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Quad needs to protect vulnerable undersea cables

Submarine cables have existed under the seas for over 200 years. The telecommunications and internet connectivity cables provide are crucial for a country’s development and stability. Cables are optimal due to their reduced latency and bandwidth.

Yet, the debate over their protection from a national security viewpoint is relatively new, engendered by a combination of increasing great power rivalry in the Indo-Pacific and several recent incidents, such as the Chinese Newnew Polar Bear vessel that damaged a cable in the Baltic Sea in November 2023.

Recognizing the nature of the problem and perceiving growing threats to submarine cables on account of rising global tensions, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue—Australia, India, Japan, and the US—established a framework for cooperation on the protection of cables in the Indo-Pacific in May 2023.

This paper analyses the Quad Partnership for Cable Connectivity and Resilience within the context of great power rivalry and the Quad’s informal, consensus-based approach to governance. Based on our research, we provide several policy recommendations aimed at addressing both the challenges and opportunities associated with the quartet’s submarine cable protection efforts across the Indo-Pacific.

These recommendations are not aspirational. Instead, they are practical, corresponding to what the Quad can collectively achieve in its current form.

Policy Prescriptions

  1. Lease cable repair ships

Currently, there are only about 60 cable repair ships in service, either installing a new cable or repairing a cable. The Quad members can collectively pool resources to lease cable repair ships in collaboration with industry partner like NEC Japan, which signed a charter contract with a UK-based