Friday, September 30, 2022

Three Musketeers! UK, France & S.Korea To Expand The QUAD Alliance Amid Rising Chinese Threats?

The just-concluded summit of the  Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or the QUAD nations – Japan, India, Australia, and the US – comprising the world’s oldest and largest democracies with a combined GDP of $34 trillion at Tokyo, has rightly highlighted the resolve to enhance the region’s economic well being, strengthen health infrastructure and environmental resilience, provide sustainable infrastructure,  bolster educational opportunities, and mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change, among others.

In the process, it has also revealed various dimensions of the security challenges facing the world, though the grouping otherwise tries hard always through the public statements of its leaders and officials to underplay the security imperatives, particularly threats emanating from the rising Chinese hegemony.

That the QUAD is not a security alliance is the sacred mantra that one invariably listens from the QUAD officials. But, the joint statement of the QUAD leaders at the end of the summit this time reflects, unmistakably, many security overtones.

One, vouching for the “Peace and Stability” in the Indo-Pacific, they “underscored unequivocally that the centerpiece of the international order is international law, including the UN Charter, respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states”.

They said that they “will champion adherence to international law, particularly as reflected in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and the maintenance of freedom of navigation and overflight, to meet challenges to the maritime rules-based order, including in the East and South China Seas.

We strongly oppose any coercive, provocative or unilateral actions that seek to change the status quo and increase tensions in the area, such as the militarization of disputed features, the dangerous use of coast guard vessels and maritime militia, and efforts to disrupt other countries’ offshore resource exploitation activities.” This was obviously meant for China and its activities in the South China Sea.

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Image For Representation

Two, QUAD reaffirmed its commitment to the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. “We also condemn North Korea’s destabilizing ballistic missile development and launches, including multiple intercontinental ballistic missile tests, in violation of UNSCRs, and call on the international community to fully implement these resolutions. We urge North Korea to abide by all of its obligations under the UNSCRs, refrain from provocations, and engage in substantive dialogue”, they said.

Three, their statement also says, “We condemn unequivocally terrorism and violent extremism in all its forms and manifestations and reiterate that there can be no justification for acts of terror on any grounds whatsoever. We denounce the use of terrorist proxies and emphasize the importance of denying any logistical, financial or military support to terrorist groups which could be used to launch or plan terror attacks, including cross-border attacks.

We reiterate our condemnation of terrorist attacks, including the 26/11 Mumbai and Pathankot attacks. We also reaffirm UNSC Resolution 2593 (2021), which demands that Afghan territory must never again be used to threaten or attack any country or shelter or train terrorists or plan or finance terrorist attacks.

We emphasize the importance of upholding international standards on anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism by all countries, consistent with FATF recommendations. We reaffirm that in our fight against global terrorism, we will take concerted action against all terrorist groups, including those individuals and entities designated pursuant to the UNSC Resolution 1267 ( emphasis added)”.

Four, the QUAD block highlighted the importance of cyber security in the region. “To deliver on the Quad Leaders’ vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific, we commit to improving the defense of our nation’s critical infrastructure by sharing threat information, identifying and evaluating potential risks in supply chains for digitally enabled products and services, and aligning baseline software security standards for government procurement, leveraging our collective purchasing power to improve the broader software development ecosystem so that all users can benefit.

The QUAD partners will coordinate capacity-building programs in the Indo-Pacific region under the QUAD Cybersecurity Partnership and will initiate the first-ever QUAD Cybersecurity Day to help individual internet users across our nations, the Indo-Pacific region, and beyond to better protect themselves from cyber threats”, they said.

Modi
File Image: Modi meets Biden

QUAD Security Alliance

Of course, technically speaking, the QUAD is not a security alliance. But then, it is not an organization either. The QUAD is not structured like a typical multilateral organization and lacks a secretariat and any permanent decision-making body. But that does not undermine its importance or significance. All told, the Quad Nations have been expanding the existing agreements between member countries and highlighting their shared values.

Bilateral security relations between the Quad members are becoming increasingly stronger. All four countries now have a 2+2 defense and foreign ministers’ interaction with each other. They are now indulging in more and more military staff talks; military exercises involving ground, air, and maritime forces; logistics sharing agreements; and dialogues on maritime security, cyber security, counterterrorism, and defense technology.

In 2020, the trilateral India-US-Japan Malabar naval exercises expanded to include Australia, marking the first official grouping of the QUAD and the first joint military exercises among the four countries in over a decade.

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File Image: US Fighter Jets

Similarly, in September 2021, the four countries’ intelligence leaders took part in a Quadrilateral Strategic Intelligence Forum. In March 2022, senior cyber security coordinators from all four countries convened in Australia.

What is also important to note is that these interactions are now also involving the participation of non-QUAD countries.

The QUAD has conducted military exercises with France and the United Kingdom on an ad hoc basis to build additional capacity for military cooperation. Separate antisubmarine warfare exercises have also been held with other partners such as Canada and South Korea.

In fact, and this is very important to note, it is because of the overall “security considerations” that at least three countries have reportedly shown their willingness to join QUAD and participate in all its activities.

Boris Johnson and President Macron Resistance anniversary | Flickr
Boris Johnson and President Macron Resistance anniversary | Flickr

One is the UK. It is argued that not only does Britain share interests with the QUAD members in a free trading order—“something that is threatened by Chinese and Russian policies” —but it has also developed a set of capabilities and facilities across the region that give it reach.

From the Persian Gulf and Oman, from Diego Garcia to Singapore, Britain’s strategic relationships with regional powers mean that it is already an Indo-Pacific maritime power.

“Given the openness of Japan and the United States to external members, Britain could make for an interesting and useful addition to the QUAD in the years ahead”, it is said. It may be noted in this context that in 2017, Japan had said that it was keen on persuading Britain and France to take “collaborative roles” in connection with the QUAD.

The Times, London, had carried a report not long ago that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is looking at the possibility of the UK joining the QUAD as part of its efforts to find a new global role in the wake of leaving the European Union.

In March 2021, the UK Government published the Integrated Review (IR) of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, a landmark policy document defining Britain’s international role in the aftermath of the UK’s departure from the European Union.

The Royal Navy accordingly planned a huge show-the-flag exercise by sending one of its largest flotilla of ships to Asia. The UK’s Carrier Strike Group 2021, led by HMS Queen Elizabeth,   met up with the Indian Navy in the Bay of Bengal for three days of complex maritime interactions in July last year.

In December,  British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab had identified India as a “major strategic partner” in the post-Brexit era with the “rise of China”, providing the context for closer strategic ties.

Can France, South Korea Join QUAD

Similarly, France considers, legitimately perhaps, that it is as much an Indo-Pacific power as anyone else.  Its territories and affiliated states include Reunion and Mayotte in the Indian Ocean, and French Polynesia and New Caledonia in the Pacific.

More than 1.7 million French citizens live in these overseas units; their populations elect representatives to the French National Assembly and the Senate. In addition, France’s 9 million-square-kilometer Exclusive Economic Zone in the Indo-Pacific makes it the second-largest in the world.

France has always maintained a considerable military presence in the region. At present, it stations 8,000 troops throughout the Indo-Pacific, including land and air forces in Djibouti and New Caledonia, a naval base at Mayotte, and a naval headquarters in Reunion.

It deployed not long ago the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle to the Indo-Pacific, to participate in the Franco-Indian Varuna exercise.

It is a fact that the relationship between France and Australia, a QUAD country, is not in the best shape because of the AUKAS deal. And that is somewhat the US can try to overcome by encouraging France to be actively associated with the QUAD, analysts argue.

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File Image: Rafale-M Fighters

“The most effective way to mollify Paris, and further counter Chinese aggressiveness, would be to invite France to join the Quad”, argues Fulbright scholar Moez Hyat.

The latest to show interest in the QUAD is the new South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol (he assumed office on May 10). He has declared his willingness to “positively review joining” an expanded QUAD, just as Korea becomes a “regular guest” in expanded G7 gatherings.

Yoon told the Wall Street Journal that he does not expect Korea to receive an invitation any time soon, but if approached, “will positively review joining.”

During the campaign, Yoon pledged to increase Korea’s participation in its working groups. It may be noted that Yoon  has rebuked his predecessor’s “reluctance to take a firm stand on a number of issues that have roiled the relationship between Washington and Beijing,” thus creating “an impression that South Korea has been tilting toward China and away from its longtime ally, the United States.”

Instead, the new President argues that his country should abandon “timidity” and its “conspicuously silent” stance vis-à-vis authoritarian powers in favor of “a leadership role” on key international issues.

But then, as is the case with France and Australia, South Korea’s relations with Japan, another QUAD member, are far from ideal because of historical reasons. And here too, the US, an ally of both countries, can play a mediatory role by using QUAD and thus bridge the Tokyo-Seoul divide for Indo-Pacific defense.

Incidentally, US President Joe Biden’s official visits to South Korea and Japan preceded the QUAD summit. South Korea, which has now a new leader, promising that it will strengthen ties with the QUAD and eventually will not mind joining it, is nothing but beneficial for the group.

South Korea is a big military power, having the world’s 10th-largest defense budget and 600,000 troops. The government plans to spend a total of 315 trillion won ($247 billion) on defense in the five years from 2022.

South Korea already has a three-stage defense strategy against North Korea’s nuclear and missile attacks, including the Kill Chain preemptive strike system. The system, which includes ground-to-air missiles, could be mobilized if signs of imminent missile launches by Pyongyang were detected.

Many experts have called the frayed ties between Japan and South Korea a “missing link” in security arrangements for the Indo-Pacific region. Yoon’s election as President could give the three allies (the US, Japan and South Korea) opportunities to promote regional stability by strengthening their cooperation in dealing with North Korea and China.

And this perhaps explains why in their joint statement, and this has been noted above, the QUAD leaders devoted one full paragraph to the Korean peninsula.

  • Author and veteran journalist Prakash Nanda is Chairman of Editorial Board – EurAsian Times and has been commenting on politics, foreign policy on strategic affairs for nearly three decades. A former National Fellow of the Indian Council for Historical Research and recipient of the Seoul Peace Prize Scholarship, he is also a Distinguished Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. CONTACT: [email protected]
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