Global COVID onslaught and recently ‘concluded’ Dragon Dance on India’s North-Eastern borders accompanied by PLAN’s offensive manoeuvres in South China Sea has inextricably altered the international power equation. Perhaps that has led to re-birth of QUAD. Rejuvenated ‘non’ Military alliance (as claimed by our CoAS) QUAD and COVID surprisingly sound similar.
Let us review status of QUAD prior to 31st December, 2019 and seek answers to following questions before opining on merits and demerits of India becoming an active member of QUAD;
- Had COVID not struck the globe in the manner it did and still continues to infect nearly the entire globe, would the QUAD nations have shown the urgency to come together and hold a virtual dialogue?
- What would have been response of QUAD nations, if COVID was believed to have originated either from an unknown place or from a place outside China?
- What would have been response of QUAD nations if COVID had struck Asia with same/similar ferocity as it has done to USA and Europe?
- What has been (and will be) the stand of nearly all governments of QUAD nations on two burning issues faced by India? Firstly the J&K issue and secondly boundary dispute with China?
- Will QUAD nations influence India to move away from Russia, our most trusted ally in the post 2nd WW era?
Answer to all the above is elementary and simple. QUAD nations would have conveniently ignored the COVID tragedy if it had affected only Asian continent and would have continued with normal business blaming uncontrolled population growth, poor sanitation and non existing health care as the cause of COVID spread. But the manner in which COVID has annihilated the advanced ‘WEST’, USA in particular has forced them to look out of their glass cathedrals. Needless to mention that on strategic front China does not approve of QUAD and expressed displeasure in no uncertain terms by issuing diplomatic protest.
Brief review of QUAD’s performance since 2007, the year in which QUAD came into existence due to initiative of the then Japanese PM Shinzo Abe. Indian PM Manmohan Singh also played a crucial role. VPOTUS Dick Cheney and Australian PM John Howard also supported QUAD. Before flowering into a genuine Security and/or Diplomatic organization of international standing, QUAD virtually ceased to exist as early as early 2008 due to following reasons;
- Pro China Japanese PM Yasuo Fukuda assumed office in late 2007.
- Australia opted to withdraw from QUAD in early 2008.
- Indian PM categorically asserted that Indo-China relations were a priority, perhaps rightly so.
- Military exercise MALABAR by the Navies of India, Japan and USA was the major outcome/accomplishment of QUAD.
For nearly a decade QUAD remained in hibernation. It was in 2017 that the then heads of state of Australia, India, Japan and USA decided to revive QUAD. Recently held naval exercise MALABAR is, perhaps, the only accomplishment.
USA, Australia and even Japan has opposed India’s stand on Jammu & Kashmir in the United Nations. In fact continued support of USA to Pakistan in spite of being home to international terrorists remains a major concern for India. Current US Defence Secretary on assuming charge categorically stated that USA cannot ignore Pakistan. USA (read current POTUS) was instrumental in cancellation of Cryogenic Engines deal with Russia and approval of non-military aid to Pakistan for five years @ of USD 1.5 Billion/year. Australia openly condemned our second nuclear weapons trials and even refused to sell Uranium ore to India, which has since been recommenced.
A word about BRICS at this stage would be essential to place the issue in clear perspective. Among the BRICS nations Russia has remained a time tested Indian supporter in international fora. Physically separated Brazil and South Africa have looked towards India as an emerging power only towards the end of last century. Till around 1970 China was a competitor as well as an adversary of India. During the past five decades China has galloped to become a super power.
Russia holds a unique position among seven nations of QUAD and BRICS combine wrt India. Indian military sans Russian hardware will be akin to an uniformed but unarmed police force. We cannot shy away from the reality. This situation will remain same at the very least till end of 21st century.
Façade of friendship with India by these nations may have never ever taken place if COVID had not struck the globe with such ferocity. Whether COVID is a demonstration of biological warfare or not and who started it might never be settled but India’s emergence as the numero uno COVID vaccine producer has enhanced our image in international arena.
In the existing international power balance, QUAD nations (other than USA and India) have little or no contribution/influence. Australia geographically as well as militarily lies at one corner of the globe and does not/cannot influence any military outcome in any part of the world. Australia, at best, remains a ‘back-bencher’ in the geo strategic equation. Japan has her own problems with China. Both these nations have openly criticized India going nuclear but conveniently glossing over ‘terroristan’ increasing her nuclear arsenal. Thus USA remains the only entity within QUAD, which can, rather will influence/dictate terms in future. Do we want to become part of an unstated ‘military’ alliance? Exercise ‘MALABAR’ is surely not a sailing regatta!
Compulsions facing each of the QUAD nations will keep them engaged with resolution of their respective problems. USA, the international super power has numerous compulsions of her own, which will be briefly listed below.
- China. In the post IInd world war era no US administration had ever done deep analysis about China by adopting thoughtful and rational process based on facts as was done by Trump’s NSA Lt Gen McMaster. His analysis culminated in preparation of a written document called National Security Strategy in 2017. This document contained numerous postulates differing widely from US perceptions of previous administrations but most tantalizing part was total reversal of how US viewed China. Proverbial glass ceiling was shattered to pieces. NSS clearly and categorically identified Xi regime as anti-US or an avowed adversary by listing rules made by CCP, which were detrimental to US economy. Trump, thus became first POTUS to show the mirror to China. US-China ‘engagement’ is far more serious than the erstwhile US-USSR confrontation during four decades of cold war. US-China ‘engagement’ can turn into a shooting match at short notice engulfing the rest of the world as well. China’s military build up is vastly disproportionate to its defensive requirement. Chinese posturing at recently concluded China-US deliberations at Anchorage is a pointer of things to come in near future.
- Russia. Obama regime attempted to improve relations with Russia by giving ‘clean chit’ to Putin. Even Trump administration continued on same route ignoring Kremlin’s assassination policy of Putin’s opponents. Growing bonhomie between China and Russia will become a major politico-military deterrent to US in times to come. Obama altered the famous ‘wait and watch’ precept to calling it ‘Strategic Patience’. The term ‘Strategic Patience’ is perhaps synonymous with ‘Flexible Response’ used in the context of nuclear retaliation during cold war era. Neither term indicates the will to address the main issue; the threat. Usage of such terms invariably indicates indecision/incapability to take tough and hard decisions in time. Most recent cyber breaches of top level US departments has been attributed to Russian hackers. Cyber security has thus become the Achilles heel of USA in spite of billions of dollars spent on creating air tight cyber security.
- North Korea. Trump became the first POTUS to not only meet the North Korean dictator but also actually set his foot on the North Korean soil. China’s vice like grip over North Korea ensured that two Trump-Kim meetings produced no results. North Korea declined to abandon the nukes. Nuclear weapon tipped SSM of North Korea remain the most potent threat to US security.
- Iran. Trump’s decision to withdraw from JCPOA in 2018 and subsequent sanctions imposed has created a highly unstable situation. Iran is but few baby steps away from producing nuclear weapon. Israel has clearly enunciated its option to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities. Few covert attacks in form of huge explosions have already caused substantial damage to few Iranian facilities.
- Economic Security. Trump said ‘Economic Security is National Security’. In the history of USA toughest measures were instituted to develop aggressive and most comprehensive national economic security to contain Chinese growth. America’s standing as an economic power has been seriously challenged for the first time ever by the Dragon.
- Human Rights. US behaves and believes itself to be champion of human rights. Insignificant ‘Nobodys’ viz Meena Harris comment on the ongoing farmers agitation in India. In doing so they individually and collectively fail to recognize and identify themselves as the residents of one of the most RACIST nation in the world, which witnesses gruesome shooting events at regular intervals. In India we have nearly extinguished untouchability in less than 50 years after independence. In Indian Military there is nothing like caste/religion/regional likes/dislikes/biases. US military by their own admission is infested with RACISM. Very recently a BLACK F-22 PILOT RESIGNED AFTER SERVING USAF FOR 11 YEARS because his white compatriots called him names. Can US teach us anything on human rights when she has failed to eradicate the curse of RACISM 400 years after becoming an independent nation? USA’s recent accomplishment of human rights record is downgradation of US ranking in democratic scale.
- Terrorism. Until 9/11 catastrophe struck USA, they were preaching us about how to differentiate between a terrorist and freedom fighter. Ironically it had to be disaster of 9/11, which educated US administration as well as citizens about threat to international peace due to terrorism, a religion sans international boundaries.
- State of US Defence Forces. In 2017 US Army Vice Chief of Staff had testified in front of senate committee on defense that ONLY THREE OUT OF 31 BRIGADE COMBAT TEAMS (BCTs) could be called upon to fight tonight in the event of a crisis. It is to the credit of Trump administration that by March 2020 nearly 75% of active duty BCTs had reached top level of readiness. Trump administration paid undivided attention towards enhancing R&D facilities, which focused on development and production of modern weapons and platforms. However the army leadership has clearly warned that operational preparedness will/may become a casualty if sustained and timely funding is not approved. It will be relevant to state that for the fiscal 2021 US R&D budget fell to 27.6% from earlier 39.6%, where as Chinese share of global spending on R&D rose to 26.3% from an earlier figure of 4.9% in fiscal 2018. Perhaps Indian ignoramuses need to learn something from China. F-35, the trillion dollar project has been found to be operationally difficult to sustain. ‘Floating Airfields’ another name for super carriers are non operational because EMALS system is unreliable are few other major hurdles US military is facing.
- Non Proliferation. India not being a signatory to NPT continues to remain the biggest thorn in Indo-US relations. While US continues to develop weapons and delivery systems of mass extinction, it preaches India restraint with two nuclear powers bordering India. Height of parochialism!
Above stated facts in brief have been mentioned to clearly highlight the issue that USA as a nation can barely take care of her own interests. How then do we expect USA to help us in Indo-Pacific region? Indo-Pacific region was in same shape in 1971 when US VIIth fleet sailed into Indian proximity to support ‘Terroristan’. USA supported UN Security Council resolutions no 99 and 100 brought against India. It is the VETO of our genuine all weather friend and ally that saved the day for us. Can we in India trust USA as military ally when US Defence Secretary and Charge d’ affairs in New Delhi openly talk about CAATSA sanctions applicability because we are buying Russian S-400 ANTI-MISSILE SYSTEM? Should we allow any nation to dictate terms to us on any issue, particularly related with our national security?
US wants India to carry her baggage of flawed policies churned out by successive US administrations from the days of Korean War and beyond because China has challenged US supremacy. Using Indo-China border dispute as a handle US wants India to fight its war with China. Suddenly the term ‘Indo-Pacific’ has become the buzz word and was mentioned by POTUS during recent virtual QUAD summit more than once. Were the QUAD nations sleeping when China held 17th national congress of the communist party of China in Beijing from 15th to 21st October 2007 in which China clearly enunciated her goals for next 30 years i.e till 2037A.D.?
Developing Sino-Russian relations will be to our advantage. Even in the recent Indo-China conflict, Russia had clearly informed us about impending Chinese troop movement in and around Ladakh region. Surely we cannot expect Russians to interpret Chinese intent and convey it to us. That is for us, our intel agencies to do. Our intel agencies and senior military leadership failed to appreciate probable Chinese intent and react in time. In fact an ‘Americanised’ Indian General went on to blame Russia for not informing us of Chinese intent. Laughable indeed!
- Joining and staying with QUAD or BRICS may be of little consequence. But keeping our reliable ally Russia in good humour must remain our priority and must not be allowed to be diluted notwithstanding developing bonhomie with USA.
- It is imperative that India does not fall prey to adopting policies viz ‘Strategic Patience’ and/or ‘Flexible Response’ as practiced by USA. India must remain a ‘PRO-ACTIVE’ nation while dealing with neighbours, both for extending a helping hand (viz free COVID vaccine) as well as chopping off the weaponised arm, as we decided in case of Balakot Strike and Punching the Dragon’s Nose.
- In the developing geo strategic scenario, where mere holding of weapon platforms and/or largest standing military strength is of little or no consequence unless it is backed by open power projection and clearly defined intent, India must change her defunct policy of ‘No First Use’ of NUKES to ‘NEED BASED FIRST USE’.