Technology partnerships like the U.S.-India INDUS-X “are going to be critical to the U.S. being able to defend and deter rising threats in the future, including the challenge of China,” says USIP’s Sameer Lalwani. “We need the strength of our allies in these coalitions” to maintain a technological advantage.

U.S. Institute of Peace experts discuss the latest foreign policy issues from around the world in On Peace, a brief weekly collaboration with SiriusXM's POTUS Channel 124.


Alice Stewart: We're going to turn our attention on a more international level and certainly what is going on internationally with war fighting and unfortunately this is an issue that is top of mind and making headlines more and more. And with this I'm happy to be joined with Sameer Lalwani. He is a senior expert on South Asia at the U.S. Institute of Peace, and also a non-resident senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. And you can follow him on X, @splalwani. Sameer, thanks so much for joining me.

Sameer Lalwani: Thanks for having me on.

Alice Stewart: And this is so fascinating because a lot of what we're talking about is going on behind the scenes right now. And we will see this in full gear down the road. But I want to ask you about INDUS-X, and that is the India-U.S. defense acceleration ecosystem. And it's a new technology initiative that was launched last year in Washington and had a new summit in New Delhi. Explain what this is, and the purpose in terms of public and private sector collaboration for war fighting.

Sameer Lalwani: Yeah, so it is an effort that was launched by the U.S. and Indian governments to essentially build private sector links between technology firms in the United States and India. So, vertical links between startups that are the hubs of innovation and major defense companies. And then horizontal links across the two countries, to build new technologies and get them to the warfighter faster. So, INDUS-X is one of many technology coalition's, you've heard of AUKUS, probably the Australia-UK-U.S. effort, which is mostly about submarines, but also has a back end of focusing on technology development. So, INDUS-X is one of those.

Alice Stewart: And obviously, the need for this type of initiative and technology and technological brainstorming is critical for peace. And the goal is U.S. defense strategy to build peace through strength. Explain that aspect.

Sameer Lalwani: That's right. So technological advantages are going to be critical to the U.S. being able to defend and deter rising threats in the future, including the challenge of China. And technology has been the advantages the United States had during the Cold War. It's their advantage today. But today, we need to do this in partnership with our allies and partners. It's hard to go up against a country of 1.4 billion people, with hundreds of thousands of engineers, and go it alone. So, we need the strength of our allies and this coalition. And India happens to be a major innovation power, with hundreds of thousands of engineers, the fourth country to land a spacecraft on the moon. So, it's very capable. And it's an ideal partner, to be able to build these technologies to operate together, to build new emerging technologies and artificial intelligence and autonomy, to displace the influence that Russia and China have around the world in terms of like drone sales and other sensor technology. So, there are a lot of ways in which this relationship is being built to counter Chinese aggression and influence.

Alice Stewart: And you mentioned China, and this is something that is always top of mind when we're talking about competition, whether it's economically but technologically. How is it that India can work with us to defend and deter Chinese military aggression? How is this possible?

Sameer Lalwani: Right, so yeah, India is not an ally, which is an important feature of this, and it is distinct from our relationships with Australia or Japan or the UK. But we do have common cause because the U.S. has been trying to defend against Chinese military aggression in the South China Sea and Taiwan Straits, India is doing it on its borders with China. It fought a war with China in the 1960s. It's had skirmishes over the last 10 years, including a major one in 2020. So, there are 50,000 Indian and Chinese troops on both sides of the borders facing off against each other today. And so, India is also seeking partnership and coalitional support for its efforts to defend against China. And similarly, India can play a major role for example, in the Indian Ocean in patrolling and keeping safe those sea lines of communication. Both in crises but also in peacetime when we have 80% of seaborne trade transiting through the Indian Ocean.

Alice Stewart: Well, and you mentioned an important point, India not being an ally. But there's common cause here. What do you see as a potential, Sameer, for us to work alongside together in a crisis situation? Is that ever possible?

Sameer Lalwani: Yeah so, we actually in a way, we are working alongside each other right now. For example, while the U.S. is leading Operation Prosperity Guardian, in defending against missile and drone attacks in the Red Sea, India has stepped up its counter piracy missions in the Arabian Sea. So, we're sort of complementing each other in these two types of missions that need to happen to keep the maritime domain safe and protected for free transit and trade. But in the future, I think the hope is that we do more than just work alongside each other that we operate together. Which means potentially both doing the same mission, or sharing real time intelligence, and targeting information so that we can go after, you know, violent non-state actors that are trying to threaten those sea lines or state actors that have sort of nefarious intentions, like illegal fishing vessels or maritime militias.

Alice Stewart: And how is this working with someone like India? Is it obviously the technological advantages are significant? But economically, is it more cost efficient to operate this way, using the shared intellectual property of a nation like India?

Sameer Lalwani: Definitely, when I talk to even U.S. companies that are running engineering backends in India, they'll say the cost of engineering and innovation, in India is a fourth of the cost of in the United States. So, especially when we were facing financial challenges to compete with a major power like China an economic powerhouse like China, we need to get advantages wherever we can. And part of that is leveraging the lower cost of not just production, but innovation that India brings into the fold.

Alice Stewart: And I want to ask you this in the results, you know, in February, you hit a major milestone in awarding winners of two big prizes. So, we are seeing some progress on that. But what about the challenges here and the relationship and potentially how this could impact Russia's war on Ukraine, for example?

Sameer Lalwani: Sure, yeah. So, I mean, we've had some big steps forward. But you're right. Over the last two years, there has been this tension with India over our different positions on Russia. India has been a longtime partner of Russia for over 60 years. So, that's a challenge. But I think it's one that we've managed over the last couple of years, we've managed to agree to disagree, and then find other ways in which we can cooperate particularly on China. That's our common ground there. But there are other instances when our challenges are going to get more difficult. And there's an alleged link currently between the Indian government and a foiled assassination operation that took place on U.S. soil against a U.S. citizen. And so, India has actually set up a high-level Committee of Inquiry to investigate it. And if it leads to some public accountability, this will address the problem. And the U.S.-India relationship can move forward. But if it's not, then that is a very serious challenge much more than I'd say the Russia issue.

Alice Stewart: My guest, Sameer Lalwani, senior expert on South Asia, at the U.S. Institute of Peace. Sameer, just last question here, as you mentioned, you know, we're not talking about an ally here. India is not an ally but working together with common interests. How important is that? There's so much volatility across the globe. But how important is it to find common interests and work together with someone who might not be an ally, but you have the same end game?

Sameer Lalwani: In some ways, it can be an advantage, right? So, when we have our allies go and try to convince the Global South that this is important to defend the rules-based order. The Global South says, yeah, yeah, this is good for you guys. But what about us like this order has not necessarily benefited us. When a country that represents the Global South speaks in defense of the global order, and the rules-based order, that carries much more currency with countries like Indonesia and South Africa, and Brazil and Vietnam. And those are all critical players in swing states, in the future global order. So, having a country like India, that's not an ally, but a character witness to the rules-based order. It's really valuable to this effort of the United States not only to lead the global order, but to defend against challenges that are ordered by a revisionist power like China.

Alice Stewart: So fascinating. It's great to hear what's going on behind the scenes Sameer Lalwani, senior expert on South Asia at the U.S. Institute of Peace. Sameer, thank you so much.

Sameer Lalwani: Thanks so much for having me.

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