Two weeks after chairing another successful Quad Leaders’ Summit, the theme of collective security was front and centre of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s opening remarks to the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, emphasising that all regional countries had the agency and responsibility to “make a contribution to their collective security” in the Indo-Pacific.

In the spirit of Prime Minister Albanese's address, a new report from the United States Studies Centre (USSC) at the University of Sydney argues that deepening maritime security cooperation amongst the Quad countries should be a top priority.

In Bolstering the Quad: The case for a collective approach to maritime security, report authors USSC Research Fellow Tom Corben, USSC Non-Resident Senior Fellow Ashley Townshend, USSC Research Fellow Blake Herzinger, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Fellow Darshana M. Baruah and Aoyama Gakuin University (Japan) Associate Professor Tomohiko Satake argue there is a political and strategic window of opportunity for the Quad to step-up maritime security cooperation in the region.

Corben noted, “Maritime security is at the heart of the Quad’s foundational logic, as increasingly reflected in the nature of its public goods agenda. But while such regional order-building should remain central to what the Quad has to offer to the Indo-Pacific, there is also a growing need for the four countries to work with greater purpose on certain forms of maritime defence cooperation.”

He added, “In fact, deepening specific forms of defence cooperation – for example, information-sharing and logistics compatibility – will be as essential to maximising the benefits of certain public goods priorities as it will be to bolstering collective deterrence in the region.”

The report argues that the Quad should focus on five priority task areas:

  1. maritime domain awareness and information-sharing,
  2. coordinated anti-submarine warfare,
  3. integrated logistics cooperation,
  4. industrial and technological collaboration, and
  5. maritime capacity building in Southeast Asia.

Through investing in tangible, targeted initiatives in these areas, the report argues the Quad could drive a step-change in the quality and value of maritime security cooperation between these four countries.

Townshend added, “A Quad maritime security agenda won’t necessarily involve all of its members doing everything together, everywhere, all of the time. While some forms of cooperation will need to be four-way affairs, deconflicting and better coordinating bilateral and trilateral coordination through the Quad would help to deliver major payoffs in maritime security cooperation between these countries.”

“This is how the Quad could truly become more than the sum of its parts,” he concluded.

Bolstering the Quad: The case for a collective approach to maritime security is now available for download.

Key recommendations

To achieve collective maritime security, the Quad should:

  1. Develop a more networked and persistent maritime domain awareness (MDA) capability as a foundation for tracking activities of interest across geographic areas of responsibility, including as a baseline for potential coordinated efforts to build a comprehensive, real-time picture of Chinese military movements.
  2. Build collective anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capability by developing higher levels of interoperability and more persistent patterns of unscripted cooperation to include tracking and “handing off” overwatch responsibility for Chinese submarines transiting geographic areas of responsibility.
  3. Develop the collective capacity to seamlessly refuel, resupply and repair maritime assets from any member on short notice, and formally commit to this agenda at the political and operational levels.
  4. Establish a Quad Initiative for Maritime Security Capabilities within the existing Maritime Security Working Group to assess individual and collective maritime defence requirements, identify opportunities for and barriers to collaboration, and advance defence industrial cooperation; on interoperable maritime capabilities.
  5. Establish a Maritime Capacity Building Initiative (MCBI) to expand Quad efforts to strengthen the maritime security capabilities of key Southeast Asian partners and operate as a “clearing house” to align efforts, share information and eliminate duplicative programs.

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