In early August, students gathered at a Tokyo university for a personal summit of the leaders of the countries that make up the so-called Quad: Australia, India, Japan and the United States.
This “summit” was a simulation of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, an informal diplomatic, military, economic and political agreement that was first launched in 2007 on the initiative of then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as part of his concept for an “Asian Arc of Democracy”. ” It was restarted in late 2017 in pursuit of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” after the inauguration of US President Donald Trump.
This role-playing game was the first known “Model Quad”.
The scenario for the student-led summit was a gathering of the four heads of state to be held this fall. In mid-July, current US President Joe Biden proposed the personal summit to coincide with the United Nations Annual General Assembly in New York in September, traditionally the meeting of world leaders.
At the beginning of 2021, at the first virtual quad summit on March 12, the heads of state and government agreed in their joint declaration to “hold a personal summit by the end of 2021”. The declaration entitled “The Spirit of the Quad” also states:
We’re going to double our commitment to the quad engagement…. Our experts and senior officials will continue to meet regularly; our foreign ministers will talk often and will meet at least once a year…. The ambition of these commitments is appropriate for the moment; We seek to use our partnership to help the most dynamic region in the world respond to historical crises so that the free, open, accessible, diverse and thriving Indo-Pacific can be that we are all looking for.
The publication of this statement was an important milestone, as was the written commitment to more regular and consistent meetings. The quad had its beginnings and beginnings in the last decade, but it now seems to be on the right track, especially with hosting the October 2020 foreign ministers meeting in Tokyo. The summit in September 2021 will also be an important milestone as it will be the first face-to-face meeting of the group’s leaders.
Why a student summit
Technically, the Student Summit was the executives’ first face-to-face meeting, except of course that it was student role play.
The idea to do the exercise came to me from the Model United Nations, which I attended as a student (in the last days of the East-West Cold War when the People’s Republic of China was being prepared to join the West – a myth the most regret as mistake for false belief in dictatorial Chinese Communist Party).
The Model United Nations brings together students from colleges and universities from around the world to practice their negotiation, coordination and leadership skills. It also allows them to network with each other and with others and get a better idea of whether they want to pursue a career in diplomacy. There are, among others, the Model European Union, Model General Assembly of the Organization of American States and Model Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
In the case of the “Model Quad” this time it was simply the students on a course at a university in one country, but hopefully the idea will be accepted and transferred to other institutions and other participating countries. This will bring the next generation of Quad members together early on to understand each other and hopefully encourage greater collaboration and solidarity. In addition, if properly disseminated, students’ ideas can ultimately be translated into specific policies and initiatives.
Bring the model to life
The afternoon intensive course at Tokyo University looked at US-Japan relations, but since I have long been a proponent of extending the bilateral security treaty to other like-minded democracies, I decided to model this academic year around the Quad to see what adjustments might be necessary in order to make bilateral relations more multilateral and more effective in terms of content.
The students did not let me down. They took their roles seriously, not only paying close attention in class and asking questions, but preparing each morning and evening during our week together.
One of the highlights of the course was bringing in retired U.S. Marine Corps Col. Grant F. Newsham, a prolific writer and region expert with more than 20 years experience in Japan, away from the United States. He gave an overview of the quad, its potential and challenges, and handled all of the students’ questions with thoughtful, penetrating analysis and the care of a mentor that the younger generation understands what is at stake and has the intellectual tools and information to to deal with it.
At the end of the first day we had already discussed and decided which countries the students are responsible for. Instead of assigning them themselves, I asked students to introduce which country or countries they wanted to represent and why. Amazingly, the tasks worked out naturally.
For example, a sophomore was hoping to enter the Department of Defense, so we agreed (and the rest of the class supported that decision) that it would be best for her to represent Japan in the person of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, um better understand Japan’s important role in the quad as a leading, earliest proponent.
Another student, a junior, was planning a career in the State Department. I recommended that she make one of her non-Japanese decisions to understand another country’s perspective and interests. She decided to represent India, which was her first choice after Japan. She learned to play the important role of Japan as a bridge between the United States, an ally, and India, which for the past 75 years has had difficult relations with the United States due to its non-aligned foreign policy.
Another student, a senior, had an interest in visiting Australia when international travel becomes easier again, so it was a natural choice. She seemed to have done most of the work preparing for the summit and I imagined that she would become a valuable link with Australia in the future.
Another student represented the United States. She found it difficult to play the role of Biden, whose policies and attitudes she found somewhat untrue and worrying, perhaps reflecting the concern of many Japanese about the real intentions of the government.
After they were assigned the roles, their homework began with researching their “countries” and searching the websites of their respective foreign ministries and Tokyo-based embassies for relevant positions, concerns, interests, etc. Newsham issues – the more difficult , the better.
Think in other directions
Some of the questions were actually difficult, which Newsham appreciated. He said such questions and the premises behind them “encourage policymakers to think outside the box”.
The capstone at the end of the week was the “summit” itself, where each “head of state” was greeted by host “President Biden” amid national anthems and waving flags (albeit on classroom monitors). . After words of welcome, each “head of state” gave an opening speech about the situation in his country and his wishes for the summit.
The second round allowed for comments on other members’ opening speeches, requests for clarification, offers of support and help, and occasional pressure on others when they felt they had not done enough on certain issues.
The last round was devoted to drafting the joint declaration. Ordinarily, for a real summit, much would have been written in advance, with final approval at the summit, if adjustments had been made in the meantime. For the Model Quad, students had to write it on the spot, and they all made significant contributions. In fact, I found their final product to be more detailed and useful than the actual March 2021 statement mentioned above.
Identifying the core issues that bind the quad
Their last project was to provide a report on what they learned during the week, especially at their “summit”.
One of the comments was that they learned how all-encompassing security is, how strongly we are truly interdependent, and what challenges international political figures face. In addition, they recognized the importance of a philosophical point of view.
So it is not just a question of national interests, but of how those interests are defined. The model quad gave them at least a glimpse.
Your work as diplomacy does not end there, of course. But the Quad model gave them a good start.
Author: Dr. Robert D. Eldridge
Eldridge is the North Asia Director of the Global Risk Mitigation Foundation in Hawaii. He recently co-founded Diplomatic Support Services, a consulting firm that advises overseas embassies in Japan on domestic policy in Japan, public affairs and international education.