India’s National Security Advisor is an important step towards taking the India-US partnership to the next level. The launch of the US-India initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology (iCET), announced during the Quad summit by the US President and Indian Prime Minister in May 2022, is not only an enhancement of the India-US strategic partnership, but also a step towards adapting to new strategic realities in the Indo-Pacific region. This move aims to strengthen bilateral cooperation by establishing an ecosystem that fosters the development and deployment of advanced technologies.
The iCET will be led institutionally by the National Science Foundation of the United States and the Department of Science and Technology of India. Among its objectives is the formation of a partnership between six of India’s Technology Innovation Hubs to support at least 25 joint research projects with the United States in areas such as artificial intelligence and data science, and to apply its findings to agriculture, health and climate, and other fields.
Technology is now at the heart of both India’s and the United States’ national security concerns, with critical and emerging technologies such as advanced computing, nuclear energy technologies, AI, autonomous systems, and robotics, among others, playing a critical role in countries’ capacity building. a task force led by the US Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) and the India Electronics and Semiconductor Association (IESA) is promoting cooperation between the two countries in the semiconductor industry. As India and the United States construct a more expansive framework through the iCET to incorporate these emerging technologies into their domestic and bilateral channels, they must keep in mind that CET is a volatile domain that must be constantly updated based on advancements. In February 2022, the United States updated its list of CET, highlighting rapidly changing technological needs and considerations.
Critical and emerging technologies may become increasingly important in maintaining a sustained relationship between Indo-Pacific partners, resilient supply chains, and ensuring a favorable balance of power in the region by thwarting adversarial steps of hostile actors. In this regard, the promise of shared technological advancements made by the iCET is linked to democratic values in the way they are designed, developed, and used. As a result, iCET is linked to the concept of a free and open Indo-Pacific, as well as a commitment to fostering an open, accessible, and secure technology ecosystem based on mutual trust.
The broader context of the emerging tech competition between the United States and China will continue to shape Indo-Pacific trust-based partnerships, including those between the United States and India. The Biden administration’s unprecedented regulatory impositions in the semiconductor industry are intended to slow and restrain Chinese technological advances, which have stunned the world in many ways, though their full unraveling is yet to come. As the recent ‘spy balloon’ incident demonstrates, the use of technology can enable countries to challenge sovereignty, gather information on critical and sensitive assets, and push the boundaries of one’s influence while remaining below a threshold – a classic gray zone trope.
Technology is changing the landscape of strategic competition while also blurring national boundaries. With China working hard to reduce India’s influence in the Indian Ocean region, the evolving balance of power in the Indo-Pacific is directly affected. The role that technology can play is growing, with CET becoming increasingly important in maritime domain awareness, underwater activities, and reconnaissance.
As the world emerges from the shadows of the Covid-19 pandemic, one of the primary concerns of Indo-Pacific countries, including India, is to maintain some early gains through sustained and adaptive technological cooperation as well as tech-driven initiatives. With iCET as a guidepost, India and the United States are quickly adapting to the shifting realities of the global order. The two most important ways in which this shift is occurring are recalibrations in regional roles and expectations in the Indo-Pacific region, as well as preparing the bilateral relationship for the challenges of a new technological order, which is likely to shape the geopolitics and, more specifically, the geostrategy of the region’s stakeholders. As strong bilateral partners as well as partners in multilateral forums such as the Quad, India and the United States share common regional goals that could be accelerated by initiatives such as the iCET.
The launch of iCET and how it is leveraged jointly by India and the US could be a watershed moment in the Indo-emerging Pacific’s tech-order and how joint leadership can be fostered in the region.