The Quad: organization, institution, or alliance?
The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue is a classic case of balancing and bandwagoning at the same time, with Japan, India, and Australia joining the existing hegemon, the United States, against a rising power, China. It is also a nice test-case for illustrating the differences between institutions, organizations, regimes, treaties, and alliances (also known as leagues).
The ‘Quad’ was established as an informal association among the leaders of the four states alongside the naval military excises known as Exercise Malabar. ‘Established’ is an interesting term to use here, since it has overtones of permanency and of the existence of some thing, often an organization. To suggest something is established implies it is formal.
An entity of some kind came into being after then-Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, initiated negotiations following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. We can assume that the bureaucrats in the foreign ministries were discussing the matter and things were moving along at their usual glacial pace. Governments can work very fast when they need or want to, but in general, bureaucratic management tends to be slow.
So, what is the Quad?
An institution, technically and in its simplest definition, is a set of rules, which serve as a guide to behaviour. Marriage, for example, is an institution, a set of rules and obligations between the couple, the law, and society at large. At the level of world politics, institutional rules include those surrounding states, like territoriality, non-intervention, and legal equality. Initiating a dialogue among several states implies that they agree, at least, to talk. In this case, the skeleton of the Quad can be found in the Core Group, who came together to coordinate assistance efforts after the tsunami. The capital letters are a clue as to the nature of the grouping.
There is a general, foundational rule of negotiation. The Latin tag is pacta sunt servanda, meaning ‘agreements must be kept’. Although this rule is often breached, without it, all negotiations are pointless.
An organization requires an institution. It is a system of offices, or statuses, by which people are enabled to act collectively. The discussions about the Quad included some talk about establishing a secretariat, and in this case, ‘establish’ is definitely the right term, since it would have involved the trappings of organizations: a headquarters, a power-structure, officers of various kinds, including several kinds of secretary. All this would be bound by its own institution; that is, rules dealing with appointments, powers, relationships, and duties. The Quad Secretariat never eventuated.
There was a burst of interest in international regimes around the turn of the century, and while there is still some work being done on this, most scholars, it’s safe to say, conceded that regimes are so close to institutions that they don’t constitute a separate field.
There was no treaty establishing the Quad, although there was talk about it becoming something like the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). Again, this has not yet eventuated.
This leaves the Quad as an alliance, an ongoing system of cooperation, particularly associated with military or strategic affairs. Alliances come in many forms, some loose and flimsy, others enduring and solid. The facts, that it is built around wargaming, and that the four states share ideological common ground in democracy and capitalism, are clues.