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In a speech on 25 December to the 2012 and 2013 batches of our Foreign Service, the National Security Advisor (NSA), Shri Shivshankar Menon remarked: 'Life would be far too easy if we only had to deal with ourselves'. He added:

“After a little over two decades of globalisation and an open international economic order from which India benefited considerably, the external environment and international order are now less and less responsive to India's needs. A fundamental reordering of the international system is underway with the rise of China and other emerging countries, the attempt to form the TPP and TIPP, the emergence of the G-20, changes in military technologies and their applications, the creation of new domains of contention in cyberspace, the globalisation of terrorism, and several other fundamental changes. The big question for us is where India positions itself in this change. Do we use the opportunities that these changes throw up, which requires us to change ourselves and to change our traditional ways of doing things and interacting with the world?  Or do we revert to autarchy?”


The last question posed by the NSA was, surely, rhetorical if for no other reason than the world will not leave us alone even if we wished to be left alone.  A ‘reversion to autarchy’ will not be ‘allowed’ by the world even if such a reversion to an autarchic economic order of the 1960s and 1970s were a feasible option– which, of course, it is not.


‘Non-alignment’ was a flexi-doctrine of foreign policy to provide the time and space to practice minimum global engagement in order to secure maximum room for autonomous judgement and domestic action.  In that room was enabled the pursuit of an ideology of self-sufficiency in food. That ideology guided the practice of adapting with domestic scientific acumen international science-based agricultural practice for the ushering of the Green Revolution. The import at almost no cost of the needed dwarf varieties of wheat through international engagement was enabled by the foreign policy of the time.


Further room-for-manoeuvre in our international engagements and foreign policy opened when India mid-wifed Bangladesh, and large public investments were made domestically in the ‘bridgehead’ technologies of Atomic Energy and Space, and in the domestic production of defence equipment.  The guiding motto for our international engagements in these technologies was to engage in only those ways as have promise of advancing our domestic technological capabilities and enhancing self-reliance – that is, making us less vulnerable in the industrial sphere to the kind of arm-twisting we had experienced on the food front.


The above phase culminated in the 1974 nuclear test; followed by the launch from and by (the then) Soviet Union of the Indian-built satellite Aryabhata;  and by the design, development and launch of our own satellite launch vehicle, SLV3.  Both of these forays into Space had international connections and post-launch support from such countries as Mauritius and Australia, connections which were formed and informed by our foreign policy of the time.


Pokhran-II and after

A great deal has been written on our nuclear tests of 1998, and the varieties of consequences of those tests on our international engagements -- political, economic and technological.  Suffice it to recognise here that the net effect of the regimes of technology denial that were brought to bear on India’s trade in state-controlled technologies did not stop domestic technological development in critical technologies, even as some planned activities were delayed.  From the perspective of foreign policy, Pokhran-II marked the shift from an ideology of “minimum international engagement to secure maximum autonomy” to one of “calibrated international engagement to gain maximum benefit”, leading to a:


“Re-positioning of India in regional and world affairs” …

…. the expression used by the Prime Minister as India’s foreign policy vision while enunciating a New Millennium perspective.during his visit to the United States in September, 2000.


Such repositioning is possible only if a significant part of India’s S&T and military capabilities are endogenously grown and shaped to be globally deployable as instruments for, inter alia:  Enabling and securing unhinderable access to hydrocarbon sources, including possibly from the Arctic; influencing and shaping the outcomes from the praxis and discourse on the roles, functions and futures of nuclear weapons; ensuring that Space is always available to India for unhindered use, including for military support and intelligence gathering; protecting our cyber infrastructure by expanding and, in extremis, deploying our as-yet nascent capabilities to conduct offensive cyber warfare.


A morphological distinction

In order to wield with agility the available instruments of foreign policy, and to design new ones at the confluence of science & technology, foreign policy and national security, a necessary distinction needs to be drawn between international collaborations in scientific and technological fields – of the kinds we have with dozens of countries extensively listed, for example, in the Annual Report of the Department of Science and Technology -- and S&T-in-Foreign Policy.


The categorization of S&T-in-Foreign Policy is apposite when the findings of science, or the potential use of technology, may have ramifications for international relations beyond the ‘S’ or ‘T’ themselves, the pursuit of the ‘S’ or the use/denial-of-use of the ‘T’ influence, and are influenced  by, Foreign Policy -- ours and that of other nations, or group[s of nations, with whom we engage.


Science and Diplomacy

A primary instrument of our foreign policy being diplomacy, the practice of the latter in respect of S&T has two facets: The first is Science diplomacy:  When a quid pro quo is negotiated for India in return for India’s participation as a state using her scientific or other advantages. For examples: The locational advantage of Thumba in Kerala being near the ,magnetic equator  enabled the UN-sponsored Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS) to be located there; the epidemiological patterns in the country enabled extensive WHO-sponsored vaccine trials to be conducted in the country, the results being readily usable; in negotiated return for otherwise expensive machine-time, a substantial contribution in kind was negotiated of supply of sub-systems for the multi-nation Large Hadron Collider at CERN, near Geneva.


The second facet is Science-in-diplomacy:  When a science, e.g. Ozone-CFC chemistry, underpins an international diplomatic negotiation -- the Montreal Protocol.  In this case the Indian contribution was, in fact, to the science itself – traceable to the pioneering work dating to the late forties of Ramanathan and Kulkarni, subsequently at the Physical Research Laboratory in Ahmedabad -- on Ozone transport in the atmosphere.


Collaborating in “High Technology”

As India increases her “scientific size”, more entities from more countries of similar “sizes” – old European, such as France, and new emergers -- such as Brazil and South Africa -- will seek to collaborate with India’s State and non-State institutions.


As India’s technological capabilities rise “higher” -- in part through such collaborations themselves (i.e. bootstrapping) – increasing proportions of the implications of these collaborations will lie at the confluence of S&T, National Security and Foreign Policy.


Negotiating these collaborations and international engagements so as to secure the best advantages on all three counts: S&T, National Security and Foreign Policy, will call for a much greater understanding on the part of our S&T leadership of foreign policy issues of the kind outlined in the foregoing. And new institutional arrangements that will need to inform our diplomacy of the opportunities that our science and technology can provide to advance our foreign policy.


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.