How India can use technology as a strategic tool to advance its interests

In today’s information age, technology has become a ubiquitous part of society in every country. Citizens are empowered in a wide range of ways with better access to technology, the economic sectors of states are transitioning to the digital space, and technological development has regularly outpaced regulations and governance. This is the era where technology is becoming a strategic tool for the state to drive growth and protect its interests.

India, as a nascent and rising technological power, has the ability to harness technology for the common good. As has been seen in the last two decades, technology has simplified political decisions and improved the quality of governance in the country. Questions of accessibility, inclusivity, and leveling the playing field have been overcome to some extent through the use of technology.

The Indian state should now start looking at technology and its adoption from a more strategic perspective. But how can India use ‘technology’ to address existing problems and try to implement it as a possible solution in key areas of governance?

Indian technology assets

Border areas of experience and scale: India should focus on identifying and developing certain technological areas where it has had and can have a significant global impact. This can help your technology exports and help expand your international digital and technology footprint. Low-cost telecommunications operations, renewable energy systems and digital payment frameworks can serve as model areas that India can use as soft power tools in the technological sphere.

Skilled labor in multiple domains: India should seek to harness the presence of abundant domestic human capital in the country to create a strong workforce in specific technology areas that could prove vital in the near future. The availability of low-cost labor should be used to persuade technologically advanced states to consider the Indian labor force as a contributing partner in some labor-intensive supply chains. Semiconductor design and IT services are areas that continue to require a large amount of human resources, and the Indian workforce has proven to be proficient in these fields.

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A prominent presence in international technology supply chains: Although a rising technology powerhouse, India has become essential in key areas of the hi-tech arena. Other states rely heavily on India for certain technology supply chains due to its comparative advantages and expertise in specific processes. This should be used to India’s strategic advantage and to ensure that it remains a factor in the international technology trade ecosystem.

Investigation and development

The identification of critical technologies or key areas in technology supply chains to invest scientific and financial resources remains essential. The Indian state should consider extensive collaboration with the domestic private sector to enhance research and match global developments in specific strategic areas of science and technology. This may eventually result in greater influence through a dominant national technology sector.

Focus on promoting research in technology areas where Indian-specific solutions are needed and unlikely to be addressed by the developed world can be prioritized. Encouraging the use of open source technologies to promote innovation free from state intervention, technological oligopolies and international politics can help India’s technological growth trajectory.

This would make the technology more accessible and more relevant to development challenges. Open source technologies also serve as a counterweight to Big Tech dominance and aid technological sovereignty in an uncertain geopolitical climate. It can also bridge the trust deficit between the state and citizens by addressing privacy and surveillance issues.

While gaining a foothold in technological product development can create a zero-sum game between two or more parties, scientific knowledge in the field itself is a non-zero-sum game. The Indian state must prioritize improving the dissemination of technical expertise as part of its technology strategy.

International cooperation

The Indian state should not favor isolationism, especially in the field of technological development. The process of collaboration in high-tech areas to address existing bottlenecks in various supply chains must be one of the priorities of the sector. The principle that “plurilateralism is a necessity and not an option” in dealing with critical and emerging technologies must be upheld if India aspires to become a leading technological power.

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Leadership conversations can be entered into with fraternal multilateral groupings to build technology alliances. The Indian state must also shoulder responsibilities such as enhancing technology-related trade, facilitating technology transfer agreements between participating states, and setting credible technology standards in critical and emerging technologies.

A good example would be advancing the recently signed India-Europe Trade and Technology Council to build a strong technology trade infrastructure. The focus should be on removing export controls on components related to critical technologies and reducing import tariffs on high-tech products.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs should also adopt a technology diplomacy approach to include science and technology as a source of disclosure through designated officials leading diplomatic talks in the field.

A non-discriminatory state-to-state data sharing framework, provided the data in question does not infringe India’s national security, can enable India to digitally integrate across the world. This may include participating in multilateral technology data sharing agreements if there are no critical data sharing obligations that threaten its internal security and ensure India’s access to similar data from other signatories.

Finally, the state can lead global efforts to establish legally binding and universally acceptable instruments on technologies that threaten the security of all states. India and its diplomatic partners can lead a techno-democratic alliance that prevents the control of specific technologies by selective groups, especially those that can impact war and conflict and are detrimental to international security.

Technology has become an integral aspect of international relations, foreign policy, military, and defense in the recent past. As an aspiring world power, India should focus on using its technological strengths to further its strategic interests. This would benefit both the Indian and society in the long run.

Arjun Gargeyas is a research analyst at the Takshashila Institution. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the endorsement of this publication.

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