New Frontiers in U.S.-India Security Collaboration

By Bidisha Biswas and Jessica Seddon 

With the Joe Biden administration in place, the United States has the opportunity to explore new possibilities in its relationship with India. Given the Biden team’s long-standing experience in, and commitment to, U.S.-India relations, it is the right time to craft a more balanced approach to security collaboration. Tackling complex, interdependent challenges such as climate change, cybersecurity, information technology, and health security requires a new collaboration infrastructure to complement traditional diplomacy. This can be achieved by facilitating partnerships between subnational governments, the private sector, and universities to advance joint innovation in technology, environment, and health solutions that meets both countries’ security needs.
A Broad-Spectrum View of Security 
The new administration’s stance on security, which includes considerations of health, energy, climate, and technology, will require more adaptive, agile partnerships to implement. We need to convene and connect alliances that are able to identify, build consensus around, and enact new patterns in production, consumption, trade, infrastructure development, and science and technology innovation. Such relationships will go beyond traditional Track I diplomacy and toward more networked and multilayer dialogues, consensus building, and information sharing. This is particularly the case in areas that call for scientific collaboration in pooling data, analytical capacities, and creative perspectives to better map and anticipate risks. The Biden administration should enable and empower networks of experts who can help translate high-level shared interests into specific focus areas and implementable solutions.
Green Energy. Both countries face the imperative of rapid action to address climate change and considerable domestic bottlenecks in transitioning to lower-emission energy. But partnerships at the subnational level can help achieve this agenda. The division of responsibility in both systems allows for state-level regulatory innovation and experimentation of incentives to encourage renewable power generation and the adoption of more efficient technologies for mobility and heating. Deepening and formalizing support for subnational partnerships can motivate coalitions of the eager, testing approaches and offering examples for others. 

Health. India has demonstrated vaccine manufacturing and distribution prowess almost unparalleled in the developing world. Its roll out of Covid-19 vaccines and impressive mass immunization expertise can be used as leverage to enhance its global status, something India has long sought. At the same time, India confronts concerns about quality control and intellectual property rights bottlenecks. As both countries address the post-pandemic world order, cross-cutting public and private partnerships in global health projects that encompass the full value chain from discovery to manufacturing can be very powerful.

Climate. India and the United States face disruptive climate risks, ranging from extreme heat, intense storms, and weather events to longer-running droughts, floods, and disruption in rainfall patterns. Mitigating these risks requires global action, but anticipating, and thus better managing, them can be accomplished by deepening scientific collaboration on earth observation and analysis. This might include design and deployment of new instruments along the lines of the collaboration between NASA and the Indian Space Research Organisation on NISAR, a new satellite designed to track changes in land and ice that indicate ecosystem disturbances. The current level of scientific expertise and active collaboration among research institutes in the two countries also positions the United States and India to lead in the development of standards and infrastructure for international programs, such as the Argo system for tracking ocean temperature and features. Such “intelligence” will be critical for managing environmental risks.

Centers of Innovation and Research. Both countries are long-standing centers of scientific excellence, with histories of initiative to harness science for national development. Pooling this talent and combining perspectives to solve emerging joint challenges in next-generation infrastructure could be a productive area for collaboration. The Tata Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology represents one such high-leverage partnership between a leading Indian philanthropy and a U.S. university. The Biden administration should consider advocating for more cross-cutting research partnerships and supporting their formation to harness the intellectual capacities of both countries with the goal of fostering creative, autonomous, and entrepreneurial solutions.
Diaspora. The large Indian diaspora in the United States is an important, in-built resource. The U.S. government should actively reach out to Indian American leaders and organizations in order to build the partnerships noted above. 

The Risks 

Both countries face significant domestic challenges, including deep and polarizing societal divisions, incidences of mob violence, and resistance to economic reforms. Building sustainable, international, epistemic communities with formal diplomatic standing requires a commitment to fact-based research, data transparency, and open debate. There should also be room to make honest mistakes. Decentering diplomacy to support new actors building new relationships is essential for innovation but also opens room for failures that should not be taken as representative of the whole. However, in both countries, underlying democratic deficits have created climates of mistrust, which can lead the misrepresentation of new initiatives. The diplomatic challenge here will be to continue to advocate for forums that incorporate a diversity of opinions, without either government necessarily owning every single of the decisions and platforms that come out of these efforts.  
Bidisha Biswas is professor of political science at the Western Washington University. She previously served in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Her twitter handle is @Bee_the_Wonk.
Jessica Seddon
Adjunct Fellow (Non-resident), Wadhwani Chair in U.S.-India Policy Studies