SQUAD to Replace QUAD?

To counter the increasing Chinese belligerence in South China Sea, and to maintain its hegemony in the Indo-Pacific, the US has entered into a new defence partnership in the region. Adopting Philippines in the latest grouping nicknamed ‘SQUAD’ by Pentagon, it includes Japan, Australia, the Philippines and the US

By Asad Mirza

Opinion

Apparently the latest American move could be described as an American move to thwart threat of a war over Taiwan and stepping up its regional defence diplomacy in a forceful challenge to China’s rising regional threats and ambitions.

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Reportedly, in early May, US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin hosted counterparts from Japan, Australia and the Philippines for what is being privately referred to as a budding new ‘Squad’ defence partnership in the Indo-Pacific region.

The participants apparently “share a vision for peace, stability and deterrence in the Indo-Pacific” and have “chartered an ambitious course to advance that vision together.” Austin said during a press conference on the sidelines of the defence summit in Hawaii, home to the US Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM). He also claimed the new quadrilateral would rapidly consolidate into a long-term security grouping.

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The ‘Squad’ meeting came just weeks after the four nations conducted their first-ever joint patrols in the hotly contested South China Sea and the historic Japan-Philippine-US trilateral summit between Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr and US President Joe Biden at the White House.

In early May, US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin hosted counterparts from Japan, Australia and the Philippines for what is being privately referred to as a budding new ‘Squad’

In the coming months, the four Squad nations are set to enhance interoperability, conduct more joint patrols and drills, and enhance intelligence and maritime security cooperation – all with an eye on China’s expanding footprint across the Western Pacific.

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Is the Quad Dying?

This leads us to a rather obvious question, what about the QUAD? Quad is a four-nation grouping comprising India, Australia, the US and Japan, but if compared with ‘Squad’ the later seems to have a rather greater internal coherence and a clear shared strategic vision for the region.

Ostensibly what complicated the game for Quad was India’s continued close ties with its traditional security partner Russia and over time it has openly defied Western-led sanctions on Moscow over its Ukraine invasion. Further, India does not have any defence treaty with any Quad member nation. But the Quad was coming under strain due to the Indian support to Russia.

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In fact, India under Narendra Modi’s leadership has steadfastly stood by Russia as a major strategic partner. To the West’s consternation, India has continued to purchase advanced Russian weapons systems while massively expanding its imports of discounted Russian oil. Meanwhile, India has pushed back hard on what it sees as Western ‘hypocrisy’ and neo-colonialism.

The four ‘Squad’ nations are set to enhance interoperability, conduct more joint patrols and drills, and enhance intelligence and maritime security cooperation

In the case of ‘Squad’ unlike India, the Philippines is a US mutual defence treaty ally and is set to finalise a Visiting Forces Agreement-style pact with Japan similar to its existing agreements with Australia and the US. The Marcos Jr administration has expanded the number of Philippine bases to which the US has rotational military access, including facilities close to Taiwan.

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Moreover, the new ‘Squad’ will likely further embolden the Philippines in its on-going maritime tussles with China, which have recently intensified through Chinese “grey zone” tactic attacks on Philippine ships. That, in turn, has raised concerns of a possible armed conflict that draws in the US and perhaps by extension Japan and Australia.

China’s Communist Party-run Global Times mouthpiece has openly warned that the new ‘Squad’ security grouping is ‘exacerbating regional risks’, underscoring Beijing’s growing irritation with Manila’s role as a new linchpin in America’s ‘integrated deterrence’ strategy of counterbalancing China’s regional rise and ambitions.

Apparently the Quad was supposed to guard the American interests but was not ready to supply any member state with American arms and weapons

Was Quad an Asian NATO?

Additionally, the Quad, which was sometimes also referred to, as the Asian Nato was not essentially NATO-like, an issue, which to the Indian consternation was not in its favour. Apparently the Quad was supposed to guard the American interests but was not ready to supply any member state with American arms and weapons.

The Indian Foreign Minister s Jaishankar made his displeasure obvious when at a press conference at the last Munich Security Conference he said that it isn’t (an Asian-NATO) because there are three countries who are treaty allies. We are not a treaty ally. It doesn’t have a treaty, a structure, a secretariat; it’s a kind of 21st -century way of responding to a more diversified, dispersed world.

Meanwhile, despite its heated border disputes with China, India has also refused to join any coalition or major drills aimed at constraining Beijing’s maritime ambitions. In fact, India seems more interested in maximising its own bid to become a ‘major power’ by opportunistically pursuing strategic cooperation with competing superpowers.

The Indian stand is in stark contrast to the Philippines, which has consistently voted along similar lines as Western democracies in key UN votes, including on Russia and Myanmar.

The new grouping also increases the risk that the ‘Squad’ will embolden both the Philippines and China to take increasingly uncompromising and assertive stances

Manila has also proactively pushed back against China in the South China Sea through legal cases and increased naval and coast guard deployments. And it is a mutual defence treaty ally of the US with increasingly robust defence engagement with both Australia and Japan.

The creation of the four-way ‘Squad’ also highlights a major reorientation in Philippine foreign policy under Marcos Jr.

Additionally, the new ‘Squad’, inter alia, will reportedly regularise joint patrols in the South China Sea, expand maritime security coordination and intelligence-sharing in the Western Pacific, and help to accelerate the Philippines’ military modernisation, too.

But the new grouping also increases the risk that the ‘Squad’ will embolden both the Philippines and China to take increasingly uncompromising and assertive stances, thus leading to further escalation of their disputes.

–The writer is a political commentator based in New Delhi. He can be contacted on www.asadmirza.in. The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda