On 22 May 2022; the U.S. President Joe Biden and the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the launch of a new India-U.S. ‘Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies (iCET)’ to elevate and expand the strategic technology partnership and defense industrial cooperation between the two countries. On 31 Jan 2023; in the inaugural meeting of National Security Advisors of both countries, Jake Sullivan along with his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval formally spearheaded the initiative on defense and emerging technologies — what NSA Sullivan called “a strategic bet” on the relationship between the two democratic partners.
According to a White House fact sheet, the two leaders believe that India and the U.S., being two democracies with common values and respect for human rights, should shape the way “technology is designed, developed, governed, and used” to enable “an open, accessible, and secure technology ecosystem, based on mutual trust and confidence, that will reinforce our democratic values and democratic institutions.” The two countries reaffirmed their dedication to removing regulatory obstacles and welcomed new bilateral initiatives and cooperation between their governments, businesses, and academia. They also highlighted the importance of business and talent mobility in both countries.
Some of the key technology sectors identified under the initiative include defense, semiconductor supply chains, space, and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). Moreover, the initiative also identified areas such as biotechnology, advanced materials, and rare earth processing technology. There is an emphasis on finding ways to engage in co-development and co-production while underlining the importance of “innovation bridges” in the key technology areas through expos, and workshops. Additionally, there are plans for long-term research and collaboration on maritime security and Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance (ISR) operational use cases.
A joint Indo-U.S. quantum coordination mechanism involving stakeholders from industry, academia, and government to foster research and industry collaboration have also been established. There are also plans to coordinate and develop consensus and ensure multi-stakeholder standards that are in line with democratic values. Moreover, advancing cooperation on research and development in 5G and 6G, facilitating deployment and adoption of open radio access network (Open RAN) in India, and fostering global economies of scale within the sector were also among the major endeavors in the stated initiative.
In terms of their closer partnership, both countries intend to see India get rid of its reliance on Russian arms. Though this remains questionable that how much benefit or technology the U.S. is willing to share with India notably in fields such as high-tech and defense, as Washington is also worried that India will develop into another threat by virtue of rapid development after China.
Besides; iCET would help invigorate the decades old partnership between the two states, has set up a range of ambitious goals, which means a great deal for India and in advancing the economic growth, creating jobs and help address the emerging challenges of the 21st century, including health, energy, climate change, cyber, defense and security.
The recently announced partnership has the potential to interrupt and disrupt the volatile security architect of the South Asian region. Most significantly; Pakistan and China are the two states in the Asian region to be at the receiving end of this initiative. It is being observed that Indo-U.S. strategic relations in one way or other have always impacted the security calculus of the region. Whether its Indo-U.S. defense agreement/contracts, nuclear deal, technological cooperation, or space endeavors, both states have contributed in altering the strategic dynamics of South Asian region broadly. The iCET is going to further compound the situation.
China in response to the announced initiative has called it off by claiming it as ‘same bed, different dreams’. China believes India is willing to ramp up its ties with the U.S. to advance technology and attract more funding to replace its position in the global industrial and supply chains. On the other hand, to rope in India, in Washington’s perspective, it has to cater to what the country wants, also will help in promoting the very agenda that puts India as part of “friend-shoring,” only then India can become a supply-chain alternative to China. In short; U.S. expects India to work for maintaining a balance of power in this region as per U.S. choices and demands.
Pakistan has not officially responded to iCET but obviously the increasing interest and cooperation between U.S. and India is likely to impact Pakistan in terms of defense, economic, political and external relations, therefore disturbing the balance of power in the region. This will undermine efforts to encourage Pakistan to play a more constructive role in the region. With the U.S. as a powerful actor in the international system, India has started to readjust its foreign policy by aligning itself and to work closely vis a vis strategic interests of the United States. Mutual strategic alliance between the two can place Pakistan in an uncomfortable position, thus likely to be marginalized in security calculus of U.S. The strategic initiative might be fruitful for the two states but has the potential to increase the asymmetry in the balance of power among pugnacious South Asian rivals.
In response to the evolving threatening environment in response to iCET initiative, there is a need for a broader framework on regional security where there is a need for U.S. to be more constructive and justified in its dealing with the two important South Asian countries; Pakistan and India. In words of Winston Churchill, ‘the price of greatness is responsibility’. The U.S. being a great power must show responsibility by managing to minimize the long standing conflicts in South Asia through dialogues and table talks. Though such a dialogue process is a long shot with the emerging regional scenarios in the current times but discussions involving the stakeholders would definitely yield qualitatively different conversations on regional security.