The influence of domestic-level factors on system-level pressures for alignment: the case of Australia and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue - 2007, 2008, 2017
Laider, Robyn Kristin
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The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (hereinafter the Quad) is an alignment between Australia, India, Japan and the United States of America against a perceived threat to a rules-based order and of a rising China. With the majority of its early development occurring in 2007, the Quad ceased in 2008 due to Australia’s withdrawal, but was renewed in 2017. Given that a realist understanding of alignment formation posits that balancing occurs as a response to system-level factors, such as an imbalance of power or threat, and an expectation that a continued or even growing imbalance of threat implies continued balancing efforts, this fluctuation in Australia’s alignment decisions in a short time period presents the puzzle of this study. The aim of this thesis is, therefore, to explain the deviation in Australia’s alignment decisions in the Quad (from alignment (2007), to withdrawal (2008), and back (2017) to alignment) in the face of a perception of continuous presence of threat from China (i.e. of a continued imbalance of threat). To do so, this study turns to balance of threat for an analysis of the system-level pressures contributing to Australia’s alignment decisions; and a variant of realist thought through the works of neoclassical realists and other scholars to perform an analysis of the impact and influence of specific domestic-level factors (deemed domestic-level costs for the purpose of this thesis) on the perceived cost-benefit of external alignment by Australian decision makers. This study thereby applies these theoretical frameworks to an analysis of Australia’s alignment decisions in the context of the Quad during the period in question, through a combination of document analysis and qualitative content analysis. This thesis finds that while the perception of China’s threat remained consistent and high, it was changes at the domestic-level that triggered the back-and-forth of Australian political leaders’ alignment decisions. With these findings, this study contributes to highlighting the importance in taking domestic-level factors into consideration in the examination of balancing behaviour and alignment decisions, as well as a deeper understanding of alignment formation, and the Quad itself.
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