Malabar exercises underscore American Strategy over China

Balaji Chandramohan

Balaji Chandramohan

New Delhi, December 3, 2020

And launch of Quad 2.0 could tempt New Zealand


        India holds the key to the success of Quad 2.0: Prime Minister Narendra Modi (India Inc Group)


The recent Malabar military exercises involving the four nations of United States, Australia, India and Japan held in the coast of Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal will be watched with abiding interest by the governments of the region.

New Zealand could also seek partnership into the alliance in view of the growing importance of such moves.

The Malabar Military exercises is a subset of the  United States Grand Strategy in the 21st Century which is clearly seen as an aim to thwart the maritime ambition of Beijing.

Background to Malabar Naval Exercise and Quad

According to the Diplomat, during November 2020, the Australian naval ship HMAS Ballart joined the Navies of the United States, India, and Japan in this year’s edition of the Malabar Naval Exercise in the Indian Ocean, first in its east early in the month and then in the west, between November 17 and 20, 2020.

The re-inclusion of Australia in Malabar, as the Australia-India-Japan-US Quadrilateral Security Forum (Quad) takes off, has raised fresh hopes for a new mechanism to  counter China in the Indo-Pacific.

The Quad Formation

The Quad was conceived in an August 2007 meeting in Manila, held on the sidelines of ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), between the Prime Ministers of India, Japan, and Australia and the Vice-President of the United States.

It was widely perceived as a security forum to rein in the Chinese belligerence in the Indo-Pacific and re-establish a rule-based international order.

The following month, using the already existing Malabar exercise framework between the Indian and US Navies, a major naval drill was conducted between the navies of India, US, Japan, and Australia, with Singapore participating as well.

The Chinese government responded angrily to Malabar 2007 by issuing formal diplomatic protests.

Australia quickly backtracked from the Quad and made its intention clear to not participate in future Malabar exercises. Quad 1.0 thus quickly lost steam and wilted away. The US, India, and Japan eventually began to exercise trilaterally but Australia was absent, until 2020.


India’s External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar (left) with his counterparts at the Tokyo Summit in November 2020

Revival as Quad 2.0

The Quad’s revival (or Quad 2.0 as it is being called) is driven by a renewed commitment among the partner countries to confront the plethora of strategic challenges emanating from China, such as aggressive territorial grabs in the South China Sea, presenting potential obstacles to freedom of navigation, use of debt traps to develop influence overseas, and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

During the 2017 ASEAN Summit, all four former members re-joined in negotiations to revive the Quad Forum. During the Foreign Ministers conference in Japan last month in Tokyo, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo singled out China as a threat to the region, although the three other Foreign Ministers, including India’s External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, did not directly mention China. In October 2020, the Indian government announced that Australia would join the Malabar 2020 naval exercise.

The four countries united in the need to counter China, however, have their own unique set of strategic imperatives to revive the Quad; thus it is useful to look at each country’s circumstances separately to chart the future of the grouping.

Balaji Chandramohan continues:

The military alliance between US, India, Japan, and Australia can eventually develop as a Defence Alliance similar to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) with a subtle difference from the earlier proposed Quad 1.0 which was primarily a maritime strategy involving naval strategy.

Quad 2.0 is a politico-military strategy having the profound subset of maritime military strategy.

Extending the French interest

Apart from the four countries which are in the maritime alliance of Quad 2.0, there is a chance that other maritime countries in the Indo-Pacific such as France and Indonesia may join.

France has territories and military bases in both the Western Indian Ocean and South Pacific and as being a member of NATO, it does not need the latest Quad to have a maritime alliance with the United States. Further, its territories in the South Pacific include New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna, and French Polynesia.

France Overseas territories in the Pacific Islands such as French Polynesia and New Caledonia have joined the Pacific Islands Forum to counter China’s presence in the South Pacific.

It is expected that they will join the MSG (New Caledonia) and PSG (French Polynesia) respectively.

France has a privileged geostrategic position in the South Pacific as it is the only European country to have a military presence in the region.

Ships from the Indian Navy, Royal Australian Navy, and Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force make their approach toward the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain while conducting replenishment-at-sea approaches as part of Malabar 2020

Maritime resource

The French Navy, based in Noumea, accounts for two surveillance frigates, four patrol vessels, two multi-mission ships, five maritime surveillance aircraft, four tactical transport aircraft, several helicopters, and 2800 military personnel. This number may rise as France continues to strengthen its presence in the region.

The vast Exclusive Economic Zone surrounding the French Pacific represents a maritime resource position for Paris.

Experts say that France will strengthen cooperation with other maritime powers in the Indo-Pacific, including India and Australia in the Indian Ocean.

The FRANZ equation

If the proposed Quad 2.0 is extended to the whole of the Asia-Pacific, France will strengthen the existing trilateral arrangement with Australia and New Zealand (FRANZ).

There is also a chance that France may cooperate with India in the South Pacific just as it is warming with Australia and New Zealand.

On the other hand, Indonesia will also cooperate with the proposed Quadrilateral Security Initiative by participating in operational exercises such as Malabar which may also involve the participation of Australia in the upcoming years.

If the proposed Quad 2.0 increases its range and scope of its military alliances New Zealand may be tempted to join the alliance and provided logistic assistance. As being a part of the Five Point Defence Agreement and being a part of the he Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) , New Zealand will also join the bandwagon to contain China’s influence in the South Pacific.

Balaji Chandramohan is Indian Newslink Correspondent based in New Delhi. He evinces deep interest in geo-political, defence and economic strategies of Australia, New Zealand and countries of the South Pacific.

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