[op-ed snap] Raja Mandala: Time for Techplomacy

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Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional & global groupings & agreements involving India &/or affecting India’s interests

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: International Telecommunication Union

Mains level: The trend of techplomacy and changes required in India’s foreign policy


Context

Technology usage in diplomacy

  1. As a far more sweeping technological revolution envelops the world today, governments are finding new ways to adapt
  2. Whether it is in using social media to influence public opinion at home and abroad, conducting espionage on other states, securing one’s critical infrastructure against foreign interference, setting terms for cross-border data flows, governing the internet, countering terrorism, or preventing the militarization of Artificial Intelligence, all major governments are reorganising their diplomatic mechanisms
  3. To enhance the effectiveness of its voice in the new domain, France appointed a full time “digital ambassador” in 2017
  4. Denmark has set up offices of “TechPlomacy” in Silicon Valley, Copenhagen and Beijing
  5. A major part of their mandate is to deal with technology giants like Google, Facebook and Alibaba and Huawei
  6. India too needs to review and reorganise its technology diplomacy

History of technology usage in foreign policy

  1. The slow pace of long-distance communication until the 19th century meant that ambassadors acted on their own
  2. Because they had no way to get frequent instructions from the sovereign, they were conferred with the title “ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary” and given the full authority to negotiate with the sovereigns to whom they were accredited
  3. The communications revolution ended the age of the aristocrat diplomat and turned the envoy and his staff into professional bureaucracies run from the governments at home
  4. Beyond the process of diplomacy, the envoys had to deal with the substantive impact of new communications technologies on international affairs
  5. In finding ways to facilitate wireless communication across territorial borders, major nations negotiated the establishment of the International Telegraph Union in 1865 that would later become the International Telecommunication Union
  6. The ITU is one of the oldest international organisations

Changing roles 

  1. As the impact of science and technology on the world expanded, diplomats had to go beyond their traditional focus on negotiating peace pacts and territorial settlements
  2. Over the last century, the diplomatic mandate on science and technology has ranged from chemical weapons to climate change and naval arms limitation to nuclear proliferation

India’s journey in technological adoption

  1. Due to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s deep commitment to the creation of national technical capabilities through international cooperation, technology diplomacy became an important priority for independent India’s foreign policy
  2. But Delhi’s so-called “peaceful nuclear explosion” in 1974 resulted in an expanding regime of technology sanctions against India
  3. As Delhi reconnected to the world and embarked on a high growth path in the 1990s, options opened up for ending the international technology blockade against India
  4. In two decades of productive diplomacy, built around the historic civil nuclear initiative with the US, Delhi has largely completed India’s integration with the international non-proliferation regime
  5. From being a major target of technology sanctions, it is now part of the community that sets the rules for international transfers of sensitive technologies

Way forward

  1. The nuclear problem that Delhi had to address through the second half of the 20th century might pale into insignificance with the kind of challenges that the new technological revolution presents
  2. The nuclear revolution affected only a small fraction of India’s economy and security
  3. The current technological transformations, especially in the digital and genetic domains, will have far-reaching consequences for India’s economy, society, politics and international relations
  4. The challenges and opportunities presented by the unfolding technological revolution are too important to be left to individual departments and ministries
  5. What India needs is a “whole-of-government” approach to technology diplomacy led by the Prime Minister’s Office
Promoting Science and Technology – Missions,Policies & Schemes
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