Quad to take central role on global stage

7 September 2021

The fact is, the days of unilateralism are now over. Bilateralism has its own limits. And as COVID has reminded us, multilateralism is simply not working well enough.

India's External Affairs Minister lays the case for Australia and India playing bigger roles in world politics during annual JG Crawford Oration.

In a landmark speech delivered at The Australian National University (ANU) overnight, India's External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar outlined why the 'Quad' will play a pivotal role in a new global order.

It's a vision that places Australia and India at its heart.

The so-called Quad is a security partnership between Australia, India, Japan and the US, with a focus on the Indo-Pacific.

Dr Jaishankar, who was delivering the annual ANU JG Crawford Oration, said the current global order "had run its course" and the world "was ripe for change", noting the Indo-Pacific will be at the epicentre of these shifts.

He argued we had entered a new era of "multipolarity" and that world politics could no longer be reduced to a struggle between the US and China, with countries like India playing a significant and active role on the gobal stage.

"The geopolitical turbulence in the Indo-Pacific, the ripple implications of the Afghanistan withdrawal and the larger consequences of the COVID pandemic are three such current examples," Dr Jaishankar said.

"Those who connect the dots would surely agree that we are really now at the cusp of something big.

"As we seek to discern the outlines of what emerges next, there is no question that the Indo-Pacific would be very much at its core."

According to Dr Jaishankar, it would be new groupings like the Quad that would help respond to and shape world politics in the 21st century.

"The fact is, the days of unilateralism are now over. Bilateralism has its own limits. And as COVID has reminded us, multilateralism is simply not working well enough," he said.

"The resistance to reform multilateral organisations, compel us to look for and action more immediate solutions. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the case for the Quad.

"The Quad nations are all democratic polities, market economies and pluralistic societies.

"Apart from that natural understanding that it generates, similarity in the structural aspects of their relationships has helped to foster the platform."

Professor Rory Medcalf, Head of the ANU National Security College and who has long written on the centrality of the Indo-Pacific in world politics, was in the audience for the virtual address.

"This speech was of quite historic importance because it connected the Quad and Australia unequivocally with India's new strategic vision in the world," Professor Medcalf said.

"Dr Jaishankar was clear eyed about the scope and the limits of Indian power; he was neither confrontational about China nor apologetic about the need for India to protect its interests.

"What struck me was the genuine centrality he placed on Australia in the web of relationships India needed."

In his speech, Dr Jaishankar also highlighted the role the COVID-19 pandemic had played in accelerating the shifts the world was already undergoing.

"Even as the tectonic plates of geopolitics are shifting, the COVID-19 has compelled a sharper crystallisation of the challenges we face," he said.

"It has called into question the models of globalisation that were practiced until recently. And makes for a very powerful case for a more decentralised version.

"Risk aversion has now heightened in a world that is clearly more insecure. Indeed, from many regions there is talk of greater strategic autonomy to address the issue of overdependence.

"What it comes down to is the need to create greater global capacities so that pandemic-scale challenges are more effectively met."

Dr Jaishankar's JG Crawford Oration formed part of the 2021 ANU Crawford Leadership Summit, running 6-7 September.

Watch the full oration online.