Why is India so reluctant to make the Quad a security alliance? That China is a military threat to it, indeed to the entire world, is a self-evident truth.

 

Was Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison joking when he said even China could join the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad? Perhaps not, for when he said that the grouping is a partnership among “like-minded” countries, but not “designed” to be a security alliance, he was just echoing India’s views. The joke, if any, may be on us.

Just before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States, Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla had said the Quad—comprising India, the US, Australia, and Japan—was not a security alliance. Referring to AUKUS—the security alliance between Australia, the UK, and the US—he said, “Let me make it clear that the Quad and the AUKUS are not groupings of a similar nature.”

The Quad is a “plurilateral grouping of countries with a shared vision of their attributes and values,” whereas “AUKUS is a security alliance between three countries. We are not party to this alliance. From our perspective, this is neither relevant to the Quad nor will it have any impact on its functioning.”

Morrison too said something similar: “Our objective of working together is to ensure that we promote a free and open Indo-Pacific and everybody who wants to participate in that, including China, is a welcome partner in that cause. I, we, don’t really want to see the region in such binary terms.”

Against the backdrop of India’s reluctance to regard the Quad as a security alliance, the Australian Prime Minister’s statement doesn’t look shocking.

But why is India so reluctant to make the Quad a security alliance? That China is a military threat to it, indeed to the entire world, is a self-evident truth. That its military strength, backed with a much bigger economy than ours, is a matter of concern for us is also evident. So also is the willingness of three major democracies to strategically challenge Beijing. So, why New Delhi’s hesitancy?

The answer is a policy called “strategic autonomy”. This is how non-alignment is called these days.

By stubbornly sticking to non-alignment, officials have caused incalculable damage to India’s national interest. The most recent one is the resurrection of the Taliban in Afghanistan; this happened in part because India refused to join hands with the US and its allies. We didn’t send our troops to train and assist the Afghan forces to fight the Taliban. The rationale (if it can be called so): strategic autonomy.

The very idea is unreasonable for a country which imports most of its armaments. It cannot be called autonomous by any stretch of imagination; nor can it even aspire to become so in the foreseeable future. “The Defence Ministry has set a target of 70 per cent self-reliance in weaponry by 2027, creating huge prospects for industry players,” says a government website.

While China spent $252 billion last year on defence, our military expenditure is in the region of $65 billion. A security alliance could be a good move to tackle the asymmetry.

But that doesn’t seem to be happening. A big problem in our country is our elites’ hatred for the West, especially America. The pinkish intellectual, who earlier called the shots, would have nothing to do with the US. His successor, the modern apparatchik, hates the “pashchatya sabhyata” no less (it is another matter, though, that both send their kids to study and settle in Western countries). This is the reason the Lutyens Zone has always succeeded in peddling policies which work to ensure that India and the US remain estranged democracies.

The way US President Joe Biden has behaved in the last few months—a chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, leaving behind thousands of American citizens and much more Afghan allies behind, taking decisions without even informing Nato allies—does little to enhance America’s reputation in the world as a friend and an ally. But there may not have been any Western withdrawal in the first place had India sent soldiers to Afghanistan.

India didn’t ally with the West in its eastern neighbourhood. And now it is at risk of weakening the grouping whose inception goes back to 2003. In the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunami, an informal alliance for disaster relief efforts between India, Japan, Australia, and the US came into being. Four years later, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe formalized the alliance as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. There were many ups and downs, with Australia quitting and then rejoining it.

Four years ago, it was revived. Last year, with China getting belligerent on our Himalayan border and generally irritating everybody else, the Quad gained momentum. India seemed to be giving up its old hesitancy in allying with democratic nations. But then Nehruvian impulses, accompanied with the usual inveterate suspicion of the US, aborted the security arrangement.

Sensing India’s unwillingness to ally with them to take on China, the US nations decided to forge the new security grouping, AUKUS. In other words, India may have to go it alone if and when it comes to military conflict with China, for it is not part of the alliance whose mandate it is to contain the dragon. Instead, India will be part of the grouping which aims to “decarbonize at pace” and “keep climate goals within reach.”

That is, India has decided to ignore the real threat, China, and focus on esoteric goals which have much less bearing on its national security.

Ravi Kapoor is a freelance journalist