The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, that was launched in 2017 and became dormant, is moving toward resurrection. The complex restructuring of international relations and the arrival of Cold War 2.0 between Eurasian sovereignists and Atlantic integrationists has shifted to the Indo-Pacific region.
New Delhi’s history of uneasy relations with Beijing, coupled with the sweeping and consolidating emergence of the pro-Western Hindutva Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has spurred the rebirth of the Quad concept, which links India with Japan, Australia, and the US.
The Quad project is aimed at deterring the rising influence of Beijing and Moscow in the Indo-Pacific theater. The counterbalancing act of Moscow and Beijing is challenging Washington’s hegemony in the region.
Since the polarizing rise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India’s foreign policy marked a shift from its Nehru-styled non-aligned status. New Delhi’s signing of a Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) with Washington ensured that India’s strategic relationship with Russia became largely ceremonial.
India opts for Western arms over Russian
Russia now has to face stiff competition from Western arms makers in India, which was once a star destination for Russian armaments. The joint Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft project between India and Russia was officially called off after India opted for Nato-grade combat aviation in the form of the Rafale, the French multi-role fighter aircraft.
India wants to start a joint fighter-jet manufacturing program on tested Western platforms such as the F-16 Fighting Falcon or the F/A-18 Hornet, through the country’s multinational industrial conglomerates Reliance and Tata.
The defense cooperation between New Delhi and Moscow will be jolted again by CAATSA, the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act. India-Russia defense trade hit hurdles after payments worth US$2 billion got stuck because of US sanctions. After signing the LEMOA deal, India concluded a similar defense pact with France, another member of Nato in March. That clearly signifies India’s desire to embrace the West.
The meltdown of the India-Russia defense partnership was expedited by certain actions in India, such as the US Navy gaining access to India’s Russian-made submarine which compromises Russia’s military technology.
India’s alliance with Russia was again put under scrutiny when India joined Western countries to condemn the Skripal poisoning case in England, even before there was conclusive proof of Russia’s involvement. Making the scenario more interesting, Pakistan voted in favor of Moscow’s proposal on the Skripal case to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, while India abstained.
While India grows closer to its newfound Western allies, it’s becoming isolated in its own backyard. Its smaller neighbors are turning away from New Delhi and looking toward Beijing.
Ignoring Indian concerns, Sri Lanka allowed China to take operational control of the strategic port of Hambantota. The Maldives government called on India not to intervene while the country was going through a political crisis. Nepal looks to China in order to restrain India. In Bangladesh, a pro-Indian government is in charge, but the population sees India with contempt. And the ongoing regional rivalry with Pakistan has intensified.
India’s tactics causing regional anxieties
By employing coercive tactics, unpredictable policies and domineering attitudes toward its smaller neighbors, India has turned the subcontinent into hostile territory. Public sentiment is anxious about India, which has a tradition of intervention in the region. China, on the other hand, enjoys a reputation for non-intervention, and public sentiment is largely pro-China because of the contrasting and alluring alternatives that it offers.
Every step that New Delhi considers in order to influence the policy of a neighbor is watched closely, which causes further alienation and opens easy avenues for China to step in with its business.
While India was making new friends in the West, arch-rival Pakistan took a different route. Islamabad is not getting along with the current American administration, but that hasn’t inhibited it from going ahead with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. CPEC prompted Indian policymakers to oppose China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative and its close connection with Pakistan. Meanwhile, India has taken up so-called hybrid warfare in Afghanistan to undermine Pakistan’s ambitions. While doing so India gained one ally — the US — but lost another — Russia.
India’s gambit has pushed Pakistan to the verge of a strategic partnership with Russia. The two former Cold War rivals have discovered common ground in their former battlegrounds in Afghanistan, discussing arms deals and economic cooperation.
A Moscow-Beijing-Islamabad partnership?
If the strategic cooperation between Moscow and Islamabad gains a foothold, it will result in a groundbreaking Moscow-Beijing-Islamabad tripartite partnership, which will further complicate India’s precarious role in the region.
India’s rapprochement with the West has complicated its alliance with Russia at a time when Russia and China are together facing a new cold war with Atlantic integrationists. India’s entry to the Quad would be advantageous for the Atlantic integrationists, but disadvantageous for India. India’s outlook has huge differences from the other three Quad partners and risks becoming a geopolitical punching bag in a clash between East and West.
With elections looming early next year, New Delhi has to look upon the undelivered pledges made before 2014 and face rising discontent among the religious communities and provincial disparities. Meanwhile, unable to face the financial strain, Washington has started to delegate the task of policing its rivals to its allies.
The current unipolar world order with the US as the leading power is forcing India to face an unstoppable economic powerhouse in China. Beijing, an ally of Russia and Pakistan, is gaining a foothold among India’s smaller neighbors, which view India with hostility. The dynamics of India and its Quad partners are not the same.
Unlike the other three countries, India battles insurgency, has active border disputes with China and must tackle domestic economic inequality. It lags behind in various key indices of human development, faring worse than its smaller neighbors.
New Delhi must fix its own house before joining geopolitical power plays on behalf of the US, a declining superpower. When the world’s economic influence is shifting toward Asia, India cannot sustain confrontation; rather it needs cooperation. India needs to choose between its neighbors and new “friends.” Friends change, neighbors don’t.