Navigating the BRICS quantum challenge and preserving digital sovereignty

BRICS and Quantum Politics The impending BRICS summit in Kazan 2024 presents India with a critical juncture in the digital era, particularly in the realm of quantum computing. As China and Russia establish a quantum communication network, India faces the challenge of keeping pace while upholding its values and autonomy. Recent breakthroughs in Russia and […]

BRICS and Quantum Politics
The impending BRICS summit in Kazan 2024 presents India with a critical juncture in the digital era, particularly in the realm of quantum computing. As China and Russia establish a quantum communication network, India faces the challenge of keeping pace while upholding its values and autonomy. Recent breakthroughs in Russia and China, including the successful transmission of secure keys over long distances and the use of China’s quantum satellite Mozi, have demonstrated the feasibility of a secure and unhackable communication infrastructure within the BRICS alliance.

India’s challenges are twofold. Firstly, the potential adoption of a hack-proof quantum network during the BRICS summit may require significant technological shifts, posing integration obstacles. Secondly, the rising voices from the West and various media outlets may pose a challenge to accepting China-led quantum computing initiatives, as it transcends beyond technological concerns and delves into the question of accepting Chinese authoritarian policies. India’s commitment to an open internet and free information flow stands in contrast to China’s restrictive censorship policies, presenting ideological hurdles in fully embracing China’s quantum initiatives.

India’s position – The National Quantum Mission (NQM)
India has taken a proactive step towards quantum technology with the National Quantum Mission (NQM), which aims to position India as a global leader in quantum computing, communication, sensing, materials, metrology, and devices. With a budget exceeding Rs. 6,000 crore, this strategic initiative aligns with India’s broader goals of fostering innovation, self-reliance, and digital transformation across various sectors.
To navigate the challenges posed by the potential adoption of a hack-proof quantum communication network within the BRICS alliance, India should strategically deploy its quantum capabilities. Instead of merging entirely with China and Russia, India can focus on creating a secure and independent quantum communication network for BRICS collaboration. By strengthening its National Quantum Mission, embracing strategic collaborations, and preserving its commitment to an open internet, India can position itself as a quantum powerhouse, contributing to the collective progress of the BRICS alliance while safeguarding its digital sovereignty. While maintaining strong ties with Russia, India must cautiously navigate its relationship with China, especially in light of recent border disputes. The openness of India’s internet compared to China’s censorship policies presents a significant point of contention.

To address the issue of congestion related to the seamless development of Quantum Technology (QT) and Quantum Computing (QC) in India, the country should focus on resolving resource limitations, whether in the form of insufficient funding or human resources, to decrease latency in achieving the required QT capabilities. Without doing so, the throughput of the NQM will never come close to the Chinese quantum goals, and the gap will only widen over time. To resolve this, New Delhi should create robust feedback mechanisms for assessing the development of QT by establishing an ecosystem of entrepreneurs, scientists, and organizations working at the intersection of quantum technologies. This ecosystem will facilitate alternative routes for progressing QT and create a ripple effect for the development of not only quantum computing but also other quantum technologies like quantum metrology, sensing, communication, etc.

Navigating the Geopolitics in the Quantum Maze
The cyberspace domain is currently in a state of anarchy, with nations possessing advanced cyber warfare capabilities exploiting the security infrastructure of nations lacking such capabilities. This phenomenon is expected to escalate with the rise of AI, where even small groups and individuals could pose threats to national security. Smaller nations with sophisticated AI infrastructure may also develop capabilities to inflict major devastations on larger nation-states, akin to the pre-nuclear era when nations fought over small pieces of land. The invention of quantum computers, with the capacity to break the encryption codes of the current information infrastructure, may lead to peace in the cyber domain, much like the discovery of nuclear bombs ended World War II.

From a global perspective, quantum technology (QT) is viewed as a sophisticated military technology that would provide a significant advantage to countries possessing it. Currently, the United States and China are leading the quantum race, while most other nations, including India, are lagging behind due to the high financial intensity and organizational capacity required for QT development. While India should be aware of the developments in QT between China and the US, it should also keep an eye on the progress made in other parts of the world, such as Japan, South Korea, and Europe. This holistic approach will help India navigate the uncertain quantum world with probabilistic certainty and avoid an insular view that limits QT’s potential to security alone.

QT’s interconnectedness should be understood, as investments in quantum computing can contribute to the development of other fields, including healthcare, medicine, information systems, and security. If quantum computing becomes a reality, it will have impacts across various levels of polity, economy, and society, necessitating a strong policy framework to boost the development of QT applications while understanding and analyzing its impacts on domestic and foreign policy. New Delhi should adopt a long-term perspective on QT and quantum computing. In the past at the onset of the internet we missed the bus of creating new technological companies based on the world wide web. We joined the forces of the service based economy, rather than creating a product based economy. Consequently, major tech companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft, which operate in India, were created in the USA, relegating India to a source of cheap labor for service-related activities and data supply. This inability to attain technological sovereignty has created a virtuous cycle of profiteering for Big Tech.

India’s Quantum future
As the BRICS summit in Kazan approaches, India finds itself at a crucial juncture in the realm of quantum technology. To navigate the quantum challenges effectively, India must strengthen its National Quantum Mission, strategically allocate resources, and assert its digital independence. However, the pursuit of technological advancement should not compromise the values that define India’s identity. By striking this balance, India can contribute significantly to the shaping of a balanced and secure digital future for the BRICS nations. For the successful implementation of a quantum strategy, the BRICS countries must come together to produce a network effect by creating a viable quantum technology interface among themselves. This interface should facilitate the multidirectional transfer of information, energy, and materials required for the development of quantum technology applications. Each BRICS member must work as an individual component, defining its identity, functionality, and protocols for the creation of the quantum network, while also aligning with their local rules and regulations to advance the state of the quantum network.
Although quantum computers are still not near to creating substantial consumer-based applications, regular investment in human and financial resources will create windows of opportunity where having a first-mover advantage may become a game-changer for India.

Rather than merely replicating the success of Western nations through frugal innovation, if India wants to lead the world on a global stage and emerge as a true superpower, it must create new and original research in advanced technologies. India’s aim to create its own equivalents of Google and Facebook may no longer be feasible due to financial and organizational challenges. However, the possibility to excel in emerging technologies like AI, blockchain, and quantum computing remains open for India. Only by working diligently and persistently towards advanced sciences like quantum technology can India seize the opportunity for success, even if it takes years, decades, or centuries.

Sudhanshu Kumar is a Senior Research Fellow at School of International Studies in JNU.
Monojit Das is an independent Research on Internet Governance.