Technonationalism to Technoglobalism

About an year ago, I received a phone call from a young, prominent member of Congress party. He said that he wanted to know my views on the Indo-American nuclear deal. I responded by saying that I was not a technical expert in this area. Yet I would attempt to give my own perspective, which will go beyond nuclear energy.

I said that in 1947, India got its first freedom – the political freedom. In 1991, India got its second freedom, when it opened up its economy – the freedom to compete. I said if we sign this nuclear deal, then we will be ushering the third freedom –  the technology freedom.

I said that this third freedom will enable us an access to “dual use technology”. Such technology is primarily developed for military or strategic purposes but finds use also in civilian applications. India was denied such access all the while. I cited as an example the development of the 14 seater civilian aircraft called SARAS by National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL).

When I was the Director General of Council of Scientific & Industrial Research, the SARAS project was launched. The aircraft SARAS had around 15,000 components.  One of them was a ‘starter generator’. Access to this single component was denied to us and the SARAS project was delayed by almost two years! This meant a delay in India’s entry into civilian aircraft industry by two years!

I further explained that life was like a journey by consecutive buses towards a destination. You miss the first bus and then you miss the second. India has been a story of missed buses due to lack of access to critical technologies. Other smart countries did not miss these buses. Taiwan or Korea, for instance, represent classical examples. Access to technology and Foreign Direct Investment took them way ahead of India.

The young politician asked me a very perceptive question. He said this lack of access must have meant an impact in socio-economic and strategic positioning for India over the years. Had any one evaluated this so far? I said to him that he was the first one to raise that query. And no, we had not evaluated these costs.

Technonationalism to Technoglobalism

Technology denial over the years has been affected through several instruments such as Wassenar Arrangement, Nuclear Suppliers Group, Australia Group, etc. India’s technology denial share ranged from a high performance supercomputer to cryogenic engine used in the space launch vehicles. When technology was not available for love or for money, the only option for India was developing the technology on its own. India had to follow the path of this “technonationalism”.

Nations like South Africa had to adopt to technonationalism, since during the apartheid regime, there were wide ranging sanctions imposed on it. Lack of oil forced them to create synthetic fuels based on coal by developing Fischer Tropsch technologies, something that is finding a great value in times of rise of oil prices today.

Many nations have tended to resort to “technonationalism” by giving a priority on science for national economic development but by essentially going  alone. Many nations have placed emphasis on projecting national power and status – just as Soviet Union did before its break-up. China in recent times has pursued manned space missions for both substantive and symbolic reasons. China has used these as a means of announcing China’s arrival as a global power.

Technoglobalism does away with the top-down approach implicit in Technonationalism. The foundation of Technoglobalism is based on robust global knowledge and innovation networks. It is built on the imperative of strong interaction between the internationalization of technology and the globalization of the economy. It encompasses the  widening cross-border interdependence between individual-based sciences and economic sectors. It signals the change of ‘geography’ of science, technology and innovation, from advanced nations to talent rich emerging economies.

Technoglobalism serves different purposes. It is used for creating private good by transnational companies but increasingly as the world faces grand challenges of climate change, depleting fossil fuel resources, water crisis, ravaging of biodiversity, global health, etc., there is an increasing demand on technoglobalism directed towards creating a public good, or global good.

Indian Technonationalism

It was through the path of ‘technonationalism’ that India developed self-reliance through its own technologies in space, defence, nuclear energy, and supercomputers, among others.

Take India’s defence research infrastructure. India has developed diverse missiles and rocket systems, as also low level tracking radar, high-vision devices, sophisticated sonar systems, a light-combat aircraft, remotely piloted vehicles and so on. None of these were available to India for love or for money.

Look at our forays into nuclear S&T. The entire range of technologies, from the prospecting of raw materials to the design and construction of large nuclear reactors was developed on a self-reliant basis. India’s nuclear fast-breeder reactors emerged from its thrust towards technonationalism. The Indo-American nuclear deal would not have been signed, if India had not positioned it for the future this way.

And the recent crowning glory of India’s space research has been a matter of pride for all the Indians. India’s first moon orbiter project Chandrayan-1 placed a 527 kg spacecraft in 100 km polar orbit with high-resolution, remote sensing equipment. It carried two USA payloads from NASA too!  Paradoxically, it was USA, which had denied India the cryogenic engine, a critical requirement in India’s space programme!

India is now ranked amongst handful of nations of the world that have a credible capability in space S&T. India’s space programme has led to the creation of the largest domestic communication system in the Asia–Pacific region. Indian space technology, born out of India technonationalism, has served the civilian needs in communication, meteorology, broadcasting and remote sensing.

Indian Technonationalism and Export Control Regimes

Technonationalism is always driven by technology denial. But the denial regime itself undergoes a change as technonationalism gives the country a strong technological foundation. The best example of this is India’s forays into supercomputers, which today are being increasingly regarded as a strategic resource.

India’s supercomputer journey began, when a CRAY super computer was denied to India in mid-eighties. India’s response was to launch the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) in 1987.  In 1991, India developed its first supercomputer, PARAM 8000.

Two interesting facts about PARAM 8000 are worth noting in terms of cost and time. PARAM was built at a cost that was less than the cost of the imported CRAY computer! It was built in a time that was less than the time to import and install a large computer system in India at that time!

But PARAM by C-DAC was not the only response by India to technology denial. There was ‘Flowsolver’ by National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL), ANUPAM by Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), and ANURAG by Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO). And just this year Tata Research Laboratory’s EKA was ranked the 7th fastest supercomputer in the world.

The long voyage in high-performance computing was not a smooth sail by any reckoning. It was plagued by several difficulties, including embargoes on critical components, architectural debates, make-versus-buy  debates,  loss of key talent to multinationals, and bureaucratic hurdles. Interestingly though, a direct correlation can be found between India’s forays into supercomputer and the technology denial play.

After C-DAC successfully demonstrated the PARAM-8000 in 1990, the Los Alamos (Worlton) report concluded that supercomputers were not necessary to design nuclear weapons.

In 1991–1992, C-DAC exported its PARAM supercomputers to Canada, Germany, and Russia, while others, such as NAL’s FLOSOLVER Mk III, and DRDOs’ PACE, matched the capabilities of US-made, mid-range workstations.

In December 1992, the US Office of Naval Research sent an official to Bangalore to assess Indian capabilities in supercomputing. In 1993, the US authorized the licensed conditional export of high-performance computers to several Indian institutions.

In April 1995, India placed parallel processing supercomputing on its list of items requiring an Indian export license. In July 1995, the US began to review its supercomputers export controls and in October 1995, further relaxed the export of computers to India.

In 1998, C-DAC launched PARAM 10,000, which demonstrated India’s capacity to build 100-gigaflop machines. In response, the US further relaxed its export controls.

During the same year, CRAY established a subsidiary in India; the same company had denied CRAY supercomputers in 1980s!

There is a saying that ‘strength respects strength’. India’s foray into supercomputers is a brilliant example of this.


The imprints of technoglobalism are evident all over the emerging economies, which have a strong talent capital. On the outskirts of Shanghai, by 2012, around 10,000 researchers will be working in the Intel research facility that was built from  scratch in just five months. In Beijing, engineers at Ericsson’s research centre are developing routers for mobile phone systems at a third of the cost of those in Europe.

And India is no exception. Intel’s latest chip is being designed in Bangalore, and so is General Electric’s latest aero engine. Around 300 multinational companies have set up their R&D centres in India, including GE, IBM, Microsoft, Du Pont,  Shell, and General Motors. Over 90%  of the US patents filed from Bangalore are for the foreign R&D centres – Indian IQ generating IP for these companies!

The centre of gravity for innovation is starting to shift from west to east. The rise of China, India, and South Korea will redefine the innovation landscape. And there are data to support this. During the decade of 1994-2004, the resident patent applications in South Korea went up by 269% and that in China by 488%, in contrast to the patent applications in the world, which went by only 42%! In the same decade, China’s R&D intensity measured in terms of investment in R&D as a proportion of GDP more than doubled, from 0.6% of GDP in 1995 to over 1.2% in 2004.

The advanced nations are already preparing for this surprising shift.  A report entitled “Avoiding Surprise in an Era of Global Technology Advances” by Committee on Defense Intelligence Agency Technology Forecasts and Reviews set up by National Research Council (2005) of USA concluded as follows:

“Traditionally, the United States has assumed that it leads the world in science and technology. This perspective leads the technology warning community to look for indications that external actors are trying to “catch up”, or to exploit known technologies in new ways. Projected future trends suggest that it should no longer be automatically assumed that the United States will lead in all relevant technologies.“

Technoglobalism is here to stay for several reasons.

First, there is an increasing pressure to shorten international market penetration time for new products, to shorten R&D times, and to decrease the market lifetime for new products.

Second, innovations are beginning to have multiple geographic and organizational sources of technology with increasingly differentiated and innovation-specific patterns of diffusion. R&D in high-technology industries such as biotechnology, nano technology, microelectronics, pharmaceuticals, IT, and advanced materials has become highly science based.

Third, the costs of doing R&D are also increasing exponentially. At the same time, there has been a progressive weakening of the importance of central corporate laboratories in large firms. Firms worldwide are complimenting internal efforts by external technology partnerships on a global basis. The concept of R&D is giving way to C&D – that is ‘connect and develop’. For instance,  50% of Procter & Gamble’s research budget is spent on C&D!

Fourth, the creation of seamless laboratories around the world is also being helped by the evolution of global information networks that allow real-time management and operation of laboratories in any part of the world. Companies are aggressively gaining a competitive advantage by using global knowledge resources and working with a global time clock.

Finally, the trend is also fuelled by a shortage of R&D personnel in some emerging high-tech areas in industrialized countries. The demographic shift is taking place in the US, Europe, and Japan, as its population and workforce become older. For instance, according to the US National Science Foundation Report (2002), more than 76% of the working doctorates in science and engineering are more than 60 years old. This means that a country like India, with a demographic profile that boasts of 55% of its population being less than 25 years old, can become a global innovation hub.

Consequences of Technoglobalism

Technoglobalism in countries like India will have major social, economic, political, and strategic consequences. As India becomes a great global R&D and innovation hub, the world’s best companies will undertake their most challenging R&D in India. These challenges are even now drawing young Indian scientists and engineers back to India. For instance, GE’s Jack Welch R&D centre in Bangalore alone has over 700 Indian researchers return from USA. ‘Brain drain’ is giving way to ‘brain gain’ and then to ‘brain circulation’, the returning Indian scientists leaving these multinational R&D centers and joining the Indian enterprises, as they see challenging opportunities in these enterprises.

More than half of GDP in OECD countries is due to the production and distribution of knowledge. And this proportion is on the increase. As more and more of this knowledge for the leading corporates from OECD gets generated in India, its strategic position will improve.

Technoglobalism & Global Grand Challenges

It is heartening to see that the world is launching major experiments in technoglobalism for solving some grand challenges in science as well as technology. The Large Hadron Collider (over 8 billion US dollars) and International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (over 9 billion US dollars) are excellent examples. The first is searching answers connected with the origin of universe and the second is attempting to find an environmentally benign and inexhaustible source of energy.

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the world’s largest and highest energy particle collider. The LHC was built by European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) with intention of testing various predictions of high energy physics, which may shed light on the conditions that existed around the origin of the universe. It is a great example of technoglobalism, since it is funded and built in collaboration with over 10,000 scientists and engineers from over 100 countries. 10 September 2008 was the historical day (some referred to it as the ‘big bang day’), when the experiments started.

As the world energy demands increase, with the demands on reducing the green house gas omissions also increasing, would it not be wonderful to explore the potential of an environmentally benign and essentially inexhaustible electricity? That is precisely what the most expensive experiment in technoglobalism  that was agreed between 7 participants on 21 November 2006 is attempting to do through the launch of  The ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor). This is an experimental project aimed at future electricity producing fusion power plants. The seven partners in the ITER project are China, European Union, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea and USA. This is an incredible partnership amongst nations with diverse economic and technology status and ideologies.

Technoglobalism for Global Commons

We need the equivalents of LHC and ITER for facing grand challenges that the world is facing today. These challenges comprise climate change, diminishing hydrocarbon energy resources, food and water crisis, terrorism, and now the financial crisis due to global melt-down. The financial crisis will go away but not the others. There is a need to tackle the other crisis by giving a new twist to technoglobalism by “creating global commons by using global talent pool and by using global funds”.

What levels of global funds will be required? Professor Jeffrey Sachs has estimated that R&D for sustainable development – in energy, health, agriculture, climate and water – may require US$70 billion per annum. Global R&D spending is expected to reach US$1,210 billion in 2008. Thus for global commons, we require about 5.8 per cent of the present global expenditure on R&D.

If such funds were made available, what would be the path for ‘technoglobalism for global commons’? Several models are possible.

One model is the ‘Global Research Alliance’ formed by a network of network of public R&D institutions (not for profit) from 5 continents and 9 countries.  These include CSIR (India), CSIRO (Australia), SIRIM (Malaysia), CSIR (South Africa), FhG (Germany), TNO (Netherlands), DTI (Denmark), VTT (Finland) and Battelle (USA). Programmes from low cost internet access to rural Africa to climate change effect on sub-saharan Africa form part of the GRA portfolio aimed towards global good.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), the Rockefeller Foundation and others have done exceptionally well to establish new models of global cooperation, such as novel public-private partnerships. Novel ways of getting the best minds in the world to contribute to solving the ‘grand challenges in global health’ have been established by BMGF. These could be emulated for the other grand challenges that the world is facing.

Technoglobalism for global commons will also involve issues of intellectual property rights and technology transfer. These have been implicitly enshrined in TRIPS. Article 7 of the TRIPS Agreement states ‘the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights should contribute to the promotion of technological innovation and to the transfer and dissemination of technology to the mutual advantage of producers and users of technological knowledge and in a manner conducive to social and economic welfare, and to a balance of rights and obligations’.

However, these have remained mere intentions. Article 7 has never been implemented. For instance, the 1990 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer ran into conflicts over commitments to ensure fair and favourable access for developing countries to chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) substitutes protected by intellectual property rights. The 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity aims to ensure fair and equitable use of genetic resources partly through technology cooperation, but its technological provisions have received little attention. The new partnerships in technoglobalism should be committed to these imperatives.

Finally, for a fair and equitable world, where knowledge and innovation could be used to benefit not just a select few – but all – will require ‘technoglobalism with human face’. Then only will we be able to create global commons that will serve the global good.