US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun has for the first time unveiled a plan that has long been nourished by the US administration. If you follow his speech at the Indian-American online forum on strategic partnership, the Indo-Pacific region (ITR) feels somewhat deprived as compared to Europe, without a powerful bloc like NATO. Apparently, the US decided to bridge this gap and establish a military grouping in the image and semblance of the North Atlantic Alliance. While in 1949 the latter was created against the USSR, today Washington intends to make a new alliance to mount a powerful stronghold against "potential challenges from China," as Biegun put it.
It is no secret that Washington deems the de facto transformation of the PRC into the world's second most powerful economy as a challenge to key American interests in all the world's regions, including the ITR. In order to restrain China in the region, America is hatching plans to create a kind of anti-Chinese alliance there to embrace the United States, Japan, Australia and India. It should be noted at the same time that the concept of a four-strong union appeared not today but back at the turn of the 21 century. The idea was strongly supported by the Japanese, who had been developing the concept of the "four democracies" as represented by Washington, Tokyo, Canberra and New Delhi. And recent years saw Tokyo's long-standing intention to create a military quad being picked up by Washington.
According to the overseas initiators' plan for this bloc, apart from the "four democracies", South Korea, New Zealand and Vietnam should join the union later. According to Biegun, the future association will include countries sharing common values and interests, which, in his opinion, will attract not only the ITR, but other states throughout the world. As Stephen Biegun noted at the forum, Washington's plans are ambitious and look beyond Asia.
The question, however, is how realistic they are? Yes, Japan and Australia have long been linked to the US by defense agreements, but there may be problems with South Korea, New Zealand and Vietnam joining the new military organization. Not to mention India, which has so far been aloof and even abiding by the tough principle of non-alignment with military blocs. What's the basis for Washington's calculations of its ability to convince New Delhi to alter its decade-long foreign policy course and join the new bloc?
According to the same Biegun, members of the "quartet" – the United States, India, Japan and Australia – are going to meet in the Indian capital this fall. And this part of his speech was marked by the American diplomat's having apparently taken the liberty to expound of New Delhi's intention to invite Australia (along with India, the United States and Japan) to the Malabar naval exercise in the Bay of Bengal. Biegun believes that the joint maneuvers should in turn continue on to the formation of a military bloc in the ITR. Should everything be that simple, the United States would have already formed a military bloc in the region.
This was confirmed by the speech Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar gave at the forum. Premised on reports by the South China Morning Post newspaper, New Delhi's present-day policy has become more pragmatic than before, especially as regards issues related to rapprochement with other states. Presumably, this also applies to the United States. India adheres to a multi-vector foreign policy, even though there has been admittedly a certain rapprochement between New Delhi and Washington in recent years. This is partly due to the United States' siding with India in the Indian-Chinese border conflict in the Himalayas. On the other hand, Jaishankar stressed the importance of New Delhi and Beijing's finding a way to mutual understanding and proceeding with their bilateral dialogue.
It cannot be denied that over the recent clashes at the border with China, anti-Chinese sentiment is quite strong in India, and the US seems willing to take advantage of this fact. At the same time, a number of experts firmly believe that Washington has nothing much to rely on New Delhi. The United States has never helped India when it comes to the crunch, and neither will it now, including the possible serious conflict with the PRC. For this reason, Washington should unlikely expect New Delhi to join the new ITR military bloc. Moreover, India is well aware that a new alliance in the region is primarily advocated not by the US State Department, but by corporations of the American military-industrial complex, eager to get uncontrolled access to the Indian arms market.
Besides, Washington's promises will unlikely heavily impact India's foreign policy pursued since independence had been declared in 1947. Joining an alliance would not only imply strained relations with neighboring China, but also entail a plunge in ties with Russia, primarily as regards military-technical cooperation. It is no secret that Russia is India's pivotal arms supplier. And other members of the putative military coalition (Japan, Australia) are uncomfortable about complicating trade atmospherics with China. For these reasons, Washington's intentions to create an anti-Chinese military alliance in the ITR may wither on the vine after all.