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Cybersecurity Strategy Advice for the Trump Administration: US-India Relations

January 23, 2017


Minnie Ray Chaudhury, Michael Walstrom

Feature Series

Cybersecurity and the Trump Administration Series

Regional Recommendations for U.S. Cybersecurity Policy in the World

Central Challenge

India and the U.S. share a cybersecurity interest in tackling terrorism and clean energy issues, but relations are often strained between the two countries.


  1. Improve the effectiveness of bilateral cooperation on national security and terrorism by finalizing the Communication and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA).
  2. Support India becoming a member of the Wassenaar Arrangement because it gives India easier access to arms and duel-use technologies from other members.
  3. Assist India in building an energy sector that uses energy more efficiently, is resistant to power outages, and is able to deflect cyberattacks.


Although the relationship between the United States’ and Indian governments has often been strained, their ties have been increasing in strength. In particular, 2016 has proven to be a very important year in the foundation of this relationship, because this year India agreed to follow the U.S.’s lead in matters of cybersecurity and Internet governance during the Russia-China-India summit in April. India’s attitude was further solidified when President Obama and Prime Minister Modi met in June and discussed how the two nations can cooperate with each other on several matters, including clean energy and terrorism.

As the groundwork has been laid for a strong partnership between the two countries, the next administration should continue to view India as a strong strategic ally with a focus on military relations and clean energy, with a foreground in cybersecurity to ensure a more resilient environment.

Recommendation 1: The Critical Need to Complete CISMOA

The terrorist attacks carried out by ISIS in Paris in 2015, and by Jaish-e-Mohammad affiliates on India’s Pathankot Air Force base in 2016 have demonstrated the importance of information for national security. In both cases phones and their data trails have given investigators enough evidence to track down suspects and piece together the story behind the attacks. In the case of the Panthankot attack, mobile phones proved important because the terrorists made calls to Pakistan just before the attack, leaving data trails that the Indian government were able to trace. These trails eventually allowed Pakistani police to make arrests. In France, a phone dumped near one of the attack sites led French authorities to the flat of the attack’s chief planner.

The Paris attacks also teach a lesson in communication between governments and agencies. Multiple attackers were under surveillance in Belgium and France but their movements between countries were not well communicated between governments. Turkey repeatedly warned both France and Belgium that the attackers were radicalized, but France did not effectively act upon the information.

These events demonstrate the importance of information and communication, which is the essence of the Communication and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA). The U.S. and India are becoming closer partners in the war on terror and carry out increasing numbers of joint military exercises. The political and military interests of the countries have been converging, and for these reasons secure military communication will be necessary. CISMOA will give India access to encrypted communications equipment for naval and air force vessels and will bolster the functionality of the recently signed Logistics Supply Agreement (LSA), which created a framework for the Indian and U.S. militaries to resupply and repair equipment at each other’s bases. During times of peace and confrontation, communication will be the basis of cooperation.

India’s reluctance to move forward is based on a fear that CESMOA could result in a net strategic loss damaging bilateral relationships with other countries in the region. In other words, it could provoke Pakistan, Russia, and China without providing much military and political benefit to India. Additionally, the agreement is bilateral, but India is also concerned about the U.S.’s history of bullish foreign policy and military engagement.

However, another bilateral military agreement, the Logistics Supply Agreement faced the same problem, but it was overcome by tailoring the agreement to highlight the voluntary nature of any instance of cooperation. CISMOA does the same; it merely creates the means to share. The U.S. should use the means created through CISMOA to build a culture of trust through information sharing. With such a culture the countries will be able to turn information into action and avoid the dire mistakes France made. Benefits of U.S.-India information sharing will be maximized by India entering the Wassenaar Arrangement.

Recommendation 2: Integrate India into the Wassenaar Arrangement

The Wassenaar Arrangement is an export control group that aims to limit the spread of dangerous technologies. It requires that member states limit exports on dual use technologies so rogue nations cannot stockpile them, and terrorists cannot acquire them. Like CISMOA, it may give India easier access to technology from member states. Becoming a member will benefit India’s private sector, military, and improve the security of critical infrastructure through access to things like computer encryption and intrusion technology. This benefits the U.S. by increasing the Indian government’s ability to collect and share information about terrorists, and secure information the U.S. provides.

Supporting India’s membership in the Wassenaar Arrangements and finalizing CISMOA are basic steps the next U.S. administration can take to quicken India’s political and military growth, which will make it a more capable ally in the fight against terrorism. In addition to completing CISMOA and supporting India’s entrance into the Wassenaar Arrangement, the U.S. should continue to support renewable energy development in India as a way to combat climate change, support economic growth in a growing market for U.S. companies, and do so in a way that builds a cyber resilient infrastructure.

Recommendation 3: Help India Create Renewable Energy

Electricity is closely tied to both to the development of individuals as well as development on the national level. President Obama and Prime Minister Modi have committed to research for energy storage and smart grids, along with financing for distributed renewable generation. U.S. financing for renewables will aid India as it works to build 40 gigawatts of distributed, small-scale renewable energy generation capacity. Projects financed under this scheme will help electrify places the grid can’t reach, which will help small economies grow into important pieces of the international market. These projects will help the U.S. and India reach their goal of 500 billion dollars a year in trade.

Supporting energy research will help both countries build energy sectors that can transition away from coal and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a resilient manner. Energy storage and smart grid research will provide insights into renewable energy uses on and off the grid and will increase grid efficiency in both countries, further contributing to climate change mitigation. Smart grid research is also essential for the safety and resilience of the grid. It can contribute to grids that use energy more efficiently, are resistant to power outages, and are able to deflect attacks from cyberspace.


The U.S. can move to improve the effectiveness of bilateral cooperation on national security and terrorism by finalizing the Communication and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA), and by supporting India’s entrance into the Wassenaar Arrangement. The abilities to secure, collect, and share information are essential if the two counties are to be more effective partners in national security and antiterrorism efforts. Becoming a member of the Wassenaar Arrangement will give India easier access to arms and duel-use technologies from other members. Duel use technologies are those that have both civilian and military uses and include conventional arms as well as telecommunications equipment, encryption and computer intrusion technologies.

Clean energy is less closely tied to the issue of terrorism, but the lack of reliable electricity underpins all of India’s cybersecurity challenges. Helping India with energy will help the U.S. in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and resilient critical infrastructure.

As more and more key aspects of infrastructure become integrated into cyber space, countries need to be more aware of the dangers and work together to create secure information networks to the benefit of all involved. If the United States and India can continue to be partnered in matters of energy and terrorism, these two democratic nations can lead the world in creating a more resilient cyber environment so energy and military cooperation can function securely.

This publication was made possible in part by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.