Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

Importance of maritime domain for India and role of Quad in it


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Malabar Exercise, Quad

Mains level : Paper 2- Defining the roles and relations between Malabar and the Quad

While highlighting the importance of navy for India, the article examines the need to define the role and relation between the Quad and Malabar.

The salience of navy for India

  • It took confrontation in the Himalayas to bring focus on India’s maritime domain clearly indicates that the salience of maritime power is not yet understood in India.
  • On its northern and western fronts, India faces a formidable challenge and can at best hope for stalemate due to two factors :
  • 1) Economic, military and technological asymmetry between China and India.
  • 2) Active China-Pakistan nexus.
  • Attention has, therefore, been focused on the maritime domain, where it is believed that India may have some cards to play.
  •  While preparing to fight its own battles with determination, it is time for India to seek external balancing (read Quad) — best done via the maritime domain.

Evolution of Malabar Exercise

  • Above is the backdrop against which one must see the progressive evolution of Exercise “Malabar”,
  • At beginning, it was a bilateral event involving just the Indian and US navies.
  • It became tri-lateral with the inclusion of Japan in 2015.
  • And now it has transformed into a four-cornered naval drill that will also include Australia.
  • Apart from its geo-political significance for the Indo-Pacific, this development poses two conundrums.
  • Firstly, given the same composition, what is the distinction, now, between “Malabar” and the “Quad”?
  • Secondly, does Malabar 2020 mark the release of Australia from China’s thralldom?

Defining the roles and relation betwee Malabar and Quad

  • The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad has its roots in the Core Group of four senior diplomats representing the US, India, Japan and Australia.
  • The group was formed to coordinate relief efforts after the Great Asian Tsunami of December 26, 2004.
  • The present Quad has obviously retained this tradition and its members have neither created a charter nor invested it with any substance.
  • The Quad is 16 years old now, and Malabar 28.
  • Both have served a useful purpose, and a reappraisal of the roles and relationship of the Quad-Malabar concepts is, therefore, overdue.
  • Since it is India which faces a “clear and present danger”, it should boldly take the initiative to do so.

Need for the Indo-Pacific Concord

  •  In order to rein in China’s hegemonic urges, there is need for affected nations to come together to show their solidarity and determination in a common cause.
  • In this context, there is need to create a broad-based “Indo-Pacific Concord”, of like-minded regional democracies.
  • This should be an organisation with a maritime security charter, which has no offensive or provocative connotations.
  • Using the Quad and Malabar templates, a shore-based secretariat can be established in a central location like Port Blair, in the Andaman Islands, which would schedule and conduct periodic multinational naval exercises.
  • The exercises could be structured to hone the skills of participating navies in specialisations like humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, countering non-traditional threats, undertaking search-and-rescue operations and establishing networked maritime domain awareness.
  • The Concord could also designate forces to uphold maritime security or “good order at sea”.

What Australia joining Quad means

  •  The prospect of Australia belatedly joining the Quad is expected to reinforce the Quad and enhance its credibility.
  • But there are reasons for India to be circumspect it.
  • Memories are still alive of its past political ambivalence towards India, its criticism of our naval expansion and its vociferous condemnation of the 1998 nuclear tests.
  • Nor should one overlook Beijing’s recent influence on Australia’s foreign policy.
  • This influence on Australia’s foreing policy caused it to flip-flop over the sale of uranium to India as well as its peremptory withdrawal from the Quad in 2008.

Implications of singing of BECA with the U.S.

  • India signing the BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement) with the US last of the four “foundational agreements” would enhance interoperability between the respective militaries.
  • However, there is need to pay heed to two valid concerns:
  • 1) Regarding the possible compromise of information impinging on India’s security.
  • 2) Whether these agreements will barter away the last vestiges of India’s strategic autonomy.

Consider the question “The changing geopolitical equations has necessitated the formation of Indo-Pacific Concord by the democracies of the region.” In light of this, elaborate on India’s role in Quad and its implications for the region”


Indians, given our history, should never lose sight of the truism in international relations, that it is the unerring pursuit of national interests that guides the actions and policies of every nation.

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