Interview with Indian General Asthana (ret.) about AUKUS, West Asian Quad and B 3W: “ In absence of dysfunctional old international organisations, new ones to seek collective security and growth is a trend, which is likely to continue“

Interview with Indian General Asthana (ret.) about AUKUS, West Asian Quad and B 3W: “ In absence of dysfunctional old international organisations, new ones to seek collective security and growth is a trend, which is likely to continue“

Global Review had the honor to have another interview with Indian General (ret.) Asthana about new groupings like AUKUS, the West Asian Quad and infrastructure initiatives like Biden´s B3W, the EU Global Gateway and India´s AAEC.

Maj Gen S B Asthana,SM,VSM (Veteran)

Chief Instructor, United Service Institution of India

Governing Council, Confederation of Educational Excellence (CEE)

Security Council, International Organization for Educational Development (IOED)

International Police Commission, (IPC, India)

United Nations Collaboration for Economic and Social Development in Africa (UNCESDA) 

Internet TV Media News Network (ITVMNN) 

Advisory Board, Swedish Armed Forces International Center – SWEDINT

Expert Group, Challenges Forum for International Peace, Sweden.

IOED Representative at UN Headquarters, Vienna, Austria 

Global Review: China was very triumphant about the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Global Times wrote in a headline: “Today Afghanistan, tomorrow Taiwan?”. The CPC claimed that the US wouldn´t be a reliable partner anymore and would retreat and run away  if it is confronted with Chinese military power. However, Biden has met Modi , the Quad held a summit, beyond ANZUS, the Five Eye agreement and the Quad, the USA, GB and Australia signed now a security partnership, AUKUS. How do you perceive the emergence of AUKUS, what do you think will the consequences and its perspective and how will it influence the Quad?

Major General S B Asthana

Chinese interest has always been to push US out from Afghanistan-Pakistan (Af-Pak) region, to gain the strategic space without fighting, and not getting itself embroiled in ‘Graveyard of Empires’ itself, after learning lessons from Russian and US experience in Afghanistan. Their propaganda of jubilation through Global Times is no surprise. Its claim of US not being reliable partner also fits in its ‘Three Warfare Strategy’ to discredit US as much as possible, making best use of opportunity by ethical and unethical means.   

To undertake China’s challenge in Indo-Pacific new groupings seem to have been initiated because of ineffectiveness of old groupings formulated during and after Second World war. The United Nation and UNSC has proved to be ineffective against expansionism and aggressiveness of China, as UNSC has been structured in a manner that it can pass no resolution against a P5 member and cannot do anything if any UN body does pass any such ruing in global interest. The fact that China junked the PCA’s ruling against it in context of Philippines, in of South China Sea proves it. The weaknesses of NATO also got exposed when it couldn’t protect Greece from Turkey’s unilateralism, Armenia from Azerbaijan, fighting with support of Turkey and Pakistani mercenaries, and all members of NATO not being on the same page in dealing with Russia or China as many NATO members have signed for Chinese BRI.

The Five Eyes continues to be an intelligence alliance of US, UK, Australia Canada and New Zealand originated out of informal meeting between US and UK during Second World war but has not been found very effective so far.  The ANZUS Treaty, or Australia, New Zealand, and United States Security Treaty, was signed in 1951 to defend the security of the Pacific. Despite the fact that the agreement has not been formally cancelled, the United States and New Zealand no longer have a security partnership. In view of the above there is a need for some effective groupings considering the modern day realities and geopolitical landscape. In this context the Quad, Quad plus and AUKUS assume importance.

Despite Malabar Exercises to increase interoperability of its member navies, Quad declared itself a non-military organisation, but it has responded to China’s Non-Contact Warfare threats, according to joint declarations issued after the summits. Cyber, space, vital technologies, counterterrorism, quality infrastructure investment, and health security (COVID-19 pandemic) are among the shared security challenges to be tackled, with the creation of an alternate global vaccination alliance to roll out one billion vaccines. Quad seems to be working towards creation of alternate global supply chain, technological supply chain, and infrastructure development infrastructure system to prevent Chinese aggressiveness/coercion/overdependency in these fields. 

In terms of effective military posturing in the Indo-Pacific, the security alliance of Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom (AUKUS) complements Quad, with some focus on Australia’s capacity building to include nuclear-powered submarines. The United States‘ subsequent efforts to engage with some ASEAN members that are subject to Chinese coercion, as well as the acceptance of Indian position of inclusive Quad or Quad Plus to include other global stakeholder groups, are both encouraging steps. Beijing cannot ignore the reality that if military postures of the West, Quad, Five Eyes, and other South China Sea claimants are in place and interoperability exists between these forces, intentions can change overnight if Beijing’s aggression breaches the global tolerance threshold. 

It needs to be noted that Indian inclusion in Quad rattled China most, because others are already members of NATO and do not share land border with China; hence Indian inclusion and geographic positioning is important in tackling China challenge in synergy with other strategic partners like France in Indian Ocean. The support of other NATO navies, such as France’s and Germany’s, can increase the deterrence value of Quad; hence the need for expansion of Quad to Quad Plus.  

Global Review: US President Biden besides his US infrastructure project and US stimulus program announced that in competition with China´s New Silk Road he wants to promote a Western New Silkroad in Eurasia and Africa. India and Japan also have the Asian- African Economic Corridor project, but in the media you can´t read about it at all. Is there progress in this projects and could the Western New Silk Road be combined with India´s and Japan´s AAEC? Could it be a powerful project to counter BRI also in the Greater Middle East Central Asia and Afghanistan as some US experts think that the US should not only focus on the Asian pivot and think that Asia is not just East Asia and China, but also to include Central Asia which is also Asia?

Major General S B Asthana

China launched BRI project with the dual intention of utilising its over-capacities to build infrastructure, continental and maritime connectivity as well as to expand its global footprint. Over 160 countries adopted it and most of them are now suffering the Sino-centric project, which from ‘win-win’ project, turned out to be only ‘China Win’ project. Most poor countries have landed up in debt trap, with heavy outstanding debt piling up, which may amount to losing some real state or equivalent to China. Most projects were contracted to Chinese companies, using Chinese workforce, didn’t help the countries like Sri Lanka lost Hambantota, Pakistan is stuck with unpayable amount of debt. Now BRI seems to be failing initiative struggling for financiers and held up due to bad loans.       

The magnitude of BRI project is certainly much bigger than all the other infrastructure planned projects launched by other countries, but the effort is to put up a viable infrastructure alternative, which is not exploitative, environmental friendly and less risky for poor countries struggling due to lack of alternative. The ‘Build Back Better World’ (B3W) of G-7 programme aims to reduce the $40 trillion in infrastructure investment required by developing countries by 2035, while also providing an alternative to China’s problematic financing methods. US aims to invest in five to ten significant infrastructure projects around the world in 2022, as part of a broader B3W initiative to challenge Chinese BRI, but its still work in progress. 

Asian- African Economic Corridor project (AAEC),  Blue Dot Network, EU’s ‚Global Gateway‘ policy, Asia Africa Growth Corridor, Friendship Highway, Trilateral Highway in east Asia.  can be used to supplement as alternative infrastructure architecture to prevent vulnerable nations from sliding into China’s debt trap.  There are plans to connect it to India’s marine programmes, such as SAGARMALA, Cotton Routes, SAGAR, and Spice Routes, in order to revitalise the country’s maritime strategy. Through AAGC, the SAGARMALA programme can help strengthen India’s blue economy by assisting in the development of robust industrial, institutional, and transportation facilities. The progress of most of these projects have suffered due to COVID-19 pandemic and resultant global economic crisis; hence no noticeable progress is evident, although none has been cancelled. 

In my opinion China is most important challenge for US and Indo-Pacific and southeast Asia is the centre of gravity, where global economic, strategic and population fulcrum has shifted; hence it will assume higher priority. India is also a pivot and crucial to countering China challenge due to its geographical location, because Chinese Sea Lines of Communication pass through Indian Ocean, where its most vulnerable. Central Asia may not be high priority for US at this point of time, after US achieved self-sufficiency in oil, having started extracting shale oil.       

Global Review: Beyond the South China Sea, what is the Indian Position on Taiwan? Do you believe in a peaceful reunification and how do you perceive the latest incursion of China into the Taiwanese ADIZ? The Global Times already warned India If it was playing the Taiwan Card, China would support separatist in India. Are Indian war ships and the Quad also operating in the Taiwan Straits?

Major General S B Asthana

India is a sovereign country and follows independent foreign policy. Notwithstanding what Global Times has to say, India’s position on Taiwan remains the as same before and after such statements were made. India continues to have trade, cultural and educational ties with Taiwan as hither-to-fore. India will continue to take all actions in its national interest. Chinese support to insurgent groups of Northeast will happen as per Chinese strategic interest, irrespective of Indian position on Taiwan, as has happened in past. Personally, I believe that the latest incursions of China into the Taiwanese ADIZ are more of deterrence to ensure that President Tsai doesn’t declare independence. Using force against Taiwan doesn’t make strategic sense for PRC, because it will be lose-lose situation for Xi-Jinping in all scenarios, by any realistic cost benefit analysis.

With excessive coercion by CPC, the military capabilities of Taiwan have increased manifold. Xi Jinping cannot risk a failed operation with American fleet around and US adopting strategy of ambiguity, keeping Chinese guessing on how it will react.  Even if CPC succeeds in using force, it will have serious internal repercussions’ as its Hans with relatives both sides will face casualties and huge economic downslide will occur which CPC can ill afford, and democratic winds will start flowing in mainland, bringing further troubles for monopoly of CPC. China will keep the military posturing with psychological war on, till next elections in Taiwan and hope that DPP loses election and they get an amenable government in Taiwan. US and others are already doing FON operations in Taiwan Strait. I am not aware of any Indian military ship in Taiwan Strait.

Global Review: The Jerusalem Post reports that besides the Quad for Indo-Pacific, there was  the idea of a West Asian Quad consisting of the USA, India, Israel and the UAE for the Indo-Mediterranean. Is this empty talk or real and what so you think of that idea?

Major General S B Asthana

The virtual meeting of foreign ministers of US, India, Israel and UAE have been contemplated as new ‘West Asian Quad’. India has excellent relations with each of these countries and it is in national interest of each of these countries to expand their co-operation in economic and political fields to include trade including defence co-operation, technology sharing, energy, maritime security, climate change and people to people contact in science and technology.

From strategic perspective some of the analysts are reading it as strategic embrace by four,  necessitated by concerns about Chinese bagging two contracts of Israeli ports in Haifa and in Mediterranean Sea, however India has no specific interest there. India also has close relations with others in Middle East as well. From Indian point of view, all four countries are strategic partners and any co-operative mechanism between them is welcomed. As I mentioned earlier, in absence of dysfunctional old international organisations, new ones to seek collective security and growth is a trend, which is likely to continue.   

Major General S B Asthana,SM,VSM

(The views expressed are personal views of the author, who retains the copyright). The author can be reached at Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ as Shashi Asthana, @asthana_shashi on twitter, and personnel site


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