The Quad (US, Japan, India, Australia Security Dialogue) : Updates and Discussions


Senior member
Dec 3, 2017

What Kenya stands to gain from US, India, Japan and Australia Quad group​

Heads of state and government rarely communicate with the public through newspaper Op-Ed columns. And in particular they do not write Op-Eds about significant foreign policy issues.

They usually leave that to their Foreign Ministers or other government officials concerned with foreign affairs.

So, it was a surprise to see one published by The Washington Post Online and authored by not one, but leaders.

And not just any heads of state and government but US President Joe Biden (in his first ever Op-Ed as president); Japan Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, India’s Narendra Modi; and Australia’s Scott Morisson.

There is much to be gained in analysing the article to see what it implies not just for the world but even for Kenya in particular.

The purpose of the Op-Ed was to promote the “Free and Open Indo Pacific” idea but they approached the subject very indirectly, and very dramatically:

“In December 2004, the continental shelf off the coast of Indonesia shifted two meters, creating one of the largest tidal waves in modern history and a nearly unprecedented humanitarian crisis around the Indian Ocean. With millions displaced and hundreds of thousands killed, the Indo-Pacific region sounded a clarion call for help. Together, our four countries answered it.

Australia, India, Japan and the United States — a group of democratic nations dedicated to delivering results through practical cooperation — coordinated rapid humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to people in need. Our cooperation, known as “the Quad,” was born in crisis. It became a diplomatic dialogue in 2007 and was reborn in 2017.

Climate change was brought into the discussion:

“It is clear that climate change is both a strategic priority and an urgent global challenge, including for the Indo-Pacific region. That’s why we will work together and with others to strengthen the Paris agreement, and enhance the climate actions of all nations.”

The subject then turned to the great global health challenge of our time: the Covid-19 pandemic. On this the four leaders had this to say:

“And with an unwavering commitment to the health and safety of our people, we are determined to end the covid-19 pandemic because no country will be safe so long as the pandemic continues. The pandemic is among the greatest risks to health and economic stability in recent history, and we must work in partnership to stop it in its tracks. Now, we are launching an ambitious effort to help end Covid-19. Together, we pledge to expand and accelerate production in India of safe, accessible and effective vaccines.”

And it is when the Covid-19 pandemic is mentioned that matters of direct interest to Kenya arise:

“The pandemic is among the greatest risks to health and economic stability in recent history, and we must work in partnership to stop it in its tracks. Now, we are launching an ambitious effort to help end covid-19. Together, we pledge to expand and accelerate production in India of safe, accessible and effective vaccines. We will partner at each stage to ensure that vaccines are administered throughout the Indo-Pacific region into 2022. We will combine our scientific ingenuity, financing, formidable productive capacity and long history of global-health partnership to surge the supply of life-saving vaccines, in close collaboration with multilateral organizations including the World Health Organisation and Covax Facility.”

This Covax Facility is of course the project that has already delivered the first batches of Covid-19 vaccines to Kenya. And notably, India has followed closely with its own donation of vaccines.

This is an act of unforgettable generosity made even more remarkable by the fact that India is still continuing its own vaccination programme. What they have given us is not “leftovers” from a successfully completed vaccination campaign. It is intended rather to provide vaccines for Kenya’s frontline workers, even as the war against the coronavirus rages on, as much in India as here in Kenya.

The nurses, doctors, policemen, teachers, and others who will benefit from India’s generosity will now be able to go about their duties without being weighed down by fear of infection by the deadly coronavirus.

But it’s not only about vaccines. There is an economic dimension as well:

Ending and recovering from the pandemic, standing up to climate change, and advancing our shared regional vision will not be easy. We know we cannot and will not succeed without coordination and cooperation. We will renew and strengthen our partnerships in Southeast Asia, starting with the Association for Southeast Asian Nations, work with the Pacific Islands, and engage the Indian Ocean region to meet this moment. The Quad is a flexible group of like-minded partners dedicated to advancing a common vision and to ensuring peace and prosperity. We welcome and will seek opportunities to work with all of those who share in those goals.”

This mention of “engaging the Indian Ocean region…to ensure peace and prosperity” is of deep significance to Kenya.

Here you note that Japan has been at the forefront of helping Kenya set up its own Coastguard service, with a gift of high-speed patrol motorboats to the maritime police unit a few years ago, along with funds for training and capacity building for the Kenya Coast Guard.

Further, the global conference on the Blue Economy was held here in Nairobi in 2019, with financial support from the government of Japan.

Fisheries is one of Kenya’s great unexploited resources, with a potential of creating hundreds of thousands of jobs, and the creation of new export markets for the products harvested from the Indian Ocean.

In a country where youth unemployment has long passed crisis level, this is an opportunity of great significance.

Global marine fisheries are an economic sector which constitute an annual value of about $100 billion, with associated jobs estimated at about 100 million, directly and indirectly. Kenya has thus hardly scratched the surface of its fisheries potential for job creation.

So, there is much that has already been received by Kenya from members of “The Quad”. And much more yet to be expected.

Democratic Values rally behind the QUAD Alliance​

Op-ed: In the post-corona world order, countries are willing to give a shot to Globalisation pivoted on democratic values and not profits alone. The recent QUAD meeting of the heads of the states is a symbol of democratic powers aligning to economic and social avenues of collaboration. The long-term move could be to keep out non-democratic powers from deriving the benefits of free economics. The US under Biden has taken a keen interest in assuming the leadership. QUAD is one of the few forums where the US can show-case leadership and garner the support of its allies. The Vaccine Programme is one of the biggest outcomes from the latest meeting. While military actions requirement by QUAD appears distant, economic decoupling with rogue regimes is the least democratic powers can start with.

The United Kingdom appears keen to join the forum in some or the other format. EU powers like Germany and France are considering bilateral collaborations in the Indo-Pacific concept in the same area. The only ocean named after a country, the Indian ocean, hosts the majority of the exchange of goods, raw materials, oil, gas, and resources of the world. In the words of Mr. Boris Johnson, Indo-Pacific is increasingly becoming the geopolitical center of the world. Democracy has stung communism big time in Galwan debacle at the ongoing standoff between India and China. The status of Delhi has shot up multiple times with the massive Vaccine diplomacy and a chance of 5G Diplomacy from next year end.

The global flow of communication and transactions faces serious threats with the actions of the Chinese communist party regime. Australia has long been at the receiving end of the autocratic behavior of the Chinese from trade to diplomacy. There is no principle of equity or reciprocity in trade or diplomacy with China. Perhaps, this is the reason that the Scott government has taken an about-turn from Kevin Rudd’s cold response to the warm embrace of QUAD now. Economic might eventually turn into defence might. But war is a dead-end to healthy economics. When the World says Rules-based or Rule of Law, what CCP hears is Rule by Law. The world must decide if it wants to restrict trade in pre-emption or risk corporate interests importing this dangerous ideology back home in nexus with political elements. The CCP continues to lay traps of joint industrial parks, sister city MOUs, and economic promotion conferences to lure the profit-seeking businessmen from democracies.

The vigilant Indian government banned several Chinese applications on time. Chinese applications are well-known weapons of suppression and manipulation. With apps such as Tiktok and WeChat, China can access a massive, less-literate population and misuse the emotional and social profiling data bank created over time. The ability to talk to the enemy’s population directly, by-passing the enemy’s leadership is a lethal weapon of war. Imagine mobilizing a huge crowd with a fake narrative. China handles electricity grids and power distribution contracts in a few of the South China Sea countries under BRI. Besides the belligerence in the South China Sea, these few also face the trauma of allowing dams over rivers flowing to them from China for the sake of electricity and let China also control their water taps. This Chinese concept of Unrestricted Warfare will force QUAD nations to bond further and take actual defence actions on the ground in the future. Economic and social collaborations of the QUAD should go ahead with the isolation of rogue regimes in the back of mind in the short to medium term.

From the QUAD, Australia can be the first casualty when China resorts to any belligerent move in the region. From the possibility of cutting off sea routes to shunting down education business to banning crucial exports to Australia, it can play all the moves. The freedom of navigation of the seas is universal and accepted by all and QUAD can help preserve it. The QUAD nations must also collaborate diplomatically. Be it India’s claim to Pakistan occupied Kashmir and terrorism or China’s predatory take over of ports like Gwadar, Hambantota, Senkaku islands, or activities in the 9-dash line. The link of the Indian ocean with the pacific is inevitable and a common front of a tussle for democracies with the communist mainland of China. The Chinese navy is visibly becoming lethal with time. Islands of the critical Malacca straits should be considered for setting up a QUAD headquarter as the gatekeeper of the Indo-Pacific.

The future of the QUAD alliance will extent to QUAD plus and a separate South East Asia alliance under the leadership of India. About 10 nations depend on waters flowing from China occupied Tibet. Waters drive the economics of industry, electricity, and human survival. QUAD must consider supporting these nations diplomatically against this probable weapon which can cause flood or famines or hamper electricity supply. Every bilateral and multi-lateral agreement proposal involving rogue members must undergo security scrutiny, be it RCEP or Trans-Pacific Partnership. The hard-earned taxpayers’ money or wealth of democracies must not flow out to enrich rogue elements anywhere under the pretext of free trade.


Well-Known member
Jan 5, 2018

China and Russia have rejected U.S. calls for “a rules-based order” - a call endorsed by the Quad summit​

China and Russia have proposed setting up a new “regional security dialogue platform” to address security concerns of countries in the region, as their foreign ministers hit out at the United States for “forming small circles to seek bloc confrontation”.



Senior Member
Nov 30, 2017

Yep. And that's going to balance out our relations with Russia and Central Asia as well as the Middle East.

A military alliance is obviously of no benefit to India. And not having one will help us deal with our security issues better vis a vis Pakistan, since Pakistan needs to be controlled using Russia and China, who are unlikely to help our in case we join a military alliance with the US.

A military alliance is possible if Pakistan is removed from the equation on a permanent basis.

But what we definiely need to see is an official Tri alliance between US, Japan and Australia. And we also most definitely need to see the defence of Taiwan as one of their two primary objectives, the other one being protecting the islands belonging to the ASEAN.


Senior Member
Dec 4, 2017
So Naravane agrees that he does not want to have a TOPI (Treaty alliance Of the Pacific Indo)
I think it's mutual. If India tries to tie the US down to written guarantees for their support or intervention in case of war with Paxtan, they wouldn't be obliging. Similarly , we have reservations in being tied to an alliance which is more SCS & ECS oriented where in case of an invasion of Taiwan we don't see how or why we should be involved in it. Finally ,we know short of intervening we can count on all the support US & allies can extend in case of a war with the Chinese.
  • Agree
Reactions: Golden_Rule


Senior member
Dec 3, 2017

Quad, India, and the development-linked cooperative security in the Indo-Pacific​

The concept of Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) was first enunciated by Prime Minister Modi in March 2015. It was put forward as a broad framework for economic revival, trade and investment, connectivity, culture, and harnessing the wealth of the seas. Security was fundamental in this approach, with emphasis on cooperative security and collective action. Speaking at the 2nd Indian Ocean Conference in Colombo on 31 August 2017, Sushma Swaraj, the then Minister for External Affairs, outlined key elements of SAGAR and gave the example of infrastructure projects like the Kaladan to Sittwe multi-modal transport corridor with Myanmar, the trilateral highway with Myanmar and Thailand, and the Chabahar port in Iran. She also mentioned that collective action in the Gulf of Aden, Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) operations by India in the region, as well as Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) patrols undertaken by the Indian Navy for the Maldives, Seychelles, and Mauritius, were aligned to this concept.

Building on the concept of SAGAR, the Indian vision for Indo-Pacific was outlined by PM Modi at the Shangri-La Dialogue in June 2018. This was followed by the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI), launched by the Indian PM in November 2019, at the 14th East Asia Summit, with focus on ‘safe, secure, and stable maritime domain.’ The Indian PM linked IPOI with SAGAR during his address at the 17th ASEAN-India summit in November 2020. While confronting numerous challenges posed by the ongoing pandemic, India has moved swiftly to make headway under the seven pillars outlined in IPOI — maritime security; maritime ecology; maritime resources; capacity building and resource sharing; disaster risk reduction and management; science, technology and academic cooperation; and trade, connectivity and maritime transport. Each pillar is considered important, critical and interlinked with other pillars, with the indisputable intent that all pillars will eventually facilitate, support, and strengthen the first one, i.e., maritime security.

The Indian PM linked IPOI with SAGAR during his address at the 17th ASEAN-India summit in November 2020.​

The transition from the cryptic concept of SAGAR to a more comprehensive articulation under IPOI, in five years, has been accompanied by a major shift in posturing, policy, and relationships by India. The period has witnessed a significant churn in the geopolitical and geoeconomic environment, and consequently, the salience of the Indo-Pacific region. During the period, many other countries too have spelt out their respective vision or initiative or strategy for the Indo-Pacific, with some common themes and convergent thought processes. These include the US, ASEAN, Japan, Australia, France, and Germany. More countries are expected to do so in the coming months.

In parallel, since its formal inception in 2017, the Quad (India, Japan, Australia, and the US) has attempted to enhance consensus on the broader framework. It has outlined commitment to ‘upholding a rules-based international order, underpinned by respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty, rule of law, transparency, freedom of navigation in the international seas, and peaceful resolution of disputes.’ Defence cooperation between India and Quad members has seen an upswing. Naval exercises between Quad members have further enhanced cooperation, and new Quad plus exercises, involving key partners, are being considered. Exercises conducted, and being planned, have been valuable but the group now seeks to develop a framework for cooperation and assistance in the Indo-Pacific, based on mutually accepted values and norms, and to prevent unilateral and aggressive approaches. It has propounded the concept of ‘many belts and many roads,’ with accent on development cooperation, emerging and critical technologies, resource management including rare earths, infrastructure, resilient supply chains with associated logistics, healthcare, and disaster management. The evolving framework is unique, with multi-dimensional cooperation for growth and development being a fundamental principle, which in turn is intended to strengthen maritime security. It emphasises that a strong network of cooperation can limit the scope for crisis and conflict. It recognises that a broad and generally accepted strategy will evolve, and does not require to be thrust upon participants. Evidently, the central challenge will be to balance idealism with realism, and to develop a common, coherent approach while accepting that many participants will also continue to adopt distinctive, self-interest-based approaches for the foreseeable future.

Exercises conducted, and being planned, have been valuable but the group now seeks to develop a framework for cooperation and assistance in the Indo-Pacific, based on mutually accepted values and norms, and to prevent unilateral and aggressive approaches.​

The maiden Quad summit, held virtually on 12 March 2021, had well-coordinated statements from President Joe Biden, PM Narendra Modi, PM Scott Morrison, and PM Yoshihide Suga, highlighting again the importance of a ‘free, open, inclusive and resilient Indo-Pacific.’ Towards concrete and practical steps for the Indo-Pacific region, three working groups were also announced — Quad Vaccine Expert Group (wherein American vaccines would be manufactured in India with Japanese funding and Australian logistic support), Quad Critical and Emerging Technology Working Group (to focus on design, development, standards, and diversification in critical areas, based on shared interests and values), and Quad Climate Working Group (to coordinate implementation of the Paris Agreement in the region). These announcements are significant as they are first steps at the summit level towards a new framework for partnerships for the region.

The main thrust areas of Quad, SAGAR, IPOI, and vision/strategy of some key nations are, cooperative security and mutually beneficial growth. The concept (or strategy) of cooperative security can be traced back through the history of diplomatic relations, and has constantly evolved over time. At the heart of this concept is the premise that peace is indivisible. There are many definitions and interpretations, but broadly it implies states with strategic interdependence working together, with common understanding, to deal with threats and challenges. Its appeal has increased in recent times, as concepts of collective security, blocs, alliances, and security guarantees have significantly waned in relevance. During the Cold War, dominant theme was collective security through deterrence and containment, with threat of counteraction and strong military response. Since the early ’90s, cooperation through politico-military arrangements and instruments (treaties, confidence, and security building mechanisms, etc.) gained prominence. The proposition of development-linked or development-driven cooperative security is relatively new. As expected, it has and continues to face headwinds due to the ‘strategy of hedging’ being adopted by many, wherein states cooperate with one set of countries for security, another set for trade and commerce, and yet another set for environmental and other concerns. ‘Realists’ consider the new model of cooperative security to be inadequate and illusory, and stress upon its inherent contradictions. However, given the current geostrategic and geoeconomic environment in the Indo-Pacific, there is no other viable alternative strategy to strengthen peace, security, and stability. If cooperative security cannot offer a complete solution, it can be complimentary, thereby, providing a higher level of strategic stability and a lower level of coercion and assertiveness. It can also act as a counterweight to prevent the coexistence of globalisation and protectionism turning pernicious.

Given the current geostrategic and geoeconomic environment in the Indo-Pacific, there is no other viable alternative strategy to strengthen peace, security, and stability.​

Cooperation for growth agenda, with focus on investment, consumption, trade, technology, capital flows, and financial stability has many models, and numerous challenges have been evident in the recent past. The security implications of US–China economic relations have long been analysed, with many holding the view that the outcome has been very different from what was anticipated. Similarly, relative mutual benefits of Chinese economic engagement in the region have been a subject of debate, with additional concerns related to their impact on the security environment. Many thorny issues, including impact of increased trade on local production and economic activity, management of respective trade balance, and depletion of revenues due to proposed tariff reductions have been at the centre stage in the discussions on Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). It is only through transparency, dialogue, accommodation, and clearly identified benefits for participants that trust for such cooperation can be built and potential pitfalls minimised. Quad can enable this approach for economic engagement, by becoming the core around which issue-based partnerships can be developed.

New vulnerabilities and increased transnational threats require enlightened cohesion, which can come about only through mutual accommodation and collaboration. Multidimensional development-linked cooperation, as initiated by Quad, should be seen by countries in the region as an enabler to harmonise domestic structural reforms with a secure and enabling external environment of trade, investment, technology, and capital flows. Stronger partnerships for growth and security, based on commonly held rules and norms, and leveraging convergence in the approaches to Indo-Pacific, would strengthen multilateral institutions, enable improved levels of security, stability, and prosperity, and lend more credibility to various initiatives underway. While taking this novel concept of development-linked cooperative security forward, Quad should ensure timely outcomes by the working groups that were announced. It should also work to build wider acceptance of this framework in the Indo-Pacific and endeavour to bring increased alignment between trilateral and bilateral arrangements within the Quad. At the same time, it should work to allay apprehensions, suspicions, and distrust to make this new framework for Indo-Pacific truly free, open, and inclusive.


Senior member
Dec 3, 2017
What is the kernel of the issue? The Quad is going broad, as Australia, India, Japan, and the US team up on vaccines, tech supply chains, climate change, and more. This is a welcome update to the security architecture in Asia, but could use a unifying framework—both for a sense of direction, and to get other “Quad Plus” nations onboard.

Why is the issue important? The Quad could use other Asian countries’ help to revitalize the regional order, but China labeling it an “Asian NATO” has them jittery about joining. And while the Quad is useful as a generic four-way consultation forum, focusing it on a core purpose—“what it’s all about”—could boost its staying power beyond ad hoc cooperation.

What is the recommendation? The Biden administration should advocate for rebranding the Quad’s work as “collective risk management,” in contrast to NATO’s ethos of “collective defense.” The Quad’s core should remain maritime security, but to help bring in “Quad Plus” nations it can create an Indo-Pacific Risk Management Council—an “Asian Geico.” Through inter-governmental cooperation and national “Centers of Excellence,” this IPRMC can share and mitigate risks across economic, biological, technological, and other relevant domains.


Senior member
Dec 3, 2017

S. Korea open to considering Quad membership, Cheong Wa Dae says​

SEOUL, March 10 (Yonhap) -- Cheong Wa Dae said Wednesday South Korea will consider the issue of whether to join a regional security forum, called the Quad, in an "transparent, open and inclusive" manner.

Seoul has the three-point principle on such a regional security consultation format as long as it abides by international norms, a senior Cheong Wa Dae official told reporters on the condition of anonymity.

He was responding to a question on the possibility of South Korea becoming a member of an expanded club of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, widely known as the Quad. Currently, it has four member states -- the United States, Japan, India and Australia.

Their leaders are scheduled to hold a virtual summit Friday. Washington reportedly wants Seoul to take part in the envisioned Quad Plus mechanism.

The Cheong Wa Dae official did not confirm if the U.S. has formally requested South Korea's participation.

He just said the government is receiving information from the Quad members on their "consultations," which he did not specify.

As they are expected to provide more details going forward, "we will review (the matter) accordingly," he added.

This file photo, provided by Yonhap News TV, shows Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)


Senior member
Dec 3, 2017

How Biden Can Make the Quad Endure​

On March 12, 2021, U.S. President Joe Biden and three counterparts will virtually convene the first ever summit-level meeting of the Quadrilateral framework (or Quad)—a forum composed of Australia, India, Japan, and the United States. This once-informal group has become more formalized in recent years, but it has been hampered by its lack of a clear functional agenda. And the group is unlikely to cohere, much less endure, without one.

To succeed, the Quad needs to evolve from a China-focused club of four to a group of first movers on an array of specific functional challenges. The best way to do this is for the four countries to form the core of a rotating set of problem-solving coalitions in the Indo-Pacific. This rotating roster would always include the Quad countries but would also pull in other regional partners on an ad hoc and issue-by-issue basis, depending on which countries bring the most capacity—and will—to the table.

The Evolution of the Quad​

The Quad began nearly seventeen years ago with a joint response to a tangible and urgent crisis, the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. For nine days in December 2004 and January 2005, these four countries’ navies provided rapid and effective relief to injured and displaced people all around the Indian Ocean littoral.

Evan A. Feigenbaum

Evan A. Feigenbaum is vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where he oversees research in Washington, Beijing, and New Delhi on a dynamic region encompassing both East Asia and South Asia.

In the years since, this informal group has become more formalized. It holds meetings, and it has discussed an array of joint initiatives. But the group has groped for purpose: instead of a quadrilateral that responds jointly to specific functional challenges, the four are today united largely by their shared suspicion of the rise of Chinese power. Indeed, former president Donald Trump and his administration seized on this more abstract purpose, viewing the Quad as a useful means of countering China’s rise in Asia. Trump’s team made the Quad a focus of its efforts to foster a “free and open Indo-Pacific.” Now the Biden administration, which shares its predecessor’s ambivalence toward Beijing, has apparently settled on the Quad as a cornerstone of its own regional strategy.

A Matter of Function, Not Form​

Because the Quad has enjoyed so much attention in recent years, it would be easy to presume that it has accumulated a record of meaningful accomplishments. Yet to date, the grouping has suffered from the very deficiency that plagues nearly every other multilateral grouping in Asia: an emphasis on the geometry of bilaterals, trilaterals, and quadrilaterals as well as a presumption that formalizing the pulling up of seats around a table will deliver meaningful solutions to Asia’s most pressing problems.

In fact, the recent history of Asia mostly shows that the opposite is true: in nearly every pressing crisis of the last three decades—from the East Timor crisis of 2006, to the avian influenza epidemic of 2007, to the Myanmar cyclone of 2008—formalized groups have played almost no problem-solving role. Instead, ad hoc regional coalitions, often assembled by the United States, have helped to spur collective action.
The Quad now risks falling into the same trap. What began as an informal response to a specific crisis is rapidly evolving into a standing group. Predictably, from the coronavirus pandemic to the February 2021 military coup in Myanmar, the four Quad countries have not provided collective solutions to urgent challenges. And their inability to do so stands in stark contrast to the precedent they themselves set in 2004, when their response to the tsunami delivered real, practical, and effective solutions.

James Schwemlein

James Schwemlein is a nonresident scholar in the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

That precedent established a model for how coalitions can best function in the Indo-Pacific. As former under secretary of state Marc Grossman, who led the tsunami coordination, has noted, the 2004 version of a successful Quad grouping had no standing secretariat. It issued no joint communiques. It held no meetings on a fixed schedule. It did not make sweeping claims for its mandate. Nor did it pledge to become a permanent institutional architecture for the region. Instead, it succeeded precisely because it took function, not form, as its guide: its goal was discretely defined, reflected clear metrics for success, and involved meaningful activities such as sharing operational information and conducting relief operations. When the mission was accomplished, the problem was solved, and this functional purpose was met, the successful group simply disbanded.

A standing group could yet have tremendous utility, even in the absence of an urgent purpose. But that will only happen if the group can work together as a core to spur regional collective action.

Trade offers just one example of how mission-focused groupings can, and have, achieved meaningful results. The trade pact known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership began with four first movers within the larger Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum—Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, and Singapore. Sensing that other countries might have an interest in liberalizing trade but that they were not yet ready to move, these four pushed forward a positive regional agenda while inviting others to subsequently join.

The Quad could function in a similar way—acting as first movers and pathfinders on other important issues where regional players have been too reluctant, or else too politically constrained, to move ahead.

But since the Trump administration doubled down on the Quad in 2017, the group has played no such role. Instead, it has suffered from a lack of purpose and a lack of definition.

Biden and his team could change this. For example, a call among the Quad countries’ foreign ministers last month highlighted the need for joint responses to the coronavirus pandemic, climate change, and other challenges, such as countering disinformation, advancing counterterrorism, assuring maritime security, and restoring democracy to Myanmar. But these four countries cannot solve any of these issues acting alone. Logically, they need other partners.

The Quad’s future would be best reconceptualized as the core of a set of ad hoc coalitions that bring in a changing cast of partners, where needed, based on capacity and will.

On Myanmar, for instance, the four would naturally seek to pull in individual ASEAN countries, since ASEAN itself has thus far failed to act collectively in a decisive way.

On countering disinformation, they will need to attract other regional democracies as partners, including Indonesia, New Zealand, and South Korea.

On climate change, they will, inevitably, want to at least try to coordinate objectives and responses with China, whose capacity for action—not just to control emissions but to export and scale green technologies and green finance solutions—is substantial.

Thinking Beyond Security​

Part of the problem has been that the Quad is hampered by its nearly exclusive focus on security issues. Its main success to date has been in increasing the tempo of joint military exercises in the region, including through the India-led Malabar and U.S.-led Sea Dragon exercises. These military exercises have been a useful step, since they are functional by definition: they involve planning and conducting drills against specific hypothetical scenarios. But a disproportionate focus on security issues has also limited the Quad’s growth potential. Expanding maritime surveillance efforts could be one area of continued action.

But non-security issues offer the greatest potential for problem solving and successful action. As a first step, the prospect of the group leading ad hoc regional coalitions in four areas stands out: coordinating best practices for COVID-19 vaccines, addressing climate change, promoting transparent infrastructure financing, and bolstering supply chains:
  • Coordinate vaccine best practices: As a first priority, the Quad should seek to become the core of a regional coalition that aims to coordinate and share data among the various national regulatory bodies for pharmaceuticals and biotechnology across the Indo-Pacific as these bodies review the various COVID-19 vaccine candidates.

    Many countries do not have rapid approval procedures for new medicines and therapies, and some require imported drugs to remain in quarantine even though the storage timeline for some of the new vaccines is much shorter. The Quad first could coordinate to advance joint recommendations for regulatory best practices. Then the group could seek partners among other countries’ regulatory bodies that would agree to adopt these practices as their baseline national standards.

    As a subsidiary issue, the Quad could also jointly commit to resisting vaccine nationalism and make assurances that needed vaccines will flow across borders without political interference. Just last week, the Italian government, with the European Commission’s backing, diverted a large order of the AstraZeneca vaccine destined for export to Australia. The Quad could form the core of a regional coalition pledging to facilitate, not obstruct, the cross-border flow of vaccines and other medicines.

    And the Quad could seek partners to help expand and accelerate vaccine production by broadening the pool of licensed private producers, as Biden did by using the Defense Production Act to enable collaboration between Merck and Johnson & Johnson. India has a special role to play here because it has an indigenous vaccine, Covaxin, and substantial domestic manufacturing capacity through Bharat Biotech and the Serum Institute.
  • Lead on green technology and finance solutions: Second, the Quad could lead regional coalitions on green energy innovation and finance. Biden has identified addressing the climate crisis as his administration’s top priority, as have Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide. Biden and Suga for their part have committed their countries to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, while India has made remarkable progress in rolling out new renewable power projects over the last five years. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government has lagged in prioritizing green energy investment compared to its peers, and today Australia’s per capita emissions remain three times higher than the average among G20 states. Still, coordination among the Quad countries could first and foremost improve cohesion and offer an example for others in Asia, including China, by committing to jointly announcing ambitious new commitments ahead of the November 2021 UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties in Glasgow.

    Beyond this, the group can together announce expanded financing for green energy R&D and possibly consider issuing a joint green bond or coordinating their separate green bond issuances. China is rushing ahead to become a global leader on green finance, focusing on an array of products from green credit to green insurance. Beijing also seeks to lead regionally and globally in setting green finance standards, including for the G20 where all four Quad countries are present. The Quad should work jointly to define best regulatory practices, propose coordinated or joint products and schemes, and lead coalitions in these areas as well. The group also could follow Japan’s lead in dramatically expanding investment in renewable power projects in Asia.

    Where appropriate, the Quad countries should press China to join them, while pulling in other green-focused partners, such as New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, and coastal and island states threatened by climate change such as Bangladesh, Maldives, Sri Lanka, and the Pacific islands countries.
  • Export high standards for infrastructure financing: A third area where the Quad could jointly drive functional progress is on accelerating efforts to raise infrastructure development and finance standards. Under Japan’s leadership, G20 nations convening in Osaka endorsed a set of “Principles for Quality Infrastructure Investment,” which were intended to serve as common standards for financing and executing competitive, transparent, and sustainable infrastructure projects. Under the Trump administration, the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation and its Australian and Japanese peers joined the Blue Dot Network, which was announced as a means of certifying compliance with the aforementioned principles.

    But the Quad alone cannot achieve this without partners. And in practice, the Blue Dot Network proved difficult to execute. So the Quad countries should work together to bring others on board—perhaps around the upcoming G7 summit, to which Australia, India, and South Korea have been invited. The goal would be to encourage partners to enact quality infrastructure investment standards both in their respective development finance institutions and, perhaps, through the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

    They could also expand policy coordination and investment transparency with the goal of reducing the space state-owned enterprises have to dictate nonmarket terms that do not live up to quality infrastructure investment standards.
  • Make supply chains more resilient: A fourth area for joint Quad leadership of ad hoc coalitions would be improving supply chain resilience. Over the last year, pandemic-related disruptions and China’s aggressive behavior toward Australia and India have underscored the need to protect supply chains. Australia, India, and Japan have already announced plans to work together to create a Supply Chain Resilience Initiative aimed at reviewing current systems for vulnerabilities to potential disruption and exploring the potential for shifting production to improve predictability in the future. Just last month, Biden ordered a rapid review of supply chains for many of the same reasons, with the goal of shifting sensitive manufacturing supply chains back to the United States or to like-minded friends and partners.

    The Quad leaders should commit to coordinating their national supply chain resilience reviews with the goal of reaching new political agreements around common rules and standards going forward. Then they should reach out to natural partners to form enhanced informal coalitions, depending on the industry and supply chain segment. South Korea, for instance, could be considered for an ad hoc partnership focused on telecommunications gear, and Taiwan could be a candidate for an industry-specific, corporate-led coalition focused on semiconductor fabrication and supply.

Avoiding the China Trap​

The bottom line is this: to endure and meaningfully solve problems, the Quad needs to shift its focus from its novel form of dialogue toward joint functional action by the group on the most pressing priorities that others in the region now face. If other countries in Asia view the Quad as little more than a talk shop to discuss the looming risks posed by China’s rise while occasionally holding joint military exercises, it is unlikely that other countries will see its utility or view it as a model for their own choices and conduct.

Of course, Beijing’s actions toward Australia and India over the last year highlight the benefits of solidarity among like-minded partners. But the rest of Asia is less focused on the Quad’s problems with Beijing and the security dimensions of its partnership than on grappling with an array of daily challenges and pressing, long-term development priorities. To lead, the Quad countries must demonstrate in deed, not just word, that they are making major contributions to solving the larger economic, transnational, and environmental challenges that preoccupy nearly everyone else in the Indo-Pacific.

If it does so successfully, the Quad can comprise the firm core of an elastic regional architecture. Ultimately, the priority today should not be on countering China for its own sake but on increasing areas of alignment and cohesion with a larger community of potential problem-solving partners. That is the best path for advancing the interests of the Quad countries, preserving security, and promoting development in the Indo-Pacific.