Adam Segal at the Council on Foreign Relations is a leading expert on cyberspace security. Segal’s work has focused on China, but India is an increasingly important player in this arena as well. In The Diplomat, Segal argues that “Cyberspace is one of the arenas where India’s pursuit of its own interests could result in policy stances that disappoint American policymakers.”
India is promoting an alternative system of internet governance and security, based at the United Nations. The U.S. opposes U.N. control of cyberspace regulation. Given that both India and the United States value freedom of speech and expression, why the divergent approach?
One part of the explanation may be that the Indian government’s tolerance for freedom of speech on the internet is more limited than most westerners think.
But Segal’s analysis digs deeper, and finds another part of the explanation. During its elected term on the United Nations Security Council in 2011, India proposed creating a United Nations committee for internet regulation (with a large number of participants – 50 countries and 4 advisory bodies). Supporters of a U.N.-based approach to internet governance believe that “democratization of governance… prevents the Internet from ‘becoming an instrument of further entrenching the geo-economic and geo-political powers of the North, chiefly the U.S.’ ”
Segal notes that New Delhi has not pushed to confront Washington on this issue recently. However, like other issues at the U.N., the divergent U.S. and Indian agenda for regulating the internet is a fairly accurate reflection of the state of U.S.-India relations. In contrast to assumptions that cooperation will naturally emerge from shared democratic values, the true state of U.S.-India alignment on global issues is a mixed picture.
Americans do share many values with Indians, but the two countries are very different democracies. Washington and New Delhi face different domestic realities and different regional strategic environments. The U.S. must work to secure Indian cooperation on global issues, it can’t take that cooperation for granted.