And Then There Were Four

On September 24, after the United Nations General Assembly in New York, U.S. President Joe Biden will host his Japanese, Australian, and Indian counterparts at the White House for the first in-person meeting of the Quad. The Quad, officially known as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, is a forum for multilateral cooperation among four countries in the Indo-Pacific region on a myriad of issues ranging from security to trade and everything in between. Above all, the Quad is an unofficial partnership between the member countries that share certain values and objectives, and with a mission to address mutual regional security concerns.

Credit: Flickr

Since taking office in January, the Biden administration’s rhetoric and, at times, actions reflect a central foreign policy canon: repairing relationships with U.S. allies and partners. Moreover, President Biden came in to office with the goal of redirecting U.S. foreign policy by curtailing the United States’ focus on global terrorism and expanding to more prescient concerns, particularly China. At a time when the United States is most focused on repairing its ties with U.S. allies and partners and countering the rise of China, the Quad plays right into the Biden administration’s foreign policy agenda. 

Get By With a Little Help from Your Friends

The Quad fits neatly into the Biden administration’s foreign policy agenda as it epitomizes one of the fundamental principles: recalibrating ties with allies and partners. While the Quad is not a formal alliance like the ones the United States maintains with several Asian countries as well as its European allies through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Quad is made up of some of the United States’ closest friends. The United States has defense pacts with both Australia and Japan, dating back to the years right after World War II. The defense pacts have served as cornerstones in U.S. foreign policy for decades and, as a result, cooperation between the United States and both countries is natural and in U.S. interests. As a result of its participation the Quad, the U.S. is elevating the importance of these two key allies at a time where the U.S. president is pressing for repaired relationships with its key allies and partners.

Then, there is India, the only country in the Quad with which the United States does not a defense alliance. The Quad is not designed to be a formal military alliance. That fact, however, does not render India’s involvement any less critical; it actually makes India’s participation that much more important. India, which has historically resisted joining such alliances, is considered one of the United States’ most strategic partners. Through the multilateral cooperation of the Quad and bilaterally, the Biden administration views strengthening ties with India as crucial to his foreign policy agenda. The United States and India share many interests and global concerns, including China and climate change – two issues that form the basis of their collaboration. Through improved bilateral relations and a multilateral forum such as the Quad, the United States is strengthening its ties with India while also fulfilling one of the Biden administration’s fundamental foreign policy principles.

Let’s Be Honest

While no member of the Quad will directly confirm the purpose of the cooperation between the four countries exists to counter China’s economic and military aims, the world tactility understands its purpose. As the Economist observed in a recent article, the Quad is, at last, finding its purpose and that purpose “has everything to do with China.” The Quad was formed in the aftermath a deadly tsunami in the Indian Ocean in 2004 when the four countries worked together. At the time, Japan saw potential future cooperation as a way to address shared regional security challenges. At that time, however, the other countries were apprehensive about joining forces primarily due to concerns about China’s reaction. For the time being, the Quad remained only an idea.

Then, more than a decade later, the Quad came back together. By this time, the strategic calculus on China had changed immensely for the Quad members. For one, India, once the most reluctant member, is eager to balance China’s rising power, the most recent example being a border skirmish between Chinese and Indian forces in June 2020. Similarly, Japan is increasingly infuriated about China’s claims to islands in the East China Sea and China’s abysmal human rights record. China sparked a trade war with Australia and recently scolded Australia. Lastly, the United States now sees its relationship with China as “the biggest geopolitical test” that the world faces and has redirected U.S. foreign policy to meet that. At a time when all four countries are fed up with China’s antics in the region, the Quad proves to be an excellent method for accomplishing one of the Biden administration’s foreign policy objectives: countering China.  

Conclusion

As the leaders of the Quad member countries meet at the White House, the Biden administration is looking to expand the group’s agenda. The Biden administration’s foreign policy has two core objectives: its call for repairing relationships with U.S. allies and partners and its objective of countering China. As a result, the Quad plays right into the Biden administration’s foreign policy agenda.