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Quad quotient

After America’s ignominious retreat from Afghanistan though, its friends and allies are increasingly sceptical about the USA’s geopolitical staying power, as it were, under President Joe Biden.

SNS | NEW DELHI |

A White House meeting with the ‘most powerful man in the world’ is usually an appointment most sought by world leaders. After America’s ignominious retreat from Afghanistan though, its friends and allies are increasingly sceptical about the USA’s geopolitical staying power, as it were, under President Joe Biden. It is against this backdrop that the US Administration’s announcement on Tuesday that a physical meeting of the leaders of Indo-Pacific democracies comprising the Quadrilateral ~ USA, Japan, India, and Australia ~ would take place at the White House on 24 September despite the Covid-19 pandemic assumes significance. Arguably the most ambitious multilateral initiative of the past two decades, the Quad is expected to play a key role in reducing the growing strategic footprint of China, and the Biden Administration is keen to underline the point that it still has skin in the geostrategic game while reassuring its nervous allies that Afghanistan was a one-off. It is, perhaps, Mr Biden who needs the White House photo-op more than the leaders he will be hosting. President Biden and Prime Ministers Narendra Modi (India), Yoshihide Suga (Japan) and Scott Morrison (Australia) will discuss deepening ties, fighting Covid-19 and climate change, cooperation on emerging technologies and cyberspace, and promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific, Washington has iterated. But the elephant in the room is still the hesitancy to formalise a framework of security-military cooperation between Quad nations which could lead to treaty commitments to come to each other’s aid in the event of an act of aggression against any of its members. Of course, joint military ~ especially naval ~ exercises are very much part of the Quad’s engagement, but these are widely regarded as more showboating than substantial in strategic terms. On issues such as working together to ensure resilient supply chains (including for semiconductors) which will not depend on China or any one country in particular, vaccine development, distribution of raw materials, and enhancing cybersecurity, however, the leaders are expected to make some progress. A panel of experts put together by the Mumbai-based think-tank Gateway House has identified five crucial areas for the Quad to get its head around ~ the pharmaceutical sector, critical minerals supply chains, financial technology and cybersecurity, space and 6G, and undersea communication cables. The need to increase economic and technological interdependence among the Quad countries and to establish common and updated rules and standards for emerging technologies is a key recommendation of the expert panel. To be fair, before the Afghan disaster unfolded, President Biden had initiated a bold diplomatic outreach to the Indo-Pacific region. In July, the choreographed visits to Quad nations of three top officials from his administration ~ Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman, Secretary of Defence Lloyd J. Austin III, and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken ~ clearly indicated a strategic re-focus away from the 20 years of Afghanistan and Iraq and towards maritime Asia, where China is the compelling challenge. But he dropped the ball. Now, it is up to Mr Biden to pick it up and run with it again.