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Report of Monday Morning Webinar on Quad and Ukraine Crisis

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  • March 14, 2022
    Monday Morning Meeting

    Mr. Niranjan Chandrashekhar Oak, Research Analyst, Nuclear and Arms Control Centre, Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, spoke on the topic ‘Quad and Ukraine Crisis’ at the Monday Morning Webinar held on 14 March 2022. The session was chaired by Dr. Rajiv Nayan and was attended by Maj. Gen. (Dr.) Bipin Bakshi (Retd.), Deputy Director General, MP-IDSA, Cmde. Abhay K. Singh, Col. Deepak Kumar, senior scholars and research analysts of MP-IDSA.

    Executive Summary

    At the United Nations (UN), three of the four Quad members—the United States (US), Japan, and Australia—have adopted an outspokenly hostile stance toward Russia, while India abstained on all UN resolutions denouncing Russia. This action has set India apart from the other members of the Quad, raising the issue of whether it may cause fissures in the minilateral organization. In light of this, the webinar by Mr. Oak critically examined the Quad Joint Readout's key aspects and the impact of the Ukraine situation on the Quad. It investigated the belief that there are significant differences within the Quad. Should India be considered the Quad's weak link? Will the Quad be weakened by conflicting viewpoints on the Ukrainian crisis? The webinar concluded that the Quad has little role in the Ukrainian issue and events that occur outside of the Quad's geographic and functional scope should have no bearing on the grouping's operations.

    Detailed Report

    Dr. Rajiv Nayan, Senior Research Associate, Nuclear and Arms Control Centre, MP-IDSA, New Delhi, the chair, made opening remarks on the topic and introduced the audience to the concept of hybrid warfare and Russia’s military action in Ukraine. Further, he highlighted the history and nationalism of Ukraine. He said that there were divergent views among Quad members in the midst of the Ukraine crisis. The chair, after introducing the topic and the speaker, called upon Mr. Niranjan Oak to deliver his talk for the day.

    Mr. Niranjan Oak started his talk by highlighting that the Quad met virtually on 3 March 2022 and issued a joint statement. The tone and tenor of the statement was sober without harsh criticism of Russian actions in Ukraine. Three of four members had taken a critical stand against Russia.  India abstained on all UN resolutions denouncing Russia. Mr. Oak also threw some light on the salient features of the Quad joint read out and the impact of the Ukraine Crisis on Quad. He also briefly explained the structural contours of the Quad.

    Further, he spoke on the several minilateral co-operations such as the Japan-South Korea-China trilateral and their importance in the Indo-Pacific region during post-cold war years till the recent times. Further, he stated that minilateral cooperation, depending on the nature of the threat, can be intensified horizontally as well as vertically. The Quad has proved to be nimble in expanding both horizontally and vertically. The gradual progression from assistant secretary level meetings to summit meetings had been the testimony of its vertical expansion. Moreover, the issues of infrastructure development, sustainability, technology, cyber domain and provision of global commons goods such as vaccine partnership show horizontal expansion of the Quad. It must be underlined that the very genesis of the Quad was attributed to the challenges emanating out of the region and the need to keep the regional order stable. The Quad group was formally rooted in the Indo-Pacific.

    Moving on to the issue of the Ukraine crisis, Mr. Oak also commented on the impact of the Ukraine crisis on the Quad. Despite divergent views, the Quad met and discussed the Ukraine crisis and came out with a joint read out. The joint statement was a testimony to the fact that Quad members respected each other's sensitivities, understood the purpose of minilaterals and were unlikely to mix regional issues with that of extra-regional developments. There have been many issues where individual Quad nations have different ways of responding such as Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver to the COVID vaccines or the Myanmar crisis. In the case of the Myanmar crisis, India and Japan dealt with the junta differently than the remaining two countries of the Quad. India has always stood for a normative order. Further, the Quad has clearly expressed its commitments to the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity in the Indo-Pacific. Beyond that the Quad had little agency to impact events in the faraway conflict zones.

    He mentioned that the Ukraine crisis is unlikely to weaken the Quad. However, if the US decided to impose sanctions on India over its defense ties with Russia that will likely have unwarranted effects on the Quad. He also mentioned that the very genesis of the Quad was attributed to the challenges emanating out of the Indo-Pacific. Despite divergent views, the Quad met and discussed the Ukraine crisis and released the joint read out accommodating views of all parties. Lastly, the Ukraine crisis is a test of the Quad’s resilience. If far flung events negatively impacted the functioning of the Quad, it would create serious questions about the longevity of the minilateral. If Quad comes out unscathed, it has a long way to go.

    Responding to a comment made by Mr. Oak, Dr. Nayan raised a question regarding the use of the term neutrality. Should we use this term or avoid this term? If we go into the history of Non-Aligned Movement, theorists deliberately avoided the using of this term. In fact, India had not condemned the Russian operation but it did not mean that it had been approved. One has to realise the difference.

    On the comment made by Mr. Niranjan Oak, Maj. Gen. (Dr.) Bakshi (Retd.) commented on the legitimacy of voices that are criticising the Ukraine Crisis. For instance, India had launched a multi-pronged offensive into East-Pakistan in a similar manner from many directions including heli-borne and air-borne forces. We brought about a regime change which was stable and successful for the last fifty years. On the other hand, some powers launched massive military operations, justified regime change in Afghanistan, removed the Taliban and twenty years later put the Taliban back. What is the success of those regime changes vis-a-vis the regime India had changed? So, the question is not whether regime change is legitimate or not. The question is the legitimacy of voices which are protesting against a war for regime change vis-a-vis their own history in this regard. Further, he also raised some concerns about the relevance of the minilaterals and the relevance of a strategic partnership which does not include a military alliance. He also raised a concern about the relevance of hard power.

    On the relevance of the hard power, Dr. Nayan commented that hard power and hybrid warfare are very much important. In the age of cyber security and drones, these conventional methods of war are still relevant. He also made a comment on the understanding of the concept of alliances that are still evolving. There is no single definition of alliance. Alliance is not what we generally perceive. Many times, alliance members are not protected. Even if you are not an alliance member, you are protected. There is no such thing as collective security emanating from the Quad. He stated how you structure your alliances, how you construct your alliances, how you write the script of your alliance matters, not the generally preconceived notions about alliances. Responding to the comment made by Dr. Nayan regarding the understanding of alliances, Mr. Oak commented that the concept of alignment is a broader concept. An alliance is a part of alignment. Depending upon the degree of convergence of security policies, alignment can be defined as either alliances or partnerships or virtual alliances or quasi alliances.

    Cmde. Abhay Singh, Research Fellow, Military Affairs Centre, MP-IDSA fully endorsed the major analytical takeaways by Maj. Gen. (Dr.) Bakshi. He added that Russian action in Ukraine should be seen in context of power behavior. However, Mr. Oak’s presentation rightly focused on how a minilateralism should respond to a crisis beyond its specified geographical span. Further, he commented on the effectiveness of alliances such as North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). He said that even in cases of alliances, there exist divergent views among the constituents. E.g., in case of NATO, some times the French view differs vis-à-vis the position of the other members of NATO.

    Col. Deepak Kumar, Research Fellow, Europe and Eurasia Centre, MP-IDSA commented on the Russia-Ukrainian crisis that had highlighted the fallacy of the international rules-based order about which the western democracies have been speaking for a very long time. Further, he stated that the facade of international rules supported the power of the powerful more than the powerless. He also commented on Atmanirbharta – self-sufficiency in the economic and military domains. Moreover, he said that the Quad is a means to promote interests in the Indo-Pacific region and may not be focused specifically on the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). Talking about the Quad and the Malabar Naval Exercise, he mentioned that Quad and the Malabar are two separate entities, and we should not mix one with the other. He also commented on the Galwan crisis. None of the Quad countries have spoken or are likely to speak in India’s favor in the future, at best they will abstain. Mr. Oak responded to these concerns by saying that although the Quad and the Malabar Exercise is not the same thing, the participants of Malabar are the same countries that constitute the Quad. Theoretically they are separate but practically they are the same.

    Responding to Col. Deepak Kumar, Dr. Nayan commented that we should debate about whether we should get involved in the South China Sea (SCS) or not, whether we should restrict ourselves to the IOR. Lastly, Dr. Nayan posed a concern on the role of western powers on the Taiwan issue because the West (NATO countries) is running away from the Ukraine Crisis by saying that Ukraine is not a NATO member and thus they are not obliged to fight the battle. But if it happens to Taiwan, it raises a question mark on the West, especially the US which is a party to ‘the 1979 Taiwan relations act’.

    Responding to the concern raised by Dr. Nayan on the IOR and SCS, Mr. Niranjan Oak commented that according to Indian Naval Doctrine, the IOR is India’s primary area of interest and the SCS is a secondary one. So, the whole purpose of the Quad is to keep an informal authority over IOR region. In the Indo-Pacific, the other three countries of the Quad would expect India to play a major role in the IOR. While in the SCS, India would expect the other three countries which are resident powers in that region to play a more active role.

    Moreover, with reference to Galwan and Taiwan, Mr. Oak commented that the world has seen what the Quad did in case of Chinese territorial breach of the Galwan region. We have a major template for what Quad is going to do. Every country has to fight its own war. No other countries will come to rescue other countries. Hypothetically, in the case of Taiwan, there is an agreement between the US and Taiwan. Therefore, the US is likely get involved physically in Taiwan. It is better to look differently at what is happening in Ukraine and what will happen to Taiwan. Moreover, the Quad should be restricted to the Indo-Pacific region since every institution has a particular mandate on a particular agenda. If the Quad started taking roles in all the issues, its agenda would be diluted and not focused. It will not be as focused to deal with specific issues as it is today.

    Questions and Comments

    Following the extensive talk by the speaker, Dr. Rajiv Nayan first called upon Deputy Director General, MP-IDSA, Maj. Gen. (Dr.) Bipin Bakshi for his comments. Dr. Nayan later opened the floor to the panelists and participants for their comments and questions.

    Maj. Gen. (Dr.) Bipin Bakshi (Retd.) thanked the chair and Mr. Niranjan Oak for his extensive presentation. He also thanked them for their in-depth perspectives on the subject. Maj. Gen. (Dr.) Bakshi asked the speaker to throw some light on the relevance of hard power.

    Col. Deepak Kumar, raised two questions to the speaker. First, what in his view would be Quad’s position in the hypothetical case of Chinese aggression against Taiwan or India? His second question was whether Quad partnership has affected India's relations with Russia and China in the Indo-Pacific and Central Asian region? He also commented on China's cartographic aggression against India.

    On the recent Quad summit, Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Rakesh Sharma asked whether this was a way to pressurise India to take a stand on the crisis? He also asked whether we have reputational damage globally on our principled stand?

    Dr. Rajiv Nayan and Mr. Niranjan Oak gave extensive and insightful remarks and a detailed discussion was held on all the comments and questions raised by the panelists and the participants.

     Report prepared by Mr. Pintu Kumar Mahla, Research Intern, Non-Traditional Security Centre, MP-IDSA, New Delhi.