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Navigating strategic partnerships: India's choice between the Quad and RIC

India stands at a critical juncture in its foreign policy, where it must decide whether to deepen its involvement in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) or to invest more heavily in the Russia-India-China (RIC) trilateral. Recently, at the Primakov Readings International Forum in Moscow on June 26, 2024, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made remarks about the West forcing India into anti-China projects: “We see attempts to draw the Quad into various military and political projects, such as military exercises and ensuring safety at sea. And we can see the real purpose behind these security exercises. The United States offers a telling example with its attempts to interfere in the affairs of the region we share by creating all these trilateral and quadrilateral cooperation frameworks.”[i]

Both groupings present unique strategic advantages and challenges, and a nuanced analysis is necessary to determine the best path forward for India. This essay delves into the complexities of both alliances, weighing their benefits and limitations to discern the optimal course for India.

The Quad: A Democratic Alliance

The Quad, comprising the United States, Japan, Australia, and India, is often perceived as a counterbalance to China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific. Rooted in shared democratic values, the Quad aims to ensure a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific region. The alliance focuses on various areas including maritime security, counterterrorism, cyber security, and infrastructure development.

The Quad offers several distinct advantages for India. Firstly, it provides a strategic balance against China. The Quad serves as a robust platform for India to counter China’s assertiveness in the region. Through joint naval exercises and strategic dialogues, India enhances its security apparatus and projects power in the Indian Ocean. Secondly, the Quad facilitates technological and economic cooperation. Collaboration in critical and emerging technologies, supply chain resilience, and health security can bolster India's economic and technological landscape. The Quad Vaccine Partnership, aimed at expanding vaccine production and distribution, exemplifies this potential as it evolved into the Health Security Partnership. Thirdly, India benefits from enhanced maritime security through the Quad. With its extensive coastline and strategic maritime interests, India gains from increased maritime domain awareness and security cooperation, which is crucial for safeguarding its maritime borders and trade routes.

However, the Quad is not without its challenges. Deepening ties with the Quad risks antagonising China, a significant trading partner and neighbouring power. This could escalate border tensions and lead to economic retaliation from China. Additionally, aligning closely with the US-led Quad could result in a dependency that might constrain India’s strategic autonomy, forcing it to align with US policies that may not always align with India’s interests.

The RIC Trilateral: Historical and Geopolitical Bonds

The RIC grouping, comprising Russia, India, and China, is rooted in historical and geopolitical bonds dating back to the Cold War era. The trilateral seeks to foster regional stability, economic cooperation, and a multipolar world order.

The RIC offers several advantages for India. Firstly, it allows India to maintain strategic autonomy. Participation in the RIC underscores India’s commitment to strategic autonomy, fostering independent decision-making in international affairs. Secondly, RIC facilitates economic cooperation with two of the world’s largest economies. India can leverage these ties for infrastructure development, energy security, and technological collaboration, which are pivotal for its growth. Thirdly, engaging with RIC helps India balance Western influence, particularly from the US, thereby reinforcing its sovereignty and diversifying its strategic partnerships.

However, the RIC also presents significant challenges. The most prominent challenge is the strained relationship between India and China, marked by border disputes and competitive geopolitical interests. This undermines trust and hampers effective cooperation within the trilateral. Furthermore, compared to the Quad, RIC offers limited scope for military and security cooperation. The trilateral’s primary focus remains on economic and diplomatic engagement, which may not adequately address India’s security concerns.

Weighing the Options: What is Best for India?

The decision between the Quad and RIC is not binary but rather a matter of strategic calibration. India must navigate these alliances, maximising benefits while mitigating risks.

Given the increasing assertiveness of China, especially along the Himalayan borders and in the Indian Ocean, the Quad’s security framework offers tangible benefits. Enhanced naval cooperation, intelligence sharing, and joint military exercises significantly bolster India’s defence capabilities. Both alliances offer economic and technological advantages, but the Quad’s focus on critical technologies, supply chain resilience, and infrastructure development aligns well with India’s economic priorities. Simultaneously, RIC’s energy cooperation and economic synergies cannot be overlooked.

India’s foreign policy has traditionally emphasised non-alignment and strategic autonomy. Engaging with both Quad and RIC allows India to maintain this balance. By participating in RIC, India signals its commitment to a multipolar world and mitigates the risks of over-reliance on Western alliances. The optimal strategy for India may involve a dual approach: deepening security ties with the Quad to address immediate and long-term security threats while simultaneously engaging with RIC to foster economic cooperation and maintain geopolitical balance.

In conclusion, India’s best path lies in a pragmatic and flexible approach, leveraging the strengths of both the Quad and RIC. This balanced strategy enables India to address its security concerns, enhance economic growth, and uphold its strategic autonomy in an increasingly complex global landscape. Through careful navigation and strategic diplomacy, India can maximise its benefits from both alliances, ensuring a secure and prosperous future.


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