India-U.S. Partnership to Shape Techno-Geopolitics

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to the United States ended with much fanfare and optics. However, the visit was high on substance and deliverables as well. More than any other sector, the emerging landscape of technology became a fulcrum of the growing bonhomie between the two countries. Just a cursory examination of the detailed joint statement released, shows that cooperation and collaboration on new technologies in both military and non-military dimensions will shape the contours of this partnership and its implications for global order. Many of the critical technologies are dual use, and how like-minded countries align intent and joint efforts will be crucial in how their military or civilian uses will be regulated for the global good. In this context, the growing convergence between India and the U.S. in a world order highly influenced by technology will be consequential.

The Growing Synergy

India and the United States, despite the prevalent perceptions of estrangement, during the Cold War, do have a long history of cooperation in the realm of science and technology. What differentiates now from then is the strategic convergence of building a “free, open, inclusive and rules-based” Indo-Pacific driving the growing trust in entering into a multi-dimensional and comprehensive technology partnership. The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between General Electric (GE) and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to manufacture GE F-414 jet engines for HAL’s Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Mk 2 hogged the limelight during Prime Minister Modi’s visit. This reaffirms the growing synergy between the two countries on the future of co-development and co-production of defense technologies.

The United States as a major defense partner for India, which is intent on increasing its own deterrent capabilities vis-à-vis China, is already a reality, and not a just mere proposition looming on the horizon. Several ongoing projects and discussions relating to technologies for both civil and military use have reached a level observed mostly between the U.S. and its traditional allies, despite India’s abhorrence of a strict alliance and penchant to preserve its strategic autonomy. Taking the synergy beyond a whole-of-government towards whole-of-nation approach is the launch of the India-U.S. Defense Acceleration Ecosystem (INDUS-X), which envisions “a network of universities, startups, industry and think tanks” that “will facilitate joint defense technology innovation, and co-production of advanced defense technology between the respective industries of the two countries.”  

Another frontier in the booming partnership is in the realm of outer space, including new visions of engagement between the U.S. Department of Defense’s Space Force and Indian start-ups. Maritime security cooperation between the two countries, including underwater domain awareness, assumes significance given common threat perceptions across the Indo-Pacific waters. How the two democracies are creating wider and deeper institutional linkages is crucial, as seen in “35 innovative joint research collaborations in emerging technologies funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Indian Department of Science and Technology (DST).”

Shaping Techno-Geopolitics

The world order is undergoing a significant transition, witnessing power shifts, more particularly, in who acquires the latest technologies, and who shapes their use in both civilian and military purposes. Technological advancements have always played a pivotal role in global power dynamics but in 21st century geopolitics, the complexity of all-purpose technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) is leading to unfathomable opportunities and risks.

The governance of technologies is a matter of serious debate cutting across all multilateral and bilateral engagements, and India’s presidency of the G20 and its growing synergy with the global West, puts it in an enviable position to work with the United States and other like-minded countries to shape the contours of 21st century techno-geopolitics. Looming non-military concerns like the impact of climate change also require countries like India and the U.S. to work together on developing and deploying cutting-edge clean and renewable technologies. The India-U.S. Climate and Clean Energy Agenda 2030 Partnership and Strategic Clean Energy Partnership (SCEP) reflect the commitment on both sides to drive cooperation in emerging technologies to mitigate climate change, including green hydrogen and offshore and onshore wind.

Critical minerals stand at the very heart of the technology-influenced geopolitics currently being witnessed, and therefore, an India-U.S. bilateral framework to secure resilient critical minerals supply is crucial for economic growth as well as national security. India’s formal identification and public release of the report ‘Critical Minerals for India’ emphasizes its primacy in the current dynamics. The Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology (iCET) is aimed at elevating and expanding India-U.S. “strategic technology partnership and defense industrial cooperation between the governments, businesses, and academic institutions.” The India-US Strategic Trade Dialogue (IUSSTD) envisions to “facilitate the development and trade of technologies in critical domains such as semiconductors, space, telecom, quantum, AI, defence, bio-tech and others.” India and the U.S. are making strides in cooperation relating to the exploration and use of outer space, including the decision of NASA and ISRO “to develop a strategic framework for human spaceflight cooperation by the end of 2023” and “India’s signing of the Artemis Accords, which advance a common vision of space exploration for the benefit of all humankind.” As national security concerns increasingly invade the technology ecosystem, with areas like AI, semiconductors, 5G and 6G telecommunication network and quantum computing becoming new theaters of geopolitical rivalry, it becomes imperative for like-minded countries with democratic values to join efforts to shape the future of governance in technology.

The resolve India and the U.S. have made towards cooperation and collaboration to shape a future influenced by technology that is responsibly developed and deployed, will be crucial in times to come. The opportunities and risks associated with new technologies will largely determine the contours of an India-U.S. partnership for global good. How the two democracies can join vision and forces to help navigate the implications of this new technological landscape forms a central pivot of this partnership. In the face of China’s ambition and deployment of resources to dominate the production and use of technologies, a synergy between the matured technology ecosystem of the U.S. and the potential inherent in India’s vibrant technology sector is consequential.