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Are We Ready for the Quad? Two Contradictory Goals

Issues & Insights Vol. 21, SR 2, pp. 28-33

Volume Overview

“Are we ready for the Quad? Two contradictory goals” is the first chapter of Issues & Insights Vol. 21, SR 2 — Advancing a Rules-Based Maritime Order in the Indo-Pacific. Authors of this volume participated in the Indo-Pacific Maritime Security Expert Working Group’s 2021 workshop that took place, virtually on March 23-24, 2021. The working group, composed of esteemed international security scholars and maritime experts from Japan, the United States, and other Indo-Pacific states, was formed to promote effective U.S.-Japan cooperation on maritime security issues in the region through rigorous research on various legal interpretations, national policies, and cooperative frameworks to understand what is driving regional maritime tensions and what can be done to reduce those tensions. The workshop’s goal is to help generate sound, pragmatic and actionable policy solutions for the United States, Japan, and the wider region, and to ensure that the rule of law and the spirit of cooperation prevail in maritime Indo- Pacific.

Chapter Excerpt


Since the 2010s, China’s assertiveness in the maritime domain has been of concern to regional states. China has unilaterally claimed what it considers its historic rights in the South China Sea and installed military bases on reclaimed features there. China’s unilateral claims and its associated behavior thus changed the status quo by force and have increased tensions with Southeast Asian littoral states, such as the Philippines and Vietnam, which are also claimants. Under these circumstances, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) involving the United States, Japan, Australia, and India was revived in November 2017.

Following a series of Cabinet-level meetings, the Quad was upgraded to a Head of State-level summit in March 2021. At that meeting, the four nations confirmed the importance of the rule of law and agreed to cooperate in various fields. For instance, they agreed to launch the Quad vaccine partnership which will deliver up to a billion doses of Indian-made coronavirus vaccine to Southeast Asia and potentially elsewhere by the end of 2022. They also agreed to accelerate cooperation to address climate change by launching the Quad Climate Working Group. In short, the four nations demonstrated their intent to cooperate to contribute to the public good. However, in their joint statement, they neither directly criticized China nor agreed to initiate new security cooperation. Although holding the summit meeting was a major step forward, the future of the Quad remains uncertain.

Looking back, the development of the Quad has not been smooth. The Quad first met in 2007 after a proposal from Prime Minister Abe. At this working-level meeting, Quad members and Singapore agreed to participate in the next iteration of Malabar, the annual exercise that was originally a U.S.-India bilateral event. However, the Quad meeting and the multilateral Malabar exercises elicited displeasure from China. The Quad appeared to herald an Asian NATO or a multilateral institution designed to target China. The then-newly-elected Kevin Rudd government in Canberra announced that it would not seek to participate in the Quad in January 2008. India also assured China that it had no intention of excluding China when the leaders of both countries met. The United States also appeared reluctant to press on. The “China threat” thesis had yet to find consensus. Moreover, in September 2007, Abe, the Quad’s biggest cheerleader, stepped down due to health reasons. The idea of having regular meetings was quietly shelved. Although it was revived in November 2017 in the face of China’s growing assertiveness in the maritime domain, its evolution has been slow due to the member states’ persistent cautious approach.

This paper analyzes the factors hindering the evolution of the Quad. By analyzing the interests of each member state and the goals of the Quad, it examines why the Quad has experienced a slow development. It argues that the differences in views and interests of the Quad states hinder its evolution. Even more importantly, the Quad embraces two contradictory goals, which makes it difficult to develop a framework for cooperation and set clear purpose. The paper concludes with policy recommendations.

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Kyoko Hatakeyama is Professor of International Relations at the Graduate School of International Studies and Regional Development, University of Niigata Prefecture. Her recent publications include “A Middle Power’s Roles in Shaping the East Asian Security Order: Analysis of Japan’s Engagement from a Normative Perspective,” Australian Journal of Politics and History Vol. 65, No. 3, and Japan’s Evolving Security Policy: Militarisation within a Pacifist Tradition, Routledge, 2021.

The Indo-Pacific Maritime Security Expert Working Group’s 2021 workshop and this volume were funded by a grant from the U.S. Embassy Tokyo, and implemented in collaboration with the Yokosuka Council on Asia Pacific Studies (YCAPS).

The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their respective organizations and affiliations. For questions, please email [email protected].

Photo: Ships from QUAD Navies: Royal Australian Navy, Indian Navy, Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force, and the United States Navy participate in Malabar 2020. Source: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Elliot Schaudt/Public domain.