Quad Goals: What Should Britain’s Role Be in This Emerging Asia-Pacific Group?

Panny Antoniou discusses the need for greater cooperation between Britain and allies in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, and makes the case for expanding the narrow definition of 'national security' to include climate change and protecting human rights.

Since the unprecedented Operation Malabar exercises between India, Australia, the United States, and Japan in 2007 these countries have increased their military cooperation and now form the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue – known as the Quad.

As the four biggest democracies in the Asia-Pacific region, cooperation between these powers makes sense. They share many values as well as sharing similar reservations about the assertiveness of China. These are similarities which they also share with Britain, which has a strong relationship with all four member countries, most notably the Special Relationship with the United States, as well as Australia's and India’s membership of the Commonwealth. On Japan’s part, the first Treaty of Friendship between the two nations was signed in 1854 and there is a long history of cooperation between the two states, especially since the end of the Second World War.

With Britain announcing increased defence spending including a number of new ships and increased spending on cybersecurity, there is scope for Britain to cooperate with this grouping. Cooperation of third countries with the Quad is not without precedent, in March 2020 the leaders of the Quad met to discuss the threat posed by the Coronavirus pandemic, in this meeting they were joined by representatives from New Zealand, Vietnam, and South Korea. The inclusion of New Zealand within these meetings is especially significant for Britain, given the intelligence cooperation between Britain, New Zealand, and Quad member states Australia and the United States under the Five Eyes Agreement (which also includes Canada). With Britain likely to be joining freedom of navigation exercises in the South China Sea in the near future, it is also important to think of the naval aspect of this relationship and the potential for Britain to join naval exercises in what is a vital strategic region containing major commercial shipping choke-points including the Straits of Malacca.

However, whilst discussion of naval and cybersecurity cooperation is incredibly important, this should not be the sole focus of Britain’s cooperation with the Quad. As some of the most prominent democracies in the world, the grouping has the ability to help challenge human rights abuses in the region. From the genocide of the Uyghur people in China’s Xinjiang region, and the crushing of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong; to Myanmar’s treatment of their Rohingya minority, and the ongoing human rights abuses in Indonesia’s West Papua region. An increased human rights focus within the grouping could even be extended to helping coordinate sanctions and track supply chains, for example much of the world’s cotton used in the clothing industry comes from Xinjiang – ensuring that all cotton within supply chains is slave labour free would go a long way towards changing or at least challenging Chinese behaviour.

Another security related area where Britain’s goals could align with the Quad is on climate change. All states are committed to reducing carbon emissions under the Paris Climate Accords and we must cooperate with the Quad in pursuit of these goals. Beyond the human cost, climate change creates a significant security threat for all states and this must be addressed by ensuring that adequate safeguards and measures are put in place to protect countries from the worst impacts of this. Areas where cooperation could be beneficial include cooperating on the development of new technologies such as new batteries for energy storage and new methods of hydrogen extraction for green sources of hydrogen – whilst hydrogen itself is an environmentally friendly source of power, the methods of hydrogen extraction often leave a lot to be desired in terms of their environmental impact. Additionally, working on the sourcing and reusing of rare earth metals which are vital for modern electronics and green energy production is something which both the Quad and Britain share a common interest in, this is an area which Japan in particular excels in.

There are a number of traditionally security related ways in which Britain can cooperate with the Quad – from joint naval exercises to shared cybersecurity techniques. However, cooperating in these areas should not preclude Britain from expanding the often narrow definition of “national security” to include such vital aspects as climate change and protecting human rights. These are vital areas of British interest and of our national security, and must involve cooperation between us and our friends and allies in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue.


Panny Antoniou is the Co-chair of Open Labour’s Climate Change Working Group and Co-founder of grassroots activist organisation Labour Doorstep. He tweets at @panny_antoniou

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