The recent unveiling of a US-India Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies (iCET) comes half a century too late for India.

Seen in the light of President Biden’s 2021 undertaking to transfer multiple advanced technologies, including submarine nuclear propulsion to Australia, it starkly highlights the absence of any significant offer of high tech by the US to India, despite bilateral ties, growing steadily in warmth and closeness.


Background of Indo-U.S. technological cooperation 

  • There has been no dearth of accords and agreements, with lofty titles, framed to enhance Indo-US cooperation in the security and technology domains.
  • Some examples: “Next Steps in Strategic Partnership” in 2004; “Defence Framework Agreement” in 2005: the pathbreaking “Indo-US Civil Nuclear Agreement” in 2008; launching of the “Defence Technology and Trade Initiative” in 2012; accord of “Major Defence Partner” status by US Congress in 2016; and institution of “2+2 talks” in 2018.
  • The signing of the fourth and last of the key “foundational agreements” in 2020 was supposed to have eliminated the final impediment to closer security cooperation.
  • However, after nearly two decades of this pretentious “pas de deux”, all that the Indo-US “strategic partnership” had delivered was $22 billion worth of military hardware, purchased by India via the foreign military sales programme.


About the recent iCET initiative

  • In a determined bid at the highest level to address this state of stasis, a communique following the May 2022 Biden-Modi quadrilateral summit in Tokyo announced “the launch of a US-India Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies spearheaded by the National Security Councils (NSC) of the two countries”.
  • Pitched at the exalted level of the two NSCs, the iCET could become a “game changer” in catalysing Indo-US technology cooperation by persuading the U.S. to lift existing export control restrictions, and encouraging the private sector of both countries to cooperate in sensitive sectors.
  • The most important outcome, however, would be to dispel the cloud of mistrust that has hung over this relationship and to demonstrate a mutual commitment to investing in advanced technologies, such as quantum computing, AI and space, as well as the critical field of semiconductor design and manufacture.


Why India should remain cautious?

While the iCET promises a long overdue transformation, four aspects demand wariness on India’s part.

  • Restrictions on use — First, even though ownership of technology in the US may lie with the private sector, the US Arms Export Control Act not only requires clearances from the Departments of State and Defence for ToT but also imposes certain restrictions on the recipient state.
  • Resistance from Russia — Second, an unstated but significant, long-term objective of the iCET is, surely, to wean India off its dependency on Russian military hardware. This is likely to face stiff resistance on various grounds from Moscow as well as from domestic quarters, but national interest must prevail. Over the past 60 years, neither the quality of Soviet/Russian hardware nor the product support has ever matched that of its western counterparts, and the disruption caused by the Russia-Ukraine conflict will further aggravate the situation. The time has come for India to break free of Russia’s apron strings and regain “strategic autonomy” in international affairs.
  • Transfer of technology — Third, while India is in dire need of technology, the US industry remains firmly focused on trade. India will, therefore, need to leverage its considerable purchases in the arms, energy, civil aviation, nuclear and other sectors in a holistic manner to extract technology from the US.
  • Self-reliance and indigenisation — Finally, we must bear in mind that merely switching from Russian to American military hardware will be a case of “jumping from the frying pan into the fire”. Aatmanirbharta must remain our ultimate aim.


SourceThe Indian Express


QUESTION – The iCET initiative between India and the U.S. can be a game-changer for the transfer of technology but India would have to move one foot ahead to extract the requisite technology. Discuss the argument in brief and outline the points of caution for this agreement to be beneficial for our national interests.