The US Navy’s Seventh Fleet statement of 7 April 2021, after the freedom of navigation operation off Maldives in India’s Exclusive Economic Zone or the EEZ, even if legally valid, and watered down later by the Pentagon Spokesman, was unwarranted and seems indifferent to the sensitive phase in India-US relations.
Post the statement, it is understood that China’s defence attaché in New Delhi went to town pointing out the US’ treatment of India as a rebuke of a subordinate. The possibility of this poke in India’s strategic eye being a lower level gaffe cannot be ruled out. But if it was earlier sanctioned by the US Secretary of Defence, then one can surmise that it was meant to convey who is the boss.
That would be unfortunate for India-US relations because a reluctant New Delhi has now finally shed its inhibitions with regards to the Quad. The US seems to have misunderstood India’s political stance, especially New Delhi’s understanding of the nature of Quad.
In India’s view, the resurrected Quad is a platform that has four partners at its core with others being invited to participate, depending on common interests. Therefore, the specific issues that relate to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, Vietnam, Philippines or any effected country, could be potentially co-opted. Such flexibility can be a fruitful method for the Quad to adopt.
For sure, the Quad is not a military alliance — the attack on one nation does not mean attack on the other. This makes a huge difference. It is also the case that apart from India, all other members have military alliances with each other.