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Evolving Idea of the Quad: Emerging Technology

Mr Niranjan Chandrashekhar Oak is a Research Analyst at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA), New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • October 26, 2021

    Over the years, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) has expanded its agenda to adapt itself to face the gen-next threats in the Indo-Pacific, most notably the emerging technology. The Quad was created as an ad hoc group to help the Indo-Pacific littoral states in the aftermath of the Tsunami in 2004. Although the first iteration of the Quad in 2007 was short-lived, the latest iteration promises that Quad is here to stay for decades to come. This inference can be reached based on the expansive agenda that the Quad has drawn for itself, which looks beyond narrow security calculations in the region. The first in-person summit of the Quad leaders delved upon not only the security situation in the Indo-Pacific but also multiple areas, including the supply of COVID-19 vaccines, climate crisis, terrorism and emerging technology. By making the emerging technology one of the cornerstones of the grouping, the Quad has shown its resilience to stay relevant in the fast-changing strategic environment of the Indo-Pacific. Therefore, it is pertinent to look at the evolution of the second iteration of the Quad and how the minilateral is seamlessly synergising technology with its original agenda of security.

    Evolution of the Quad

    Amid the belligerent behaviour of China in the maritime continuum of the Indo-Pacific and growing trust and comfort between the four democracies1 , the Quad re-emerged on the sidelines of the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and 12th East Asia Summit in Manila, 2017. Four working-level meetings—November 2017, June 2018, November 2018 and May 2019—involving officials from the foreign ministries of Delhi, Washington, Tokyo and Canberra focused on “a free, open, prosperous and inclusive Indo-Pacific region” benefitting all in the region and the world at large.2 They also touched upon connectivity, sustainable development, counter-terrorism, non-proliferation, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR), cyber security and ASEAN centrality.3 The separate statements from the four capitals also mentioned about the respect for sovereignty, equality and territorial integrity of all nations in a transparent, economically viable and financially responsible manner.4

    In September 2019, the working-level meeting of the Quad was elevated to the ministerial-level meeting when the United States (US) Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hosted his counterparts from India, Japan and Australia in New York. Although the leaders did not issue a joint statement post meeting, the issues raised were similar to those raised during the working-level meetings.5 The first ministerial meeting saw a limited expansion of the agenda as the Quad countries “conducted a tabletop counter-terrorism exercise in November 2019 and convened a meeting of cyber experts the following month”.6 As COVID-19 gripped the world in early 2020, the senior officials’ consultation of the four countries “underscored the importance of enhancing the resilience of supply chains” and added pandemic and best practices to deal with the same in the agenda of the meeting.7 The second ministerial meeting of the Quad in Tokyo, held in October 2020, discussed “post COVID-19 international order” and issues related to “the resilience of supply chains” in addition to the maritime security issues of the Indo-Pacific.

    Emergence of Technology as a Cornerstone

    COVID-19 and the subsequent behaviour of China raised many questions regarding China’s commitment to rise as a responsible international player. China’s tendency to weaponise trade and technology became obvious. China punished Australia in the domain of trade as the latter demanded a fair enquiry into the origin of COVID-19. Moreover, reports emerged about the Chinese quest to snoop the foreign governments by using 5G mobile network technology8 and meddle in the country’s internal affairs9 . Earlier, in 2017, China enacted the National Intelligence Law that made it mandatory for the Chinese firms to cooperate with its intelligence agencies by giving free access to their data within and without China.10 Thus, the law violated the digital sovereignty of the nations where Chinese firms had market access in accordance with the international law. In view of the Chinese threat in the realm of emerging technologies, the Quad proved deft enough to adapt to the new reality.

    The joint statement following the Quad leaders’ virtual summit in March 2021 mentioned “critical technologies” three times. The leaders resolved that the Quad “will begin cooperation on the critical technologies of the future to ensure that innovation is consistent with a free, open, inclusive, and resilient Indo-Pacific”.11 The minilateral group also launched “a critical- and emerging-technology working group to facilitate cooperation on international standards and innovative technologies of the future”.12 Building on the spirit of technological cooperation, the Quad took a holistic view of the emerging technologies and associated issues. In the realm of 5G mobile networks, the Quad, during the first-ever in-person summit in September 2021, decided to deploy “secure, open, and transparent 5G and beyond-5G networks” from trustworthy vendors. The statement exuded confidence about coming up with the “open, standards-based 5G technology”. Individually, the Quad countries devised formal and informal policies to deny entry to untrustworthy telecom vendors.13 The leaders also announced sector-specific contact groups to develop technical standards for emerging technologies. They launched the Quad Principles on Technology Design, Development, Governance, and Use with the purpose of “guiding not only the region but the world towards responsible, open, high-standards innovation”.14

    Sensing the vulnerabilities in the supply chains, the Quad leaders decided “to map the supply chain of the critical technologies and materials”15 and diversify the same. Further, India, Japan and Australia launched Supply Chain Resilience Initiative (SCRI) to counter Chinese dominance of the supply chains in the region.16 The need to diversify the supply chains away from China was felt intensely in the light of deteriorating relations between China and members of Quad. As Amitendu Palit has argued, the repositioning of strategic supply chains, especially in the field of semiconductors and telecommunications, was part of a broader strategy to decouple from China and “to develop a coalition of like-minded countries for taking on an assertive China in the Indo-Pacific”.17 In the realm of Artificial Intelligence, the Quad countries are working with other like-minded countries for an initiative titled “Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence”18 under the auspices of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that promotes inclusive and responsible use of Artificial Intelligence.

    Domestically, India is taking baby steps to shape the rules and norms vis-à-vis emerging technologies such as 5G and Artificial Intelligence on international platforms. The country is debating the issues related to data sovereignty vigorously. It has also come up with an Approach Document on Artificial Intelligence.19 Bilaterally, India is collaborating with like-minded countries in the field of emerging technologies. India and Japan signed a Memorandum of Understanding in January 2021, to enhance cooperation in Information and Communications Technologies, covering 5G technologies, telecom security, submarine optical fibre cable system to islands of India, and spectrum management, among others.20 Similarly, India and Australia have set up the India–Australia Joint Working Group on Cyber Security Cooperation.21 The two countries have also signed the Memorandum of Understanding on critical minerals.22 India is also cooperating with ASEAN for capacity building and knowledge sharing in the areas of Internet of Things (IoT) and 5G, among others, to achieve the ASEAN Digital Masterplan 2025 (ADM2025).23 Separately, India and the US have resolved to “revive the High Technology Cooperation Group (HTCG) in early 2022, to accelerate high technology commerce in key areas”.24 In October 2020, India joined Japan and Five Eyes Alliance countries to demand access to end-to-end encrypted communication from big tech companies.25

    Thus, in addition to its existing agenda of securing free and open Indo-Pacific, the Quad is fast embracing the emerging technology as a critical area to build upon. By spindling around the emerging technologies, the Quad is successfully expanding horizontally. Similarly, with the initiatives such as the Quad plus—which included the foreign secretary-level meeting of New Zealand, Vietnam, South Korea and the foreign ministers-level meeting of Brazil, South Korea, Israel to discuss COVID-19—the Quad is stretching laterally. As authoritarian societies are better equipped to extract data from their citizens than free societies26 , the Quad is trying to offer an alternative model different from the coercive vision of the authoritarian states in the Indo-Pacific. With the emerging technology intruding into our daily lives and changing how nations create power and wield it against one another27 , the Quad is proving to be a prudent minilateral to cope with the technological churn in the Indo-Pacific.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or of the Government of India.