Tech Sovereignty and the Dynamics of Global Techno-Politics

The South Asian Times, October 03, 2022 

By Arshiya Chaturvedi

Technological advancements have altered how we connect and communicate with one another over the last few decades. Today’s technology extends beyond voice calling (1G), SMS service (2G), and Internet access (3G).

Nations all across the world are actively pursuing and investing in emerging technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), additive manufacturing, 5G, artificial intelligence (AI), and so on. Even the future of ubiquitous technology, 6G, has gained traction recently, with several countries around the world starting to work on it.

Internet of Things: A Lifeline

The upcoming 6G Technology is expected to bring a cyber-physical continuum of connected intelligence with limitless connectivity, and a completely synchronized physical-digital universe. These emerging technologies are expected to have a much larger cyber-attack surface than their predecessors having highly sophisticated IoT, efficient virtualized networks, and open source technology. With advancing technologies, their use cases are enhanced. Tens of billions of smart devices can now be connected to a single IoT network, where each one acts as a potential gateway to or targets attacks, putting other devices in the network at risk of further infiltration.

Technology has always played an important role in economics and social development. The adoption of newer and better technology has been a critical part of power transfer among nation-states since time immemorial and has significantly influenced the shaping of international relations. Nations all over the world are constantly looking for innovative and effective technologies to help them achieve significant military and economic superiority and take command of global geopolitics.

In recent years many national critical sectors, such as defense, finance, health, education, and telecommunications, have become increasingly reliant on technology and will further increase in days to come. That is to say, in the current context, the state’s capacity in cyber and critical technologies is regarded as a critical component of national power. States around the world are vying for control of these critical technologies and the development of their technical standards, transforming cyberspace into a new battleground for world powers.

National Security

The concept of national security has also undergone mammoth changes with cyber security becoming significantly relevant in all the national security debate. Society’s over-reliance on ICT systems has exposed its critical services to cyberspace vulnerabilities. These potential vulnerabilities jeopardize the effectiveness and efficiency of national critical infrastructure, as well as the functioning of states, their economies, and societies in general. State-sponsored, highly sophisticated cyber-attacks have increased recently as nations view them as powerful tools to impose costs and send a message to adversaries, meddle in domestic politics, reduce an enemy’s ability to wage war, destroy vital infrastructure and industrial mass production, etc.

The world is in geopolitical turmoil, with growing mistrust, rivalry, and insecurity among nation-states. This has been exacerbated by the covid-19-induced crisis, which has demonstrated how fragile our global supply chains are. It has become clear that the susceptibility of global supply chain disruption is mainly because of the issue of supply chain concentration.

The recent global semiconductor supply chain crisis has highlighted the critical relationship between trusted sources of technology and the security challenges that come with them. Nations are coming to understand that those who don’t learn how to make their own semiconductor wafers or have control over them run the risk of having their quality and security design compromised. We know why Taiwan is so important to the world and why its national integrity and sovereignty against hegemonic China are a serious matter of concern for the global powers.

India: A Prime Target

India is a significant geopolitical force in the world and a fast-rising technological superpower. At the same time, India is also more susceptible to cyber or technology-related risks. The country in recent times has increasingly been the target of several cyber-attacks.

According to a study conducted by the United States-based cyber security firm Norton, India experienced over 18 million cyber-attacks and threats in the first three months of 2022, with an average of roughly 200,000 per day.

A US-based private cyber security firm Recorded Future in its recent study has reported recent attacks involving Chinese hackers on seven State Load Dispatch Centers (SLDCs) in the Ladakh region over the previous several months. India has been making constant efforts to improve its technological prowess and build its resilience. Under its national vision of “Aatmanirbhar Bharat”, the government has undertaken many lucrative policy initiatives like the Make in India campaign, PLI scheme, etc. The government recently announced the launch of the India Semiconductor Mission, which aims to create a world-class semiconductor manufacturing ecosystem.

India, having a significant stake in the Indo-Pacific, is also actively collaborating with other countries in the region to improve the region’s technological capacity and resilience, fostering peace and securing regional order. As per the data, Asia was the most-attacked region by cybercriminals in 2021, accounting for one out of every four incidents worldwide. Japan, Australia, and India were the top three most-attacked Asian countries, respectively.

Guarding Tech Sovereignty

India has been an active participant in the region through multilateral agreements such as Quad, Supply Chain Resilience Initiative (SCRI), and others. India has also increased its engagement with Australia, agreeing to collaborate on developing cyber and critical technology capacities under the Australia-India Framework Arrangement on Cyber and Cyber-Enabled Critical Technology Cooperation. India and Australia are both key players in the Indo-Pacific, with complementary technological strengths to boost their national capabilities and thus advance regional stability.

Technological sovereignty has emerged as a critical concern for states seeking national autonomy. States that are unable to keep pace with technological advancement risk becoming economically dependent on other countries for key technologies and standards, making them vulnerable to direct foreign intervention in their domestic affairs. The world’s leading digital democracies are increasingly investing in and cooperating regionally on cyber security. As a major world power and democracy in the Indo-Pacific region, India is taking national measures and forming alliances to strengthen its cyber capabilities and contribute to the creation of a technologically open, inclusive, and rule-based Indo-Pacific.

(The writer is a research associate at CUTS International. She specializes in Ease of Doing Business, Competition, International Trade Law, International Relations, and Consumer Protection.)

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