India-US partnership can be asserted to be driven by an important component; technology amidst the speculation of the convergences and divergences that have shaped the strategic partnership. The recent visit of National Security Advisor Ajit Doval to participate in the first Critical and Emerging Technology (iCET) dialogue signifies one among several initiatives that have been placed between the two countries for practical cooperation. The Biden administration has emphasized on digital trade with India as a key agenda with a push to build ‘a list of firsts’ by removing the barriers. The convergence of the estranged democracies during cold war finds its relevance in ‘software superpower’ and this was emphasized by former US President Bill Clinton as one of the key strategic areas for India is to augment the India-US partnership. Since then, hi-technology encompassing the growing partnership has been a key agenda. While assessing the measures of the technology which often gets caught in the challenges, a look at different areas which varies in priorities offers a more different view. It comprises of closely aligned strategic cooperation to developing commercial operations.
Strategic cooperation as a high road
At the level of strategic cooperation that consists of geopolitical considerations, there is a closer alignment. These have been reinforced in not only signing the foundational defense agreement but their implementation that have often been cited as a major lacuna in the partnership. The important changes include the sharing of the satellite imageries and real time communication between the US and India. Already, India remains the STA-1 partner with direct access to sensitive technologies; among these have been UAV development; some are already deployed and others are scheduled. The framework for cooperation has been changed with diplomatic actions such as the Ministry of External Affairs formation of Cyber Diplomacy and Emerging Technologies Division. The political support has been extended with the inclusion of emerging technologies in the QUAD as a priority. The support rests on the important pillar of developing technologies based on the open architecture network and countering ransomware. Another is the opening convergence in new areas reiterated in iCET meeting, the agreement on artificial intelligence, Quantum computing and space also paves the way for deeper integration. The progress of the Defense Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), the major instrument for defense cooperation, is under serious consideration to bring fruitful projects for development. Major changes can be seen in the US Congress that controls the purse, National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) 2023 lays specific provision for greater defense cooperation that includes intelligence sharing, drone and fifth generation aircraft and increasing cyber capabilities.
Commercial technology as a developing arena
Commercial technology forms the other chain linked to the strategic partnership. As recently concluded, the strength of the ties is in the presence of major US tech firms operating not in India but major Indian IT firms that had a strong base in the US. Among the boosted trade ties between the two countries stands at $160 billion which is the highest increasing fourfold over the decade. The service sector accounted for over in the highest category. The linkage of the US economy and the Indian origin entrepreneurs are closely interlinked; Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella was recently awarded Padma Bhushan. Reflecting on the role of tech entrepreneurs it can be ascertained that their role is not limited but provide support to the overall technology cooperation. This is boosted by the political cooperation that allows for greater support for investment such as through the iCET initiative. The momentum is fervently supported by the talent acumen that forms one of the important bridges forming the Silicon Valley across the two countries.
The shifting of the geopolitical space is also felt in the commercial space with the decoupling of the US and China especially in the emerging technology field. The assessment of threat from the Chinese policies and the dependency on supply chains have been evident during the pandemic and its reverberations contributing to major changes. Several US firms are diversifying with the setting of industrial plants, many of them are located in India. Moreover, there is a broader understanding in the development of semiconductor and telecommunication in 5G and 6G that are the foundation blocks pushing for more realistic choices focusing on shared development with allies and partners. Therefore, the commercial arena provides salience and expansion of ties with the rise of emerging collaboration.
The political and commercial space offers ample points for convergence between India and the United States. The value of technology as a key determinant is growing, however these will not be without its constraints with the difference at tactical level or the market development. The discussion under iCET bringing leaders, business and academia brings required thrust to the engagement. Important are the open discussions about issues such as export control and investment, keeping the expectations realistic. As Bill Clinton expressed that “friends don’t have to agree on every issue…they just have to have an honest relationship” finds relevance in this perspective. The growing force of technology partnership overall provides the necessary push in the expanding India-US partnership whose relevance is becoming evident with time.
Sachin Tiwari is a PhD Candidate at the Centre for Canadian, US and Latin American Studies at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.