Club class
THE WEEK|October 03, 2021
In the turbulence of geopolitics, India seeks a balance between groupings and bilateral ties
REKHA DIXIT

IT WAS SUPPOSED to be the big moment, with leaders of four important countries in the Indo-Pacific getting together for their first in-person meeting of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) in the US. So it took people by surprise that just a week before the summit, three Anglo-Saxon countries announced the formation of AUKUS (a trilateral of Australia, the UK and the US). Now, there are questions about whether the US is dumping the Quad for this new club.

The Quad is a club into which India was wooed ardently. Yet, it remained circumspect. It is largely because of India that the Quad remains a non-military club of regional democracies with a “shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific”. AUKUS, on the other hand, is an unabashed security pact; the announcement of its formation came with the news that the UK and the US would help Australia develop and deploy nuclear-powered submarines. The message of taking on China is unambiguous.

Since 1993, when India made its first bid for permanent membership of the UN Security Council (UNSC), the country has embraced club culture in a big way. It joined a veritable alphabet soup of new groupings including BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), G-20, BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and managed a toehold even in the Djibouti Code of Conduct. India is now part of over 70 such groupings.

Yet, two exclusive club cards which it most desires—UNSC and Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG)—remain elusive. The NSG was formed in response to India’s nuclear ambitions in 1974. India got a host of NSG waivers in 2008, which has negated the need for actual membership, yet India desires to sit at the high table and not outside the door. The UNSC membership line is long and the club has no intention of letting anyone in. The only option available is non-permanent membership. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will raise the issue of UNSC reforms once again during his speech at the UN General Assembly.

The Quad ticks the “exclusive” box, a point over which both Russia and China are sore. For all its desire to be part of elite clubs, its Quad membership makes India rather uncomfortable.

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