The Indo-US Strategic Dialogue being held at Washington DC from June 1 to 4, 2010, should try to impart fresh life and momentum to some ideas mooted in the past, which have not made satisfactory progress in implementation.
2. The first relates to co-operation between the two countries in the fields of protection of critical information infrastructure and critical infrastructure. During the first tenure of Mr.George Bush as the President, the two countries had set up a joint Indo-US Cyber Security Forum to promote co-operation for the protection of the critical information infrastructure in the two countries. The Forum consisted of experts of not only the two Governments, but also of the private sector. The association of the private sector with a highly classified joint governmental forum indicated the realisation of the two Governments that considerable expertise on cyber security was available in the private sector, which had to be tapped for mutual benefit. It was also meant to create an awareness in the private sector of the need for strengthening cyber security in order to be able to protect the critical information infrastructure.
3. The joint Cyber Security Forum had a good start. It used to meet twice a year alternately in New Delhi and Washington DC and discussed a number of new ideas on the subject. It came under a cloud in the second tenure of Mr.Bush after it was found out by the Indian counter-intelligence that the Forum had been misused by the US intelligence for penetrating the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) of the Government of India and allegedly planting moles there. Since then, Indian enthusiasm for the Forum seems to have declined and there has been an understandable reluctance on the part of the Indian security agencies to consider any new ideas for co-operation with the US in such sensitive areas.
4. As a result, ideas for close Indo-US co-operation for the protection of critical infrastructure do not have many takers in the Indian security establishment. The US has undoubtedly developed new technologies for the protection of the critical information infrastructure and the critical infrastructure. India would stand to benefit from these technologies and from a regular exchange of ideas with US experts on the subject. To my knowledge, the setting-up of the joint Cyber Security Forum was not followed up with the setting-up of a joint Forum on the protection of the Critical Infrastructure. This needs to be done.
5. While the misuse of the Cyber Security Forum by the US intelligence agencies for penetrating the NSCS needs to be condemned, we should not allow this to come in the way of future co-operation between the two countries, with appropriate safeguards to ensure that the past misdeed by the US was not repeated. The two countries will benefit by resurrecting this idea and moving it forward.
6.The other idea relates to the promotion of Indo-US co-operation in the use of Science & Technology in Counter-terrorism and joint projects for research and development of homeland security technologies. A joint meeting of leading scientists and counter-terrorism experts of the two countries was held at Goa in January 2004, to discuss this idea. Among those, who addressed this meeting and welcomed the initiative were the then Indian President, Dr.Abdul Kalam, and Mr.Robert Blake, the present Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, who was then the No.2 in the US Embassy in New Delhi. As one who was associated with that meeting, I have been disappointed by the poor follow-up on this idea.
7. Closely associated with this was the idea of joint projects involving India, the US and Israel for the research and development of homeland security technologies. The idea came out of the thinking of an Israeli expert who addressed a gathering of security experts from the three countries, including this writer, who met in Israel in the beginning of 2004 to discuss how the three countries can co-operate in counter-terrorism. This idea too, like other good ideas, has remained without serious follow-up.
8. One of the problems in developing the strategic relationship between the two countries has been the plethora of generalities and platitudes which mark the periodic exchanges at the political and bureaucratic levels and dearth of concrete ideas whose implementation would be of benefit to both the countries and a marked lack of seriousness in following up on the few worthwhile ideas which keep coming up from time to time. It is time to identify concrete areas for bilateral cooperation and bring to bear a laser sharp focus on their implementation. (30-5-10)
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai and Associate of the Chennai Centre for China Studies. E-mail: email@example.com)