A virtual summit of four countries—India, Israel, United Arab Emirates and US---was held on July 14. On that day Prime Minister Narendra Modi joined US President Joe Biden, UAE President Mohammad bin Zayed and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid to discuss cooperation in the areas of food and energy security, among others, between the four countries. The grouping which has been given the acronym I2U2 is of very recent origin; its first meeting, at foreign ministers level, took place in October last year. The four countries seek to project the grouping’s purpose to be to “tackle some of the greatest challenges confronting our world”, thereby underlining that it is economic and development oriented. However, its political undertones are demonstrated by the summit statement. It asserts, inter alia, “We reaffirm our support for the Abraham Accords and other peace and normalisation arrangements with Israel”. The import of that comment will not be missed in Tehran.
The new worldwide contestation between the US and its allies on the one hand and China and Russia on the other is giving rise to new groupings. If its I2U2 in West Asia, it is AUKUS and the QUAD in the Indo-Pacific region. The former is a group consisting of US, UK and Australia with the specific purpose of building nuclear powered submarines in Australia with US and UK technology. It was formed in September last year. Australia dumped a long-standing contract with France for the formation of this group. The underlying premise of AUKUS is that when push comes to shove the Anglo-Saxon countries can only rely on themselves for security, in this case against China.
QUAD with India, US, Australia and Japan is also getting consolidated because of common interests against China’s assertiveness and its willingness to break the norms of the current world order. QUAD has political and security dimensions. The group is also reaching out to the Indo-Pacific countries to give them confidence that the region is not being abandoned to China to have a free run.
These three groups are not formal alliances with specific and clear commitments to come to each other’s aid in the case one member is the victim of foreign aggression. However, NATO which was formed after the Second World War against the Soviet Union is an alliance with mutual guarantees of help in the face of foreign aggression. After the end of the Cold War questions were raised of its raison d’être since the Soviet Union was over. It continued because of historic anxieties in Western Europe over Russia. The eastward expansion of NATO which has contributed to Russia’s response through its unjustified invasion of Ukraine ironically validates the view that the alliance should continue.
The formation of these groups shows how countries come together because their mutual cooperation helps them to face a common challenge. That is the glue that binds them. The glue of a common challenge or threat is a sure bond. Other bonds are never as strong among groups. Indeed a survey of the vast number of inter-state groups that have mushroomed over the past decades, if not since the end of colonialism in the 1950s and 1960s, shows that most merely drift along. In many cases they are not taken seriously by their member-states. Once formed it is inertia which just takes them along in a desultory way.
There are, however, a few exceptions to the proposition that it is common security challenges alone which provide the guarantee for the vigorous continuance of a multi-lateral group. They are ASEAN and the European Union. The former was established in 1967 at the height of the Cold War. It was then a coming together of states which were aligned in differing measure to the West. They had deep anxieties about developments in Indo-China and also a desire to resolve their own differences peacefully. Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines and Thailand became the original members. Thus, while it can be argued that security considerations originally encouraged these five states to form the group yet in later decades traditional security anxieties dissipated. Yet, the group expanded as the three Indo-China countries—Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos---as well as Brunei and Myanmar joined it. The now ten ASEAN states have succeeded in gaining greater cohesiveness despite their great disparity in size and cultural and historical experience. The international community recognises their centrality in the Indo-Pacific region and while different ASEAN states chart their own paths no major power wishes to impair ASEAN cohesiveness. This is despite the challenges which ASEAN and the international community continue to face over the Myanmar situation.
The European Union now consists of twenty-seven member countries and is by far the world’s most successful regional organisation. Not only does it provide a common market to its members it also enables their nationals to move virtually freely within the EU. The EU sets common standards for services, agricultural products and manufacturing. All this has contributed to European prosperity. It has also by now a political and international personality. It is still struggling to find a firm foundation to defence cooperation but there is great interaction between European intelligence and security agencies. European countries have been able to achieve all this for EU because they have shown a willingness to partially give up traditional notions of sovereignty including in currency. That is significant because currency is a vital aspect of sovereignty.
Thus, what binds multilateral or regional groups are common threats or the promise of common prosperity. Without that such groups are not cohesive or durable.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.