The attraction to join clubs of democracies

With Russia’s aggression, Sweden and Finland want to join NATO while China’s moves have emboldened a democratic grouping in Asia.

Attendees at a May 24 summit in Tokyo of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad: Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, U.S. President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

One of Ukraine’s advantages in fighting the Russian invasion is that members of the world’s strongest “club” of democracies – NATO – are supporting it with training and weapons. That support, based on shared and transcendent values that bind democracies, was not lost on Sweden and Finland. In May, both of the once-neutral states applied to join NATO.

Now something similar may be happening in Asia. China’s growing military aggression against its neighbors has emboldened a relatively new club of four democracies in the Indo-Pacific region – Japan, India, Australia, and the United States – known as the Quad. On Tuesday, this values-based group held its second in-person summit since early 2021. More importantly, the Quad’s nonmilitary initiatives – aimed at ensuring a free and secure Asia – have begun to attract other countries to possibly apply for membership.

South Korea’s newly elected president, Yoon Suk-yeol, has expressed interest in his country joining the Quad in some role. And New Zealand, according to a few experts, could be open to membership. The country’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, is on a tour of the U.S. and hopes to meet with President Joe Biden.

One key strategy for America’s defensive role in Asia is its network of alliances and partnerships with democracies. “Because these relationships are based on shared values and people-to-people ties, they provide significant advantages such as long-term mutual trust, understanding, respect, [military] interoperability, and a common commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” John Aquilino, commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, told Congress this spring.

With four vibrant democracies coming together to form the Quad, he added, “it would generate concern for anyone with an opposite opinion.”

The Quad, however, is not a military alliance – although its members have conducted joint military exercises. And it does not present itself as a group that is ganging up on China. Rather it takes an affirmative, positive approach to expanding freedom, rule of law, and other values. At its latest summit, for example, it initiated a plan to use satellite images to prevent illegal fishing and to track the use of unconventional maritime militias – a tactic used by China to take over small islands.

“Our cooperation is built on the values that we share – a commitment to representative democracy, the rule of law, and the right to live in peace,” says Australia’s new prime minister, Anthony Albanese. His words are an echo of the reasons given by Sweden and Finland to decide to join NATO.

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