Why’s India Left Out Of The US’ Quad-Like Asian Network Proposal?

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken revealed on Tuesday during a speech in Indonesia that his country plans to assemble another Quad-like Asian network. According to America’s top diplomat, “We will deepen our treaty alliances with Australia, Japan, Republic of Korea, the Philippines, and Thailand. We will foster greater cooperation among these allies and seek ways to knit our allies together with our partners – as we have done with the Quad.” Conspicuously absent from this proposal is India, arguably the most important military-strategic partner that the US has obtained in the past few years.

This isn’t an oversight either, but a deliberate slight intended to signal the US’ disapproval of the recently reaffirmed special and privileged Russian-Indian Strategic Partnership following President Putin’s game-changing visit to the South Asian state last week. He and Prime Minister Modi agreed to a whopping 99-paragraph joint statement that comprehensively expands their relations up until 2030, including their crucial military component. Furthermore, India remained loyal to its S-400 air defense deal with Russia despite the US’ CAATSA sanctions threats.

The outcome of their summit was that both Great Powers flexed their strategic autonomy and aligned their mutually complementary grand strategies for balancing Eurasia in the US-Chinese New Cold War. That can only be described as game-changing since it sets the basis for them to jointly coordinate their geopolitical and geo-economic moves across the present decade with an aim towards creating a new pole of influence in the emerging Multipolar World Order for balancing between the American and Chinese superpowers.

If their ambitious plans are successful and subsequently attract comparatively less powerful but similarly neutral states, then the resultant hemispheric-wide network that they’d informally assemble under their joint leadership could function as a “new Non-Aligned Movement” (“Neo-NAM”). This implied intent is evidenced by their earlier cited 99-paragraph joint statement and especially the 93rd paragraph declaring that “The sides agreed to explore mutually acceptable and beneficial areas of cooperation in third countries especially in Central Asia, South East Asia and Africa.”

America couldn’t have helped but take notice of these objectively game-changing ambitions, especially India’s bold defiance of its CAATSA sanctions threats that were held above its head as a Damocles sword after its S-400 air defense deal with Russia. India wanted to convey the message that it’s not the US’ anti-Chinese puppet despite the two Great Powers having shared interests in “containing” the People’s Republic. In spite of their common ground, they also have diverging interests when it comes to their ties with third countries like Russia. India wanted the US to know that it won’t ever abandon its Russian ally.

To the contrary, India’s leadership calculated that their grand strategic goal of balancing Eurasian affairs is best advanced by recalibrating their multi-alignment between the US and Russia in order to counter the perception that they’d recently tilted closer towards Washington at Moscow’s expense due to New Delhi’s positioning vis-à-vis Beijing. This wasn’t meant to be interpreted as an anti-American move, but simply as a sovereign practice of India’s multipolar policies. Nevertheless, the US’ zero-sum perspective on International Relations influenced it to regard this as a negative development for its interests.

This explains why Blinken conspicuously left India out of his Quad-like Asian network proposal despite including three of the original Quad’s members: Australia, Japan, and the US itself. He wants India to know that his country is extremely displeased with the latest recalibration of its multi-alignment policy that’s consequently led to a convergence of grand strategic balancing interests with Russia. In India’s defense, it might have felt offended that the US secretly negotiated the AUKUS military alliance against China behind its back when New Delhi hitherto thought that the Quad would fulfill that specific role.

After realizing that it placed too much hope in that emerging US-led network’s anti-Chinese military capabilities only to be disrespected by never having even been briefed about AUKUS ahead of time, it makes sense why India urgently recalibrated its multi-alignment policy by eagerly re-engaging Russia in order to jointly balance Eurasian affairs together, ideally through the informal assembling of a Neo-NAM. That was absolutely unacceptable from the US perspective since it demands full fealty from its partners who it actually mistreats as vassals, which is unacceptable for a proud country like India.

This emerging difference of grand strategic visions between the US and India despite their shared interests in “containing” China is why the US conspicuously omitted India from its Quad-like Asian network proposal. By focusing solely on so-called “treaty alliances”, the US doesn’t have to question its partners’ compliance with its anti-Chinese demands, even if the latter objectively endanger their own interests. In other words, India is too strategically autonomous – at least according to the US’ present calculations that still might change – to participate in this proposed platform.

That’s not a bad thing either but something that should be praised. It confirms that India has succeeded in flexing its strategic autonomy to such an impressive extent in the past week that the US has been compelled to indirectly respond through this latest snub. This will likely reassure Russia of India’s grand strategic sincerity to their 99-point joint statement and will also be smiled upon by China, which might reduce its threat perception of that country. Keeping in mind last month’s successful Russia-India-China (RIC) Foreign Ministers virtual meeting, a larger convergence between these three might be in the cards.

As the US increases its regional pressure on China through its Quad-like network proposal in parallel with India signaling its non-hostile intentions towards the People’s Republic, the probability of a Russian-mediated solution to those two Great Powers’ many disputes becomes all the more likely with time. Of course, a lot can still happen before that so as to offset this best-case scenario, but there are plenty of reasons for cautious optimism in the present. India’s recently recalibrated multi-alignment with Russia and the US’ subsequent snubbing of India speak to how rapidly geopolitics are changing. 

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Andrew Korybko
Andrew Korybko
Andrew Korybko is a Moscow-based American political analyst specializing in the relationship between the US grand strategy in Afro-Eurasia, China's Belt & Road Initiative, and Hybrid Warfare. *Views are personal.
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