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The People’s Republic of China is engaging in a relentless military buildup that poses a serious security threat to the U.S. and its allies and friends in the Indo-Pacific region. In order to deter or if necessary prevail against Chinese military aggression, it is essential that the U.S. not only enhance its own regional military capabilities but that U.S. allies and friends in the Asian region increase their own capabilities and enhance their security cooperation with the U.S. 

For this purpose, the U.S. should utilize to the fullest extent possible the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (known as the “Quad”), an informal regional multilateral structure composed of the U.S., Japan, Australia and India. Established originally as a Japanese initiative, the Quad has met irregularly over the years but without any meaningful security-related activities. 

The Quad can act as a military force multiplier enhancing the combined regional military capabilities of key Asian nations as well as  the U.S. Such strengthened security cooperation can also signal that the Quad’s Asian members are prepared to respond to China’s military challenge.

While an “Asian NATO” as such is not practical for various reasons, the Quad can instead adopt a NATO-like model and develop and implement strengthened  multilateral security cooperation through a series of phases.

In the first phase, the Quad should establish regular contact among political and military officials, share regional threat assessments and compare approaches for combating terrorism and cyber attacks. The Quad can also organize multilateral search and rescue and disaster relief exercises which can provide useful preparation for subsequent regular military-related training. 

The second phase should develop a broader Quad political-military dimension which can include ambassadorial-level representatives convening regularly to discuss security issues of concern to any member. The Quad can also agree on specific missions for the organization, such as supporting freedom of navigation and maritime security and the protection of internationally-recognized sea and land borders. 

A third phase can implement increased military cooperation. The Quad can agree to annual reviews of each member’s military-related capabilities and identify resources for potential use in common military-related actions. Quad militaries can also engage in regularly-scheduled joint-training exercises and freedom-of-the-seas naval missions including in areas wrongly claimed by China.  

The Quad could then implement a fourth phase that would establish a more formal  security framework. This phase would include a permanent headquarters structure with a multinational military and political staff; and it would also initiate strengthened military coordination. Such cooperation can include the conducting of naval military exercises in disputed Asian waters, identifying key logistics facilities for potential use and possible opportunities for developing weapons systems interoperability. 

The Quad should also develop formal or informal security relationships with other Asian region nations that share its concerns about China. This effort can include “capacity-building” programs to strengthen military capabilities of smaller Asian nations with shared concerns and the identification of logistics facilities that might be made available if needed, as Sweden did for NATO during the Cold War. Finally, the Quad can establish a formal relationship with NATO itself and share security perspectives regarding China.

Quad security cooperation should be enhanced in phases in order to permit the calibration of its responses to the nature and extent of China’s behavior. Such a phased approach will also allow India, which has been cautious about its Quad involvement, to over time ratchet up its security relationship with the Quad. In this regard, India’s participation in the recent Quad-organized massive Asian regional vaccine distribution initiative, while non-military in nature, is a promising sign of a more active Indian role.

Given the combined resources and capabilities of its members, the Quad has the potential to become a key instrument for the protection of U.S. security interests, as well as those of U.S. allies and friends in the Indo-Pacific. The Quad can both serve as a deterrent to potential aggression from China, thereby making conflict less likely, and should conflict occur can help ensure a successful outcome for the U.S. 

For these reasons Japan, Australia, India, and the U.S. should move forward soon to make the Quad a permanent and effective mechanism for Indo-Pacific multilateral security cooperation.