January 21, 2021
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The Quad of USA Japan Australia and India has been upgraded

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue of the four democratic nations USA, India, Japan and Australia is referred to as the QUAD. It is gathering steam to take on China’s aggressiveness in the Indo-Pacific to ensure free and open navigation, and challenge China’s claims and the Nine Dash Line in the South China Sea(SCS). China has arbitrarily converted rocks into islands to illegally claim large swaths of Exclusive Economic Zones(EEZ 200nm) over the seas of Vietnam in the Parcels, and Philippines in the Spratlys and Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.


China refuses to abide by the 2016 International Tribunal of the Laws of the Seas(ITLOS) award that ruled China’s claims are not tenable. To meet the China challenge after Covid-19 pandemic was spread from Wuhan, the QUAD has been upgraded to Foreign Ministers level and their first face to face meeting took place in Tokyo on 6th October, 2020, at a time when China is consolidating the China Pakistan Economic Corridor(CPEC) and a base at Gwadar with a road to Gwadar from Kashgar in Xinjiang and BRI projects in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK), that India claims. China is supplying aircraft, tanks, warships and submarines to Pakistan to beef it up as its partner. Pakistan  Navy has plans for a 50 Ship Vision by 2030, with eight submarines and four frigates from China and four Milgem corvettes from Turkey and a second OPV from Daimen besides building platforms in Pakistan. China is transferring a Yuan class submarine to Pakistan gratis for training.


The QUAD is an extension of the series of trilateral meetings held at official level, between the United States and its allies Japan and Australia since 2002 as the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue. TSD was United States attempt to rope in its allies in the East to facilitate an evolving US global strategy to fight terrorism and nuclear proliferation after the horrific 9/11attacks in 2001 on the Twin Towers in New York. With terrorism raging, India joined for exchange of views at lower diplomatic levels in an informal grouping of United States, Japan, Australia. Diplomats have met at various levels for strategic talks since 2007, initiated by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, goaded by US Vice President Dick Cheney with Prime Minister John Howard of Australia and India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh supporting.


In September 2007, naval Exercise Malabar was conducted in Indo-Pacific waters with twenty five warships, submarines and aircraft from Indian, the United States, Japanese, Australian and Singapore navies. China raised concerns with then India’s Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee. calling it a ‘Quad against China’. Beijing holds views that the 'Quad' is becoming an 'Asian NATO' to contain its influence in the region. Consequently, the Quad had refrained from exhibiting a military purpose. Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, clarified that, "India is not part of any so-called contain China effort," when being asked about the Quadrilateral. Australia and Singapore have not been included in Malabar exercises after 2007.


In April this year China’s PLA in numbers surreptitiously moved across India’s Line of Actual Control(LAC) and a brutal clash took place at Patrolling Point 14 in Galwan on 15th  June. Troops of both armies have moved up with claims and are facing each other in the Himalayan heights of over 13,000 feet to brave out a long harsh winter. Military level talks by Corp commanders have not led to de-escalation and EAM S Jaishankar has said this has created, “a critical security challenge, and the clash at Galwan profoundly disturbed ties and had deep public impact”, citing it as the first ever deaths after 1975  on the border. The situation along the unresolved China India border has become tense with the Indian Air Force put on the alert and forward deployed.


The Indian Navy has also been on alert as concerns on PLA Navy’s long term plans to move into the Indian Ocean with basing of ships and submarines in Djibouti and Gwadar and a submarine base at PNS Jinnah at Ormara it is building for Pakistan and on the island of Feydhoo Finolhu it leased in 2016 from the Maldivian government for 50 years from 2016, the nearest uninhabited island to the capital Malé and the international airport. Maldives government balances its is interests and on 10th September, 2020 Maldives Ministry of Defence signed the “Framework of Defense and Security Relationship with the United States’. India has welcomed the Maldives government's decision, as a sign that it will add to growing maritime closeness between New Delhi and Washington, in the Indian Ocean.


The India-US bilateral relationship advanced after President Barack Obama released the Joint Strategic Vision for Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on 25th January 2015. The US Congress has designated India as a major defence partner and both countries have commenced a bilateral maritime security dialogue. US-India defence trade has surged from $1 billion to over $20 billion from 2008 and the Trump administration has maintained an upward trajectory. At the personal level, US President Donald Trump hosted a ‘Howdy Modi’ event in Houston and in September 2019 and Trump made a reciprocal visit to India in February 2020.


THE MARITIME CALCULUS IN INDO PACIFIC

There is a contest for power and trade between USA and China, and India as a resident maritime power in the Indian Ocean with interests in the Indo Pacific has become a pivot as China’s PLA(Navy) has plans to be a Indian Ocean Navy next door with its nexus with Pakistan. More than 75 percent of global trade which includes critical energy transportation in over 60,000 ships annually passes through Indian Ocean and South China Seas which is becoming a flash point, though China worries for the passage of its trade at critical choke points from the Hormuz to the Malacca Straits, which can be blocked by the QUAD navies and India has plans to build up the Andamans as an island chain for its defence.

 

The IN has exercised in the Malabar series since 1993 and the Pentagon loans the Combined Enterprise Regional Information Exchange System(CENTRIX) internet modem boxes, and US Sea Riders embark IN ships for the exercises. QUAD navies have a common operating facility and after the Logistic Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) and equivalents navies provide mutual logistical support. Recently a US Navy Poseidon P8A aircraft fueled at Port Blair. After India signing COMCASA last year, information sharing and provision of US communication equipment have advanced and the Pentagon now provides uninterrupted CENTRIX access to NHQ and major ships to view the Indo Pacific plot. It is a force multiplier and the Basic Exchange Co-operation Agreement (BECA) for geospatial intelligence sharing is awaited. This is the first time that new-generation common data-links are put to use to ensure inter-operability, create common operational battle space plots on screens in ship’s operations rooms, and increase situational and maritime domain awareness(MDA) to hitherto unprecedented levels


Much was expected from the first Quad 6th October foreign ministers meeting. Only US Secretary of State Pompeo rallied against Beijing and named China’s CCP as a rule breaker. Japan’s Toshimitsu Motegi and Australia’s Marise Payne echoed the need for a free and open Indo-Pacific without highlighting that China’s claims in the South China Seas are ultra-vires. Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar did not raise China’s aggressive moves into India’s territory in Ladakh, which has tied down large Indian troops to hold ground through a cold harsh winter. Jaishankar stressed the need for Quad cooperation in infrastructure, cyber and health, with the Covid pandemic in view.


There has been a reluctance by India and Japan to convert the QUAD into a military alliance but the advanced naval bi lateral and multilateral  exercises like RIMPAC, are de-facto military vehicles of co-operation and the annual Malabar series of annual exercises from 2014 between USN, and IN have included the Japanese Self Defence Maritime Force(JSDMF), and exercise Malabar has taken place in Indian, Philippines and Japanese waters.

 

The Australian Navy(RAN) has exercised bilaterally with the Indian Navy and the third AUSINDEX-19 took place in the Bay of Bengal in April last year, and in June this year Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Scott Morrison agreed to a new ‘Comprehensive Strategic Partnership’ (CSP) between Australia and India’, The CSP bilateral relationship opens a new level of cooperation, based on mutual understanding, trust, common interests and the shared values of democracy and the rule of law. Australia has applied to join the Malabar exercises as their strategic maritime zones and interests in the Indo Pacific for free and open sea lanes of navigation and to contain China are converging especially after Australia’s trade friction with China when it banned some imports from Australia, when PM Morrison criticised .China for spreading COVID.

 

US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen E. Biegun visited New Delhi from 12th to 14th October  and delivered the keynote at the India-U.S. Forum and met with senior Indian government officials ahead of the U.S.-India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue later this year. At the Forum, Stephen Biegun joined Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla to underscore the importance of the U.S-India partnership, particularly in advancing a free and open Indo-Pacific. The Deputy Secretary emphasised the work of the Quad toward a region protected and made prosperous in equal measure by strong and peaceful nations in the Indo-Pacific, and underscored enhanced cooperation among the Quad to create resilient supply chains, promote transparency, and increase maritime security. A QUAD plus was also discussed with EAM S Jaishankar as France and UK have supported the QUAD. .

 


France is a riparian Indian Ocean state with islands and has committed to co-operate with the Quad and offered the Indian Navy turn around facilities at Reunion and exercises with the Indian Navy in the Varuna series of exercises. UK has largely greeted the Quad and exercises with the IN in the Konkan series. ASEAN has shown cautious hesitation, not least because Quad’s conceptualisation, scope and modus operandi remains unclear to them, and are wary of the China-containment narrative associated with the Quad arrangement of larger Navies. Asean has large trade with China and consensus will have to be arrived at. Indo-Pacific countries such as New Zealand and South Korea had been reluctant to ardently endorse the concept, lest they be seen as choosing sides in the US-China strategic competition. Currently however the Quad is relatively uncoordinated partly due to unreliability of the US elections and a lack of consensus within the Quad on how to address the magnitude and urgency of the China threat to chart an adequate military response.


ROLE OF COAST GUARDS AND THE INDIAN COAST GUARD

The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has stated that India cannot face China alone and deserves consideration as a contest for power in the East between China and USA is reaching a crisis point and India is the maritime pivot that can threaten the passage of global trade at critical choke points from the Hormuz to the Malacca Straits called China’s Malacca Dilemma. China’s actions in Ladakh have created a rift and Government has banned may Chinese APPS cancelled some import orders. Hence there is commonality of interests to ensure China is contained, before its too late as has been the case in the South China Sea. The role of Coast Guards in the present scenario needs introspection.


The UN 3RD Conference on the Laws of the Seas(1973) highlighted the need for protection of life & property at sea, and enforcement of jurisdiction in maritime zones & protect danger to ocean resources from sea pollution. India saw a spurt in smuggling from the sea & a requirement for protection of off-shore oil platforms was felt. The Government of India constituted an interim Coast Guard on 01 Feb 1977 for surveillance of 7516 Km of coastline and about 2.01 Million Sq km of Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The Indian Coast Guard was formally established as an Armed Force of the Union by the Parliament’s enactment of Coast Guard Act, 1978 in August, under MOD to adhere to the UN 3RD Conference on the Laws of the Seas(1973) highlighting the need for protection of life and property at sea, and enforcement of jurisdiction in maritime zones & protect danger to ocean resources from sea pollution. India saw a spurt in smuggling from the sea and a requirement for protection of off-shore oil platforms was felt.


It needs noting the words enforcement of jurisdiction in maritime zones for the ICG and as ICG is under Ministry of Defence unlike other Para Military Forces of India, India’s Coast Guard with its force level given below can relieve the ship strapped Indian Navy to carry out duties of Net Security Provider and Prime Minister Modi’s thrust for Security and Growth for all in the Region(SAGAR). After Doklam incursion by PLA in 2017 the Indian Navy’s allocation from the Defence Budget was reduced from 18%to 13% and four LPD order and third aircraft plans were shelved and force levels from 134 ships and aircraft isset to fall as twenty platforms are nearing orhave crossed thirty years of age.


FORCE LEVELS OF ICG

(a)           20 Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs). Two more under construction by Larsen & Toubro Ltd(L&T)

(b)           03 Pollution Control Vessels (PCVs)

(c)           44 Fast Patrol Vessels (FPVs)

(d)           61 Interceptor Boats (IBs)

(e)           18 Hovercraft (ACVs)

(f)            39 Dornier

(g)           19 Chetak

(h)           04 ALH


 

Search and Rescue data of the ICG is impressive, Since inception to 31 Oct 19 is 3180 missions with 3540 Ship Sorties. 2479 air sorties and 372 medical evacuations. Besides the good humanitarian work ICG has a long list of seizures of narcotics/heroin. ICG has had regular Inter Governmental interactions with QUAD nations equivalents. It had two meetings(second on 09 May 19) with the Commissioner, Australian Border Force(ABF). From 21 Jan 19 a three member delegation led by DG ICG held discussions with Japan’s CG.in Tokyo. Meetings were also held with South Korean (Mar 19), and Sri Lanka(Rear Admiral Samantha Wimalathunge),Myanmar and Vietnam. ICG attended the Heads of Asian Coast Guard Agencies Meeting (15th HACGAM) was hosted by Sri Lanka Coast Guard at Colombo from 07-11 Oct 19. The 2nd Coast Guard Global Summit was held from 19-22 Nov 19 at Tokyo, Japan. A two member delegation led by DG K Natarajan participated in the meeting.

 


Conclusion


US Navy and allied ‘Pacific Rim’ navies conduct frequent Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPS) to emphasise the importance of adhering to a rules-based international order and a free and open Indo-Pacific region. State sponsored Actors Non-state groups resorting to sub-conventional means to achieve their limited ends for gaining international attention or pursuing a subversive agenda supported by a state often resort to disruption of maritime trade. States engage in low-intensity conflict or acts of maritime terrorism through non-state actors by supporting them with resources but joint patrolling the Indo-Pacific by QUAD and Indian Navy can be an indicator and China be given a messages. Coast Guards of navies can also contribute, and so can Indian Coast Guard.


 

(Cmde Ranjit B Rai(Retd) is former DNI and DNO and author of Warring Navies—India and Pakistan)