International Disaster Response: Rebuilding the Quad?



Yuki Tatsumi and Jason Li

The idea of the “Quad” — cooperation among Australia, India, Japan and the United States — first emerged when the four countries played an anchor role in responding to the 2004 Tsunami in the Indian Ocean. A few years later, Japanese prime minister Shinzō Abe provided the vision for Quad cooperation when he spoke in front of the Indian Parliament in August 2007. In his speech entitled “Confluence of the Two Seas,” Abe emphasized the connectivity of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. While the focus of the speech was the strategic significance of Japan-India relations, Abe stressed the importance that this “broader Asia” remain free, open, and transparent for the region’s prosperity. Almost exactly 10 years later, the concept of the Quad resurfaced in 2017 after the United States began to promote the concept of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” as an organizing principle for its strategy toward Asia.

However, while interest in the Quad seemed to have returned when the officials of the four countries met for consultation in November 2017, not much has been done to further develop this relationship. While bilateral and trilateral relationships among the Quad to coordinate their policies toward the Indo-Pacific region continue to develop, as exemplified by the Japan-India agreement on coordinated strategy in infrastructure investment, there are also signs that show discord among the Quad, such as India’s recent refusal to allow Australia’s participation in the Malabar military exercise despite the United States and Japan’s encouragement.

Despite the recent signs of the Quad losing traction yet again, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR) and disaster prevention is one area where all four countries can agree and cooperate. If so, a close look at each country’s thinking behind its HA/DR activities as well as disaster prevention efforts offers a chance to think through opportunities and challenges that the Quad framework holds. Even more ambitiously, can the four countries utilize their cooperation in HA/DR as the foundation to revive the Quad? International Disaster Response: Rebuilding the Quad?, the sixth volume of Stimson’s Views from the Next Generation series, is a collection of policy briefs by a group of emerging analysts from Australia, India, Japan, and the United States who tackle this question.

In “The ‘Quad’ and Disaster Management: An Australian Perspective,” Kate Stevenson (Fellow, Australia-Japan Research Centre) and H. D. P. Envall (Fellow & Senior Lecturer, Australian National University) examine the numerous opportunities and challenges Australia faces in considering Quad cooperation in HA/DR. They outline key challenges to Quad HA/DR cooperation from an Australian perspective. These include differing commitments and priorities of the four partners, the potential of “high politics” overshadowing policy implementation due to Chinese perceptions of the Quad, and the possibility that Australia’s strong bilateral and civilian traditions of HA/DR could be diminished by multilateral cooperation. However, they note, with Quad cooperation in HA/DR, there is large potential for joint capacity-building across the Indo-Pacific, for Australia-Indian cooperation, and for Australia to play a coordinating leadership role on the multilateral scene. The authors recommend that the Quad clarify its objectives to dispel Chinese suspicions of containment and then that Australia assess whether the Quad would be beneficial for HA/DR policy in the Indo-Pacific.

In “India’s Role in Disaster Management: Can the Quad Give It a Leg Up?” Akriti Vasudeva (Research Associate, Stimson Center) argues that Quad cooperation on disaster relief has the potential to strengthen India’s capabilities as a net security provider, buttress its image as a growing international power, and bolster its expeditionary operations outside its home waters. Despite challenges like fears that Quad cooperation could provoke Chinese pushback and India’s naval limitations, she argues that there is large rhetorical and material value in India pursuing Quad cooperation in disaster response. First, representing a powerful grouping of like-minded democracies, it could act as a symbolic deterrent against China. Second, such cooperation could provide India the equipment, data, and experience to bolster its regional leadership in HA/DR. To mitigate negative Chinese reactions, she recommends that cooperation in disaster response start small — with information and data sharing — before gradually building an interoperable environment to coordinate complementary capabilities and share innovative HA/DR research.

In “A Japanese Perspective on Exploring Quad Cooperation in Disaster Management: The Isolation of India and Distance to ASEAN,” Yasuhito Jibiki (Assistant Professor, Tōhoku University) compares HA/DR spending across Quad members and outlines potential challenges to Quad cooperation, including coordination obstacles produced by the significant differences in the funding amongst the Quad members. Other challenges exist, such as the possibility that Quad cooperation may force ASEAN members to choose between Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy (FOIP) and China’s Belt and Road and, in turn, jeopardize the U.S., Japan, or Australia’s existing HA/DR coordination with ASEAN. Nevertheless, by situating it within FOIP, he argues that Quad cooperation in HA/DR would be in Japan’s national interest and recommends increased opportunities for working-level consultations and greater focus on HA/DR issues within Japanese policy-making.

Finally, in “The U.S. and Quad Disaster Cooperation: A Matter of Political Will,” Pamela Kennedy (Research Associate, Stimson Center) stresses the U.S.’s established capabilities in disaster response and the vast potential of U.S. cooperation in HA/DR through the Quad. Cooperation would pool resources and expertise and strengthen partnerships by acting as a trust-building and prestige-saving commitment. By working through existing disaster management mechanisms, the U.S. and its Quad partners could protect regional stability by preventing disasters’ catastrophic social and economic impacts. Facing challenges of lack of political will and the current administration’s cuts to foreign assistance, the U.S. should commit itself to a formal commitment mechanism that could insulate disaster response cooperation from domestic political whims. Kennedy recommends that the U.S. increase humanitarian assistance and convene a Quad dialogue to explore the most effective format for Quad cooperation, while consulting with existing relevant organizations to chart a path for the Quad’s most successful contribution to disaster response efforts.

We hope that these short policy essays authored by rising experts from Australia, India, Japan and the United States will offer readers new perspectives in the discussion of the prospects for further developing Quad cooperation