckinleck’s (then C-in-C India) intervention that temptation to appropriate for any other cause was evaded and a decision made to establish a National War Academy.

What remained after allocation to Pakistan proved just adequate to acquire land and commence to build. By 1955, the imposing Sudan Block that housed the humanities and administrative departments dominated the Khadakvasla valley. Insouciance of the establishment was apparent when no further budgetary allocation was made. Admittedly those were hard times, yet to deliberately oversee the stillbirth of a primary security building block is perplexing. It is to the credit of military leadership that the remaining infrastructure was constructed using ‘internal resources’.  No help came from the Government which barefacedly had deemed the military superfluous. One is, then, at a loss to explain the foolhardy ‘forward deployment strategy’ at a time when preparedness for war was so parsimonious. The 1959 Chinese incursions at Longju and Kongka La and the 1962 drubbing were consequent.

The profound influence of sea-commerce on the wealth and energy of nations is well known. The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) has evolved in response to increased Chinese revisionist trends and the need for a strategic security architecture that could lend stability in the Indo-Pacific. The founding nations: United States, Japan, India and Australia driven by the concept of co-operative security, launched the idea in 2007. The strategy however appeared a non-starter with early withdrawal of Australia. It has been recently revived to counter China’s intrusive military power and its unrelenting thrust for an exceptionable proprietary mercantile empire stretching across the region- the Belt and Road Initiative.

The only historical parallel to the Quad is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). World War II had left a devastated Europe sans security that it could neither afford nor envisage. While a militaristic Soviet Union was threatening elected governments with its lure of a Utopian fair-to-middling for all. To contain Soviet expansionism, counter the revival of nationalist militarism and advocacy of European integration; the Treaty was signed in 1949.Three remarkable articles were at the core of its Charter:  Article 5, the new Allies agreed “an armed attack against one or more of them be considered an attack against all”. Article 3 provided for cooperation in military preparedness while Article 2 lay the under structure for non-military cooperation. Global events of the 1950s and 60s had a dramatic effect upon NATO, for it rapidly adopted an integrated command structure, a permanent secretariat and doctrines to wage conventional or nuclear war. In time political stability was restored and there was growing recognition of the new Order.

The Charter of the Quad is yet to be fleshed out; but conceivably, it will have three objectives. The first, to reinforce a rule-based regional Order that rejects nationalistic militarism of the kind that has emerged in China. Second, to promote a liberal trading regime and freedom of navigation, essential to secure passage of close to 60% of global trade through the Indo-Pacific. Third, to provide security assurances. However, just as behind the scenes machinations from Beijing splintered the Quad at inception, the entente faces similar fragmenting stresses that threaten the whole. India is locked into a long standing border dispute with China. Similarly, Japan has maritime disputes in the South and East China Seas while China’s new Air Defence Identification Zone provides the recipe for mutual interference in the air. Australia on the other hand depends on China for approximately 22 % of trade. And there is China’s assignee, the maverick nuclear armed North Korea whose influence cannot be set aside.

As the Quad  push to get their initiative to fly, success will likely hinge on how they hold their ground against pressure from China, nature of the security architecture and an understanding of ‘peril-to-the-whole.’ Key to the structure will be constitution of Charter in terms of identifying the geographic entity within which it would operate, investments in cooperative security and apportioning responsibilities. The question is, does leadership recognize that Chinese realpolitik is at play and that only a system based on pragmatic rather than ideological considerations can confront it?


“Taking Centre Stage in the World”


   Vice Adm. (Retd.) Vijay Shankar

            First published in the author’s column on the IPCS website on 28 Nov 2017.                                                                                                 

Xi Jinping

Xi Jinping, “Let’s Party like it’s 1793.” The Economist May2013, https://www.economist.com/.

When Chairman Xi declared at the opening of the 19th Congress of the Communist Party of China, “It is time for us to take centre stage in the world,” he may have drawn this deduction from two perceived shifts in the global strategic environment. Firstly, the sensed flagging of US interests in global pacts emblematized by the “America First” agenda that most resembled an impending abandonment of regional partnerships that did not recognise US pre-eminence; and secondly, apparent US distraction in providing decisive security leadership in the troubled parts of the world. Of course, the issue of whether any grouping of major nations wanted Xi’s leadership never entered the debate.

China in recent years has become a major funder of infrastructure in the developing world. Its arrival has challenged existing institutional lenders, particularly when Xi in 2013, announced a scheme to resurrect the medieval Silk Road through a vast network of roads, pipelines, ports and railways that connected China with Europe via Central Asia, West Asia and ports in South Asia and East Africa. China intends to provide proprietary financial support to the project. The innards of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) are driven by ‘over the line’ issues such as client-government superintendence and financing on a scale not seen before or, remarkably, with such indistinct terms. Essentially, the scheme’s purpose is strategic influence of global connectivity; while at the same time, deploying close to 30 per cent of China’s substantial dollar reserves (over $3 trillion) that has hitherto held low yielding American debt, on more strategically beneficial ventures.

And yet restoring the lost grandeur of the Silk Route has many other challenges that may not be overcome by Xi’s ‘fiat.’ Beginning with internal corruption, since the entire programme is to be funded largely by state owned banks. In the instance, as a wit put it, “then, how does a barber cut his own hair?” The matter of an opaque dispensation attempting to break from its political roots to gain a mandate of the people must add to planners’ discomfort. The questionable economics of committing billions of dollars into the world’s most impoverished and unstable regions hardly instils confidence in the programme. Already falling prices of primary products and unhinged host politics have undermined some of the 900 constituent projects. Compounding matters is the cost of freightage by rail, which is as much as four to five times that of cargo movement by sea. Besides, the current state of the enterprise is unidirectional as rakes return largely empty on the east-bound leg. Chinese ideology is hardly welcome in the region. The recent use of trade as a tool of punishment, specifically in the case of Philippines from where banana imports were cut, while rare earth exports to Japan were curbed, tariff barriers raised unilaterally, and the general economic retaliation on South Korea, does not in any way serve the ends of free trade-flow or economic inclusiveness.

Chinese historians do not tire of reminding the world of its recent past that staggered between the collapse of an empire to humiliating colonization, from bloody wars to the civil anarchy of Maoism and now in the success of ‘Authoritarian Capitalism,’ some even perceive a return of the Middle Kingdom. But even if the old world order were to make way, slipping into a mire of lost belief, there remains the problem of a potentially bizarre future where not nearly-quite-dead Capitalism is controlled by a totalitarian regime fervently dependent on magnifying growth, perpetuity of dispensation and a disruptive brand of nationalism for stability; all of which echo a past not quite from the Orient but from a more recent Europe of the first few decades of the twentieth century.

In response, for Xi to turn to an even more assertive military-led foreign policy, brings to the fore the probability of conflict; specifically, on the Korean Peninsula, where China’s role as agent provocateur is becoming more and more undeniable. If the generalised theory of war suggests causes of armed conflict as introduction of weapons of mass destruction, a revisionist agenda stimulated by significant change in the balance of power, and lastly, a contrarian and often disrupted structure of order; then these are all eminently resident in the region. Yet global remedies adapted to date have neither generated a consensual course of action nor has the status quo been emphasised. In the on-going brinkmanship polity on the Korean Peninsula, the antagonists have, predictably provided partisan military support and embraced a skewed one-sided stoppage of financial and economic flows that fuel the causes of conflict (being the main donor to North Korea, Chinese leadership sees no reason to check continuance.) Similarly, dialogue has focused on little else than a dual-stance posture: delivery of military threats and a litany of in-executable demands.

The littorals of the West Pacific have, in the meantime, rediscovered the Trans-Pacific Partnership sans the USA; while on the security front the Quadruple Entente (an initiative involving Australia, India, Japan, and the United States) is averred for revival. These undercurrents suggest not just a hesitancy to endorse a China-led order, but also a push back on belt-and-road craft as well as Chinese blue-water ambitions.

In truth, much would depend upon the will to order, the universal repugnance to leaving centre stage untenanted, or the unlikely event of China’s amenability to sharing the stage.



“The World is Not Peaceful”


Vice Admiral (retd.) Vijay Shankar

Addressing senior Communist Party and government officials in Beijing, at an event to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), Premier Xi Jinping declared “We do not allow any individual, any organisation, any political party, at any time or by any means, to split any single piece of the Chinese territory. No one could expect us to swallow consequences that damage our sovereignty, security and developmental interests”. During the speech, Xi repeatedly emphasised that the “world was not peaceful and the military must forever stay unswervingly loyal to the Communist Party of China, as its absolute leadership over the armed forces is the PLA’s “unalterable soul and indispensable lifeline”. These comments came just two days after he addressed the PLA ground forces directly at Zhurihe in Inner Mongolia (was there symbolism attached since the geographic location was where Genghis Khan set off on his conquest of Eurasia in the year 1206 AD that cleaved political cohesion to the silk route). Here Xi announced “China must defeat all enemies that dare to offend”.

If now we were to establish who China’s enemies were, it would become amply clear who the target or targets are. No easy task this, as China has long been embroiled in a contest with Japan over the East China Sea island of Senkaku; with South Korea on rights over the submerged Socotra Rock; with Philippines on sovereignty over Spratly Island and Scarborough Shoal; Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei over the Spratly Islands; and Indonesia over control of Natuna Island. Beijing also threatens to use force to conquer Taiwan if peaceful enticements prove insufficient. And more importantly it has flouted the UNCLOS and conventions regarding establishing a new ADIZ in the East China Sea. China also demands title over nearly all of the strategically vital South China Sea through which $5 trillion in annual shipping trade passes and is believed to sit atop vast oil and gas deposits. Its claim of possession over the waters within the so-called 9-Dash line (it was11-dash when relations with Vietnam were different) has brought it on a collision course with the USA and all the maritime stake holders of the region as the claim overlaps with those of ASEAN members Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, as well as Taiwan. And not forgetting, China was engaged in a two month-long border standoff with Indian forces over the latter’s security relations with Bhutan and its commitment to blocking a road being constructed across the Doklam Plateau (claimed by Bhutan) which could potentially act as a spring board to sever the strategically critical ‘Chicken’s Neck’ (the Siliguri corridor); it’s elites cogitated, that it would be a ‘Just-War’ to expel India. However, on 28 August 2017, the two governments announced that the crisis had been defused and troops were disengaging.

From the Indian stand point, solidarity of the Indo-Bhutanese security pact had weathered the crunch while China’s deployment of man and material for construction of the road was balked (it can hardly be a coincidence that China is to host the BRICS summit on 03 September, a dissolution of the conclave would have meant loss of face to Xi). While Indeed, China’s nuclear and strategic promotion of North Korea provides the context for alarming tensions in the entire region, the recent US and Japan imposed sanctions on a dozen Chinese companies and individuals accused of helping North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme; is perhaps, the first aggregation of a mounting series of strictures. So in near ‘epic’ terms, the question remains, who “dare offend Xi?”

Scholars in their wisdom have found three reasons for India earning the wrath of Xi. The first is India’s strategic snub to fall in line with Xi’s grandiose One Belt One Road (OBOR) scheme (never mind that it passes through disputed territory of Northern Kashmir). Secondly, the impending 19th Congress of the Communist Party of China provides a critical context for Xi to stamp his authority by “constituting his strategic policies”, in the mould of Mao when in 1964 he thrust his ‘Red Book’ and later used it during the Cultural Revolution to ram home ideological uniformity and to weed out adversaries; to have nations insouciant to Xi’s grand designs would tantamount to abasement at the highest political level. Thirdly, since sovereignty whips up the maximum nationalist emotions, it may provide some understanding to both the recent Doklam confrontation and the situation in the South China Sea. The three put together, may seem to an absolutist, such as Xi; ablation of the indices of his power.

An important symbol of political standing, clout and legacy of leadership since 1949; from Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin to Hu Jintao, is to have their political theories written into the party constitution as guiding dogmas. Mao had his ‘Red Book’, Deng his ‘24 characters’, Jiang his ‘developmental dictatorship’ and even the bland Hu emblematized ‘pursuit of economic growth at the cost of legal and political reforms.’ But will Xi achieve the distinction – putting him in the same league as Mao – if his thoughts (conceivably titled, “Security, Development and Territorial Sovereignty on China’s terms) are accepted as the supervisory ideology while still in power? This, at the 19th Congress would give him the legitimacy and mandate, in a presumptive way, of the people to the exclusion of the politburo.

“The world is not peaceful” says Xi. Somehow, Chinese actions, Janus faced policies, coercive manoeuvres and rhetoric of recent times have only served to confound the script.