Recently, two of the world’s established technological powers, the United States (US) and India, decided to further bolster their positions by enhancing cooperation in the technology domain. US President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting resulted in the announcement of the Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies (iCET) to expand the existing partnership between the two states in specific strategic technology sectors.
In the information age, technology cooperation between states has become increasingly popular as part of their diplomatic outreach. The concept of building tech alliances with the help of like-minded techno-democracies has brought together multiple states in the recent past. The iCET looks like just an extension of the existing bilateral cooperation in the technology sector between the two countries.
Can iCET Show any Real Impact?
However, one interesting aspect of the iCET is the departments in charge of spearheading the initiative. The National Security Councils of both states have been given the responsibility of driving forward outcome-oriented projects related to the iCET. The defence and national security angle behind the technology cooperation is clearly visible through this initiative. With certain technology sectors attaining a strategic status, the iCET has the ability to help the two states focus on technologies that might have a massive impact on the security and military fronts.
Such agreements, when announced, can create a flutter of conversation and remain exciting on paper. But what are the actual policy implementations under the iCET that can actually translate into on-ground impact for both states?
Taking a People-Centric Approach
The single point of focus in the initiative should be the human capital model to achieve desired outcomes. Technical knowledge is central to the overall development of emerging technology areas such as 5G, quantum computing and semiconductors. With human capital being the biggest strength for both India and the US, the iCET will thrive if it is made individual-centric. The governments should facilitate this exchange of ideas and foster the talent pool that exists in both countries.
One of the goals set by the initiative as per India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) was to forge better linkages between government, academia and industry in specific technology areas. This would lead to cross-border human capital movement becoming essential to achieving those goals. Scientists, engineers and other researchers in both countries who are involved in working on critical technologies can have access to research facilities in both countries under the initiative. The exchange of STEM researchers between universities along with industry leaders and technology entrepreneurs engaged in the development of strategic tech can help translate lab-level research into potential applications.
An important area in the people-centric approach is the students and academic researchers studying in universities.
Although there are much more number of Indians in US academic institutions than vice-versa, this initiative can introduce academic fellowships for scholars to work and contribute to specific emerging technology sectors.
This would help in intellectual property creation and dissemination across borders, as well as cultivate a set of scientists and engineers who can contribute to technology collaboration at the government level.
Funding Research Projects
As per the White House Press Release, the US-India iCET will involve the scientific government departments from both states. According to the press statement, the National Science Foundation (NSF) of the US, along with the Department of Science and Technology (DST), will drive forward the implementation of research projects under the initiative. The statement also mentioned that the US has agreed to join six of India’s Technology Innovation hubs. This is in the hope of spearheading over 25 projects across emerging domains such as artificial intelligence and data science. This sets the foundation for another area of focus for the success of the initiative.
One of the main objectives of the iCET must be to secure funding (for research and product development) for outcome-driven projects that employ critical and emerging technologies.
The focus must be on emerging technology areas that have the potential to use any given technology to create different applications and products to tackle some of the biggest challenges faced by both countries. Improving agriculture output, mitigating climate change effects and similar research can be prioritised for funding. Another area of focus would be to identify areas of technology that might dominate in the near future. Developing state-of-the-art quantum computer systems and building telecommunication networks using 6G are just a few among the plethora of technology areas that the iCET can spend its resources on.
The iCET must also take cognisance of China’s rise and its advancements in certain emerging and critical technologies. It must work towards ensuring that China does not indulge in the market capture of specific technologies and also build redundancies or resiliency into critical technology supply chains.
With certain technologies having the ability to make or break countries’ economies, the iCET can succeed only if both the US and India can direct their resources to develop technological solutions and counter hegemony in certain domains.
(The author is a research analyst at the Takshashila Institution. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)