Author: samirsaran

Writer, commentator, analyst and a food junkie

If India wants to become a superpower, it has to stop trying to become the next China

Original links are : ORF and Quartz India

India is currently in the midst of two large but different endeavours.

The first is to complete the unfinished agenda of the previous decade, providing the country with the modern infrastructure, rural amenities, social services, and connectivity that any developed economy needs. And the second, the most ambitious of the two, is to create jobs, wealth, and value to accommodate a young and aspiring population, eradicate poverty, and boost GDP growth.

But these two projects are being undertaken at a time when global headwinds are deeply unfavourable. Today there are five hurdles that stand between India and its ambition to join the club of developed economies.

The first is the advent of this new age where the open, free, and democratic global trading system has become a pale shadow of its previous self. The multilateral trading system — and the preference for this kind of model — has waned considerably. It is being replaced by free trade arrangements between smaller groups of countries and regions, where a handful of stakeholders are able to decide the terms of trade.

This is coupled with a stagnation in global financial flows, because of weak growth, and the growing disquiet over globalisation, curiously enough, in the developed world. From the EU to the UK to the US, politicians are using globalisation as a convenient culprit for all that ails domestic economies and societies.

It’s against this backdrop that India has to discover new markets, new sources of funding, and new trading arrangements.

Second, the advance of technology and the expansion of the digital economy, along with robotisation, is in many ways closing the window for export-led manufacturing growth. They have significantly eroded the advantages that cheap labour typically provide for developing countries. Industrialisation, when seen through the narrow prism of manufacturing, therefore already looks improbable, if not impossible.

Manufacturing, Globalisation, Digital India, Labour

Emerging economies will be stuck with the traditional disadvantages of weak governance, cumbersome bureaucracies, quality and competence issues, fragile supply chains, and a lack of skilled labour even as they compete with machines and machine learning. Large labour pools are unlikely to provide any competitive advantage unless the labour force is reoriented, retrained, and reimagined.

That’s going to make things difficult for India. Even though the country might benefit in the next five to 10 years from weak energy prices, industries exiting China, and inflows of foreign direct investment, it’s going to get harder to compete in manufacturing.

Large labour pools are unlikely to provide any competitive advantage unless the labour force is reoriented, retrained, and reimagined.

A case in point is the relocation of textile and garment production to the developed world. This was previously a sector most sensitive to cheap labour and therefore the first to be off-shored to the developing world. Today, it’s now returning to robotised factories in the US and the EU.

Indeed, it can be argued that with 3D printing and artificial intelligence, manufacturing as we know it may be coming to an end. Whatever form that manufacturing takes in the future, we can safely assume that it will based on high competencies in design, material science, resource management, super-computing, and precision engineering, all delivered by machines or sets of machines and requiring minimal labour.

Third, energy derived from fossil fuels may no longer be a given in any new industrialisation effort. In a “climate-aware” world, it is apparent that there is a willingness to compromise with low incomes and poverty but little appetite to allow the developing world too much carbon space.

Fourth, global finance is increasingly agnostic, if not outright unfriendly, to the idea of traditional industrial growth. An IMF working paper suggests that “investors such as pension funds, insurance companies and mutual funds, and other investors such as sovereign wealth funds hold around $100 trillion in assets under management.” This study estimates the infrastructure-funding gap between $1 trillion and $1.5 trillion each year, with the deficit significantly higher in developing countries. This paper and other studies have argued that this stems from a lack of financial instruments and a lack of appetite to invest in the industrial ventures of the past. Global capital and even local commercial capital in developing countries are being crowded away from investing in infrastructure.

Fifth, innovation itself has a spatial flaw. Discovery and invention are still the preserve of the Atlantic system while consumption and absorption are witnessing greater uptake in the Asian economies and in Africa. This new innovation divide, when combined with restrictive intellectual property regimes set up for the benefit of Western corporations, is bad news for developing countries. It’s likely that they will merely transform from being labour sources, marginal consumers, and resource-rich spaces to markets for innovation, sources for the data that drives the process, and part of a value chain where the largest wealth will still be created in the old economies.

Discovery and invention are still the preserve of the Atlantic system while consumption and absorption are witnessing greater uptake in the Asian economies and in Africa.

This will ensure that their purchasing power remains low. Without large-scale, export-driven manufacturing, and without the revenues that would accrue to the owners of technology, there is a high possibility that developing countries that are not yet middle-income will remain trapped in a low-productivity, low-wage spiral.

The better way forward

So what should India do, given these five trends in global economic development?

First, India must get its own house in order. One-fifth of humanity is a market and a productive base in and of itself. But for the country to take advantage of its size, it must sign a free trade deal with itself.

Currently the 30-odd states and union territories that comprise the Republic of India are nominally a single economy. But in reality, they’re less integrated than the economies of Europe. India’s states and union territories often have sharply different regulations and incompatible tax systems. As a result, trading across state boundaries is a nightmare and India really needs to focus on creating a trade association among these regions.

As a single tax, the GST is the first step in the right direction as it will allow new manufacturing units set up under the “Make in India” programme to have access to multiple markets.

Manufacturing, Globalisation, Make in India, Labour

And there are other government policies that also fit well with this endeavour: “Digital India” knits markets together, allowing for vast e-commerce and business-to-business opportunities, and “Start-up India” gives new entrepreneurs access to the finance and incubation required for them to take advantage of these opportunities.

Secondly, the attitude towards informal employment needs to change. It’s time to stop thinking of the informal economy as a bad thing, particularly since an overwhelmingly large number of Indian workers (over 90% by some estimates) are currently employed in the sector. The government should instead focus on creating support systems that will allow for India’s vast informal workforce to become more secure, productive, and, where feasible, more entrepreneurial.

Finally, India must think big. It must consider the possibility that it will have to leapfrog over the industrialisation process itself. It must imagine itself becoming the epicentre of the robotics and AI world, much like Japan become the hub for electronics, Germany for automobiles, and China for manufacturing everything at a tenth of the cost.

To prosper in a world that is suffering from the absence of growth and the disruption of old models, India must strive to become the principal stakeholder of the digital revolution — and ensure that its teeming millions partake in it gainfully, even if informally.

This commentary originally appeared in Quartz India.

BRICS, globalisms, and the return of the state

Samir Saran and Abhijnan Rej

Original link is here

As New Delhi gets ready to host the 8th BRICS Summit in Goa in October, both the sceptics and believers are tentative in their support or criticism of the BRICS project. Commentators are also unable to comprehend or explain the nature of the grouping and the regimes it seeks to promote. In order to understand the means-ends logic of BRICS, we must situate it within the longer arc of contemporary history while seeking a better explication of the evolving relationship between liberalism, multilateralism and multipolarity.

This is crucial if we are to make sense of this unlikely grouping and its role in a world that now resembles 19th century Europe, post the Congress of Vienna in 1815. The order that emerged then was starkly driven by national interests of a constellation of powers, and arranged according to balance-of-power principles. As such, it was one of the earliest historical examples of how great powers could “cooperate under anarchy,” to riff a term from late 20th century institutionalist literature. What we are witnessing now is a similar reassertion by states and return to balance-of-power politics at a time when multipolarity and multilateralism are in an uneasy relationship.

Without doubt this European analogy is imperfect. After all, the re-emergence of the ‘sovereign imperative’ in the 21st century, under contemporary conditions of interdependence, is unlike the 19th century. It has more to do with the excesses of the unipolar moment that began with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and ended with the global financial crisis of 2008. What transpired then is crucial to understanding the beginnings and relevance of the BRICS.

Recent Western engagement in the Middle East tells part of the story. The first Gulf War of 1991 saw the US intervene to secure its energy interests by leveraging the UNSC. By the second Gulf War in 2003, the US saw the UNSC as an impediment. Thereafter, American, French and British interventions in Libya, Syria and elsewhere institutionalised subversion of the UN led multilateral order under the garb of ‘Responsibility to Protect’. State assertiveness was not limited to the politico-military sphere alone. Germany rode out of the global financial crisis with a new zeal for geoeconomic statecraft, raking up huge surpluses often at the expense of EU partners. The German idea of “Gestaltungsmacht” (a shaping power) is predicated not on a principled adherence to liberalism but on the fungibility of economic power. Witness the German willingness to let Greece leave the Eurozone in 2015 (and risk a Eurozone-wide crisis) but unwillingness to write off some of the Greek liability.

BRICS 2016, Multilateralism, Multipolarity, Geoeconomics, Geopolitics, Gulf War
Protests against the Gulf War, Bristol, 1991 | Courtesy: Christopher Bulle/CC BY 2.0

BRICS is a child of this era — when liberal democracies subverted multilateralism and the economic order was reduced to serving interests of a few. It was indeed a moment ripe for sovereign reassertion. It should be no surprise then that BRICS puts a premium on Westphalian sovereignty as an organising principle for the international order, and seeks new norms that would make that order more representative. Put differently, the regime-complex around BRICS is built on two principles: that of ‘sovereign preponderance’ and of a ‘democratic equity’.

The principle of sovereign preponderance holds the state is paramount, independent and inviolable, and inter-state cooperation is possible where trade-offs between autonomy and cooperation result in greater ‘state’ agency. Indeed it is this principle that allows China and Russia to come together in a forum with three democracies. For each of them, the ideology of global capitalism is not an end in itself, but only a means to meet developmental objectives of the state. Their objections to interventions in regions that are outside their own core interests and neighbourhoods must also be seen in this light.

By promoting norms around democratic equity in the international architecture, BRICS seeks to find space in structures and institutions that are increasingly seen as subservient to Atlantic powers. These powers have subverted multilateral institutions whenever they saw these institutions as impediments to furthering their agenda. A case-in-point is the multilateral trading regime with the World Trade Organization (WTO) at its center. The United States, by promoting new and exclusive mega-regional trade regimes like the Trans-Pacific Partnership as well as the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, has dealt a serious blow to the WTO’s raison d’être. By persistently objecting to the WTO grant of “market economy status” to China, the United States has shown that the multilateral trading architecture — at its core — remains bound to the hegemon’s perception of fair practices. Norm-setting remains a predominantly western exercise.

It is here that BRICS differs from the democratic and equitable order that was sought to be promoted by the Non-Aligned Movement or the G77. Instead, this current impulse stems from varying degrees of disaffection of each BRICS member with the global marketplace of norms. BRICS strives to restore balance-of-power in the agenda-setting space. And as it attempts to do this, it is indeed ironic that the task of democratisation of the international system has become a central endeavour of a group that has two large authoritarian countries as members.

Herein lies the central paradox at the heart of contemporary geopolitics and geoeconomics. Liberal democracies are undermining multilateralism whereas ‘illiberal states’ are rallying behind it, and both are doing so out of self-interest. Individually BRICS states realise they need the multilateral architecture since the pursuit of other arrangements requires both political and economic heft, which all BRICS members lack. As a collective, BRICS seeks to leverage each of its member-states’ significant geopolitical and geoeconomic strengths to preserve the multilateral system, albeit in a way that recognises the significant stakes of emerging powers. In other words, plurilateralism becomes a pathway to the preservation of multilateralism. At the end of the day, this is what unifies BRICS.

This post is part of a forthcoming monograph by the authors. A short version appeared in the Economic Times.


Kashmir crippled by lazy politics, needs greater outreach

Aug 12, 2016,  Analysis,  Hindustan Times,Aug 12, 2016

Original link is here


As prime minister, it is incumbent upon Narendra Modi to expand those options and enhance that outreach. The instruments, dialogue channels and specificities are for him to choose (AFP)

Each time Kashmir erupts, as it has over the past month, a familiar set of opinions and debates comes to the fore, especially on social media and in prime time studios. The discourse is trapped between an overdone nationalism, a hyperbolic romanticism and a mutual denialism. It is important to identify the limits of what can and cannot, and what should and must be achieved in the Valley, keeping five realistic parameters in mind.

First, international appetite for experiments with self-determination is at its lowest since World War I. In recent times, interventions by global powers in Syria, Libya, Iraq and several locations in Africa have — whether militarily or politically — carved new territories and regimes. Moral and strategic arguments for and against these have been made, but there is near unanimity that such interventions have led to instability and created hotspots for radicalism, terrorism and human misery.

Why is this relevant to an understanding of Kashmir? It tells us the desire of the global community for a quasi-independent or unshackled Kashmir, as a manifestation of some libertarian notion of popular aspiration, is near zero. The opening of spaces for potentially Islamist regimes is a non-starter. This explains why, despite the ongoing turbulence, world pressure on India has been minimal. While not sacrificing cherished positions, stakeholders in the Valley have to factor this in.

The idealism of Kashmiriyat, first discredited with the cleansing of Pandits in the early 1990s and then through repeated violence against minorities in the state, is now viewed largely through the prism of “Islamiyat”. Cruel as this sounds, images of stone-pelting protestors being tear-gassed and shot today evoke less horror in the rest of India and the planet than do visuals of masked young men, dressed in black, carrying AK-47s and promoting a mix of religion and armed rebellion. In a post-9/11, post-Islamic State world, the proposition that Islamists are fighting for freedom is neither sellable nor credible.

Second, related to the first point, the backlash against unbridled self-determination is occurring just as the Westphalian system and nation-state territoriality are making a ferocious comeback across the United States, Europe and Asia. There is no patience for redrawing borders. Violence and protests in Kashmir, police action, curfew and suspension of civil liberties, constitute bad politics and poor democracy. Even so, these are seen as sovereign actions the world has left India to take, deal with and live with.

Ironically, this is a consequence of some in Kashmir wanting to “internationalise” their cause. As it happens they have done so by hitching their grievance to global jihad and locating it within an Islamist agenda. This has singularly allowed huge sovereign space for India to act against what is seen as a systemic non-negotiable.

Third, while the Westphalian comeback secures India’s autonomy in Kashmir, it also accentuates the Indian government’s obligations and responsiveness to its citizenry, disaffected or otherwise. Anti-terror crackdowns and operations in Kashmir and the decidedly imperfect democracy in the Valley are not incompatible with the idea of an efficient development state with the rule of law. China, South Korea and others have demonstrated that less-than-optimal political structures do not preclude efficient social and economic development and governance.

Without doubt India has failed in being an efficient development state in Kashmir. Exaggerated talk of the Kashmir valley being among the country’s highest per capita income regions has skewed ambition and design of projects and of human development. Poor integration of the region with key economic centres is a case in point and has allowed a de facto seclusion of the Kashmiri people and their prospects. Article 370 is not the roadblock for this; fundamentally, it is a failure of imagination. Episodically enlightened civil servants and even army commanders do display such imagination, but there is little to institutionalise their initiatives.

Fourth, this poor governance is best (or worst) manifested in the incompetence in managing protests and uprisings. Better riot-police training, more efficient crowd-control methods and upgraded gear and hardware would have resulted in lower casualties. Information management and developing counter-narratives need to be best-in-class as blanket bans on people (curfews) and conversations (media and telecom prohibitions) have deleterious consequences. On social media, separatist propaganda is sophisticated; the Indian State’s information warfare is prehistoric or at least pre-millennial.

To be fair, such renewal is necessary across India and not just in Jammu and Kashmir. It is part of a policing protocol and culture invented by the colonial state after 1857 and suitable for an “occupying” power and “subject” people, not for a government dealing with citizens. This is a challenge India faces in several states, but Kashmir is as good a place as any to invest in 21st century methods, machines and mechanisms.

Fifth, since 1947 the Indian State’s approach to its “frontiers” — whether in the Northeast or Kashmir — has similarly borrowed from the limiting and self-defeating “pacification” tactics of the Raj: bolstering and incentivising local elites and adopting select families for whom networks in Delhi matter more than popular legitimacy or a commitment to widen the sphere of formal politics. Dynasties are frowned upon nationally but over-relied on in these regions. In Kashmir, the Instrument of Accession has been replaced by the Inevitability of Succession.

This is lazy politics. After 70 years of blood and tears, sacrifice and investment, surely India needed to show more options and a greater outreach than just the Abdullahs and Sayeeds? As prime minister, it is incumbent upon Narendra Modi to expand those options and enhance that outreach. The instruments, dialogue channels and specificities are for him to choose.

Ashok Malik is distinguished fellow and Samir Saran is vice-president, Observer Research Foundation

The views expressed are personal


New Norms for a Digital Society


While the state continues to exercise its regulatory capacity over digital spaces — a task it will likely keep in the coming years — the internet has magnified the rights and responsibilities of the private sector and end users across the world.

The interaction between states, non-state actors and transnational corporations necessitates the creation of a regime complex that clearly outlines their respective roles. This paper is a first step in that direction, articulating norms that may serve as the baseline for legal and political agreements on cyberspace. Inter-governmental gatherings like the UN Group of Government Experts have largely focused their efforts on the security of networks and ICTs. Multistakeholder organisations and platforms like the Internet Governance Forum, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, and the Internet Engineering Task Force, have begun to re-orient their mandate, with a view to make their governance more inclusive and accountable.

The set of seven norms and their corollaries identified in this paper may inform the functioning of both intergovernmental and multistakeholder processes. This document also attempts to chart the role of the private sector in digital governance. The end user today is valuable to internet companies, since the data collected from consumers directly contributes to the creation of revenues. If user data is the basis of wealth generation, internet giants have a responsibility to invest in the user by offering local content and innovative technologies that are contextual. This is particularly true in the case of emerging economies and developing countries, where internet businesses should tailor to the unique needs of the next billion users.

This paper argues that effective internet governance requires shifting the locus of digital debates from the Atlantic to the Asia-Pacific and bringing in new voices and views of a new constituency of stakeholders. Similarly, all stakeholders must work towards building the capacity of growing digital economies and first-generation internet users. Efforts to fragment digital spaces by creating alternative “internets” must be avoided. Just as regimes that curtail the freedoms of internet users are undesirable, actions that raise the cost of local innovation and increase barriers to the unrestricted flow of technology, and thereby quality of access, should also be discouraged. These norms are a work in progress, and the author reserves the right to refine them through continued consultations with stakeholders across the spectrum.

1. Online = Offline + more

The protection of rights over the internet requires mechanisms that are unique, contextual and transformative. Rights on the internet should not be limited to those offline, and must build on the edifice of free speech and expression that already exists. Similarly, current regulatory frameworks must evolve in response to the digital medium. Just as traditional broadcasting regulations have become inadequate to regulate online speech, outmoded censorship laws often constrain free expression and impose a chilling effect. Contemporary conversations on privacy must reflect the need to protect sensitive data, while acknowledging its importance for technological innovations that benefit local communities.

NORM: Realising the transformative potential of the internet requires progressive online freedoms that move beyond rights granted offline.

COROLLARY: Real-world regulations must not constrain the advancement of technology; rather, they must evolve in response.

2. Let data flow

Affordable, universal and high-quality access to the internet is among the top policy prerogatives of governments today. Access will require substantial investments in the form of local data centres, internet exchanges and last-mile connectivity. As net exporters of data, developing countries represent a robust market for internet companies. For their digital economies to expand — thereby increasing the share of the global pie — the free flow of trans-boundary data must be coupled with the unrestricted flow of technology. Custodians of data should orient their research and development towards local solutions, and foster domestic entrepreneurship. Data flows, however, should respect the sovereign imperative of law enforcement and security.

NORM: The global free flow of information must necessarily lead to universal access to the internet in emerging economies that is affordable and qualitatively rich.

COROLLARY: Free flow of data must be complemented by free flow of technology that is tailored for local innovative solutions.


3. Living in an encrypted world

Governments around the world are locked in debate with industry bodies and civil society for the right to access encrypted communications. Backdoors and forced localisation of data, however, can decrease the overall standard of security in the market, curtail free speech, and violate the integrity of data. Governments should welcome technological developments that incorporate security by design, with a view to preserve the integrity and stability of digital networks.

NORM: Encryption must be the norm.

COROLLARY: Decryption of data must be subject to rigorous standards of judicial review.


4. The responsibility to inspect?

States are faced with increasingly dangerous and sophisticated threats from state and non-state actors in cyberspace. The technological and legal capacity for dealing with these threats is often disparate, caused in part by lack of access to proper forensic, investigative and prosecutorial tools. It is the sovereign function of a state to protect its own citizens and infrastructure from such threats, without undue interference or intervention in its affairs. The interconnected nature of the internet demands that governments and businesses across geographies cooperate towards norms of cooperation that mitigate the risk of conflict.

NORM: The responsibility of states to protect cyberspace is a sovereign function, commensurate to their capacity.

COROLLARY: The collective responsibility for protecting cyberspace requires global investments for building capacity in developing countries.

5. Strengthening the base

The ubiquity of low-end smartphones, the growth of affordable data networks in emerging economies, and the relative lack of awareness of cyber vulnerabilities among users leave networks and individuals vulnerable to exploitative practices. Enhancing cyber hygiene among internet users in emerging economies can help substantially decrease the vulnerability of the global digital space as a whole.

NORM: Cyber security must account for, and address technology limitations of the end user at the bottom of the pyramid.

COROLLARY: Local communities must be at the forefront of articulating policy solutions for cyber security.


6. Three rules for internet governance

Despite attempts to decentralise and diffuse the management of global internet governance institutions, there are inadequacies in revised accountability mechanisms. The locus of internet governance must shift from big transnational corporations to start-ups, medium and small local enterprises, from governments to multistakeholder communities, and from trans-Atlantic conversations to Asia-centric debates.

NORM: Multistakeholderism should be institutionalised by accounting for diversity in gender, geography and sectors.

COROLLARY: International internet governance must undertake three transitions and accommodate new stakeholders:

  • States → Communities.
  • Trans-national corporations → Small & Medium Enterprises and Startups.
  • Atlantic → Asia and Africa

7. Against the Splinternet

The Domain Name System (DNS) represents a stable and contiguous platform of unique identifiers, comprising numbers and names. Attempts to fragment the internet by creating an “alternative” system or through interference in the functioning of the “root” should weigh its potential impact on internet users, businesses and governments. Just as technical efforts to create a parallel DNS should be discouraged, trade regimes around the digital economy should consider the effect of fragmenting the internet into differential pricing regimes. Affordable and universal internet access can be realised by removing policy barriers to the creation and strengthening of ICT infrastructure.

NORM: The internet should remain unfragmented.

COROLLARY: Differential trade regimes should not raise the cost of doing business in the digital economy nor impede low-cost connectivity to users in Asia and Africa.


  1. “Digital globalization: The new era of global flows” McKinsey Global Institute, February 2016,

Beyond #Brexit: What Ails the European Union?

Samir Saran and Britta Petersen, Issue Briefs and Special reports, July 19, 2016, ORF

Original link is here


The European Union (EU) had been lurching from one crisis to the next even before a majority of British voters expressed their desire to leave it. While staying away from the Brexit debate itself, its implications for UK and EU, and the politics and motivations in the run-up to the vote, this paper argues that at the very least the referendum is a wake-up call for Europe to begin to address some of its structural and operational shortcomings in a substantial manner. Accordingly, a few observations from ‘a’ Indian perspective are put forth and may be worth considering as the EU moves towards a renewed and reformed version of itself.




The Great 21st Century Data Rush

Lawfare, Tuesday, June 28, 2016, 12:26 PM


In the digital age, data is currency and information is the energy that drives the 21st century economy. Today, 46.1 percent of the world’s population is online. These 3.4 billion Internet users collectively generate a significant amount of commercial and personal data that can be stored, collated, and analyzed. This data is the lifeline that charts users’ online identities: it can also be monetized by Internet service providers, social media platforms, and end user applications. As a necessary corollary, control over data and the flow of information has become highly politicized. One who controls this data retains the power to shape the global geopolitical order.

Data is intrinsically valuable. Data grants access to an individual’s online activity, lifestyle choices, consumption patterns and so on. It is for this reason that states have been vying to gain access to vast amounts of data either through legal mechanisms or surreptitiously. It is also the backdrop for the evolving global norms around encryption. In many ways, this conversation is reminiscent of the adage of energy politics of the 20th century: he who controls the oil controls the world. There is, however, one central difference: today, every Internet user is the owner of an unending oil field and every Internet non-user is sitting on a potential reserve.

Despite of the Internet being touted as a great “equalizer,” these global conversations are often skewed in favor of the countries that generate data or possess the technological capability to access it. The encryption debate in countries with advanced technical capacities is very different from the countries without them. Until recently, countries with strong technical capabilities were also the most ardent advocates of encryption. This approach was fueled by the belief that the state’s interception capability would always outpace the individual’s encryption capability. Increasingly, this notion is proving to be false. Even the United States realizes that impenetrable encryption could wrest control of data from the hands of the state. It is this insecurity that is causing the pitched battle between Silicon Valley’s encryption evangelists and U.S. law enforcement officials. This insecurity, however, is not unique to the West. Governments in Asia and Africa also drive their own encryption debates out of a fear of losing control over the social order and their capability to monitor their citizens. At the same time, these issues’ importance is also accentuated by the looming threat that their countries’ data will be gathered, stored, and exploited across oceans in another continent.

Cyber diplomacy and geopolitics in these nations is therefore determined by the need to retain control over information emanating from within their countries and the anxiety of this data’s potential misuse by actors outside their borders. As with the conversations around the erstwhile frontier technologies in the nuclear and space domain, this too has a strategic dimension. Unfortunately, these strategic necessities are often responsible for constraining the development of privacy and data protection norms governing the Internet. States insist on perceiving the control of data as a zero sum game. Encryption is perhaps the centerpiece of the falsely dichotomous conversation around security and human rights. Encryption, however, must fundamentally be about human rights.

Encryption is an idea that is grounded in the principles of data integrity and data ownership. The right to encrypt communications is central to the autonomy that we offer all citizens over their own data and who can use, analyze, and access that data and under what conditions. This right automatically grants them the opportunity of determining who can commercially exploit their data. While most of us are comfortable exchanging our personal data for services over the Internet, this decision does not automatically nullify our right to choose how our personal data is used. Naturally, this autonomy must be subject to certain exceptions for law enforcement purposes. However, these exceptions must be considered, pragmatic, and mindful of the human rights imperative. They must not be driven by paranoia and the need for absolute control.

Another noteworthy dimension in this debate is the commercial opportunity that encryption presents. Encryption technology is big business. If data is the new currency then encryption solutions are the new Swiss banks and the market leaders in the tech space like Apple, Facebook and Google are all vying for recognition as “digital Swiss banks.” They are cognizant of the need to protect data, but equally conscious of its commercial value. While they refuse encrypted information to law enforcement agencies, apps and platforms in Google and Apple’s ecosystems innovate and thrive on the availability of big data. It is not public policy that is driving this harvest of data. It is, ironically, the “privacy policies” of major players. Across the pond, European regulators have failed to distinguish the false choice between public and private data with potentially negative consequences for innovation. Indeed, European Internet providers have themselves demanded that privacy norms reflect the need to innovate digitally.

All this is not to question the assumption that the state constantly seeks to monitor digital networks. But the growing trend towards protecting data from the prying eyes of the state poses another important question: is encryption the end of innovation? Increasing law enforcement requests for data retrieval and the myriad ways in which the state collects data en masse are leaving the private sector apprehensive of collecting big data that they may later be required to give up. While this may sound good prima facie, it has a serious downside. Without access to data, the private sector has no means to innovate and tailor their products to the market. The boom in the app economy was fueled largely by creating markets for products and services based on data analysis. Is it possible that the ubiquity of that very data is foretelling the collapse of the market that trades in information?

Ultimately, the debate on encryption must keep three vertices in focus: law enforcement, data privacy, and innovation. The legal standards around data protection and surveillance may vary across jurisdictions—as will the ability of start-ups to innovate—but any policy measures on encryption must arrive at a floating median between these three indicators.

Net Politics, Original link is here

Samir Saran

Adam Segal, director of the Digital and Cyberspace Policy Program at the Council on Foreign Relations, discusses Internet policy in India and areas of cooperation on cyber issues between India and the United States with Samir Saran, vice president of the Observer Research Foundation.

The multipolar Asian century (part 2): Contestation or competition?

By Samir Saran, Senior Fellow and Vice President and Ashok Malik, Senior Fellow, both of the Observer Research Foundation. Part 1 can be found here.

In the seven decades since 1945, the US largely succeeded in scripting some significant rules that still survive, and they have guaranteed the stability of global institutions that are the bedrock of contemporary multilateralism. The UN system, the key security treaties, conventions and norms for managing common spaces, all emerged from the conversations of that era. The period since 1990 saw the triumph of the liberal order, and placed the globalisation project firmly within the Atlantic consensus.

The economic imperative to rebuild post-war Europe inevitably necessitated some of these political responses and military instruments. Superpowers became the global guarantors of predictability, whether in trade and commerce or the security domain, and by extension, of multilateralism. This task is now devolving in Asia, but in an Asia that has not been dominated by one sovereign power since the times of Genghis Khan, and an Asia that is stubbornly multipolar.

Asia needs to discover a bridge between multipolarity and multilateralism.

This is occurring at a moment when many holdover institutions are flailing, if not failing. The UN resembles not an NGO, as is often suggested, but a think tank. It offers a good platform for talking about norms and rules, but is ill-equipped to enforce any. Inaugurated in 1995, the WTO is in a premature midlife crisis. So where are the new institutions for the Asian century? Where are the important conversations taking place, and among whom? Or, is it time to face up to the harsh truth and accept that rules, actors, institutions, arrangements and ethics that may be able to serve the Asian century are yet to be discovered, born, written and even conceived?

Perhaps, it is time to pursue a new project, one that begins to create a political Asia. Like the Atlantic order needed to flourish on the basis of the Bretton Woods and UN systems, Asia needs a new management, a new board of directors and a new security architecture. At the very least, this system needs to bring three resident actors (China, Japan and India) and two regional stakeholders (the US and Russia) to the same table. Other sub-regional influencers should be drawn in as well.

The East Asia Summit, of which all these countries are members, has been suggested as a possible fulcrum of such an architecture. Yet, the East Asia Summit is insufficient to address the concerns of Central and West Asia. Is an expanded mandate for the G20 (seven Asian countries, two more if one were to include Turkey and Russia) the answer? Alternatively, is a greenfield institution inevitable?

Three possibilities — distinct, but not mutually exclusive — emerge. At the commencement of the 21st century, Asia’s politics resembles the fraught, rudderless multipolarity of the beginning of the 20th. It took 50 years and two wars for that reckless order to settle into a multilateral equilibrium. Asia has to do it better, faster and without the external stimulus of a great War. As the dowager power, the US can incubate new institutional arrangements in Asia, playing Greece to emergent Asia’s Rome, to borrow from Harold Macmillan’s description of the post-war relationship between Britain and the US.

Should the US choose to bequeath the liberal, international order to Asian forces, India will be the heir-apparent. India would not, under this circumstance, play the role of a great power — because Asia is too fractious and politically vibrant to be managed by one entity — but simply that of a ‘bridge power’. India is in a unique and catalytic position, with its ability to singularly span the geographic and ideological length of the continent. But two variables will need to be determined. Can the US find it within itself to incubate an order that may not afford it the pride of place like the trans-Atlantic system? And, can India get its act together and be alive to the opportunity it has to become the inheritor of a liberal Asia?

The second possibility for an Asian order is that it resembles the 19th century Concert of Europe, an unstable but necessary political coalition of major powers on the continent. The ‘big eight’ in Asia (China, India Japan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Australia, Russia and America) would all be locked in a marriage of convenience, bringing their disparate interests to heel for the greater cause of shared governance. Difficult as it would be to predict the contours of this system, it would likely be focused on preventing shocks to ‘core’ governance functions in Asia, such as the preservation of the financial system, territorial and political sovereignties and inter-dependent security arrangements. Given that each major player in this system would see this as an ad hoc mechanism, its chances of devolving into a debilitating bilateral or multi-front conflict for superiority would be high — very much like the Concert that gave way to the First World War.

A third possibility could see the emergence of an Asian political architecture that does not involve the US. This system — or more precisely, a universe of subsystems — would see the regional economic and security alliances take a prominent role in managing their areas of interest. As a consequence, institutions like ASEAN, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the AIIB, the Gulf Cooperation Council and the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation will become the ‘hubs’ of governance. The US would remain distantly engaged with these sub-systems, but would be neither invested in their continuity, or affiliated to its membership.

Rather than crystal gazing these three possibilities, our objective is to gauge the political underpinnings behind an emerging Asian architecture. Very simply: will it be defined by contestation or cooperation? Can the US incubate a political order that is largely similar to existing multilateral systems or will the cost of creating disruptive institutions keep Asian countries from buying into them? And finally, can any credible pan-Asian governance institution successfully absorb — or at the very least acknowledge — the cultural, economic and social differences that characterise the continent? The quest for the Asian century is not for the Holy Grail of shared governance, but diagnosing the right means to reach a sustainable and inclusive platform.

Original link is here. 

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Studio Incendo.

The multipolar Asian century (part 1)


the interpreter, 1 June 2016 12:30PM


By Samir Saran, Senior Fellow and Vice President and Ashok Malik, Senior Fellow, both of the Observer Research Foundation.

Original link is here


Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the global political and economic architecture has been undergirded largely by one superpower, which set the stage for an unprecedented period of globalisation managed through multilateral institutions and actors. Now that unipolar moment is giving way to an era of diffused powers, with countries like the US, China and Russia each bearing considerable disruptive capacities, and each struggling to stitch together new norms and rules for these rapidly changing times.


This phase, the beginning of which was marked by the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 and characterised by America’s two bruising wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has seen a vacuum emerge. Many are seeking to fill it, most determinedly China, but with a push back from countries such as Japan and India. Separately, ISIS and radical energies in the Middle East also seek to grab new space. Russia has chosen this very moment to signal its ability to muddy the Eurasian fields and intervene in the Middle East. The fact is, there is not enough room to accommodate all of these ambitions.

A median will have to be arrived at, but who will sacrifice what?

Today’s ‘multi-power’ reality is most visible in Asia and this can be attributed to the lack of a unifying political and security architecture for the Asian region (or regions). The question then arises: Will the Asian century be defined by contestation or cooperation? And how will Asian powers reconcile multipolarity and multilateralism, a process for which there are no handy 20th Century templates? The trans-Atlantic political and economic regimes that were the ‘hub’ of the liberal international order has no parallel in Asia. And the single guarantor of good behaviour (certainty and/or predictability) is clearly absent.

The quest for global or regional leadership is the quest for control of common spaces. If in the earlier centuries, territorial borders and maritime frontiers were the crown jewels, today’s common spaces have been rendered seamless by digital arenas and technology that straddles deep oceans and outer-space. What makes the Asian century unique is the differing conceptions of common spaces by major actors. Continental trade regimes and economic integration will sculpt Asia’s future, but these terms are by themselves contested. How can the competing agendas of, for instance, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and One Belt, One Road be reconciled?

On the digital front, is the internet of today the ‘Splinternet‘ of tomorrow? Is cyberspace the new coliseum for digital gladiators? Asian powers and every power engaged with the region is excited by the potential of the digital economy, but many perceive the virtual world through the territorialism of pre-digital politics. Can the internet be a force for collaboration or is it destined to be a contested arena within and between countries, communities and peoples? How can multilateralism sit with this new paradigm where the power of transnational corporations make the equations more complex?

To be sure, the old fault-lines remain active. The Indo-Pacific system is the world’s greatest maritime trading zone, but political ambitions, too, sail across its seas and waters. In the absence of an Asian equivalent to the Monroe Doctrine (sole power dominance in the region), sovereignty is being contested everyday on the high seas. Robust military capacities sustain these conflicts in the Indian Ocean and Pacific littorals. Will the waters of Asia connect and empower, or will they divide and devastate?

Perhaps the most significant policy question for the Asian century is ensuring the realisation of ‘human value’. How will demographic realities in Asia translate into economic, and by extension, political transformations? The region hosts the youngest as well as the most rapidly ageing populations in the world, suggesting that demography can both be a dividend and a disaster. Growth models of decades past are being rendered obsolete by technological advancements and digitisation. These cripple the notion of a demographic dividend. What are the livelihood avenues available to 21st Century Asians? Will unemployment continue to fuel the high-octane nationalist and sub-nationalist movements that Asia is witnessing? Does this detract from the ability of Asian actors to ‘sacrifice’ and ‘compromise’, something that multilateralism demands?

Asia needs to think through these pressing questions and so does the world. After all, the Asian century is not exclusive to Asia. It is as much about the rise of Asia, Asian actors and Asian institutions as it is about others who engage with the continent. Challenges and transformations in the region will define not just this continent’s century, but that of the planet.

Asia will shape the 21st Century as much as the Atlantic consensus shaped the 20th Century, or Europe, the 19th. In Part 2 of this two-part series, we will suggest some possibilities regarding the future political architecture of Asia.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Thomas.


The remarkable rise of India’s think tanks

Global Government Forum

By on 26/05/2016

Original link is here

The number of think tanks feeding into India’s public debates is expanding fast. Alexandra Katz explores the rapid advances and the growing pains of this emerging policy machine

The USA is famous for the burgeoning ecosystem of lobby groups, campaigning bodies and policy networks feeding off Washington DC’s Capitol Hill, so it’s no surprise that America houses more think tanks than any other country: some 1,835, according to research by the University of Pennsylvania. The second largest number are based in the world’s most populous country: China has 435, Pennsylvania’s researchers found. And third in this list is the UK, whose 288 think tanks sit alongside a robust media, highly active voluntary sector and powerful higher education institutes within a thriving and long-established public discourse.

The UK is set to be knocked off its third-place perch, however, as the country placed fourth has 280 think tanks – and that number has grown by 30% in just two years. Its identity may surprise European and American politicians, but it shouldn’t; for India is, of course, the world’s biggest democracy as well as its second most populous nation.

Pennsylvania’s Global Go To Think Tank Index Report 2015, published earlier this year, includes a list of the world’s top 175 think tanks – and here too the Indians make a respectable showing, with the Centre for Civil Society (CCS) ranked at 79; the Institute For Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) coming in 104th; the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) ranking 109th; the Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) placed 111th; the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) at 118th and Development Alternatives at 136th. Others were also praised for strong track records on research, including the Vivekananda Institute of Technology, Gateway House, the Council on Energy, Environment and Water, and the Centre for Land Warfare Studies.

The role of think tanks

Think tanks occupy an interesting space in public policy formation, sitting between the official policymakers of government, the more theoretical input of academics, and the opinionated interventions of media commentators and lobby groups. Think tanks are not objective or neutral – each has its own world view and culture, and many have close links to politicians or political parties – but they do provide a space where practical ideas can be developed and research conducted outside the partisan, high-pressure worlds of government and the privately-owned media. Their funding is often dependent on government research grants or the generosity of private businesses, and their success requires an open public debate and a hungry media ready to publicise their findings – so the health of a nation’s think tanks says something about its leaders’ openness to ideas and the quality of the public discourse.

Samir Saran, senior fellow and vice president of the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), says that while India’s economic and social policy debates have always involved non-governmental experts, the current government is particularly keen to “take on board voices from outside its corridors”. Ministers are seeking input into a range of issues, he adds, from strategic and security policies to India’s position on climate change. “Social policy making and foreign policy discussions are witnessing robust think tank participation.”

Constraints and challenges

However, he notes that the sector’s growth is bumping up against a shortage of really high-quality graduates. Manjeet Kripalani, executive director and co-founder of Mumbai-based think tank ‘Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations’, agrees: there are too few people studying for PhDs in fields such as foreign policy, public policy, economics, healthcare and science, she says.

Manjeet photo-min

A lack of funding is also constraining the sector’s expansion. “Long-term finance without strings attached is still in dearth. Project or event funding is more readily available, but this does not allow for capacity building and investing in longer lead-time research,” Samir Saran says – so it’s difficult to find money for projects whose outcomes won’t be seen in public policy delivery for years to come. He adds that many think tanks are still dependent on the government or international agencies for funds, so they’re very sensitive to the priorities of these two actors.

Saran sees the Indian private sector as reluctant to invest in policy research and social sciences generally, but Manjeet Kripalani is more optimistic: many businesses “see value in the output of such independent research and ideas, which are very different from the paid consultants that companies have used in the past,” she believes.

Although ministers seem open to think tanks’ ideas, says Saran, the civil service is still quite “closed” – with many officials seeing “think tanks as interlopers or their suggestions as intrusive”. is another challenge faced by think tanks in India, according to Samir Saran. Civil servants exhibit a degree of scepticism about think tanks’ ideas and suspicion around their motives, he says.

Samir Saran, senior fellow and vice president of the Observer Research Foundation (ORF)

The way forward

Certainly, Dhruva Jaishankar, fellow for foreign policy at Brookings India – established by The Brookings Institution in New Delhi a few years ago – argued recently in The Huffington Post that most think tanks could benefit from greater autonomy and transparency. Those institutions affiliated with the government tent to become risk-averse, bureaucratic and status conscious, he said, adding that people would be able to judge the findings of privately-funded organisations more fairly if they were more transparent about their sources of funding.

Jaishankar suggested a number of measures that could make Indian think tanks more effective. These included giving research priority over their work convening events and discussions, and focusing on quality over quantity. He and other experts point out that on top of everything, the research work conducted by think tanks should be more carefully shaped around practical applications, guiding policymaking in the present and future rather than simply analyzing the past.

According to Manjeet Kripalani, there’s a lack of public understanding of the role that think tanks can play and the difference between consultants and think tanks. She argues for more public outreach and education: “The Indian government is already reaching out to think tanks, and seeking ideas from them. It remains now for the public to participate in this institution-building, so that the ideas generated from within these institutions can be understood and beneficial for them.”

As this fast-growing think tank ecosystem becomes more established alongside India’s political and media establishments, their input into policymaking and their influence in the public debate will continue to grow. Ultimately, the outcome should – says Samir Saran – be a more effective government: “Think tanks can add tremendous value to not just the policies that are made, but also the process of policymaking and the framework of policy implementation.”


Leading the boom

Within India’s glowing constellation of think tanks, these are some of the biggest and most influential.

The government-affiliated Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) and Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), one of India’s oldest think tanks, focus on strategic issues such as foreign policy and defense, national and international security.

The National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) started in 1956 as a public-private partnership, and remains the largest and oldest policy research institute dedicated to supporting India’s economic development through applied economic research.

Another leading government economic policy think tank, the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER), focuses on areas such as macro-economic management, trade openness, financial sector liberalisation and regulation, WTO-related issues and regional economic cooperation.

The Centre for Civil Society (CCS) which has been ranked India’s top think tank for several years in a row in the Global Go-To Think Tank Rankings, is a social sciences research and advocacy organization that advances social change through public policy. Focusing on education for all, law, liberty and livelihood, good governance and communities, it promotes choice and accountability across the private and public sectors.

The Centre for Policy Research (CPR), established in 1973 in Delhi, is known for its influence within government, academia and the media. It ranked 38 out of the 100 Top Social Policy Think Tanks listed in the Global Go-To Think Tank Index Report 2015. CPR focuses on areas including economic policy analysis, environmental law and governance, law, regulation, urbanisation, international relations and security.

Founded in 1990 with the support of Reliance Industries, India’s largest business conglomerate, the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) is today one of the leading think tanks providing non-partisan research across government, business, academia and civil society. Previously focusing mainly on internal economic issues, today its mandate extends to security and strategy, economy and development, governance, environment, energy and resources.

The majority of Indian think tanks are located in Delhi. However, a few globally-minded organizations have emerged outside the capital in recent years. These include Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations in Mumbai and Takshashila Institution in Bangalore.

Founded in 2009, Gateway House emerged as one of the leading privately-managed foreign policy think tanks, providing research in a niche area of scholarship: the intersection between geo-economics and geopolitics. It tries to create bridges between business and foreign policy, debating India’s role in global affairs and giving the country a global voice.

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See also:

The hat-trick: how to achieve savings, better services and public policy goals

India on track to electrify every village by 2018

Top Indian educationalist urges focus on universities, power supplies and high-tech manufacturing

Indian law links 1bn-strong ID database to benefits claims

India’s banking scheme draws in 200m new customers

Satellite night signal project could help India’s government spread electricity

Australia’s chief scientist calls for increased investment in renewable energy

World Bank appoints first female country director in Philippines

About Alexandra Katz

Originally from St Petersburg, Russia, Alexandra Katz is based in Mumbai, India. She has more than 10 years of experience as a reporter and editor, and specialises in business, sustainable development, policymaking and social issues. She previously worked in Russia and Bangladesh, and recently completed her second Master’s degree in Political Science at the University of Mumbai