Asia Defense | Security | East Asia | South Asia

What Does the New Counterterrorism Exercise Mean for the Quad?

The recent development again put the minilateral arrangement in the headlines.

Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan
What Does the New Counterterrorism Exercise Mean for the Quad?
Credit: Illustration by Stefan Yanku

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (“Quad”) between the U.S., Japan, India and Australia has often been questioned about its purpose and capacity. For critics, other than occasionally irritating Beijing, the Quad did not appear to have much purpose. And, at times, even these expressions of occasional irritation from China had been sufficient to send one or the other Quad countries into a funk.

But in the last two years, the Quad has slowly become somewhat sturdier, with the level of interaction between the countries improving, and the members themselves becoming less skittish when Beijing criticizes the venture. Now, the Quad countries have taken a new step, holding a table-top counter-terrorism exercise together. What can we make of this?

Details are skimpy. India has hosted the first counter-terrorism table-top exercise (CT-TTX) among the Quad countries in New Delhi on November 21-22.  India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA), which hosted the TTX, is reported to have said the exercise is meant to assess and validate counter-terror mechanisms against a range of existing and emerging terrorist threats at both the regional and global levels.

At the most basic level, the CT-TTX is not surprising considering India’s concern about the issue. India’s own insufficient military capabilities are well-known, and New Delhi has been open to cooperation in this regard. This is clearly an important reason why India has shown willingness to tie up with the Quad on counter-terrorism.

The exercise was also aimed at sharing best practices in terms of preparedness, mitigation strategies and in developing coordinated strategies, and to expand the areas for strengthened cooperation among the four Quad countries. Seen from that perspective, the exercise would help highlight the interagency coordination issues within each of the countries and also bolster the multi-agency coordination between security and counter-terror agencies among the four countries.

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The exercise is significant because this was the first concrete joint security initiative by the four countries. The TTX also reflected the shared resolve among the Quad countries in addressing a major challenge they all face. Importantly, though this was a security exercise, it did not target China. But still, it is a step up from the usual HA/DR type of exercises that many of these countries, especially India, prefers. The fact that the Quad has been upgraded to foreign ministerial platform is also an important indicator of the significance the four participating countries attach to the Quad.

That said, one should not exaggerate the significance of this development. The Quad’s revival and the carrying out of the exercise reconfirms the fact that the original concerns that led to the Quad were valid and getting more serious. But the level of commitment of different countries within the Quad has been suspect, and their mutual trust is still a work in progress.

India is no exception to this. On the one hand, India has been open to the Quad as one of several mechanisms that allows it to build on partnerships without entering into alliances, and China’s behavior and its hostility (despite the Chennai informal summit) towards India has pushed New Delhi to be less reluctant about the Quad. But on the other hand, for the time-being, India’s willingness to participate in the Quad is limited to testing out non-military alliance initiatives such as the CT-TTX to assess the possibilities and limitations.