Why Quasi-Alliances Will Persist in the Indo-Pacific? The Fall and Rise of the Quad

Date01 December 2020
Publication Date01 December 2020
AuthorFrederick Kliem
SubjectResearch Article
Why Quasi-Alliances
Will Persist in the Indo-
Pacific? The Fall and
Rise of the Quad
Frederick Kliem1
The rise of and increasing assertiveness by China presents a significant structural
challenge in the Indo-Pacific region (IPR). In an effort to retain the status quo,
a number of states have signed-up to the ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’ (FOIP). In
support of FOIP, operational mechanisms have emerged—most importantly the
Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad). The United States, Japan, Australia and
India have come together in this informal format to exchange views on current
security challenges and coordinate their strategic approaches. This article
analyses both form and function of Quad and argues that both the diplomatic and
military arrangements between Quad members are a direct response to ever-
increasing Chinese assertiveness. Alongside a detailed empirical analysis of Quad,
this paper addresses the question why Quad 2.0 will thrive although previous
attempts at security networks failed. Balance of threat theory will illuminate why
informal quasi-alliances vis-à-vis China are going to be the structural new normal
for the IPR.
Indo-Pacific, Quad, free and open Indo-Pacific, China, international relations
theory, balance of threat theory
Post–World War II, the United States of America (USA) established a web-like
security architecture comprising of formal alliances and informal partnerships.
This so-called hubs-and-spokes system allowed Washington’s essentially
1 Centre for Multilateralism Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological
University, Singapore.
Corresponding author:
Frederick Kliem, Centre for Multilateralism Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies,
Nanyang Technological University, Block S4, Level B4, 50 Nanyang Avenue, Singapore 639798.
E-mail: isfkliem@ntu.edu.sg
Journal of Asian Security
and International Affairs
7(3) 271 –304, 2020
The Author(s) 2020
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/2347797020962620
Research Article
272 Journal of Asian Security and International Affairs 7(3)
likeminded partners to substantially increase their gross-domestic-product (GDP)
by joining the US-led global market, while enjoying US safeguarded stability and
security. ‘East Asian countries export goods to America and America exports
security to the region’, as Ikenberry (2004, p. 353) put it.
While this order has proved remarkably enduring, it has come under stress.
First, in particular under President Donald Trump, the United States has gradually
been scaling down on multilateral engagement, in which his administration sees
little value. The United States is also increasingly in favour of a rebalance in
America’s economic and security relations with its partners to achieve what he
regards as a more level-playing field in economic terms and security burden-
sharing in military terms. Structurally, the US-led regional order has come under
stress as a result of the so-called rise of China. This refers to the emergence of the
People’s Republic of China (PRC) as a serious competitor for influence in Asia,
including the PRC’s resistance to be a rule-taker in the largely US established
so-called liberal rules-based order, and instead, its intent to become a rule-maker
in its own right.
In the present-day Indo-Pacific region (IPR), broadly speaking, the rules-based
order of the status quo is short hand for the respect for existing international law
and a liberal trading system, and it rests on three elements: international law; a
multilateral architecture constructed around the Association of Southeast Asian
Nations (ASEAN); and hard balancing, that is, the strengthening of regional
states’ own military capabilities and the forging of security partnerships among
each other and with Washington. The PRC is pro-actively frustrating this long-
established order as it grows in power and influence relative to the United States.
As a result of both structural shifts in the balance of power and shifts in their US
partnerships, regional small and middle powers realise that a new geopolitical era
may be in the making, and they are increasingly under pressure to remain masters
of their own destiny.
Against this backdrop, and in an effort to retain the status quo, a number of
countries in the region have lately either directly or implicitly signed-up to the
vision of a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’ (FOIP). The various versions of FOIP
generally promote the status quo, and subsequently, a number of mini-lateral
instruments have emerged in order to support FOIP; most importantly the
Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad). The United States, Japan, Australia and
India have come together in this informal format to exchange views on current
security challenges and dynamics with a specific yet unofficial focus on China.
The first version of Quad (Quad 1.0) was initiated in 2007 by Japanese Prime
Minister Abe Shinzo, with the support of then US Vice President Dick Cheney,
Prime Minister John Howard of Australia, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
of India. The dialogue immediately failed but was resurrected in 2017 and recently
upgraded to ministerial level. In its 2019 form, Quad 2.0 is best understood as the
incremental operationalisation of FOIP. For example, it co-functions as the
diplomatic parallel to joint military exercises among two, three and all four
countries, such as the Indian hosted Malabar and the Quad’s counter-terrorism
table-top exercise.
Kliem 273
This article analyses both form and function of Quad and is, thus, part empirical,
part theoretical. The Quad remains under-researched but is worth studying, for it
represents the burgeoning order of the Indo-Pacific; the post-US hegemonic
condition in Asia whereby informal security networks and diplomatic communities
close ranks to push-back Chinese attempts to upset the regional order of the status
quo. It is important to realise that contemporary security dynamics in the IPR
extend beyond the binary Sino-US great power competition. Regional middle
powers not only have an interest to link-up with the United States to protect
themselves but are indeed a necessary prop for American power in relative
regional decline. It is worth noting that while the United States presence in the
IPR has decreased in terms of multilateral engagement, in military terms US hard
power has increased. Likewise, until the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic—the
exact economic consequences of which are unclear at the time of writing—US
economic power and trade has grown. Yet structurally, US power has decreased
overall in relation to its next most credible competitor, the PRC, which has long-
term consequences for the IPR balance of power.
Primarily, I argue that both the diplomatic and military arrangements between
the Quad members are most immediately a response to the ever-increasing
economic and military power of the PRC—and the corresponding relative decline
of US power. Immediately the question arises why Quad 2.0 should thrive and, as
I shall claim, even persist in the long run, although previous attempts failed? Even
beyond the Quad, the future of Indo-Pacific security lies in informal security
partnerships facing a common, ever-increasing threat.
It is worth consulting international relations (IR) theory to appreciate how
changes in the regional security environment alter threat perceptions and domestic
dynamics in the Quad countries. I will explore my main hypothesis that it is the
increase in the Quad members’ perception of the Chinese threat that brings them
together and propose balance of threat theory as a useful framework for
understanding the significance of this Chinese push-factor. This article finds that
a previous attempt at Quad faded at a time when China was still following its
peaceful rise narrative. Quad 2.0, however, will endure in symbiosis with China’s
increasing assertiveness of the Xi Jinping era, and resulting threat perceptions in
Washington, New Delhi, Canberra and Tokyo will propel the Quad and similar
networks to ever greater importance.
Thus, the purpose of this article is twofold. First, it provides a substantive
analysis of Quad 2.0 to date and locates its conceptual origin in the various FOIP
visions. Second, it proposes to revisit neorealism and specifically Walt’s (1987)
balance of threat theory. Applying this logic to Quad 2.0 will show that all
characteristics of a high threat perception, as laid out by Walt, are met. This article
plugs a gap in the literature by categorising and explaining the Quad phenomenon,
situating it within IR theory, and making a factual and empirically testable
prediction of a current phenomenon of contemporary Asian geopolitics: Quad and
Quad-like arrangements are the IPR’s future.

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