Robert Keohane, a prominent thinker of International Relations, emphasized the importance of regional organizations/partnerships in his book, After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the World Political Economy. He noted that such organizations/partnerships provide effective solutions to regional challenges that may not be easily addressed at the global level. In the present times, Indo-Pacific is one such region that has a huge strategic, military, economic, and geostrategic significance. The importance of this region can be reflected in US President Joe Biden’s statement that “the future of each of our nations—and indeed the world—depends on a free and open Indo-Pacific”. The Indo-Pacific, today, has become a theatre of great power competition between the USA and China. It faces serious challenges like the territorial dispute over the South China Sea, disputes over islands like Senkaku and Spratly Islands, terrorism and security concerns. Big powers are turning towards Indo-Pacific and entering into partnerships, alliances, and security pacts such as AUKUS (security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and QUAD (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue between India, Japan, Australia and the United States) to secure their national interests and the greater interest of the strategic Indo-Pacific region that accounts for 46 per cent of the world’s merchandise trade.
There has been an ongoing debate in foreign policy circles about the relationship that these two important alliances have in relation to each other. Some commentators have observed that the coming up of AUKUS will make the QUAD irrelevant, while others argue that AUKUS is an extension that will serve as a military arm of QUAD. Analyzing the nature and scope of these two alliances it would be fallacious to think that AUKUS will serve as a military arm of QUAD. Even though 2021 happened to be the year of the origin of AUKUS and the first in-person meeting of QUAD members, it would be a mistake to assume that the mission, vision, membership and scope of their operations also merge.
QUAD is a platform for like-minded countries that work on a diverse range of issues like economic growth, infrastructural development, climate change, security, technology, education, and health care and promote their shared interests and values in the Indo-Pacific region. The larger aim of the QUAD is to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific. Even though the QUAD countries do not overtly engage in military activities as a part of QUAD, they do conduct joint military exercises like the famous Malabar Exercise outside of QUAD. Apart from Malabar Exercise, the four countries also conduct military exercises with each other in groups of two (Australia US exercise) and three (India, Japan and The USA). This shows that QUAD does not need an exclusive military arm for itself, as in the form of AUKUS as the member nations do have a platform to enhance interoperability and coordination between the militaries.
AUKUS is very different in its nature and scope, it is a trilateral security partnership with a relatively narrower area of focus than QUAD. One important function of the AUKUS is to strengthen Australia's Naval power with nuclear-powered submarines and, thus, serve as a deterrent to the aggressive and expanding Chinese influence. While QUAD does not explicitly reference joint military exercises as part of its objectives, AUKUS, on the other hand, explicitly states that collaborative military exercises will play a crucial role in the partnership's efforts to address security challenges in the Indo-Pacific region.
AUKUS cannot be seen as a military arm because if that happens it will be a cause of concern for countries like India which were the flag bearers of Non- Alignment with respect to foreign policy issues. India continues to walk on the path it chose during the time of the cold war, when the world was divided between the eastern and the western block. Since AUKUS is de-facto a military alliance led by The USA it might be seen by some as joining the western block.
Instead of calling AUKUS a military arm of QUAD, it would be more reasonable to call AUKUS and QUAD complementary to each other as the two groupings work in the same geographical area, the Indo-pacific, and with the same larger goal of ensuring peace and stability and countering the rise of China in the Indo-Pacific region (this claim has not been stated overtly by them). In addition to this we have to keep in mind that QUAD will not necessarily require a military arm of its own because the geopolitical conflicts in the Indo-Pacific region may not escalate into a full-scale war or territorial conquest; but economic, political, diplomatic, and cultural conflicts.
Wilkins, Thomas. "Is AUKUS Really an 'Alliance'?" ISAS Insights, 2022, p.2, https://www.isas.nus.edu.sg/papers/is-aukus-really-an-alliance/
Miller, Manjari Chatterjee. "The Quad, AUKUS, and India’s Dilemmas." Council on Foreign Relations, Asia Program, 13 Oct. 2021,p.6, https://www.cfr.org/article/quad-aukus-and-indias-dilemmas
Pandita, KN. "Will the AUKUS Alliance Eclipse the Quad?" Indian Defence Review, 21 Sep 2021, http://www.indiandefencereview.com/news/will-the-aukus-alliance-eclipse-the-quad/
Ghosh, Ambar Kumar, Debosmita Sarkar and, Anasua Basu Ray Chaudhury. "Security, Economy, and Ecology: Setting Priorities for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific." Observer Research Foundation, Issue Briefs and Special Reports, 25 Feb. 2022. https://www.orfonline.org/research/security-economy-and-ecology/