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Defence & Data: Expectations From The President Trump Visit To India

American President Donald J. Trump will be in India on February 24-25, staking his vision for Indo -- Pacific and his stamp on the trade & investment with India. Defence cooperation will be the center of activity during the meeting with PM Narenda Modi. In fact, Defence & Security have been the major milestones of Indo -- US bilateral relations with Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-Spatial Cooperation (BECA) being the fourth and final foundational pact with the US in the making. But there are impediments galore for the greater flow of trade and investment. BW Busienssworld’s Manish Kumar Jha speaks with Dhruva Jaishankar, Director of the U.S. Initiative at the Observer Research Foundation on such issues.

Photo Credit : Rakesh Raman


Defence cooperation is the theme. Is it about the pressure on procuring military equipment from US or the definitive era of strategic security partnership with India? What do you think and how?

Defence cooperation - including defence technological cooperation - is a major element of the growing India-U.S. partnership. I would hesitate to characterise it as "pressure" since India continues to acquire defence equipment from a variety of countries, and has often passed up U.S. platforms in favour of others. 

The question is moving beyond a simple buyer-seller relationship to one that sees joint manufacturing and joint research and development. To some degree, this is already happening. For example, India already produces components for U.S. military helicopters, transport aircraft, and F-16s (even though India does not even fly F-16s). 

While U.S. President Donald Trump will be looking to conclude a defence sale that he can project as creating jobs in the United States, India will be looking to fill certain major gaps in its own defence profile and move further towards defence co-production. There are some successful cases to build upon, including the P-8i maritime reconnaissance aircraft (which gives India further reach in the Indian Ocean) and C-130J aircraft (capable of high-altitude landing in difficult terrain). 

What are the expectations on the issues of data localization for the American companies in India?

Data localization will be a source of considerable difference between India and the United States for some time. India is looking to level the playing field for Indian companies against both tech giants in the U.S. and Chinese state-backed competitors. U.S. firms naturally want to preserve their advantages in terms of cloud computing and other lucrative functions associated with remote servers. These U.S. companies argue that by creating barriers, India is only increasing costs for small entrepreneurs and start-ups in India. 

Certain Indian companies warn that the status quo will ensure that revenue will disproportionately accrue to Silicon Valley. The cause of U.S. companies has been taken up by the U.S. government, although it may take some time before any reasonable compromise can be reached.

GOI is bullish on security aspect- information- that can be accessed to mitigate such future cyber crisis in India. How do you look at such argument for the security per se?

The India-U.S. conversation on cyber security and other emerging technologies has moved very quickly and very positively, to the point that a lot of it is now in the classified realm, meaning that officials in both countries can no longer discuss the details. Part of it is still about hardening Indian systems from vulnerabilities, both internal and external, although that responsibility falls to Indian authorities, and concerns will always linger about U.S. penetration. 

A lot more, however, can be done by India to adopt best practices from the U.S. and others. 

GOI also talks about the commercial aspect of data bank. Could you explain the monetization of data and the impact of such policy implications on industries from both sides?

This ties in to the data localization question. The essential philosophical question confronting India is who has primary ownership of individuals' data? Is it the individual, corporations, or the state? At a basic level, Europe has put in place laws that favour the individual, the U.S. system benefits corporations, while China gives ultimate priority to the state. Questions of privacy, competitiveness, and governance are at stake. The trick is for India to adopt the best aspects of each model, but the concern is that it could end up adopting some of the worst practices of all three. 

A lot of innovative work is going on in India to try to address these challenges, with very real implications. For example, it may be possible that India will develop a cost-effective way of managing medical patient data - while preserving patients' privacy - thereby cutting the costs of healthcare relative to the United States.  If India were to blindly adopt the U.S. model, medical costs would become prohibitively expensive for the majority of Indian citizens.