Interpretation of QUAD and AUKUS in Indo-Pacific Region

The recent announcement of AUKUS adds another puzzle to the Indo-Pacific jigsaw. AUKUS; Australia-United Kingdom-USA is an enhanced security partnership for meeting the challenges in the Indo-Pacific. The announcement came as a surprise to many and for some it was a ‘stab in the back’. But the biggest debate about the impact of AUKUS is on Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD). Till now, the resurrected QUAD group was the de-facto leader to counterbalance China in the Indo-Pacific. Some feel that AUKUS dilutes QUAD, but for some, it complements QUAD. Nevertheless, C Raja Mohan observes that the AUKUS announcement coupled with QUAD’s summit is a bombshell and it has sent some clear signals to Asia – that the business of balancing China is entering a serious phase. 

Language and Politics

The objective of this article is to understand the use of language in politics and security studies by comparing the language used in the Joint Statement issued by the leaders during the announcement of AUKUS and QUAD Summit. The reason to choose QUAD and AUKUS is because of the similarity in its members, region of focus and most recently the timings of their meetings. To analyse the statements, four words which are common in both Joint statements have been identified and tried to interpret their meanings in each situation to understand the nature of QUAD and AUKUS.

G.M Dillon in his article “The Alliance of Security and Subjectivity” tries to establish the role of language in politics and security discourse. According to Dillon, “language is the only referential device available to us and our conception of language determines our conception of the world”. Abuse of language is common in politics as stakeholders tend to interpret the words in the way which benefits their cause. In Dillon’s words “Ambiguity of definition, the inadequacy of communication and people’s wicked propensity to play with words; using them not simply to speak properly but to persuade, particularly by playing upon the passions and the emotions”. Understanding the language will help to understand the politics behind it.

Reading the Joint Statements 

Reading both the joint statements gives an understanding about the objectives of both mini-lateral groupings. In QUAD, members are ‘committed’ to shared security and prosperity of free and open Indo-Pacific and they want to uphold international law, freedom of navigation and overflight, peaceful resolution of disputes, democratic values, and territorial integrity of states. At the same time, AUKUS is ‘committed’ to the international rules-based order and to resolve to deepen diplomatic, security, and defence cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region. A careful reading of both the objectives shows AUKUS as a more direct and defence-oriented partnership in Indo-Pacific to balance the Chinese dragon in the region. Though QUAD started with a lot of noise as the league of democracies against authoritarian oppositions, it has subsequently taken a soft stand in defence and security issues of the region. Undoubtedly, China used their tactics and pressure to mellow down QUAD. This justifies the birth of AUKUS which is a more militaristic and result-oriented grouping among the traditional partners of the Western world. 

Glenn Diesen in his article ‘Restraining the Excesses of Liberalism’ differentiate both the concepts- “the rules-based international order does not present any specific rules, as strategic ambiguity enables a hegemony to act selectively and inconsistently. Western powers increasingly refer to the rules-based international order instead of international law, which is part of a wider initiative of dividing the entire world along a binary divide of “democracy” versus “authoritarianism” that provides little if any heuristic value to understand the complexities of international politics.” In QUAD statement the members believe in ‘rule of law’ and ‘international law’. Commitment to international law shows the readiness to adhere to and follow existing international laws which are accepted by the United Nations or by signatories of those set of laws. It guarantees peace and order in the international system. While AUKUS is committed to ‘rule based international order’, it creates and promotes ambiguity about the nature of rules of the region. It also explicitly shows AUKUS members discomfort in Chinese idea of ‘rule based international order’.

One or the Other

While discussing the challenges faced by Indo-Pacific region, QUAD identifies ‘the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, and critical and emerging technologies’ as the pressing issues of the region. The members were careful to avoid any wordings which pertain to strategic or defence challenges of the region, especially to avoid the Chinese protest QUAD. In AUKUS, USA, UK and Australia identify challenges in a broader way by not identifying list. Instead, they let the reader interpret – ‘to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century’. 

Another common word used in both statements is ‘cyber’. In QUAD statement, members want to promote cooperation in cyber domain to combat threats and promote cyber resilience. It shows their commitment to bring synergy in cyber technology development and promoting its use for socioeconomic development. AUKUS wants to build cyber capabilities to augment their defence output. It means AUKUS wants to be strategically proactive and technologically driven in Indo-Pacific.

The use of the word ‘maritime’ in QUAD statement is the background of UNCLOS and assurance to uphold international laws in the waters. Even though they mention ‘rule-based order’, they want to bring focus to UNCLOS. Mentioning South China Sea, points finger at China and clearly wants to remind the Chinese about their lack of respect towards international laws and customs. 

 In AUKUS, “maritime” is used as a prefix to democracy but ultimately, they describe their intent to create nuclear powered submarines. Here, the leaders of AUKUS are diplomatic and want to take away the attention from the word ‘nuclear’. Hence, they use “maritime democracy” so that the taboo related to ‘nuclear’ will be rescinded. The use of “democracy” is purposeful to show that while the business is nuclear in nature, there is no need to escalate tension in the region. At the same time, USA is successful in delivering the message to Beijing that America wants to continue and expand their presence in the Indo-Pacific. 

Further reading into the statements, QUAD gives a liberal understanding of Indo Pacific, based on liberal values such as “rule of law, freedom of navigation and overflight, peaceful resolution of disputes, democratic values, and territorial integrity of states”. They promote cooperation in the region among likeminded countries. While AUKUS provides a realistic explanation of Indo-Pacific as it focuses on building capabilities to deal with the threat. AUKUS which aims to build nuclear powered submarines tries to bring balance in the Indo-Pacific. As the leaders call it an “enhanced trilateral security partnership’ is nothing but a new age balancing act by USA and its allies. 

One Sense of the Indo-Pacific

Careful reading of documents like Joint Statements, agreements, declaration is essential to understand the true underpinnings of the relationship. In case of QUAD, the joint statement showcases a shift in nature of the grouping to a more soft and nuanced approach in Indo-Pacific, whereas AUKUS is a bold and assertive step in Indo-Pacific. Nevertheless, for both groupings, the future lies in identifying  commonalities and working together than advocating two senses of Indo-Pacific.

[Photo by The White House]

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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