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Balancing Act: Could India’s Management of Strategic Interest and the Rules-Based Impact the Quad?

Published 20 Apr 2022
Drew Beacom

Since the end of Cold War, India has walked a tight rope between the superpowers: pursuing national strategic and economic interests while also playing a part in upholding the liberal world order. As China has expanded its sphere of influence, the US and its counterparts have sought to engage economic powers in the Indo-Pacific, to counter Beijing’s stance. As the second most populous country in the world, with the sixth largest economy by GDP, India has a lot to offer any strategic alliance.

The pursuit of a balance of power has given rise to the Quad Partnership, a network involving Australia, the United States, India, and Japan. This arrangement is in its second iteration but has often been criticised for a perceived lack of unity. The Quad’s response to the war in Ukraine has reinforced this view. Whereas the US, Australia and Japan have openly condemned the actions of Vladimir Putin, and all three, especially the US, have contributed significant aid to Kiev, Delhi is yet to denounce Russia or commit to any significant sanctions or humanitarian aid.

The issue for Delhi in not a simple one. It has a longstanding relationship with Russia that is based on security assistance and armaments (Russia supplies over 70% of India’s military hardware). The relationship with Russia also enjoys substantial public support. Memories of Russian support in the Cold War years, especially its defence of Indian sovereignty, still figure prominently in Delhi’s geo-political thinking. It is within this context that India’s response to the Ukraine war must be understood.

India’s hesitancy to act now raises questions about the future. Again, it is the issue of how India might assess its interests that is relevant. China is India’s second largest trade partner, and while tensions persist between the two countries, that relationship is very important to Delhi. One wonders what Delhi’s response might be in the event of some future conflict involving China and Taiwan. Would India be willing take a stand against such a key player in its economic growth as China?

With that in mind, India now must make a choice and decide upon nation it would like to be going into the 21st century. No longer an impoverished developing state, dependent upon the assistance of great powers, India has the capabilities and the influence to decide its own fate. Negotiations and managing relationships are part and parcel of diplomacy and such large economies like India cannot simply ignore international issues when it is convenient. Its international standing as well as the credibility of its Quad commitment depend on it.

Drew Beacom is a fifth-year student at the University of Sydney undertaking a Bachelor of Arts/Advanced Studies (International and Global Studies), majoring in International Relations. Drew is set to commence his honours year, researching the diplomatic consequences of the rise of China, specifically to the Indo-Pacific region. Drew has spent the past year as a councillor on the University of Sydney Student Representative Council, holding the position of Environment Officer, and is currently a delegate to the National Union of Students. Drew also currently holds a position with the Sydney Peace Foundation.

Drew is an intern with the Australian Institute of International Affairs NSW.