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India-US Relationship in a New Tech-Order
iCET will be led by the US National Science Foundation and Department of Science and Technology of India. Among its goals is an ambition to foster a partnership, joining six of India's technology innovation hubs to support at least 25 joint research projects with the US in areas such as AI and data science, and apply its gains to agriculture, health and climate, etc.
The recent visit of Ajit Doval, the National Security Advisor of India, to Washington marks an important step towards elevating the India-US partnership to the next level. The launch of the U.S.-India initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology (iCET) announced in May 2022 during the Quad summit by US President and Indian Prime Minister is not just an elevation of India-US strategic partnership but also a step towards adapting to new strategic realities in the Indo-Pacific region. This move aims to strengthen partnership between the two countries by creating an ecosystem which curates development and deployment of advanced technologies.
At the institutional level, the iCET will be led by the U.S. National Science Foundation and Department of Science and Technology of India. Among its goals is am ambition to foster a partnership joining six of India’s Technology Innovation Hubs to support at least 25 joint research projects with the US in areas such as artificial intelligence and data science and apply its gains to agriculture, health and climate, and other fields.
"As India and the US build a more expansive framework through the iCET to incorporate these emerging technologies into their domestic and bilateral channels, they have to be mindful of the fact that CET is a quicksilver domain and constantly needs to be updated contingent on advancements."
Technology is today at the very core of national security concerns of both India and the US, with critical and emerging technologies such as advanced computing, nuclear energy technologies, AI, autonomous systems and robotics among other playing a decisive role in capacity building of countries. In this context, collaboration between the US Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) and the India Electronics and Semiconductor Association (IESA) is being led by a task force aimed at boosting cooperation between the two countries in the semiconductor industry. As India and the US build a more expansive framework through the iCET to incorporate these emerging technologies into their domestic and bilateral channels, they have to be mindful of the fact that CET is a quicksilver domain and constantly needs to be updated contingent on advancements. The US itself updated its list of CET in February 2022 underscoring rapidly changing technological needs and considerations.
Increasingly, critical and emerging technologies could become central to maintaining a sustained relationship between partners in the Indo-Pacific, resilient supply chains as well as in ensuring a favourable balance of power in the region by thwarting adversarial steps of hostile actors. In this regard, the iCET’s promise of shared technological advancements is linked to democratic values in the way they are designed, developed and used. As such, this conjoins iCET with the idea of the free and open Indo-Pacific and commitment to fostering an open, accessible, and secure technology ecosystem, underlined with mutual trust.
The broader context of the emerging tech competition between the US and China will continue to shape the trust based partnerships in the Indo-Pacific, including between the US and India. The centrality of technology in reshaping the current world order cannot be overstated, especially as the US and China have entered a new tech-race spearheaded by the ‘Chip war’. The Biden administration’s unprecedented regulatory impositions in the semiconductor industry is intended to slow down and restrain Chinese tech advances, which in many ways have gobsmacked the world though its full scale unravelling is yet to come. As the recent ‘spy balloon’ incident underlines, use of technology can allow countries to challenge sovereignty, gather information on critical and sensitive assets and push the perimeter of one’s influence, all while remaining below a threshold – a quintessential grey zone trope.
"The centrality of technology in reshaping the current world order cannot be overstated, especially as the US and China have entered a new tech-race spearheaded by the ‘Chip war’."
The use of technology is changing the landscape of strategic competition, even as it blurs national boundaries. With China working hard to reduce India’s influence in the Indian ocean region, this has a direct bearing on the evolving balance of power in the Indo-Pacific. The role that technology can play is only increasing with CET becoming central to maritime domain awareness, underwater activities and reconnaissance.
As the world comes out of the shadows of the Covid-19 pandemic, among the primary concerns of the Indo-Pacific countries including India is to remain ahead in a turbulent environment by ensuring some early gains through sustained and adaptive technological cooperation as well as tech-driven initiatives. With iCET as a roadmap, India and the US are rapidly adapting to the changing realities of the global order. The two most important ways in which this shift is taking place are recalibrations in regional roles and expectations in the Indo-Pacific region and preparing the bilateral relationship for the challenges of a new technology order which is likely to shape the geopolitics and more so the geostrategy of the stakeholders in the region. As strong bilateral partners as well as partners in plurilateral forums like the Quad, India and the US share common regional objectives which could be propelled by initiatives like the iCET.
The launch of iCET and the way in which it is leveraged jointly by India and the US could prove a pivotal moment in the emerging tech-order of the Indo-Pacific and the way a joint leadership can be fostered in the region.
Prof. Harsh V. Pant (Vice-Pres ORF)
17 February 2023
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