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India-US Technology Ties Deepen Amid New Washington Consensus

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India-US Technology Ties Deepen Amid New Washington Consensus

While India was uneasy about fully adopting the old Washington consensus in the 1980s, Delhi has embraced the new consensus, engaging in initiatives and collaborations that ensure reduced dependency on China.

India-US Technology Ties Deepen Amid New Washington Consensus
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The G-7 states recently converged in Apulia, Italy, and revealed their outlook on crucial issues that the world community is grappling with. Beyond the Russia-Ukraine war, outreach to the Global South, and other “systemic” concerns, critical and emerging technology received substantial attention. 

The recently held G-7 Summit in Italy passed a joint communique, reaffirming the need for “safeguarding critical and emerging technology that could be used to threaten international peace and security.” The earlier G-7 ministerial declaration on March 14-15 also endorsed the adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) and other emerging technologies, with a detailed statement to evaluate the challenges and impact of AI on businesses and society.

While addressing the outreach session of the G-7 Summit, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasized the importance of technology, especially AI, and India’s initiatives for global governance in AI. Further, Modi pledged to make AI accessible, catalyzing the creation of an “inclusive society.” 

India’s G-7 appearance converged with U.S. National Security Advisor (NSA) Jake Sullivan’s visit to India with Kurt Campbell, the deputy secretary of state. As the Modi-led NDA coalition takes charge to govern India for the next five years, the United States has shown clear willingness to maintain a consistent and robust bilateral partnership.

Not even a week had passed since the Lok Sabha election in India when Sullivan met India’s NSA Ajit Doval to further their convergences in strategic technologies and advanced defense cooperation. Both officials earlier formulated a “roadmap for cooperation” on the Initiative on Critical and Emerging technologies (iCET) launched in May 2022. 

The initiative intended deeper collaboration between the two governments in strategic technologies and defense exchanges by leveraging accelerating scientific strides in semiconductors, AI, and quantum technologies. It also planned a serious overhaul of India’s military hardware by pushing for joint development and production of jet engines. These initiatives attest to the growing robustness of the relationship and willingness to engage at a deeper level to enable India’s rise as a strategic asset to better counter China’s disruption in supply chains and troublesome use of science and technology. 

Such crystallizing partnerships and deeper collaboration are forged to redirect Washington’s efforts to contain China. The new Washington consensus, elaborated by Sullivan in a speech delivered at Brooking Institution on April 27, 2023, points to re-shuffling the geoeconomic toolkit – reshoring supply chains, prioritizing resilience over efficiency, industrial policy for reducing disruptions to trade and economy, and building capacities in technology to navigate the geopolitical vagaries of the contemporary world. Worried by China’s growing relative edge over strategic technologies, COVID-induced supply chain disruptions and proliferating surveillance and digital technologies caused the world to reassess and recalibrate strategies to maintain stability in periods of crisis. 

While India was uneasy about fully adopting the old Washington consensus in the 1980s – most notably, “the prescription of de-regulation, privatization,” and a liberalized economy – India has embraced the new consensus by significantly upping its participation in initiatives and collaborations that ensure reduced dependency on China and more capacity building in technological sectors enabled by the West. 

India has enrolled in significant technological agreements triggered by China’s regressive outlook and indigenous thrust for technological progress. On April 25, 2022, the India-EU Trade and Technological Council was launched to better address the challenges bulging out of trade, technological, and security risks. Leveraging bilateral U.S.-South Korea and U.S.-India cooperation on critical and emerging technology, the trio coalesced to initiate a Trilateral Technology Dialogue on March 13, 2024, to better cooperate on semiconductors, digital public infrastructure, artificial intelligence, quantum technology, and much more. A year earlier, on May 20, 2023, Quad members the U.S., India, Japan, and Australia agreed on common standards for critical and emerging technologies that promote “interoperability, competition, inclusiveness and innovation.”

India has also deepened its technological partnership with key U.S. allies and members of the EU. This includes the signing of Japan-India Semiconductor Supply Chain Partnership in July 2023, the first meeting of the Trilateral Cooperation Initiative with France and UAE on September 19, 2022, the bilateral India-Germany Vision to enhance Cooperation in Innovation and Technology on February 23, 2023, the bilateral India-Italy Joint Statement on March 2, 2023, the first India-Australia Annual Summit on March 10, 2023, and the fifth Joint Statement on the India-Philippines Joint Commission on Bilateral Cooperation in June, 2023. These initiatives and bilateral understandings promise to build resilient supply chains and create an international ecosystem of technological convergence to better tackle the unwarranted use and dominance of strategic technologies by revisionist actors like Beijing. 

While these initiatives are gaining traction, and tangible outputs are in the offing, India-U.S. initiatives are progressing decisively. On June 23, 2023, the India-U.S. Joint Statement concluded a partnership between the U.S. and Indian space agencies for human space flight cooperation and joint deployment of synthetic aperture radar. The progress on the former has accelerated with a mission planned to take place this year to “fly an Indian astronaut to the International Space Station.” The launch of the latter, intended to tackle “climate change,” was delayed earlier this year; a new launch date has not been announced.

On September 23, 2023, negotiations began after congressional notification for manufacturing GE F-414 jet engines, jointly developed by GE Aerospace and Hindustan Aeronautical Limited. Progress in negotiation has been satisfactory. In the joint statement issued after U.S. President Joe Biden’s visit to India in September 2023, Biden embraced India’s request to procure 31 General Atomics MQ-9B unmanned aerial vehicles – 16 Sky Guardian and 15 Sea Guardians – which will enhance India’s intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities across all domains. 

Both countries have also partnered for “large-scale RAN deployments” through the India-U.S. Open RAN Acceleration Roadmap, launched a biopharmaceutical alliance network – along with South Korea and EU – and also expanded cooperation between the U.S. Defense Innovation Unit and India’s Innovations for Defense Excellence (iDEX) for “cutting-edge commercial technologies for military solutions.” 

Overall, Indian and U.S. policymakers have revived bilateral relations in the modern era. The reset came with Soviet Union’s decline and India’s search for a credible partner in the international system. Washington also started afresh by concluding the 2008 India-U.S. nuclear deal after the severe economic sanctions against India’s nuclear tests. 

While the Manmohan Singh-led UPA coalition heralded new beginnings, the more profound and significant turn in relations can be attributed to the rise of revisionist China, which catalyzed newer military and technological partnerships under the Modi administration. Washington’s desire to dissuade China emboldened it to support India’s capacity building to nurture a regional hegemon to better counter Beijing.

While India stuck a chord with U.S. concern over China, it also aspires to become a “leading power.” Therefore, New Delhi’s geopolitical concerns – assuaged by Washington’s technological and military capacity building – and its aspiration to become a major power glued India and the U.S. together against China, which will shape the international system in years to come.