quadrilateral security dialogue

Written by Aneesa Aslam 1:47 pm

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue: A New Security Landscape in the Asia-Pacific

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue is an informal security alliance aimed at creating a rule-based order in the Asia Pacific region. The Japanese Prime Minister at the Confluence of the Two Seas gave the idea of Security Diamond that would ensure the interests of like-minded countries. The Quad states – Australia, India, Japan, and the United States – have a common threat perception in the region that led to the revival of Quad after ten years of long hiatus.


The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue is an informal security alliance aimed at creating a rule-based order in the Asia Pacific region. The security architecture in the Asia-Pacific region has undergone significant changes over the last few decades. The growing Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea and the East China Sea and the nuclearization by North Korea have generated greater concern for neighbors and the international community at large.

This threat perception led to the revival of Quad after ten years of long hiatus. The idea of the Quad is attributed to the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who wanted to create a Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP). By bringing the four democratic countries, Quad was initially intended to respond to the Indian Ocean Tsunami, but it equally entangled in the regional politics of the Asia Pacific region.

It was resurrected in 2017 to create a rule-based order on the basis of shared values and interests. Its revival can be explained under the framework of the balance of power theory, security dilemma, and complex interdependence theory.

Literature Review

Envall David in his article, The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue: Towards an Indo-Pacific Order argued that United States, Japan, Australia, and India had formed a core group to respond to the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004 but dissipated in 2008 due to the resignation of Shinzo Abe and Australia’s withdrawal from the Quad.

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue was revived in 2017 to create a rule-based International order. Although the four countries have different visions in the regional strategic trend, the countries, at this time, have a greater alignment of interests and are provided with an opportunity to maximize cooperation in the region.1

Walter Lohman in his book, The Quad Plus: Towards a Shared Strategic Vision for Indo Pacific”, argued that the formation of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue was intended for the containment and encirclement strategy against the rising power in the Indo-pacific region. The four committed democracies joined hands in a Track II dialogue to discuss their common security concerns in this region such as countering the Chinese threat.

China and United States have supported the minilateral initiatives in this region. China initiated the Lancang Mekong cooperation mechanism in 2015, whereas the US revived the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. Lohman argued that the rise of these arrangements provided both the opportunities and challenges to the regional security architecture that is led by the ASEAN multilateral order.2

Joel Wuthnow in his article, U.S ‘Minilateralism’ In Asia and China’s Responses: A New Security Dilemma, covers two facets of Asia’s strategic landscape. First is the rise of minilateralism in addressing both the traditional and non-traditional security challenges of the region such as North Korea’s nuclear crises and natural disasters.

The revival of Quad is based on patterns of increasing dialogue, information sharing, military exercises, and other types of cooperation. Although Beijing has been involved in some minilateral activities, most of these initiatives have been between the United States and its regional partners.3

Ashok Rai in his article, Quadrilateral Security Dialogue 2 (Quad 2.0) – A Credible Strategic Construct or Mere Foam in the Ocean, argued that the US-China strategic competition was bringing a wide range of structural changes in the international system. The Trump administration came up with network security architecture to keep the region free from coercion with open sea lanes and infrastructure.

Although Quad has its own limitation, it is significant in the military dimension to espouse a favorable international order. China’s maritime assertiveness is the key driver in the resurrection of Quad.4

 Theoretical Framework

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue can be explained under the framework of the balance of threat theory. In this theory, Walt argued that states balance against the threat rather than power by forming alliances. He identified four criteria that the state used to evaluate the threat against the other power. The four elements are aggregate power, geographical proximity, offensive capabilities, and offensive intentions.5

Chinese aggressive behavior and North Korea nuclearization reflect offensive intentions that are perceived by the other states as a threat to the international order. Due to China’s rising influence, the four states fell into the security dilemma and so made a security alliance in the form of a Quad to eliminate the security dilemma.

The other theoretical framework applied to the Quad is complex interdependence, which claims that a state is not the only main actor in the international system and that it interacts through multiple channels. Quad is one of those channels through which state interactions take place. As opposed to realism, preferences are not fixed but are shaped by agenda-setting.

In the case of Quad, a core group was formed for humanitarian assistance, later the agenda changed and they focused more on containing the Chinese threat but after the revival, the agenda has been to maintain the balance of power in the region. Through the Quad, the states such as Australia and India work for their common interests.

A Backdrop to Quadrilateral Security Dialogue

The Indian Ocean Tsunami laid the foundation for the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. The Bush administration responded with the regional core groups to coordinate emergency relief efforts.6 The group disbanded quickly but it left its imprints on the balance of power politics. The United States, Australia, and Japan signed their historical security declaration and the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came up with the idea of Security Diamond.

In the following month, India-US Malabar exercises welcomed the Japanese Navy, and, for the first time in history, the Malabar exercises were carried out in the Sea of Japan.7 After the naval exercises, the four democracies – Australia, India, Japan, and the United States – held the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue at the ASEAN meeting in Manila.

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In 2007, after the Malabar exercise, Shinzo Abe was defeated due to poor electoral performance, and in Australia, Howard was replaced by the Rudd government who was more enthusiastic about the engagement with China. India was also worried about the implications of Quad on its foreign policies.

Therefore, the enthusiasm for the Quad soon dissipated when the Australian Foreign Minister signaled that Canberra had no longer any interest in Quad. Thus the Quad collapsed at the dawn of Chinese assertive policy.8

Quad 2.0

After coming to power, Shinzo Abe renegotiated the Quad proposal, calling the four democratic countries to unite in the defense of the international rules-based order. Shinzo Abe released the national security strategy which reflected the idea of increased cooperation among the Quad nations. Later on, Japan became a permanent member of the Malabar naval exercise after its periodic participation.

He also strengthened Japan’s relations with India and Australia to a specific strategic partnership which depicts that, in the absence of Quad, the four countries enhanced their security partnerships.9 Shinzo Abe came up with the idea of a Security Diamond which suggested that the four democratic countries make a security alliance to safeguards their maritime concerns from the Indian Ocean to the West Pacific.10

India’s threat perception towards China has also grown during this decade of Quad resurrection. The increased Chinese deployment in the Indian oceans and rapid modernization of its nuclear weapon program drew its concerns towards the maritime projections. The Chinese Belt Road Initiative further increased the Indian apprehension, prompting it to include itself in the security alliance.

A Case of Converging Interests

Quad is an informal strategic alliance that was formed on the basis of shared democratic values aimed at creating a rule-based global order to ensure a FOIP region. This FOIP serves the long-term interests of all the democratic countries in the region as the four states of the Quad share a deep interest in maintaining a stable balance of power in the Indo-Pacific and preventing a regional state from becoming a hegemon.

A hegemon is a state that has the potential to create a sphere of influence in the region and create an order that enhances its own interests at the expense of others.11 Moreover, the Quad nations share an interest in deterring the use of forceful and coercive practices to resolve the political and territorial disputes, mainly the South China Sea and the East China Sea.

The four states also share converging interests in maintaining maritime order and allowing the free movement of goods and services across the world’s oceans. Furthermore, a recognized common interest of the Quad is that of supporting and strengthening liberal democratic governance in the Indo-Pacific Region because a region hostile to liberal values at the domestic level is less likely to support a free and open international order.12

The increasing number of military exercises, strategic dialogues, and technical agreements are the manifestation of the deepening relations among the democratic countries. By joining the Quad, India has significantly shifted its policy for the region, providing India a platform to enhance its interest in East Asia.13 It also provides leverage to India in shaping the US policy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan.14

It allows the four democracies to expand their role to the changing security dynamics of the Indo-Pacific region.15 Australia’s concern about the Chinese strategic posture in the Indo-Pacific and the militarization in the South China Sea is further enhanced by Beijing’s interference in the Australian domestic politics.

The Trump administration had signed the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act which endorsed that the security dialogue among the United States, India, Australia, and Japan was essential in addressing the pressing security challenges in the Indo–Pacific in order to promote a rules-based order and a FOIP.16

Dimensions of Quad in the Indo-Pacific

Forum for Diplomatic Consultation

Quad also acts as a forum for diplomatic consultation since after its revival various meetings have been held among diplomats from the four countries to address the broader agendas of the Indo-Pacific region. Maritime security, cybersecurity, and terrorism are the key areas where the four democratic countries have coordinated their policies. Along with ASEAN, the Quad complements regional security by implementing substantial policies.17

Forum for Military Cooperation

The main reason behind the formation of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue is to make a security partnership against the adversaries. Military cooperation requires special measures such as joint exercises for advancing military interoperability, transfer of military technology, and defense equipment among Quad nations, and capacity building in the Indo-Pacific regional states.

The four militaries have conducted naval exercises to improve the interoperability of equipment and software systems through mutual access to defense technology. Many countries in the Asia Pacific are still dependent on Russian equipment, but there are chances that India would join the trilateral alliance of the United States, Japan, and Australia for capacity building.18

Forum for Information Exchange

Quad is not a formal alliance so there are many constraints on intelligence sharing among its members. Japan is still not a member of the Five Eyes intelligence Group to which the U.S. and Australia belong. They are sharing the information in the military sectors such as Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA).

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The quad members’ military assets are located throughout the Indian Ocean to Western Pacific and so an information network is being built for the communication of defense-related information.19

Forum for Economic Integration

Quad is also a forum for economic integration and regional connectivity. Although there is no movement towards economic integration, the meeting of 2018 discussed regional connectivity as one aspect of the agenda. It may be expected for Quad to begin investing in India for economic integration. The Quad is formed against the Chinese aggressive behavior, but they have yet to discuss how to reshape the Chinese behavior in the region and make it a responsible stakeholder.20

Future Prospects

There have been proposals for Quad plus which includes South Korea, Vietnam, and New Zealand to expand the logistic support and increase the concern for the maritime commerce and Institutional linkages. The Japanese Foreign Minister had also suggested the inclusion of France and Britain in the Quad because of the unreliability of the Trump administration. Once Covid-19 hit, the Quad plus countries joined a video conference to discuss the Covid cases and vaccination measures.21

The meeting of 6 October 2020 endorsed that “the agenda will be broadly focused on the post-Covid-19 international order as well as the need for coordinating responses to the challenges emerging from the pandemic. There will also be a discussion on regional issues. The foreign ministers are expected to collectively affirm the importance of a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific.”22


The Quad will remain as long as China continues its assertive and expansionists power. It is based on a narrow agenda which will definitely challenge its existence in the future. The question for the Quad is whether the four states have a shared vision on the future international order beyond China’s hegemony.23

This question can be explained through three aspects: power, interests, and norms. Power matters more when defining the international order according to realism so the rule-based order will require the balance of power. In the Cold war era, a rule-based order was built by the western powers mainly the US, and created international institutions and laws for their own interests.

Japan wants to preserve the supremacy of the United States and while Australia shares a similar view, they want to create a multipolar rule-based order. India also expressed dissatisfaction with the status quo. They want to create a multipolar International order with some amendments to the existing order.24 Many strategic analysts have also argued that India is dragging itself into the US-China rivalry.25

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue also depends on a country’s administration. As there is a change in leadership in Japan, the challenge for Quad is whether the new administration would want to continue the security alliance. Trump has also been replaced by Biden and the successor has made it clear of his intentions to continue investing in the Quad.

The World Bank and Asian Investment Bank must focus on infrastructure building in the region to counter the Chinese large-scale infrastructure from Asia to Africa under the Belt Road Initiative.26 The four countries have remarkable naval capabilities so they could use their drones to monitors the major trading routes and facilitate real-time information exchange with the ASEAN countries.

The building of robust regional forums and initiatives such as the Indo-Pacific business forum could be expanded and Indo-pacific Bank or Indo-Pacific Infrastructure could be encouraged for private investments in areas of the digital economy, blue economy, and infrastructure.27


The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue is not a new concept to the regional security architecture. It is the security alliance that aims to balance the Chinese threat28 and maintain a balance of power politics. There is also a question on the existence of Quad when the ASEAN already exists. This is because ASEAN is not a security platform to tackle the common threats of the region.

It is not a threat to the ASEAN existence, but along with ASEAN, it enhances the security dynamics of the Indo-Pacific. The idea of Quad plus creates more opportunities for the Quad to play their roles in the region.


1 David, E. (2019). The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue: Towards an Indo-Pacific Order. RSIS, 1(16), 19–45. https://www.rsis.edu.sg/rsis-publication/idss/the-quadrilateral-security-dialogue-towards-an-indo-pacific-order/#.YFCc_Z0zZPY

2 Walter Lohman, The Quad Plus; Towards A Shared Strategic Vision For Indo-Pacific, 1st ed. (Wisdom Tree, 2015).

3 Joel Wuthnow, “U.S. ‘Minilateralism’ In Asia And China’s Responses: A New Security Dilemma, “Journal Of Contemporary China 28, no. 115 (2018): 133-15 https://doi.org/10.1080/10670564.2018.1497916

4 Ashok Rai, “Quadrilateral Security Dialogue 2 (Quad 2.0) – A Credible Strategic Construct Or Mere “Foam In The Ocean”?, Maritime Affairs: Journal Of The National Maritime Foundation Of India 14, no. 2 (2018): 138-148, http://doi:10.1080/09733159.2019.1572260.

5 Takashi Miyagi, The Changing Security Dynamics In  Indo-Pacific: The Emergence Of Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, ebook, 2019.

6 Marc Grossman, “The Tsunami Core Group: A Step toward a Transformed Diplomacy in Asia and Beyond,” Security Challenges 1, no. 1 (2005), 11–14,

7 The Heritage Foundation, Smith M Jaff, “The Quad 2.0: A Foundation for a Free and Open Indo–Pacific,” Asian Studies Center, 3–5. http://report.heritage.org/bg3481

8 Lin Hsien-Sen, “The Peace and Prosperity Of “Free And Open Indo-Pacific” Area”, The Journal Of Korea Association Of Japanology 121 (2019): 251-269, https://doi.org/10.15532/kaja.2019.11.121.251.

9 Howard Loewen, The “Quadrilateral Initiative”: A New Security Structure In Asia?, ebook, 2008. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/46553643_The_Quadrilateral_Initiative_A_New_Security_Structure_in_Asia

10 William Choong, The Revived Quad and an Opportunity For US, ebook, 2018, https://www.iiss.org/blogs/analysis/2018/01/revived-quad.

11 Lavina Lee, ASSESSING THE QUAD: PROSPECTS AND LIMITATIONS OF QUADRILATERAL COOPERATION FOR ADVANCING AUSTRALIA’S INTERESTS, ebook, 2020, https://www.lowyinstitute.org/publications/assessing-quad-prospects-and-limitations-quadrilateral-cooperation-advancing-australia

12 Lavina Lee, ASSESSING THE QUAD: PROSPECTS AND LIMITATIONS OF QUADRILATERAL COOPERATION FOR ADVANCING AUSTRALIA’S INTERESTS, ebook, 2020, https://www.lowyinstitute.org/publications/assessing-quad-prospects-and-limitations-quadrilateral-cooperation-advancing-australia

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13 Huong Le Thou, Quad 2.0; New Perspective for The Revived Concept, ebook (Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 2019), https://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep23015

14 Ian Hall, “Advancing the Quad through Diversification,” Lowy Interpreter, November 30, 2017, https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/advancing-quad-through-diversification

15 https://www.insightsonindia.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Strategic-Importance-of-Quadrilateral.pdf

16 Madan, T. (2017, November 16). The Rise, fall, and Rebirth of the ‘Quad.’ War on the Rocks. https://warontherocks.com/2017/11/rise-fall-rebirth-quad/

17 Ramesh Thaku, “Australia and the Quad,” Strategist, July 5, 2018, https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/Australia-and-the-quad/

18 Huong Le Thou, Quad 2.0; New Perspective for The Revived Concept, ebook (Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 2019), https://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep23015

19 Euan Graham, “The Quad Deserves its Second Chance,” in Andrew Carr (ed.), Debating the Quad, Centre of Gravity series paper 39 (Canberra: Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, ANU, 2018), 4–7

20 Ryosuke Hanada, The Role Of The “Quad” In The Free And Open Indo-Pacific Concept: A Policy Coordination Mechanism For Rules-Based Order, ebook, 2019, http://www.cogitasia.com/the-role-of-the-quad-in-the-free-and-open-indo-pacific-concept-a-policy-coordination-mechanism-for-rules-based-order/

21 Quadrilateral Security Dialogue in the Post-Pandemic World. (2020, July 24). Diplomatist. https://diplomatist.com/2020/07/24/quadrilateral-security-dialogue-in-the-post-pandemic-world/

22 Rajaram Panda, “Rethinking The “Quad” Security Concept In The Face Of A Rising China”, The Jamestown Foundation Global Research And Analysis 20, no. 19 (2020). https://jamestown.org/program/rethinking-the-quad-security-concept-in-the-face-of-a-rising-china/

23 Jeff M. Smith, “India and the Quad: Weak Link or Keystone?” Strategist, January 15, 2019, https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/india-and-the-quad-weak-link-or-keystone/

24 International Disaster Response: Rebuilding the Quad? – World. (2019, March 11). Relief Web. https://reliefweb.int/report/world/international-disaster-response-rebuilding-quad

25 International Disaster Response: Rebuilding the Quad? – World. (2019, March 11). Relief Web, https://reliefweb.int/report/world/international-disaster-response-rebuilding-quad

26 Roy, S. (2020, October 2). Quad meet to focus on global order after Covid. The Indian Express. https://indianexpress.com/article/india/quad-meet-to-focus-on-global-order-after-covid-6664172/

27 Premesha Saha, The Quad in The Indo-Pacific: Why ASEAN Remains Cautious, ebook, 2018, https://orfonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/ORF_IssueBrief_229_QuadASEAN.pdf

28 “US-backed ‘Quad’ Quietly Gains Steam as Way to Balance China,” Straits Times, November 15, 2018, https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/east-asia/us-backed-quad-quietly-gains-steam-as-way-to-balance-china.


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Ms. Aneesa Aslam is studying International Relations at National Defence University.

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