Month: November 2018

In pursuit of autonomy: AI and national strategies

Samir Saran| Nikhila Natarajan| Madhulika Srikumar

Industry leaders and politicians the world over are scrambling to lead the development and use of artificial intelligence (AI) for the power and value it accrues. However, AI promises to implicate more than just politics and economics. It poses fundamental questions on how societies and communities will be organised in the future–capable of radically transforming workforce and work-life as we know it.

While some countries are beginning to explore the competitive advantage across the full spectrum of AI deployment; others are studying the potential benefits that this predictive technology can offer. Even as governments may be unaware of what the full connotation of AI might be, they are determined to drive the debate and deployment around this new suite of technology and life. If governments are unable to foresee changes in the jobs landscape that the technology will bring about — and fail to deliver on its responsibility of providing opportunities for its people, especially the youth — they will have to bear the political backlash.

In the last 24 months alone, more than a dozen countries have devised national strategies on AI; many of these tomes run into several hundred pages. This publication examines 12 of these national strategies: the US, UK, EU, Germany, South Korea, Singapore, India, France, China, Canada, UAE and Japan.

To read the full brief, click here.

Exclusive Interview: For a multipolar Eurasia, Russia must cooperate with India

Original Interview with RT can be found here

India is buying Russia’s S-400 air defence system, and only recently the USA sanctioned China for it. What can India expect now?

Given President Trump’s rather vague response on the question of exemptions for India, it is clear that the foreign policy establishment in Washington is still uncertain on how to proceed.

Having said that, India is both an attractive market for American arms dealers, and is the lynchpin of America’s ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ strategy. Both weapons manufacturers and the strategic community in Washington will probably weigh in favour of India.

Whatever the near term consequences for India, therefore, Washington will be compelled to accommodate India’s interests in the long term.  

What are the military reasons for India to want to buy the S-400 from Russia at all?

The S-400 is a sophisticated anti-access/area denial missile system—a platform that no other country is likely to provide India, not even Washington. It will act as a crucial force multiplier in India’s border areas.   

In addition to signing the S-400 agreement, economic and energy policy decisions were also taken. What was discussed in detail and what was agreed?

For me, the important takeaway was Russia’s offer to allow India to participate in energy and trade projects in the Arctic. This is an emerging, if often ignored, theatre of geopolitics. There will be a race to exploit the regions commercial opportunity and to define its governance architecture. It remains to be seen what India’s response to this will be. I hope the mandarins in New Delhi see the strategic importance of being a stakeholder in this geography.

What are the geopolitical considerations of the USA be if they were to make an exception in the case of India with waiver? After all, India is one of the most important geopolitical players in the Sino-Pacific region alongside China and Russia.

In the long term, India is an invaluable partner for Washington. Indeed by mid-century, India will emerge as one of the world’s largest economies—a process that will foster a gradual and organic rise in its strategic capabilities.

Two expectations will underpin Washington’s’ choices going forward. First, that investing in India’s defense industry will help Delhi balance China’s rise in the Indo-Pacific. And second, that India will eventually be able to anchor democratic norms and free trade in Asia by its own desires and design.    

Some analysts claim that Russia is gradually beginning to change its position on the Kashmir issue because of growing cooperation with Pakistan. To what extent is this true and is there a realistic chance that India will politically prefer Russia to the US in the future?

Russia is not changing its position on Kashmir—Moscow’s courtship of Pakistan is based on two realities. First, that Pakistan will remain an interlocutor in Afghanistan, and will be important to Russia’s ambitions in Central Asia. Second, geopolitical equations in the region are changing rapidly— and just as India is reaching out to new partners, so is Moscow.  

It is too early to pass judgement on these evolving partnerships. They are often driven by near term interests and global political uncertainty. It is very unlikely, however, that Russia will upset India over a highly sensitive issue like Kashmir.  

India will not politically prefer Russia to the US—rather it must learn to work with both. In the Indo-Pacific, India’s equities lie with Washington, who’s economic and security presence can balance China’s rise. In Eurasia, Moscow will be its most important partner.

Meanwhile, the arch-enemy of India, Pakistan, is separating itself from the USA and is cooperating ever more closely with China, a close partner of Russia in turn. How does growing Russian cooperation with these two states affect the regional dynamics and decision-makings in India?

In the face of American sanctions, Russia’s only real choice is dependence on and partnership with China. While the close partnership between Moscow and Beijing certainly poses a problem for India, Moscow must also introspect on the sustainability of its arrangement.  

Russia should be anxious about being economically and militarily displaced by China in Central Asia and Eastern Europe. The fact is that if Moscow seeks a multipolar Eurasia, it will have to bring India into the arrangement or risk acquiescing to China’s design.

India is cooperating closely with the US in Afghanistan to keep the Afghan government alive against the Taliban. What role does India’s position in Afghanistan play in the talks between Putin and Modi?

While both countries agree that peace in Afghanistan is a priority, they differ over political arrangements that need to be made. Further, with the US, Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan all in the mix, the situation in the region remains complex.

With Putin, India likely reiterated its long standing position that any initiative in Afghanistan must be led by the government. India might have also pushed forward the agenda agreed upon in Sochi—of pursing joint development projects in Afghanistan with Moscow.  

Last year Russia called on India to join China’s Silk Road Project. India, however, seems to have reservations. This is mainly due to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). For what geopolitical reasons does India reject a mega-infrastructure with China because of its cooperation with Pakistan?

CPEC is one amongst many objections that India has about the Belt and Road Initiative. The real issue, however, is that the BRI is a project designed, funded and executed only by China. As a key actor in the Asian century, India cannot allow China to dictate the terms of Asia’s governance.  

China must adopt a more multilateral playbook if it wants Indian support for the BRI. India and other Asian powers must have a legitimate voice in creating the rules and institutions of the region and in benefitting from the commercial and trade opportunities.   

The collision of these 3 geographies is creating a new world order

Samir Saran

For the past seven decades, the world has been moulded by a strong, transatlantic relationship with the US and EU underwriting the terms of peace, stability and economic prosperity.

The success of this order has created its own existential challenge. Its rising beneficiaries in Asia and elsewhere increasingly challenge the validity of these arrangements and the efficacy of rules that have managed global affairs. While the historian John Ikenberry described the liberal world order as a “hub and spoke” model of governance, with the West at its centre, it is now clear that the peripheries of the system are developing wheels and engines of their own.

Indeed, the rise of Asia as a whole is recasting the physical and mental map of the world. Proliferating transnational relationships and new flows of finance, trade, technology, information, energy and labour have created three new strategic geographies which are already escaping the shadow of transatlantic arrangements. They essentially represent the collision of erstwhile political constructs – and their management requires new ideas, nimble institutions and fluid partnerships.

The Indo-Pacific

The first collision, which is already well underway, is the union of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Popularly defined as the Indo-Pacific, it is a construct encouraged by the rise of China but defined in equal measure by regional actors responding to Beijing’s proposition. Maritime Asia is now larger than the US, ASEAN and China – earlier organized under the Asia-Pacific construct. Its frontier is not limited to the eastern Indian Ocean. From Nantucket to Nairobi, conversations on security, development and trade in this region will now include actors from three continents.


The second is the conflation of Europe and Asia into one coherent strategic system: Eurasia. This is an old idea, steeped in history, but it has a new vocabulary. The interaction of markets and communities from these once separated geographies is creating a new super-continental-sized interdependence.

Yet this interdependence is not without friction: China’s shadow looms large over Europe and its promise to underwrite the continent’s prosperity has proved too difficult to resist. Moscow, meanwhile, is exhibiting a new zeal to reclaim its place as the archetypical Eurasian player and members of NATO continue to bicker over their future role in the region. As these geopolitical tectonic plates both clash and merge, it is clear that East and West will set new terms of engagement.

The Arctic

And finally, we have the Arctic. Born as an unintended consequence of climate change, this geography will, for the first time, merge the politics of the Atlantic and the Pacific, even as it stimulates a clash between the arrangements that exist in these regions. The Northern Sea Route has been a tantalising theory; global warming is renewing it as reality. The global shipping giant Maersk, for example, completed its first voyage unassisted by ice-breakers this August (even though the company expresses scepticism about the near-term viability of the route). The emergence of this geography, however, will be far from frictionless and may well create a new distribution of wealth and power in the region.

While most Western governments currently share Maersk’s ambivalence, Moscow and China are investing heavily in building commercial infrastructure, naval capacity and military capabilities. As part of its Polar Silk Road ambitions, in fact, Beijing now actively encourages its enterprises to utilize the Northern Sea Route. Additionally, de-facto control over shipping routes in the region currently rests with Moscow, which has arrogated the power to grant shipping permits – a position that American officials have already warned might contravene the UN Convention of the Law of the Seas. In 1956, Britain went to war with Egypt to regain control of the Suez Canal; without appropriate arrangements for Arctic governance, history may well repeat itself a few latitudes north.

The collision of these three geographies will shape the 21st-century world order. Yet this process has no historical parallels. The post-war order and its predecessors were born after a revolutionary and catastrophic churn in global politics – and devastating, large-scale conflicts.

Today, this change is likely to be gradual, interdependent and evolutionary. There will be no single defining moment when a new order will be born. Instead, global politics will operate in 50 shades of grey for the foreseeable future.

As these three geographies discover themselves, then, there are five trends that deserve attention:

1. The the risk of separate cold wars across geographies. Unlike the 20th century, this tension will not be bipolar and each actor’s motivations, means and goals will differ. Whether it is the Himalayan cold war between India and China, the Arctic chill between Moscow, Europe and Washington, or the Mediterranean melee between the EU and China, multiple powers will exercise influence over these geographies and will compete at the intersection of social, commercial and military domains.

2. More “coalitions of convenience” are likely to emerge across these geographies. In an uncertain and fluid world order, issue-based partnerships may well have outsized influence over certain conversations. Russia, for example, is entering the fray in Afghanistan after nearly three decades with help from Iran and China, while India and France are cooperating on maritime security and development. China is partnering with Greenland – amid much anguish in Denmark – to cement its Arctic claims. If global institutions fail to manage emerging geographies, such coalitions will likely multiply.

3. The possibility for new institutional dialogues. Already, the EU is claiming a stake in the Indian Ocean Rim Association and ASEAN states are making overtures to the Arctic Council. These actors and organizations are transcending their 20th-century mental maps in search of new commercial and strategic opportunities. It is not entirely inconceivable that NATO and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), for example, might one day have a conversation on Eurasian security and connectivity.

4. The opening up of the Arctic will test the ability of powers to provide security as a public good in other parts of the world. In other words, with geostrategic conduits like the Suez Canal and the Malacca Straits possibly approaching their expiry dates, the imperative to secure Arctic sea lanes may well leave erstwhile routes bereft of powers willing to protect them. Are parts of the Indo-Pacific and Eurasia, then, destined to become ungoverned spaces – as in the Gulf of Aden – or will regional powers craft an arrangement of their own?

5. Finally, the institutional matrix will also evolve in response to these changes. It is clear that existing international institutions do not fully respond to the needs of developing countries and emerging regional powers. Which institutions, then, will be critical to these geographies? Will the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) usurp the role of the World Bank in Asia or will new multilateral propositions emerge from countries like India, America and Japan? Will the UN be central to conversations on peace and security, or will regional institutions like the SCO (perhaps in a different guise) and the Arctic Council strengthen their own norms and rules?

In the 20th century, multilateral institutions were perceived to be mitigators and managers of conflict. That conventional wisdom may be turned on its head now, given that competing centres of power will, for the first time since the Peace of Westphalia, create their own institutional arrangements for exerting influence. An organization like the SCO, may, therefore, posit itself as the guardian of Eurasian stability, in contrast to an OSCE or NATO, that has hitherto played this role.

How nation states imagine the world is significant; their mental maps dictate diplomatic priorities, economic partnerships and security arrangements. The collision of new geographies is compelling states to reimagine their worldview.

In the 21st century, East and West are meaningless constructs. More important is how actors and institutions resolve the contradictions that will inevitably arise in Indo-Pacific, Eurasia and the Arctic. This is that strange and rare moment when global governance is more than the sum of its parts or individual regional configurations.

This commentary originally appeared in World Economic Forum.