I2U2, the West Asian QUAD
The contours of US’ grand strategic design for the world and in particular, the Asia Pacific, are now emerging unmistakably, (The Strategy of Alliances, by this scribe, The Nation, 30 October 2021). They reflect its compulsive obsession to reassert its unquestionable, unchallengeable hegemony in the world. To that end, it intends to neutralise the Russian and Chinese challenges, individual as well as combined.
It has already entrapped Russia in the Ukrainian quagmire and continues to feed the war effort in a carefully crafted and measured manner that guarantees its longevity—much to Ukraine’s utter destruction, its European allies’ increasing economic woes, Russia’s swelling losses and the rest of the world’s horror. (Not unsurprisingly, no meaningful international efforts have been made to mediate and initiate a credible peace process, yet!). It is also positioning itself strategically in the Asia Pacific in particular, to effectively counter China’s phenomenal rise; its evolving ascendancy in global affairs, its rampaging economy, and emerging sphere of influence and strategic reach.
The US has therefore crafted a very forward-looking strategy. It is creating the necessary regional/subregional organisations, structures and infrastructure in the Asia Pacific around which military alliances and coalitions can be built, operationalised and employed, at will. In the Indo-Pacific it has the QUAD, in the South Pacific, AUKUS, in the GMER, I2U2 (Israel, India, US, UAE) and in the SCAR, a Quadrilateral Dialogue, where it might engage Pakistan, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan.
The I2U2, a vital part of this US strategy, is a natural progression of the Abraham Accords, which laid down the paradigms for interstate relations between some Arab states and Israel. The Abraham Accords is bound to eventually envelop the KSA too. Critically, the US has lured India into this very compelling alliance as well. This will herald the transformation of a supposedly innocuous grouping under the Abraham Accords into a tangible economic, diplomatic, technological and political behemoth with the capacity to morph into a powerful military alliance as well.
Once this formidable bloc has been formalised and formulated, it will radiate its own power potential and influence around the region. Will it be poised against Iran, China, both or all assumed adversaries? This lack of a distinct and agreed-upon strategic direction will create a clash of interests over the JCPOA, Iran, nuclear Pakistan, the BRI-CPEC, China et al.
Furthermore, the Arabs and Israelis will be compelled to co-exist as allies under US leadership. Will they readily share the same collective/national interests, strategic aims, objectives and desired end states or as enunciated by the US?
Do they have the same view of the region’s geopolitical, geo-economic and geostrategic construct/imperatives for now and for the future? Time alone will tell how this alliance overcomes these and other basic fault lines.
A massive paradigm shift in the geopolitical, geostrategic and geo-economic dimensions of the GMER is inevitable and will engender consequential realignments.
The US accrues many advantages from the I2U2. It reaffirms its global leadership, gets Israel more international legitimacy and recognition, reiterates its sphere of influence, further solidifies its strategic reach and brings the Arabs and the Israelis under one banner.
Israel gets to neutralise all threats from the Arabs and importantly acquires a tangible access to the Persian Gulf; bringing Iran and others further East ominously within its strategic reach!
The US, wary of the BRI’s global reach, will tend to circumscribe it by denying it that critical space essential for its natural progression further into the GMER, Africa, the Mediterranean and beyond.
With the I2U2 in place, the US and its allies will dominate the Persian Gulf region, straddle the Hormuz Straits and exercise controlling oversight on the most vital oil and trade SLOCs through the region. Can it realistically browbeat Iran or contain/block the BRI east of the Persian Gulf? Even militarily, if required?
India is fast emerging as an inevitable pivot for US’ Asia Pacific strategy. It is the world’s second-most populous country, has a very vibrant economy and market, an evolving technological base, a very large military and above all a great (geo)strategic location. The Indian peninsula juts out phenomenally into the Indian Ocean and helps dominate all global East-West (read Chinese) trade.
Its proximity to the Malacca Straits, through the Nicobar and Andaman Islands, makes it inevitable to US operational strategies, thereabouts. It is thus perfectly located to pursue US interests in both the Indo-Pacific and the GMER; therefore, its accorded roles in the QUAD and I2U2.
Currently, India is flirting with both camps. It is a strategic partner of the US and has joined the QUAD, I2U2, et al while it is simultaneously hobnobbing with the Sino-Russia Combine in the BRICS, SCO, AIIB et al. It might be able to run with the hare and hunt with the hound for a while but at some stage its famed strategic autonomy is bound to give in and force it to pick a side. Neutrality might not be a very viable option or a virtue, in potentially trying, testing circumstances!
Iran will be directly threatened by the I2U2, regardless of the avatar it eventually acquires. It will be used to pressurise it on the elusive JCPOA, Russia, China, BRI-CPEC and other diplomatic, economic and trade issues. A militarised I2U2 will increase the threat levels for Iran manifold. Will India (pro)actively threaten Iran’s vital national interests under the I2U2 ambit?
Pakistan needs to evaluate the evolving strategic environment minutely. It must note the inherent contradictions in the I2U2 which will lead to a veritable clash of interests over itself and its nuclear programme, the BRI-CPEC, Iran, China, India, Kashmir, Palestine et al.
It must never forget that the CPEC is its future economic lifeline. It will require sublime diplomacy, visionary statesmanship and statecraft, courageous leadership, unyielding nationalism and an unshakeable iron will to unambiguously, fearlessly pursue its vital national interests.
Pakistan will do well to follow a balanced foreign policy that maintains its great relationship with the US-led West and allies without prejudice to its unbreakable, immortal bonds with China and its prodigious BRI-CPEC!