On January 31, 2023, Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval is scheduled to attend the first formal talks on the Initiative for Critical and Emerging Technologies (iCET) in Washington, DC. Doval will discuss the iCET with Jake Sullivan, his American counterpart. The iCET was first mentioned in a readout following a meeting between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and U.S. President Joe Biden in Tokyo in May 2022. It is a unique initiative led by the Indian National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) and the U.S. National Security Council (NSC) and is a product of informal discussions between and within the two organizations.
The aim is to “expand partnership” in critical and emerging technologies. It is supposed to serve as a coordination bridge to catalyze existing efforts at technology cooperation while stimulating a renewed sense of purpose for the same. In doing so, it is certain to also introduce new lines of collaboration. Ahead of the national security advisors’ meeting in Washington, DC, Carnegie India led discussions with officials from both countries, industry leaders, technologists, fund managers, entrepreneurs, academics, and others.
This article highlights some of the critical takeaways from these less-formal consultations, and the takeaways have been divided into five categories for cooperation. This includes suggestions on the administrative vehicle that drives the iCET—the mechanics, practical ideas to do more to connect the science and technology research and innovations ecosystems in both countries, and specific suggestions on technology cooperation in three domains: quantum technologies, semiconductors, and commercial space. To be sure, there are no references to the iCET priorities in the public domain. What we highlight below is a collection of ideas drawn from unofficial discussions.
The fact that the NSCS and the NSC are leading this process is distinctive. In some respects, this is a new domain of statecraft for the NSCS. The iCET is a process that will need quick pivots, constant industry outreach, ideation, intragovernmental management, and even harmonization. The following points of action might be considered to add resilience to a relatively new formula for technology diplomacy and statecraft:
(1) iCET advisory council: While the NSC and the NSCS are best placed to house the iCET, introducing an advisory council or a steering committee will be crucial to support this process. This council should include a mix of industry representatives, technologists, philanthropists, academics, and think tankers from both countries. The iCET council ought to meet, virtually, every month. Moreover, it should serve as a lightning rod and connector that officials from both countries can reach out to.
(2) Regular high-level meetings: Every year, the iCET should host one high-level meeting at the level of the national security adviser (NSA) and one at the level of the deputy national security adviser. These meetings ought to be outcome-oriented, with a clear sense of achievable action points.
(3) Managing expectations: Policymakers working on the iCET should earmark four to five critical areas of cooperation that will drive the administrative effort supporting the iCET. Ringfencing these efforts from a longer list of areas of cooperation will be crucial.
(4) Monitoring mechanism: A system should be designed from the outset, within the NSC and the NSCS, to make sure that impact is being recorded at every level. An impact officer at the level of deputy secretary or director in the NSCS and at the level of director in the NSC should be incorporated into monitoring the structure for the iCET.
(5) Friends of iCET track 1.5 dialogues: Think tanks and industry councils with a focus on technology research and outreach in both countries can play a crucial role in catalyzing ideas and searching for solutions. They should be used to initiate an annual Friends of iCET track 1.5 dialogue in both the United States and India.
Research and Innovation Ecosystems
There are a number of existing research partnerships or projects between various stakeholders in India and the United States. The points for action include ways to harmonize ongoing research activities and highlight measures through which these could be further augmented.
(1) Tracking initiatives: The aforementioned iCET impact officers should evolve a system to track the various sets of projects on emerging technologies across different ministries and agencies. This exercise will help identify gaps and track the evolving bilateral research and innovation ecosystems.
(2) iCET fellowship and connector fund: Research-funding bodies and philanthropists in both countries should be encouraged by governments on both sides to invest capital in an iCET fund that could be used to (i) finance an iCET fellowship where practitioners, innovators, and advanced PhD students could be funded to spend three to six months in universities, laboratories, and even corporations in each other’s countries, every year, and (ii) create an iCET connector fund designed to support initiatives that connect the ecosystems in both countries. The iCET fund should be aimed to finance hackathons, ideational workshops, and other bridge-making initiative that can help create a trackable innovation corridor.
(3) Regulatory sandbox: There is a clear realization that there is a need to better understand the regulatory architectures in both countries across different domains of technology—from the treatment of personal and nonpersonal data and changes in biotechnologies to evolving commercial space laws and investing in semiconductor ecosystems. A bilateral regulatory sandbox—testing regulations in a controlled environment with key stakeholders—can be crucial to increase trust and help coordinate incentive schemes between both countries.
The sphere of quantum technology has seen both the United States and India dedicate large amount of funds for promoting research. However, the iCET dialogue noted that rather than looking at the segmentation of the quantum technology sector into distinct areas, it is critical, initially, to grow the quantum industry through academia-industry partnerships. These partnerships should be broader than the ones seen thus far.
(1) Need for India to invest in both software and hardware: For this to happen, the country must focus not only on developing its software capabilities but also on building its hardware capabilities. This will enable the creation of an accelerated, sustainable ecosystem for quantum technology. To achieve this, it is crucial to continue fostering strong academia-industry collaboration in the field of quantum technology.
(2) Building a robust quantum ecosystem: Collaboration between India and the United States can help achieve this goal. Research institutes like IIT Madras are already making significant contributions to the field of quantum communication and quantum computing, and by joining the IBM Quantum Computing Network, they have access to a wealth of industry expertise and resources. Further, top U.S. and Indian universities invested in quantum communications and quantum computing need to share syllabi, making sure that scholars and students in both countries are familiar with the same material. This will also make mobility easier.
The semiconductor industry is perhaps one of the most complex industries in the world. From the convoluted nature of its supply chain that traverses the entire world to the complicated nature of the leading-edge chips that are manufactured, it remains an endearingly difficult industry to crack for many countries. That being said, participants in the iCET dialogue hosted by Carnegie India advocated for a few measures to fine-tune India’s recently released semiconductor policies.
(1) Clusters of other companies to help build semiconductor plants: It was noted that semiconductor manufacturing requires not just fabrication plants but also a simultaneous focus on many other parts of the ecosystem, such as raw material, uninterrupted water supply, and component suppliers, to name a few. Therefore, a successful ecosystem would need to develop such ancillary companies that will support a fabrication plant’s needs and requirements.
(2) Joint roadmap for semiconductor industries: India should focus on specific areas such as outsourced semiconductor assembly and test (OSAT) and system in package (SIPs) in the next two to three years. To facilitate these developments, cooperation between India and the United States through their private sectors is the best way to achieve this. Furthermore, investment policy/incentive scheme synchronization for chips between Washington and New Delhi could be a great starting point to enable friend-shoring. However, it is important to set a time line for these efforts.
(3) How talent in India can be leveraged: The availability of talent in India is a key factor in making hardware manufacturing possible in the country. India can leverage its human capital if it can build trust as a provider in the global supply chain. For this, the country needs to place an emphasis on quality control, verification measures, and transparency in the manufacturing process.
(4) India’s trade relationship with other countries: India’s manufacturing vision of considering only semiconductors and not the components of the broader ecosystem, such as supply chain and infrastructure, would be a misstep. Both an export-oriented model as well as addressing domestic demand are equally significant.
While commercial space is not yet an arena of geopolitical contestation, countries around the world are warming up to the fact that having space capabilities is critical for maintaining supremacy in what is seen by many as the final economic frontier. India has seen its own space sector become ripe with commercial activity, as its new-space companies secure robust fundraising and ink global partnerships. Participants in the iCET dialogue accordingly stressed a few points to sustain the momentum of India’s space sector and also deliberate upon what shape any possible collaboration with the United States could take in the commercial space sector.
(1) Need to move engagement beyond government: While India and the United States have a history of collaboration in the field of civil space, the relationship between the two countries is not complete without commercial space ties that involve private enterprises. This could be achieved through government-to-business and business-to-business partnerships in commercial space. One such area could be space situational awareness, which essentially entails keeping tracks of space objects in orbit. Given that the United States has long been a proponent of the sustainability of space activities, this would be a good starting point for cooperation, since there are a few Indian companies that have developed strong capabilities in this area.
(2) Complex relationship between commercial space entities and ITAR: For an India-U.S. partnership to be successful, Washington must look to ease export control measures. Therefore, there is a need for greater communication and collaboration on the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) and the Export Administration Regulation (EAR) between both countries. To begin with, it was suggested that the Quad itself could be a good forum, at least initially, to explore what can be done regarding tech transfers subject to ITAR. Any learnings could then be incorporated into the iCET.
(3) Lack of access to funding for Indian companies: Unlike the U.S. companies, their Indian counterparts face challenges in accessing government funding. The high valuation of space companies does indicate that the necessary risk capital was there for critical and emerging space technologies. However, the question investors are asking is how investment can be balanced with revenue generation. Additionally, in the realm of the India-U.S. partnership, some carveouts could be made for foreign companies, perhaps by utilizing the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs. Efforts to reduce costs can be given new impetus by increasing cooperation and expanding production. India and the United States could jointly identify and fund projects, collaborate with civil society and academia, and ease information sharing on both ITAR and EAR. There is hope that India could build a commercial space cooperation with the United States similar to the one that Washington has with Tokyo.
The iCET is one of the most innovative administrative exercises initiated between the United States and India. It is filled with promise. There is every opportunity to deliver measurable outcomes, supercharge existing efforts, and co-create new technologies and administrative architectures that regulate the same. To this end, the NSA-level dialogue on January 31, 2023, is significant. There is a hope that both India and the United States will be able to clarify priority areas of cooperation. Equally, it is crucial to pay as much attention to the administrative structure that shapes, informs, and populates the iCET—both from within and outside of government.