Questions about the commitment of the most populous member of the Quad have been put to rest. Can it propel a wider global conversation on the alliances between democracies?
A montage of the four flags of the members of the Quad.
Now that the first Quad summit has happened with the leaders of the four maritime democracies, the United States, India, Japan, and Australia, calling for a ‘free’ and ‘open’ Indo-Pacific, the question to ask is this – would this grouping push forward global conversation on an alliance (or alliances) of democracies?
Some reports suggest that the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has described the Quad as “the most significant thing to have occurred to protect Australia's security and sovereignty since ANZUS (the Australia New Zealand United States Security Treaty”.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in his address at the Quad summit that it was “good to be among friends” and called for a “free, open and inclusive” Indo-Pacific, “united by our democratic values”.
U.S. President Joe Biden, the Quad was about “renewing our commitment to ensure that our region is governed by international law, committed to upholding universal values, and free from coercion”.
The joint statement issued by the four members (this was the first time they had signed onto a common declaration as opposed to issuing separate press releases) noted the desire of the Quad to promote “a free, open rules-based order, rooted in international law to advance security and prosperity and counter threats to both in the Indo-Pacific and beyond” and “to uphold peace and prosperity and strengthen democratic resilience, based on universal values”.
This essay takes the conversation a step further to ask if the Quad is a harbinger of a broad ‘coalition of democracies’ in the world.
It is important to note that Biden has committed to convening a ‘global summit of democracies’ in his first twelve months in office. Other organisations have pitched this idea for while now, like the Community of Democracies, an intergovernmental organisation, by the then Polish Foreign Minister Bronisław Geremek and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in 2000, or the D-10 or Democracies 10 concept of the Atlantic Council made up of Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States, plus the European Union.
None of the former ideas are, in a sense, as concrete as the Quad seems after its first summit-level meeting with a joint declaration. Therefore, it might be plausibly considered that the Quad in a sense is a major step towards the goal of attaining some kind of a global interconnection or cooperation mechanism between democracies. It is all the more significant because it is the only one which has the world’s most numerous, and most diverse, democracy, India, which also is geographically located adjacent to countries and regions which have had difficult relationships, historically, with the idea of democracy.
Whether formally, or informally, this idea could gather strength in the days to come. As nationalism-s rise around the world, so does more strident forms of liberal-socialist-Communist (depending on stridency) activism and politics, setting up what could well be a kind of collision course.
It is important to note here that by no means are all nationalism-s anti-democratic. Many are deeply embedded in a decolonisation urge, and therefore the ‘two sides’ in this conflict are far from neatly enumerable and could be difficult to distinguish in a simplistic manner.
This is being accentuated by two crucial processes. The relocation of global supply chains to places of greater ‘supply chain resilience’ – sometimes returning to the home country. The other, the splintering of the internet and walls of nations coming up to protect individual interests, especially to confine and hold social media accountable.
These forces are not so much ‘reversing globalisation’, as is sometimes said, but setting up a different framework, parameters, for the exchange of goods, services, content, and ideas around the world. The nuance is in the listing of priorities: putting the ‘local’ before the ‘global’. At least, that is the best-case scenario.
All this means questions of what it means to be democratic, and what the ‘will of the people’ really is, would be examined acutely in this decade once again.
The language of ‘shared values’ will be even more in the spotlight. Defining these values will be difficult and applying them as filters even more so. But the clamour for such filters would grow exponentially in a world full of the language of ‘social justice’.
As nations and societies ask whose justice, and which society, things will become more complicated, and alliances based on ‘values’ (for what else is a coalition of democracies?) would be sought after. Such collaborations are not only aimed at buttressing the coalition partners, but they also need clear ‘others’ - how to define the ‘other’ would be a challenge as already seen in the difference between the call for a free and open Indo-Pacific (used by the US, Japan, and Australia) versus a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific (India’s preferred terminology). The joint statement after the first Quad summit mentioned ‘free, open, and inclusive’.
Such dilemmas might just be beginning as democracies around the world start to coalesce against the ‘other’.