Ajit Doval’s ICET Advocacy Is Ominously Opaque

Ajit Doval’s ICET Advocacy Is Ominously Opaque

But it is all a mirage. There is no question of the US transferring its latest technology to India for manufacturing cutting-edge military equipment

SNM AbdiUpdated: Monday, June 24, 2024, 11:02 PM IST
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Ajit Doval | File Photo

The faith National Security Advisor Ajit Doval reposed in Washington, at the recent India-US Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology (ICET) roundtable hosted by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) in New Delhi and graced by his American counterpart Jake Sullivan, is intriguing, to say the least.

Brimming with optimism and high hopes at the key event, Doval — who has just been reappointed NSA for a third straight term — said that “India and the US must remain at the forefront of developing critical technologies as part of a larger strategic interest”. Citing India-US cooperation in artificial intelligence, semiconductor, critical minerals, advanced telecommunication and defense areas, he even said that collaboration between the US and India is vital for “defending our value systems”.

According to a CII statement published prominently in various newspapers, Doval went to the extent of saying that ICET, launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Joe Biden in May 2022 to kick start collaboration in technologies, “has achieved more than we could imagine”.

But the Joint Fact Sheet released by New Delhi and US tells a very different story. It simply lists a number of defense innovations, semiconductors, bio-tech, space technology and telecommunications projects supposedly in the pipeline without providing any substantive details whatsoever or timelines, raising serious doubts about Washington’s sincerity. Among Modi’s men, Doval stands taller than most others and deservedly so. I am therefore confounded by his public endorsement of ICET last week, especially because his name carries so much weight in the country and abroad. His support for what is essentially an American project capitalising on India’s gullibility is very disappointing. I would go so far as to say that ICET’s purpose is to pull the wool over 1.4 billion pairs of eyes.

The second meeting of ICET took place behind closed doors on June 18, accompanied by the CII roundtable where Doval uncharacteristically lavished praise on ICET. After Modi and Biden launched ICET during the Quad Summit in Tokyo in May 2022, its first meeting was held in January 2023 in Washington. At the inaugural ICET meeting itself, India and America identified defence, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, high-performance computing, co-production of jet engines, semiconductor supply chains, space (human spaceflight and commercial space launches) and telecommunication technologies, including 6G, as key areas of cooperation. To titillate Indians, a White House statement even claimed that the ICET-spawned new ecosystem would “reinforce democratic values and democratic institutions” in both nations!

Although ICET’s scope is wide-ranging, an impression was deliberately created that it would clear the decks for the long-awaited transfer of US military technology for joint development and production of arms in India. ICET was therefore projected as a game changer in the field of defence. Our hopes soared as US promised speedy evaluation of General Electric’s application to produce jet engines in India for the India-manufactured Light Combat Aircraft. At one level, it appeared that the US wanted to wean India off Russian military equipment by finally providing New Delhi advanced defence technologies that India has been getting from Moscow. Others surmised that the aim of the defence technology partnership was to fortify India against China in sync with the overarching US goal of containing its powerful rival at any cost.

But it is all a mirage. There is no question of the US transferring its latest technology to India for manufacturing cutting-edge military equipment — a fantasy and a pipedream that New Delhi has lived with for years. Our hopes can soar but they will eventually fall with a loud thud.

That ICET wouldn’t ever give India anything worthwhile is evident from Washington’s decision to provide Australia — and not India — nuclear submarine technology to arm Canberra against Beijing, whereas India and not Australia is at the receiving end of Beijing’s military aggression. Moreover, we have failed the loyalty test by openly defying the US and aligning with Russia after the Ukraine War broke out. In such a scenario, there is no possibility whatsoever of ICET somehow delivering US goodies that India has been drooling over for as long as anyone can remember but can’t lay its hands on. The trust deficit was and remains unbridgeable.

Realists know since May 2022 that ICET will turn out to be another Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) which New Delhi and Washington had signed with great fanfare in 2012 for manufacturing US military equipment in India but was eventually junked because it did not deliver anything at all. DTTI was such a super flop that any reference to it while signing ICET was carefully skirted. Each and every DTTI initiative was eventually abandoned. DTTI was ultimately buried without even a funeral service.

Former Admiral Arun Prakash doesn’t mince his words. According to him, ICET is a mirage and a delusion because India’s and US’s objectives badly differ. While India is interested in the transfer of military technology, the US priority is trade -- amply proven by $22 billion worth of military hardware purchased by India via the foreign military sales programme since 2002. Prakash rightly believes that the present challenge before New Delhi is to “leverage its considerable purchases in the arms, energy, civil aviation, nuclear and other sectors in a holistic manner to extract technology from the US that India is in dire need of”. Another nationalist, Bharat Karnad, calls ICET a stillborn initiative.

Then why is Doval risking his formidable reputation as a hard-boiled realist extolling ICET and singing paeans in praise of such a fraudulent US imposition on India? Why on earth is the NSA behaving so uncharacteristically?

The author is an independent, Pegasused reporter and commentator on foreign policy and domestic politics

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