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S&T Initiatives and the Strategic Advance of India–US Relations

Dr Cherian Samuel is a Research Fellow (SS) at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • November 30, 2023

    The successful completion of another 2+2 dialogue marks one more step in the saga of Indo-US cooperation. Structured India–US dialogues have had a long and checkered history. Economic cooperation was the initial focus, with an agreement being signed in 2000 to institute a commercial dialogue through a financial and economic forum and a working group on trade.1    The first Strategic dialogue was held from 1 June to 4 June 2010 in Washington. In US terminology, this was ostensibly to serve as a capstone dialogue to assess progress, provide policy guidance and propose new areas of cooperation. 2

    Other dialogues operating at that time were the Counter Terrorism Cooperation Initiative and the Homeland Security dialogue. This was subsequently expanded to Strategic and Commercial Dialogue in 2015 and consultations were further deepened with then U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken also holding High Level Consultations with then India’s Foreign Secretary, S. Jaishankar in December of that year. Thus, in the initial years, these mechanisms were focussed on building confidence and trust in each other, and forming habits of co-operation. 

    The mechanism attained its present 2+2 format in 2018 to “better elevate strategic communication on cross-cutting defence and security issues”.3   The change in the tone and tenor of each subsequent dialogue is evident through the Joint Statements released at the end of each dialogue. In the most recent dialogue held on 14 November 2023, as per the joint statement issued, the principals declared their satisfaction with the substantial progress in transforming India–US relations. They reaffirmed the importance of the India–US Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership, including the Quad. They discussed developments in the Indo-Pacific, Middle East, Ukraine, and terrorism. They also pledged to deepen the defence partnership and strengthen counter-terrorism cooperation. 

    As regards defence co-operation, the two sides finalised the Security of Supply Arrangement (SOSA) to enhance both countries' supply chain independence and agreed on the 2023 Roadmap for US–India Defence Industrial Cooperation. Signing of agreements has been a staple of the dialogue process with the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement, the Industrial Security Annex, and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-spatial Cooperation over the last few years. In a bilateral following the 2+2 dialogue, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin discussed the progress of the General Electric F-414 deal as well as the possibilities of co-production of the Stryker infantry combat vehicles.

    If defence and security relations are finally on an even keel after many decades of differing perspectives and priorities on the two sides, it could be said that it is the multi-faceted co-operation in science and technology that is providing the ballast for a new phase of the relationship. During the Dialogue, there was considerable attention paid to the progress of the science and technology partnerships. The ministers highlighted the progress made under the India–US Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology (iCET) to foster collaborations in science, technology, and critical technology value chains. They commended US private sector investments in India's semiconductor ecosystem and urged continued strategic partnerships between the academic, research, and corporate sectors in emerging technologies like quantum, telecom, biotechnology, artificial intelligence, and semiconductors to drive global innovation.

    The ministers also acknowledged advancements in space collaborations, including the establishment of a sub-working group on Space Commerce and India's participation in international space organisations. They discussed mineral security, energy cooperation, and the strengthening of India–US Science and Technology cooperation under their bilateral agreement. Specific collaborative frameworks such as the iCET, India–US Civil Space Joint Working Group, Joint Committee Meeting on Science and Technology, and the Strategic Trade Dialogue Monitoring Mechanism, point to the deepening and maturing of these mechanisms. 4

    The ecosystem for partnerships between the academic, research and corporate sectors in emerging technologies across the two countries would be further strengthened through programmes such as the India–United States Defence Acceleration Ecosystem (INDUS X) initiative which serves to build an innovation bridge to connect defence start-ups. On the anvil are joint challenges, establishment of a Joint Innovation Fund, academia engagement programmes, industry-star-startup connects, and facilitation of mentoring by experts.5 The inaugural event also had a discussion on export control regulations which has stymied many a joint venture.6

    Indus-X recalls the TiE (The Indus Entrepreneurs) Network created by India-American entrepreneurs in 1994 to foster entrepreneurship and networking for the large number of Indians who came to the United States as students and then went on to set up tech start-ups in Silicon Valley.  That trend still continues with Indian students studying in the United States having recently reached an all-time high of 268,923, according to the latest Open Doors report.7 Of these, over 73,000, or more than a quarter, have enrolled for engineering degrees.8 They present a possible pool of candidates to participate in the burgeoning S&T ties, if channelled successfully by creating awareness and creating programmes in those universities in which they are present in large numbers.

    Thus, it may be said that the evolution of India–US relations, particularly through the framework of the 2+2 dialogues, has consistently moved towards deeper strategic collaboration. Moving beyond the initial focus on economic cooperation and strategic and defence alignment, there is now a forward-looking embrace of science and technology cooperation. The pioneering spirit inherent to science and technology can be seen in initiatives like the iCET and Indus-X. With thousands of Indian students continuing to contribute to the US innovation landscape, there is scope for increasing their participation in these programmes for the benefit of both nations.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrrikar IDSA or of the Government of India.