The quadrilateral initiative between the United States, Japan, Australia, and India has seen a rapid acceleration since its November 2017 re-convening. One important recent milestone was the September 2019 ministerial-level meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
This week, in another important milestone, U.S. President Donald J. Trump, speaking alongside Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to India, referenced the “Quad Initiative.” Trump’s direct invocation of the ‘quad’ marked a rare leader-level endorsement of the concept, which had largely remained at the working level until the September 2019 ministerial meeting.
“Together, the Prime Minister and I are revitalizing the Quad Initiative with the United States, India, Australia, and Japan,” Trump said, speaking after Modi at a joint press conference in New Delhi on the second day of his visit to India.
“Since I took office, we have held the first Quad ministerial meeting — I guess you would call it a meeting, but it seems like so much more than that — and expanded cooperation on counterterrorism, cybersecurity, and maritime security to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific,” he added.
Originally conceived in 2007 during Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s first non-consecutive term in office, the ‘quad’ was designed to bring together four democracies with stakes in the Asia-Pacific’s regional architecture for consultations on regional issues. The 2007 iteration was quickly disbanded after China reacted poorly to what it perceived as an alliance to contain its rise, which in turn dissuaded Australia and India alike from pushing forward with the initiative.
Ten years later, amid a transformed geopolitical environment, the ‘quad’ once again reconvened, with the initial working-level process coalescing around several themes including counterterrorism, the rule of law, freedom of navigation, nonproliferation, and connectivity.
Trump’s reference to the ‘quad’ in India is particularly notable since India is the sole member of the initiative that is not a formal treaty ally with the United States (both Japan and Australia are).
Beyond Trump’s statement, however, there’s still little clarity about how exactly the revitalization of the ‘quad’ that Trump referenced will be operationalized. One possibility could be Australia’s inclusion in the trilateral U.S.-India-Japan Malabar naval exercise, something Indo-Pacific watchers have long-awaited.
A leader-level ‘quad’ consultation on the sidelines of a major global forum is also possible, but there appears to be no sign right now that this will take place. Whatever lies ahead, it remains clear that the ‘quad’ isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.