Better off with a Mod Quad

Nimitz Strike Group Participates in Cooperative Exercises with Indian Navy  - Naval News
Nimitz carrier task group in a Passex July 20 with Indian Navy warships

The US secretary of state Michael Pompeo publicly regretted President Richard Nixon’s 1972 policy of cultivating China that the US followed ever since as a grave strategic error. Far from liberalizing the Communist state as was hoped, allowing China concessional terms of trade, unhindered access to the American market, and transfer of advanced technology to modernize its military and manufacturing industry, helped it to emerge in the second decade of the 21st Century as an aggressive  authoritarian state,  a mercantilist powerhouse and military rival which can only be handled, he contended in a July 23 speech in California,  by ‘a new alliance of democracies’.

As if on cue, India’s “weathercock strategists” — a delectable phrase coined by Jawed Naqvi, the Delhi correspondent of the Pakistani newspaper Dawn — began chiming in, about how with a slightly modified moniker this ‘coalition of democracies’ would serve India’s purpose. It is, however, a line External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar indicated the Modi government is a little chary of. He told a web audience at the ‘Mindmine Summit’ last week that while the ‘era of great caution and …greater dependence on multilateralism…is behind us”, the consequence of the US ‘repositioning’ itself and of the American security ‘umbrella’ becoming ‘smaller, less thick’ is that it has ‘allowed other countries to play more autonomous roles’.

Apparently, he sees India as a ‘middle power’ in such a role; the confusion and lack of clarity is about just how autonomously the Modi government wants the country to act, in Jaishankar’s words, in ‘a multipolar world with strong bipolar characteristics.’ The problem is, based on its record, reflexively siding with the US seems to be its default position that has alienated old friends (Russia, Iran) and ill-served the national interest. 

The issue is this: Can any ‘alliance’ or ‘coalition’ of democracies be conceived or imagined without India in it? Absolutely not. So, there’s no real policy premium or material profit in joining a group mooted by the US which, as the dominant power, will decide the norms for intra-coalition affairs and dictate the rules of engagement with non-democratic adversaries of its choice. But there’s every incentive for India in this situation to remain in its own orbit, pursue its goals unimpaired by America’s do’s and don’ts, and leverage its participation for a price in such coalitions as promote its cause and keep away from moves detrimental to its interests.

Given that India’s perception of the China threat is more in line with those of the nations on the latter’s periphery, it makes more sense to alight on a security scheme organic to the extended region. Such as a Modified Quadrilateral or Mod Quad of India, Japan, a cell of Southeast Asian nations, and Australia in which the US, as the extra-territorial power balancer in the Indo-Pacific, can opt in or opt out. This is better than sticking with the Quadrilateral involving America, where its readiness for military confrontation is in inverse proportion to China’s growing military prowess.

The Mod Quad would allow India the latitude, for instance, independently to arm Vietnam, Philippines and Indonesia with strategic weapons, and to otherwise operate jointly with Japan, Australia, and the regional states with the most stakes in it, to curb China’s hegemonic tendencies. 

The oceanic expanse separating China and the US, and the contiguous disputed land borders and narrow seas separating China and the Mod Quad members make for quite different security dynamics. As evidence of the distinct sets of interests and motivations at work, consider the clash in eastern Ladakh. The US has done precious little to help. 

The deployment of two aircraft carrier task groups in the Philippine Sea pertained to the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait but was misrepresented by the Indian media as a gesture of support. And the Passing Exercise in the Andaman Sea with a couple of Indian warships by one of the carrier groups returning to its Bahrain base, was of no great value.


Published as Up-Front column in India Today, Issue dated August 10, 2020, at

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
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9 Responses to Better off with a Mod Quad

  1. Pratap AR says:

    How do you see the situation playing out from now? Having presented India with a fait accompli that seems to have been accepted by the Indian government,Do you forsee further Chinese aggression in Winter? Any concrete evidence of India supplying Vietnam & Indonesia with Brahmos?

  2. RG says:

    Good points on arming the nations individuality, and that India misinterpreted US naval transit as show of support.

    I was an advocate of Mod Quad. Not anymore.

    Mod quad looks very nice on paper but would require a central role, India is just not willing .We still don’t see how china ll only ramp up on disruption . We are fools in this, its coming ,we should preempt it.

    Asking Russia to join in SCS was utterly foolish,its a legit power, its almost insulting.

    If the idea behind the states at chinas peripherey having the same concerns is about interests than US has the same interests in security terms, moreover the behavior of these states is the same as India’s ,they all are hesitant, so how does it make any sense? Lets say we have Mod Quad, incase china shows aggression towards Indonesia ,will India militarily help them?Not by just arming, by actually fighting alongside? Hell no. So what the heck is it about? Wht will it achieve.

    China ll squeeze us more, China problem is not going to go away unless there is democracy for at least 3 generations.

    We have no option but to side with US and extract the maximum from US. Why are we so lacking in confidence that we think we wud end up as lackeys.

    Regime change in china and no less will solve India’s china problem. And I don’t say this just cos Pompoe said it, I have this opinion for a decade at least.

    Trump or Biden, respective US ll go to great lengths to stop china. No matter how much one talks about economy, security has always and will prevail this time too. This is our chance to settle china problem for all times to come. Side with US openly and use them to fix china. No Mod quad or whatever can help,it just aint happening.

    Btw, intelligence sharing and the regular Quad gets armed as it can be, so I don’t agree with u on that.

    What woud a Mod Quad get us?

    It can not solve the china problem permanently.

    It will just normalize our perceptions.Which is delusional.Without a central leading nation,what can a Mod Quad do? And India is not leading.

    Either US ll come out on tops, good for us.

    or might cut a deal with china(highly unlikely, Ash Carton made it amply clear before leaving),we are screwed if this happens.

    Or china comes out on top(highly unlikely),why not cut a deal with china now(they have shown no inclination whatsoever to accommodate India),they never will.

    That leaves us with the only option with making china substantially weak.Mod quad can not do it.

    It is band aid when a surgery is required.

    The only positive outcome (highly unlikely though) from not siding with US is when US and china go at each other and both end up substantially weak. Both ll demand alliengence , like china is doing now with us, without even giving us any options,asking us to stay out and down.

    We must stop Chinese access to our markets, irrespective. AI is the future, and data is the food it feeds on: from entertainment apps, to marketing,banking ,to tumor prediction,u name it, except for its use on the battlefield(which i don’t know about), it needs data to train AI algorithms for better predictions and analysis. No data ,no AI application.

    • India’ll still not get any niche advanced tech from the US that West European and Russian mil suppliers would not happily sell to us — the rest can be generated in-country if only the pvt sector is incentivised. Even after the Make in India, atm nirbhar, the procurement practice shows no let up on arms imports. As far as US’ mil value is concerned, it will no more fight alongside India against China, than we’d do with Indonesia against China (the case you mentioned), so no big + there. There’s only so much one can say in 650 words! The case for the Mod Quad and for weaponising BRIS (BRICS w/o China) has been detailed in my ‘Staggering Forward’ (2018 book) as the geostrategic answer to containing China and w/o US’ help. You may find it persuasive.

  3. Tony says:

    Not Triad or Quad will be sucessfull unless culture inculcates study of shatra with shastra. How many Hindus know how to handle a gun and clean the guts of animal. We are creating feminized effeminate unlimited talks no fight society in pursued of limitless greed and desire , it is matter of time neighbourhood spartans will come knocking for spoils . Weak makes way for strong is eternal law of universe. (All this aside can someone please tell me why most of our generals are pot bellied and overweight like our neighbourhood mithaiwalllas)

  4. America is a fast diminishing power. They lost their superpower status. America is only a major power like Russia, China, and India. She overextends herself in her war against Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria, North Korea, Cuba and Al Qeda.
    Many Indian defense specialists are worried about opening of prestigious Jungle Warfare Training School, Mizoram, and High Altitude warfare Training School, Kashmir, to Americans. As they used ‘China Card’ against the USSR for two decades (1971-91), America now wants to use the “India Card” to contain China.
    After the 9/11 terrorist strike, Americans mostly ignored our unconditional support and goodwill. Cunning Pak General played his cards shrewdly. I have another suggestion. Smaller democracies, Australia, Italy, and Holland are facing international terror. We should lend them, security experts. They will be grateful. Also, India’s clout and global stature will raise.

  5. Gram Massla says:

    Pompeo is wrong about Nixon; China was needed to topple a dilapidated, corrupt and tottering Soviet Union. He is right about the misconception that the CCP would allow a gradual adoption of democratic values. Why should they when it means relinquishing power? He was also right about the fact that accumulating wealth in a nation would have the unintended consequences of evoking the need for freedom and openness in the Chinese people. To counter this the CCP has created a larger army than the PLA to contain their hungry masses yearning to the free. Xi has decided that for the CCP to stay in power indefinitely the authoritarian template needs, not only be defended, but propagated as a superior model to democracy.
    To further this grand scheme the CCP counts on fostering extreme nationalism. Hence the constant harping on the “century of humiliation” and the message that only the CCP can be China’s legitimate guardian. Following this logic countries on the periphery are chosen by their desirability for war. It is imperative for the CCP to pick on a middle power such as India as invading Myanmar and even Vietnam would only serve to reinforce China’s image as the Asian bully. Which is why the border will not be settled as long as the tragedy of 1962 is still in the minds of the Indians. For India must understand that the CCP calculates that even the threat of war in beneficial to China as the border is a lot closer to Delhi than Shanghai or even Beijing. This message will have a chilling effect of those who want to invest in India as an alternative to China. Wherefore it is imperative that in any future war, which will occur under the nuclear umbrella, India must strike effectively at the Han hinterland.

    • That’s a great point about the relationship between keeping border live and deterring investment. But India had all the time in the world to radically reform its bureaucratized state to make it investor and business-friendly, especially during the Modi regime in power with a tremendous public mandate, but didn’t do it!

      • manofsan says:

        Best opportunity to raise India through economic reforms was under the govt of Narasimha Rao, the last good Congress leader. Had his reformist govt been allowed to continue, then India would have quickly followed China’s growth track, and we would be much closer to economic parity with them today. Back then, the worldwide protectionist backlash had not yet started, which meant there was a good window of opportunity for India. But instead, Rao’s govt was backstabbed and ousted by another threat – the European memsahib who became India’s Jian Qing. She had never previously felt any interest in plunging into politics, but due to Bofors suddenly became obsessed with seizing power at all costs. Because the European memsahib sabotaged India’s economic reforms and prevented the country from rising the Rao way, now more strenuous methods will have to be employed, and India will now rise the Modi/BJP way. I’m a lifelong atheist, but with an eye to these foreign betrayals, I say Jai Sri Ram!

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