Washington D.C. When India’s National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval meets with his counterpart Jake Sullivan for the first high-level dialogue of the Initiative on Critical & Emerging Technologies (ICET) on Tuesday, they may have finally found the answer to a question that has puzzled observers of the Indo-US relationship since the 2008 nuclear deal: What’s the “next big thing” in the relationship?
ICET is arguably that “next big thing,” representing political, strategic, commercial, and scientific alignment between the two countries. It is the result of a top-level political understanding, facilitated by the national security councils of both nations. This initiative could potentially lead to the lifting of existing export control restrictions by the US.
Most importantly, it shows a commitment from both governments, particularly the White House, that the US and India are “trusted partners,” willing to invest in creating a trusted ecosystem for technologies that will shape the future. While both sides have remained tight-lipped about the mechanism for implementing ICET decisions, it is a step in the right direction for strengthening technological ties between the two democracies.
ICET is the product of a political understanding reached between Prime Minister Modi and President Biden in Tokyo in May 2022. Three features of the initiative are noteworthy:
- The process is driven by the highest political leadership of both countries.
- The mechanism is run directly from the White House and the Prime Minister’s Office, with Sullivan and Modi’s advisor, Donal, at the forefront.
- The convergence is happening between the national security establishments, at a time when high technology is the big frontier of competition with China.
The Indian team will comprise of the Principal Scientific Adviser, Telecom Secretary, Adviser to the Defense Minister, Space Secretary, Head of Indian Semiconductor Mission, and a representative from DRDO, with the NSA leading the team. The US team will include Sullivan, representatives from counterpart agencies, the Commerce Secretary, the NSC Indo-Pacific czar, the Senior Director for NS & technology (Tarun Chhabra), and the Deputy Envoy for Emerging Technologies (Seth).
ICET is significant because India and the US are talking about a substantive scientific, commercial, and defense relationship. It broadens the ownership of the relationship in both countries and recognizes the strategic challenge posed by China. It also sends a message to adversaries, the internal system, the private sector, and citizens. What is decided and how it is implemented will be key moving forward.
The big story here is that Washington and Delhi are taking the next step in their relationship. This will change the future for both nations.