Evolution of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad)

In Recent Times

On 6th July 2021, the United States coordinator for the Asia-Pacific region, Kurt Campbell announced at an online event hosted by the Asia Society that US President Joe Biden is planning to host a summit with the leaders of Japan, Australia and India sometime in late 2021. In what will be the first in-person meeting of the Quad since its resumption in 2017, it aims to bring “decisive commitments” in vaccine diplomacy and explore opportunities for bilateral engagement between India and the US. This meeting will also be the first time that Prime Minister Modi will meet President Biden since the latter assumed presidency in 2020.

The purpose of this article is to explore how the Quad has evolved in the recent times. In aid of this, it will first describe what the Quad is accompanied by an understanding of the Indo-Pacific. Second, it will study the evolution of the Quad from its origin in 2007, its cessation in 2008, and recommencement in 2017, with special emphasis on the activities of China in the Indo-Pacific. Finally, it will also study how each member State of the new Quad 2.0 faces certain specific challenges that they hope to resolve through maturity in cooperation.


The Quad, formally known as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, is a strategic grouping and dialogue comprising India, Australia, Japan and the USA. Though it is generally described as an informal partnership between countries with regional interests and aspirations in the Asia-Pacific, the energetic participation of the USA has also elucidated that the unstated objective of the grouping is to contain the aggressive incumbency of China in the region which is against the interests of all the member States, through military and economic efforts. It was initiated by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2007 supported by the US Vice President Dick Cheney, Australian Prime Minister John Howard, and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Though its evolution has not always been smooth sailing, over the year, this dialogue has witnessed a combination of concerted diplomatic and military initiatives of cooperation and collaboration. There are several factors in the background of the evolution of the Quad that serve to explain why these countries explored cooperative activities in the first place. For a large part of the early 21st century, the USA pursued a policy of ‘soft-containment’ of China in the Asia-Pacific region. Either because it was primarily concerned with Iraq and Afghanistan and the large-scale War on Terror, or because it was unable to predict the rate at which China’s powerful rise in the region would occur; the US was mostly unconcerned with the Asia-Pacific for a long time. Towards 2005 however, it became increasingly clear that Chinese ambitions in the region needed to be contained to secure the security and national interests of other States with regional aspirations in Asia-Pacific, and thus, the US began to explore the possibility of a joint dialogue between India, Japan and Australia. The Trilateral Security Dialogue between the USA, Japan and Australia in 2002, which was upgraded to ministerial talks in 2005, provided an already-existing formal and diplomatic basis for the formation of the Quad. It was one of the contemporary USA’s initial forays into exploring possibilities for cooperation that would form the foundation of a global strategy against terrorism and nuclear proliferation. For the other two States, the USA became attractive as a counterweight providing strategic guarantees in the region. The relationship between the USA and India has been more complicated given India’s traditional closeness to the Soviet Union, and has been wrought with controversies even after the disintegration of the USSR in 1991. That year was pivotal for India. In the aftermath of the decades of Cold War and detente, India found itself on the wrong side of the ideological battle between the USA and USSR, especially as the guarantees promised by the Soviet Union were no longer viable. In that environment, compelled by the IMF and the World Bank to pursue economic restructuring as a necessary precondition to qualifying for necessary international financial aid, India was guided by Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao into wide-ranging policies of liberalization, privatization and globalization. As India’s relationship with the USA began to qualitatively improve, American Lt. General Claude C. Kicklighter, who was the commander of the United States Army Pacific, proposed an army-to-army coalition, which was more enthusiastically pursued and expanded in the mid-1990s with rise of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee fervently worked to improve US-India relations, offering Indian territorial military and overflight facilities to the USA to aid the latter’s offensive operations in Afghanistan against the Taliban, with Pranab Mukherjee (Indian Defence Secretary) and his American counterpart Donald Rumsfeld signing the “New Framework for US-India Defence” in 2005 as the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government assumed power. Across the political spectrum therefore, India was pursuing stronger ties with the USA. Background of the Evolution of the QuadThis new Framework had the objective of bolstering defence and military cooperation, technology and information sharing, confidence-building measures, and the institution of a blueprint for maritime security cooperation. In Brahma Chellaney’s opinion, as both the countries pursued increasingly cooperative joint military exercises over the years, the evolution of the Quad emerged as a component of a new “Great Game” in the Asia-Pacific, though some commentators have also signalled concern at the possibilities of regional instability due to continued presence of US nuclear warships, and at the US intervention and permanent presence of its naval vessels in the western coast of India. Other than these factors, the acrimonious conditions in the South China Sea in the Paracel and Spratly Islands, the Pratas Island and the Vereker Banks, between Taiwan and China on the basis of an amorphous nine-dash line of historical ownership claimed by the latter as part of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), is another reason why the Quad has been revived in recent times. The ad-hoc Tsunami Core Group that was formed in 2004 after the devastating tsunami and earthquake in the Indian Ocean to cooperate with international disaster management and mitigation efforts is also another enduring explanation behind the idea of the Quad.

To understand the evolution of the Quad, it is essential to comprehend how the four members, especially India, worked to transform the political lexicon by redefining the geographic idea of the Asia-Pacific into the geopolitical conception of the Indo-Pacific. The goal was to establish more integrated regional connections between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and to better manage China, Middle East and Africa. Indeed, this new consensus on the idea of the Indo-Pacific formed the very basis of the revival of the Quad in 2017.

In External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar’s opinion, the concept is a “rejection of the Cold War era spheres of influence and a reiteration that the world cannot be frozen for the benefit of a few”. He stressed upon the need for the Quad, the ASEAN, the East Asia Summit and the SAARC to seriously recognize the importance of this transformation, and highlighted that even Germany, Netherlands and France also subscribe to this approach of pluralistic cooperation.  Outlined in Modi’s speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue in 2018, the policy seeks to harmonize seven pillars of 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”. Through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Indo-Pacific concept also emphasized the need for global cooperation to solve global problems through frameworks of trust, transparency and multilateralism.

Evolution of The Quad

Even though the ad-hoc Tsunami Core Group disbanded after the completion of recovery efforts, it also presented a glimpse of a ‘new kind of diplomacy’ that could be functionalized into what would later become a quadrilateral inter-State vehicle of a coordinated effort on issues of regional concern. In 2006, Shinzo Abe propounded the notion of an ‘arc of freedom and prosperity’ composed of a Japan-led network of States interlinked by Japanese diplomacy and the rule of law. Originally envisaged to include all Eurasian States including those in South Asia, Central Asia and the Korean peninsula and even Mongolia, essentially “virtually all the countries on China’s periphery, except for China itself”; this conception provided the ideological basis that would put into motion the formation of the Quad. Japan also emphasized upon the free-market and democratic credentials of the Quad, and bolstered by Manmohan Singh’s joint statement in Tokyo (2006) that both the States are willing to “initiate a dialogue with other like-minded countries in the Asia-Pacific region” in areas of “mutual interest”, the Quad also intended to expand its network to include States at as distant as Ukraine. In 2007, propelled by Dick Cheney’s declaration of US interest in the Quad, combined with the consensus of John Howard and Pranab Mukherjee on the basic blueprint for coordinated action – the national leaders and important ministers of the member States visited Japan, India and USA to reaffirm the conviction to organize the first quadrilateral dialogue. As government and diplomatic officials congregated at the ASEAN Regional Forum meeting in Manila in 2007, the initial Quad met for the first time in an “informal grouping” that focused on themes of mutual interest including disaster management. The initial Quad only conducted one joint meeting and expanded military exercise with the navies of the four States along with that of Singapore in Bay of Bengal, through a redefinition of the US-India Malabar Exercise concentrating on naval manoeuvres and communication between personnel on drills, sea control and denial, terrorism and piracy and multi-carrier operations. However, even though the Malabar 07-02 was performed enthusiastically by all the national navies, it would be the last coordinated activity undertaken by the Quad 1.0. Evolution of The QuadChinese diplomatic protests alleging that these efforts were serving to “institutionally alienate and encircle” China and ASEAN in exchange for a “Washington-centric” South East Asia were only exacerbated by the infant security agreement on sea-lane safety and defence collaboration between Japan and India, that could not secure the support of the Republic of Korea as it explored its economic partnership with China instead of its traditional ally, the USA. Indeed, even as Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso (after Abe’s resignation) and Indian Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon repeatedly emphasized that there was nothing in the Quad agreements specifically antagonistic to China, the Quad also lacked a clearly-defined purpose and strategy that led to unproven allegations that it would be eventually consolidated into an Asian NATO.  Intense Chinese pressure led to Australian, Indian and American officials balking at formalizing or continuing the dialogue as they began to move away from any discussions on security or defence, with Australian Defence Minister Brendon Nelson and Manmohan Singh stating that the Quad would only discuss issues of trade and culture. Even so, there were ongoing protests in India against the Malabar 07-02, and Singh’s incumbency was threatened by the President Obama-led controversial US-India civil nuclear deal in 2009. These regional escalations brought an element of uncertainty and tensions into the already-fraught condition of Sino-Indian relations (especially in North-Eastern India). This nuclear deal also made Australia uneasy even though it had outlined a similar agreement in its 2007 Canberra Defence Blueprint; and in late 2007, the new Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd visited Yang Jiechi (Chinese Foreign Minister) unilaterally announcing that the Quad was no longer in Australian strategic interests, and that it would not be involving itself in a second Quad meeting. This signalled the end of Quad 1.0, as none of the States seemed to agree upon the blueprints of action or on the commonalities of regional threats.

The period of intermission from 2009-2017 between Quad 1.0 and Quad 2.0 provided the space for the four States to mature their collaborative and dialogic efforts through several bilateral and trilateral relationships. As the strategic balance of the Asia Pacific became even more unstable with the aggressive forays of China in the South and East China Seas, through the Paracel and Spratly Islands and the Senkaku and Diaoyu Islands respectively, due to nationalistic and assertive national projections under hardliner Xi Jinping; the US conducted several FONOPs in the region (between 2015-2017) along with an arbitration tribunal (instituted under the UNCLOS) condemning China’s actions as illegal and “salami-slicing”. The stage was slowly being set for a multitude of minilateral agreements and networks that would drive the formation of the Quad 2.0. As India brought into action the Look East (and later, under Modi, the Act East) Policy, the US under Obama also announced the ‘pivot to Asia’ in 2011, which emphasized upon a reorientation of American policy and resources towards East and South Asia away from the Middle East and Europe, and provided the basis for engagement with India in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in the Indo-Pacific. India and Japan spearheaded two trilateral relationships – Japan, India and USA; and Japan, India and Australia – that upgraded the intra-Quad dialogues to assistant secretary, vice-ministerial and ministerial levels through 2011 and 2015 respectively. India also expanded its ministerial level “2+2” (composed of the defence and foreign ministers) meeting to include Japan and the USA, along with Australia in 2017. The COMCASA (2015) and the LEMOA (2016), which were communications compatibility and security, and logistics exchange agreements, respectively, were signed between the USA and India; and were further bolstered by the historical civil nuclear cooperation agreement between India and Japan in 2017. Japan joined the Malabar multilateral naval exercise in 2015 as a permanent member, with the AUSINDEX Indo-Australian exercise increasing its size and scope to include the helicopter landing dock HMAS Canberra and the Australian Pitch Black air defence manoeuvres. In 2008 and 2009, Japan joined the Australian naval exercises Kakadu and Nichi Trou Trident, as both Japan and Australia joined the US-Philippines Balikatan exercise in 2015 and 2017 as well. In 2015, the US-Australian Talisman Sabre exercise also witnessed the addition of Japan and its helicopter destroyer JS Ise and landing ship tank JS Kunisaki, preceded by Japanese efforts at reorientation to the Indo-Pacific through opening a naval base in Djibouti (2011). In Australia, Rudd was also replaced by Prime Minister Julia Gillard in 2010, who signalled a return of Australian national interests in engaging closely with the US and moving away from China, supporting the controversial US presence in Darwin, near the Lombok Strait and the Timor Sea. Events leading to Revival of QUAD 2Finally in 2014, Australian Prime Minister reversed their policy on the US-India nuclear deal – a disagreement which had fomented the dissolution of Quad 1.0 – and agreed to export uranium to India. Along with Chinese activities in the East and South China Seas, India, Australia, and Japan found relations with China deteriorating significantly. In 2017, India witnessed the Doklam standoff in the Bhutan-India-China tri-junction and was blocked from the Nuclear Suppliers Group by Chinese assertions. In Australia, it became evident that several Australian politicians had colluded with the Chinese Communist Party in the Chinese United Front Work Department Activity, which led to the formalization of the foreign interference law in 2018. For Japan, other than Chinese incursions in the East China Sea, there was also increased “grey-zone” coercive behaviour undertaken by the Chinese Coast Guard and maritime militia vessels, with both the States operationalizing air force and naval interceptions against each other in the Senkakus and the Miyako Strait. Thus, the combination of Chinese geopolitical antagonism and several minilateral efforts at cooperation and interoperability led to the revival of the Quad in 2017.

As Abe resumed office in 2012, he called for the resumption of a new strategic framework of ‘Asia’s Democratic Security Diamond’, which was amended to the formal announcement of a ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ in 2016. In 2017, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono also suggested that efforts be made to resume the quadrilateral dialogue format, which was also discussed between the four States on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in August 2017. As Donald Trump and Abe agreed to pursue the rules-based ‘Free and Open Pacific Strategy’ (FOIP) as a response to the Chinese BRI, the officials also discussed a host of other issues including denuclearization of North Korea, freedom of navigation and overflight, connectivity and coordinated maritime efforts. Since the revival of the Quad therefore, these senior-level meetings have continued on a biannual basis, with the members meeting during the Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi (2018), New York (2019) and Bangkok (2019). In 2020, in a landmark move, Australia was invited to rejoin the US-Japan-India Malabar Exercise, to be organized off the coast of Vishakhapatnam and also in the Arabian Sea. Though the COVID-19 pandemic led to the transformation of the original exercise into a “non-contact-at-sea” format, the Indian Defence Ministry announced in October 2020 that “as India seeks to increase cooperation with other countries in the maritime security domain and in the light of increased defence cooperation with Australia, Malabar 2020 will see the participation of the Australian Navy”, thus involving all four members of the Quad yet again. Senior-level Indian naval officers, including Rear Admiral Sudarshan Shrikhande and Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, stressed that though the Quad 2.0 would not evolve formally into an Asian NATO, these coordinated maritime exercises could nevertheless serve to deter China and uphold the rule of law in the international seas and the territorial integrity of the littoral States. In March 2020, a meeting of the ‘Quad Plus’ including New Zealand, South Korea and Vietnam was held to discuss coordinated approaches to mitigating the then-nascent pandemic. As the pandemic worsened through 2020 and continues to deteriorate in 2021, in March 2021, the leaders of the Quadrilateral held a virtual summit reiterating a focus on joint partnership on vaccines and the FOIP strategy continued from the Trump era by Biden. Though there was some concern that the Biden administration would not perpetuate the US alignment to this policy, these worries were allayed by telephonic conversations between President Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defence Secretary Lloyd and their respective counterparts in India, Japan and Australia, as well as the third Quad ministerial meeting on 18th February 2021 between Menon, Blinken, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, and Japan’s Toshimitsu Motegi – all of whom reiterated the commitment of the Quad to the ideals of FOIP. This commitment to a “free, open, inclusive, healthy, anchored by democratic values, and unconstrained by coercion” Indo-Pacific that is not “dominated by one single country” was also outlined in the post-meeting joint statement entitled “The Spirit of the Quad”. This also deliberated upon a host of other important matters including the maritime confrontations in the South and East China Seas, the North Korean nuclear threat, and the importance of democratic values during the crisis in Myanmar and in the Xinjiang Province, which will define the new Quad 2.0. Though the meeting focused on non-military dimensions of cooperation, the Quad also streamlined a set of integrated strategic military partnerships through connecting existing bilateral and trilateral relationships between the States on the already –robust foundation of joint naval exercises, information and intelligence sharing. One of the primary agreements made by the members was to pledge to “deliver a billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine throughout the Indo-Pacific by the end of 2022” with US, Japan and Australia pledging to provide at least US$ 600 million “last-mile vaccine delivery” support alongside coordination with the WHO’s COVAX and the UNICEF as well as “transparent and results-oriented reforms”. The Quad committed to pooling in their “shared tools and resources” to harness the financial, manufacturing and logistical capabilities and capacities to better the vaccine distribution corridors in the Asia Pacific. The Quad Vaccine Experts Group consisting of experts and scientists from all four States is another important component of the vaccine diplomacy that has become so important to cooperative ‘issue-based alignments’ of the new Quad. There was also the effort to streamline supply chains away from Chinese influence through testing the Resilient Supply Chain Initiative (conceptualized by India-Japan-Australia trilateral) via vaccine production with India as the core. The meeting also focused on issues of climate change and technological developments, and established a new Quad Climate Working Group and another Critical and Emerging Technology Working Group. The latter aims to set model standards in 5G and artificial intelligence technologies to mitigate the critical evolving threats in cyberspace. It also expanded Japan’s Expanded Partnership for Quality Infrastructure and integrated the multi-stakeholder Blue Dot Network Process to institute a global certification, evaluation and standardization system for investments in development initiatives in the region. The former reaffirmed Biden’s commitment to implementing the Paris Agreement, which had been stalled after Trump pulling out of it in November 2020. This Group views China not as a competitor to be contained, but as a cooperative player who might partner with the Quad to alleviate a ‘global common interest’ through positive action.  Though the Quad has been ambiguous with regard to countering a ‘rising China’, it is clear that these efforts are a thinly-veiled attempt to do just so. Indeed, scholars now highlight that though there is an important security realm in the Quad relations, there is a need to coordinate on other issues such as economics, climate and technology as well, which would serve to more holistically develop the Indo-Pacific. The real selling-point of the Quad and why it could provide a stable alternative to the BRI if properly executed is that it is not just an “enclosed small clique” or a tight alliance, unlike Chinese allegations of the same. It is instead, an open-ended, elastic core group that aims to harmonize the actions and interests of all it members while also leaving space for cooperation with other States as well. Some scholars have emphasized that as China has rapidly upgraded its military capacities and replaced its policy of peaceful economic rise in the region with policies of shipping lane control, maritime incursions, market access denial and forceful compulsions meted out to recalcitrant States – all of which have become more evident with the COVID-19 pandemic – the Quad has presented a positive and rules-based agenda. Thus, there is some research that does state that the evolution and revival of Quad 2.0 were undeniably partially due to Chinese endeavours in the region, which is slowly earning the ire of several other regional partners.

Distinct Concerns and Interests

Despite genuine progress in cooperation and collaboration of interests, each member of the Quad does face distinct challenges. For USA, the main concern is the increasing economic competition with China in trade, technology, cyber and space; and it considers China as a predatory and coercive revisionary power intending to malign the rules-based international order or the ideals of the FOIP outlines in its National Security Strategy of 2017 and the Indo-Pacific Strategy Report of 2019. Diplomatically and politically too, the US finds itself encountering a militarily strong China in the shifting balance of power in the Indo-Pacific which has also weaponized regional multilateral organizations and narrative and propaganda through State-led authoritarian capitalism abetting the denigration of democracy. As it explores economic, military and governance partnerships with “like-minded allies”, it has supported Taiwan in the Taiwan Strait and Luzon Strait, conducted FONOPs in the South China Sea against grey-zone operations of the People’s Armed Forces Militia (PLA), and has begun the deployment and positioning of military assets in Northern Australia accompanied by a bilateral force posture review. For Japan, the historical enmity with China has worsened since the Chinese incursion on the Senkaku and Diaoyu Islands in 2010, for which Japan received assistance from the USA under Article 5 of the US-Japan Mutual Defence Treaty. Distinct Concerns and InterestsIn the 2020 Japanese Defence White Paper, there is also an emphasis on strengthening alliance coordination with USA through deterrence and response procedures in the East and South China Seas. Japan also views the Quad as another pillar of its increased efforts at economic cooperation in the region with ASEAN and Australia, and through the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and the TPP. Japan is more concerned about the tensions in East Asia though it has undertaken joint activities in central and western Indo-Pacific, and aims to employ the Quad to transform itself into an active participant in regional security through multilateral processes. Though Australia is geographically quite secure, its relations with China have been deteriorating since 2018 after the foreign interference law and the banning of Huawei from participation in the 5G network saw Chinese reprisal through the weaponization of trade. Australia is also concerned about Chinese activities in the South China Sea and had recognized the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s decision dismissing the nine-dash line as legal. It is also worried that the Chinese efforts to revitalize the Second War-era airstrips in Kiribati’s Kanton atoll, establishing military facilities on the Vanuatu and Solomon Islands, and pulling out of strategic economic dialogues with Australia could destabilize regional security. As the first State to bring the term Indo-Pacific into public official use in 2013, reiterated in its 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper, Australia has also constantly collaborated with India and the ASEAN through its Pacific Step-up plan and a host of other capacity-building initiatives. Through the Quad, Australia hopes to construct a stable and secure regional environment free from Chinese coercion and technological and supply-chain overdependence on China. India is the only member of the Quad that shares gravely disputed territorial and military borders with China. It has, in the recent years, purposely reoriented its policy to include the 2009 Maritime Doctrine that focused on supporting rules-based and democratic security architectures in the South China Sea, west Pacific Ocean and cooperating with littoral States in Africa, Australia, Red Sea and the southern Indian Ocean; in order to repudiate the presence of the PLA in the Indian Ocean Region, and the aggressive BRI in its immediate neighbourhood. India had in 2015, expounded its new concepts of SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) which was succeeded in 2018 by the IPOI (Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative) – both of which seek to focus on maritime security and economic cooperation in the region. India aims to synergize the objectives of the Quad with those of SAGAR and IPOI, but does not view the former as a security alliance like the NATO or the Warsaw Pact. It is desirous of focusing more minilateral, bilateral, trilateral or quadrilateral partnerships in the region, which would help balance the imperatives of the Quad as well.

In general therefore, as the Quad has evolved in contemporary times, there have arisen several areas of convergence in the inclinations of its member States, all of which were not present in Quad 1.0, and which will most likely help create a more stable and enduring quadrilateral partnership this time around. These areas include the vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific, a rules-based international order, connectivity in the region, joint development initiatives, cooperation in emerging and critical technologies, China as a regional concern, economic and trade partnership, climate change, military dimensions, and maritime security cooperation.


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