The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) on 5 May 2017 successfully launched the communication and broadcasting spacecraft - South Asia Satellite – from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh.
The project involves six countries of the region - Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Srilanka and the Maldives – and is an outcome of India’s intention to leverage its supremacy in the ‘Space Sector’ for deepening external relations.
Against this backdrop, it is pertinent to assess India’s presence in science and technology fields at the global level and the benefits to India from these initiatives.
Instances of India’s presence in science and technology fields at the global level
• Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) Programme: It was instituted by a decision of the Union Cabinet on 15 September 1964 as a bilateral programme of assistance in various fields like tele-education and tele-medicine.
• The program, which has the aim to touch 161 developing and underdeveloped countries in Asia, Africa, East Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean as well as the Pacific and Small Island countries, has generated immense goodwill for India.
• Science and Technology Partnerships: India has entered into partnerships with many developed and developing countries in the fields of science and technology. Some of the partnerships in defense technologies are aimed at reconfiguring the buyer - seller relationship with joint research, design, development, production and marketing. The joint production of BrahMos Missile Systems with Russia and BARAK Missile with Israel best illustrates this development.
• India’s membership in ITER: The ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) is an experimental fusion reactor being constructed presently at Cadarache, in the South of France. The project is considered as a step towards future production of electricity from fusion energy. ITER-India is the Indian Domestic Agency (DA), formed with the responsibility to provide to ITER the Indian contribution.
• India will be contributing, like other partners, except the host EU, about 9.1% of the ITER construction cost (EU pays about 45%). Most of this will be in the form of components made by the Indian industry and delivered to ITER.
• Role in conventional sciences: Apart from the new age and emerging technologies, Indians are also playing a big role in the conventional sciences like chemistry. For instance, Drs Susant Lahiri and Moumita Maiti from the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics (SINP) joined the other international collaborators in producing Ununseptium, which was recently added to the periodic table as the 117th element.
How these initiatives benefit India?
• The potent mixture of diplomacy and leadership status in cutting edge technologies has been helping India in the following ways.
• Membership in multilateral institutions: Achievements of Indian institutions have played a big role in India’s membership in premier technology-driven policy institutions. For instance, in June 2016, India became the 35th full time member of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). The entry also marks India's first entry into any multilateral export control regime.
• For India, this membership couldn’t have become possible without the proven missile technology advancements. And, this membership helps India in selling arms to other countries without attracting any sanctions from the USA.
• Further, India’s aspirations to join other influential institutions such as Nuclear Supplies Group (NSG), Wassenar Arrangement and Australia Group is based on India’s expertise in nuclear and related sensitive technologies.
• Trade Relations: Modern day global trade is largely technology driven. India’s IT & ITES exports in FY 2015-16 stood at Rs 5,763 billion. The huge volume of these exports to developed nations helps India in adding strategic depth to bilateral relations, which in turn helps the policy makers in clinching agreements on sensitive issues.
• Leadership in state-of-the art technologies helps the country in giving greater depth to foreign trade. Enhanced services exports, including the launch of satellites of other countries, in recent years gave a boost to India’s export earnings. More exports means more employment opportunities, which in turn will enhance the quality of life.
• Growing India’s Prestige: The international polity revolves around the simple principle – Power Only Respects Power. India’s popularity among the Community of Nations in recent years is largely due to India’s achievements in various fields of science and technology – space, nuclear, information and communication, material science, nanotechnology, biotechnology, etc. This popularity has been converted by our policy makers into key bilateral and multilateral partnership agreements.
• For instance, the USA has selected India for the Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) Mission, Spaceward Bound Programme on the basis of India’s achievements in the space sector. Similarly, Russia agreed to partner with India on the development of 5th generation fighter plane, which is something remarkable for India.
• Technology Transfer: India’s proven track record in niche fields helps in the transfer of technology from other countries. For instance, the recently proposed Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO-India) project aims to move one Advanced LIGO detector from Hanford, the USA to India. This technology transfer has become a reality because of India’s expertise in ‘Graviational Waves’ detection and helps in strengthening science and technology-related infrastructure in the country.
• Strengthening Strategic Relations: India’s ability to develop cost-effective technologies will help in strengthening strategic bilateral and multilateral ties. For instance, the recent launch of ‘South Asia Satellite’ and various other satellites of developing countries will definitely help India in engaging them in a pro-active manner, especially in times of crisis.
Joseph Nye Jr in the book entitled Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics rightly observes that the soft power of a country lies in its ability to attract and persuade other countries from the attractiveness of a country’s achievements in various fields in the field of science and technology. India’s ability to leverage the achievements in various fields of science and technology to nurture its soft power, and in some instances its hard power, is a sign of India’s growing prestige across the world.
China’s reluctance to interfere in the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan recently is an outcome of India’s calibrated strategy to mix regional diplomacy with its leadership role in science and technology.