Technology as the silent factor in international relations

In this essay…

“We are changing the world with technology” – Bill Gates

Technology is a part and parcel of human life. It is an important component responsible for the evolution of human life in every civilization. As we know the human mind is the best form of energy available in this universe. To accommodate future needs, a human develops technologies. Thus, Bill Gates rightly put forth the proposition that we are changing the world with technology. From the development of space to agriculture, technology has been playing a key role. Similarly, it plays a significant role as well as a silent role in international relations too.

Start of application of the technology in IR

Technologies have been used as power equations in foreign policy since the ages. Even during Indus valley civilization (IVC), we see the use of technology. For example, IVC used seals for trade with Babylon and other contemporary civilizations. Technologies were used to make seals. During ancient times, kings used to send messages to another king on “Bhoj Patra”. It silently shows that they would have knowledge of chemicals used for writing over the Patra.

Post-ancient history, the use of technologies in foreign policy was also witnessed in the medieval age. Over the period of time, means to fight the war against another kingdom also evolved with technologies. With the start of the Mughal empire in India in the 16th century, gunpowder and field artillery were used in the wars of Panipat which were visible and were noticed in history. Later, technologies were used by the kings from the collection of taxes to the development of agriculture. For example, Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan in Mysore used to levy taxes based on the fertility of the soil. It inherently shows that they would have the knowledge to measure the fertility of the soil. It had generated soft power for the king.

Over the period of time, the use of technology increased. In the modern period, European powers used technology to find colonies. Its naval technology developed by Europeans made them reach Indian coasts i.e. Surat, Calicut, and Masulipattanam. Britishers used technologies to fight the war against other European power as well as Indian powers. On the same line, Indian freedom fighters used technologies silently in the movements. For example, Radio communication was used during the Quit India movement in 1942 by J.P. Narayan and other leaders.

Technology as a power equation in IR

During the inter-war period between the end of colonization and the liberal world order, massive technologies were used. As a power equation, technologies were used in the first world war as well as the second world war. At the end of the second world war in 1945, the US dropped a nuclear bomb at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. It has led to the race of nuclear proliferation in international relations. Followed by which Russia acquired nuclear weapon in 1949. By the end of the 1960s, all P5 countries acquired nuclear weapons to balance power in international relations.

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Post-1960, a race of nuclear proliferation started to take place in third-world countries. It has led to the treaty i.e. NPT (Non-proliferation treaty) in 1968. It recognized all P5 countries as nuclear-weapon states. It disallowed any other country than P5 countries to keep nuclear weapons. But many of the third world countries like India and Pakistan didn’t sign this treaty. Some countries like Iran and North Korea signed but later withdrew from this treaty. These countries give a reason that ‘complete disarmament’ must be applicable to all countries. It has silently played role in shaping the relationship between northern and southern countries.

Along with nuclear technology in international relations, space technology also plays a key role. For example, India has been launchings satellites for other countries as well. It increases India’s economy might as well as soft power which is invisible. For e.g. India has been planning for Ganganyan in 2020 amid the 75th years of completion of India’s independence. For this, Russia has been helping India in training its astronauts. Similarly, France has been helping in the medical area for Indian astronauts. Apart from these, India has also successfully tested anti-satellite weapons under ‘Mission Shakti’ in 2019. Thus, technology is silently shaping the power equation in space too.

Technology as a means to serve national interests in IR

The use of technology in trade plays important role in international relations. India has been one of the largest importers of defense-related equipment. The development of technology over the period of time leads to new avenues for the relation between two countries. For example, the Russian S-400 missile system invokes a new deal and new engagement for India with Russia. It makes the US unhappy. The US has found its way to contain other countries through the CAATSA act 2017 (Countering America’s adversary through the sanction act). It shows how the evolution of new technologies shapes international relations more than trade which is visible to us.

In the 21st century, technologies have been silently used to serve ‘own interests’ in international relations. For example, China’s 5G program has been seen from the prism of a new surveillance system. Countries accuse that China has used technology to temper elections in many countries like Australia and the US. China has used technology to manufacture consent in the Victoria region of Australia and influence them for the Chinese BRI project. Recently, various news unveiled the fact that Pakistan tried to heat up west Asia’s land against India using information warfare techniques. Pakistan used controversial tweets of Indian politicians to destabilize India’s relation in west Asia.

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Similarly, post-Uri and Pulwama attacks, India executed surgical strikes to contain terrorism. While realizing hard power in international relations to containing terrorism, India uses massive technology. Technology has silently shaped India’s muscle power strong enough to conduct surgical strikes. On the same line, India has been successful in containing terrorism in northeast India. In such operations, Indian defense forces use sophisticated weapons, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, Cameras as well as Thermal imaging devices. These technologies won’t attract much attention from the media in international relations.

Technology, COVID-19 and International relation

Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, technologies have played an important role in international relations. India has provided medical assistance to many other countries. To contain COVID-19 temporarily, India has helped more than 70 countries through drug diplomacy. India gained invisible power i.e. soft power by providing hydroxychloroquine to African countries free of cost or at a very low price. On the other hand, India earned dollars by selling the same to other countries which is visible to us. It has also shaped India’s relations with other countries. It’s all because of India’s advancement in pharmaceutical technologies.

Amid the COVID-19, countries organized online meetings. Multilaterally as well as bilaterally, COVID-19 has shaped a new means of engagement. It saves fuel as well as money. Many events in international relations have been stagnating for a long time due to financial constraints. For example, SAARC countries don’t meet for a long time due to financial constraints also along with rivalries between the countries. Thus, due to the advancement of technology, now countries are coming closer with minimal use of resources. Thus, it has also been silently shaping international relations in this way.

The other side of the coins

Apart from technology, other factors also matter in the context of international relations. The civilizational value of a country also plays an important role. For example, India has been known for its values like Vasudev Kutumbakam (The whole world is family) based on cooperation and tolerance. The soft power of the country also plays an important role in international relations. For example, India’s soft power in the Maldives help India in getting a voice in OIC (Organization of Islamic cooperation) in the context of India’s development in Kashmir on Article 370.

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The economic might, as well as the military, might also play an important role in international relations. However, the military might is dependent on economic might. The geography of a country also plays an important role in shaping international relations. For e.g. Geographical location of Pakistan increases its bargaining power in international politics. Domestic politics also play an important role in shaping international relations. For example, Tamil Nadu politics shaped India’s involvement in Srilankan Civil war. Similarly, Bengal politics over the Teesta river dispute shaped India’s reaction to Bangladesh.

In conclusion

In the above essay, we have discussed how technology has played an important role in international relations. We have discussed its application in shaping international relations from ancient to medieval followed by modern times. We have also discussed the role of technology as a power equation in the context of nuclear proliferation and space. We have also addressed the use of technology in international relations to serve national interests. In the context of COVID-19, we have discussed how drug diplomacy and online meeting put forth a new avenue in international relations. Apart from technology, we have also discussed other factors as well.

As we have discussed both faces of the technology in international relation, its the consciousness of the nation decides the use of technology. All countries around the world should focus on cooperation and the positive use of technology. There is a need for collective consciousness among nations to refrain from its negative use like regime change, nuclear proliferation, and space war. Consciousness would guide to work on common factors like poverty, climate change, and terrorism. For this, we need to build trust among the countries. Thus, Bill Gates rightly argued that – ‘we are changing the world with technology.

Footnotes

  1. Weebly | Building And Technology
  2. Britannica | Battles of Panipat
  3. Business Standard | Hiroshima after 75 years: Why US bombed Hiroshima, and the impact on Japan
  4. The Economic Times | India’s first manned space mission, Gaganyaan, to send three persons for 5-7 days
  5. IDSA | CAATSA Sanctions and India
  6. Scroll.in | Behind the scenes: How India went about planning ‘surgical strikes’ after the Uri attack
  7. The Week | The magic tablets of India’s pillbox diplomacy
  8. The Economic Times | Maldives defends India at OIC 
  9. The Diplomat | India and Sri Lanka’s Civil War
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