The gaming-updates Global Affairs project started with a simple premise: this technology is becoming more and more involved in global affairs, and we need to figure out what that means for both. From crypto to climate, from international development to defense procurement, I hope we made it.
When I look at the nearly 40 articles we’ve published over the past few months, I can’t help but notice one thing in common: industrial policy is increasingly leaning towards technology. New technologies are a priority. And where China does not have time, it does not lag behind.
Although the United States has made significant progress in addressing these issues (see my Part About the new Cyberburo of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs)Of course, it still lags behind perhaps the most important thing: navigating the growing confluence of geopolitics and technology. If America is to succeed in the 21st century, it will need more than just new agencies or infrastructure investment (no matter how big). Even an industrial strategy is not enough.
America needs a theory of geopolitical technologies.
what i mean by one to studyFor the most part, technology policy can be viewed in two ways. The first is like a new security domain. The public and private sectors have spent billions of dollars improving our cyber capabilities to protect our civilian and military networks and to attack our adversaries. While many of our networks are still very vulnerable, we are generally aware of the issues and are taking steps to strengthen our defenses.
The second follows the assumption that the future belongs to the country that manages (and integrates) the most advanced technologies (and integrates them into its economy). Thus, technology policy becomes a function of macroeconomic competition. This is the foundation on which our current debate is based: Are we on the right track with new technologies like 5G, quantum or artificial intelligence? Is our supply chain secure? What regulatory advantage can we give American tech companies? How can we work with partners to start this effort?
These two aspects of technology policy are incredibly important and worth highlighting in this series and other articles. Just look at Russia, which has been cut off from Western technology supply chains and software updates by the invasion of Ukraine.
But they miss an important element of the role of technology in geopolitics, which I hope has brought us here. Yes, technology is an advantage. But like other economic resources (ahem, the US dollar), technology can also be a lever that gives politicians smart ways to advance broader foreign policy interests. But for the most part, we haven’t systematically thought about how to use that power or how to protect it.
Our rivals are not so shy. With many disparate capabilities, it is authoritarian regimes that do not care about issues such as human rights or the rule of law that have pioneered creative and effective – albeit disgusting and immoral – geopolitical engineering strategies.
At the start of our series, Scott Carpenter warns of the deadly tendency of dictators who simply shut down the Internet to withhold information from their citizens. Matthew Hedges and Ali al-Ahmad have written about how the regime uses spyware to track dissidents and how countries like Israel export the technology to sabotage their diplomacy. Jessica Brandt explores how Russia and China are using social media to spread misinformation against the West. And Samantha Hoffman has written about how China is using data collected by its companies to gain insights around the world.
Clearly, this is not a practice that democracies should follow, and even if they choose to do so, laws, customs, and democratic accountability will largely prevent it. And the US and its allies cannot make technology companies weapons of government. But they raise important questions about how technology fits into American public administration.
For the past two decades, American tech companies have dominated the market with a simple strategy: growth at all costs. And the US government, which equates technological success with US success, allowed technology, especially big technology, to do so, essentially bypassing the regulatory space until recently.
But the world is too advanced as a tool, and “development” is too crude a tool to achieve this goal. Should technological superiority be seen as an expression of American soft power? As for the financial situation? As a means to defeat our rivals? Or because it’s something that can be used as a weapon?
The answer cannot be just “yes” and “more”. We need a new structure that matches the technology can do do with what is required do – and what we do as a nation need Do it.
Even if we agree that technological superiority serves American interests, one important question remains unanswered: how Should technology be applied geopolitically?
Western controls on technology exports to Russia in response to the invasion of Ukraine is a hopeful use of Geotech’s hard power. But Washington can be even more inventive; As Conor Spellici has suggested, he could use new technologies such as cryptocurrencies to reinforce the dominance of the US dollar, or he could use technology to enforce treaties we value, as described by Thomas McInerney.
But America is most effective when it uses its power through alliances, networks, and the rule of law. According to Vera Zachem, this could mean using technology as a tool to expand democracy; Intervention, as Australia did, to build a cable to the Pacific Islands instead of China; Or partner with Apple and Google to protect dissidents. America should also learn from Ukraine’s constructive educational campaign against Russia to use in future conflicts.
instead of trying to dictate resultThe best strategy would be to code in general values in new technologies. China has acknowledged that even if it does not set the rules of the road, it is not enough to develop its technology sector. Thus, he became very successful in dominating global forums setting new technical standards. And it’s not just about writing rules that will benefit Chinese companies (like Huawei in 5G); If authoritarian regimes can encode their repressive values into rules and regulations regarding critical new technologies such as AI, autonomous weapons or biotechnology, this could pose a serious threat to freedoms and human rights around the world. The US and its allies must work hard to fight back, focusing on patient technical diplomacy that they often overlook.
First of all, good geopolitical technical theory, like all good strategic concepts, recognizes limitations. America no longer drives the Colossus around the world, and it would be foolish to think that she can impose her will on her allies as well. Americans cannot achieve Internet freedom simply by will—and must recognize that the Internet does not have to be the same in all countries for a free and open Internet to be successful. If Apple can cut Facebook’s market capitalization by a quarter in one political move, there’s no reason why (democratic) governments can’t have vastly different regulatory regimes in their own jurisdictions.
Americans (and American tech companies) are used to having everything. But as technological dominance becomes more important in geopolitics, technology policy will no longer be carried out in a vacuum. Politics is the art of making choices, and Silicon Valley doesn’t like everything in Washington. From Washington’s point of view, the global ambitions of US technology companies may cease to be valid if they conflict with our values and interests.
What does this mean? Western tech companies have just shown that they can voluntarily leave Russia to show solidarity with Ukraine or not violate its principles by censoring their content. Meta and Elon Musk are now heroes in Ukraine; The first, allowing users to demand the death of Putin and the Russians; The latter will deploy its Starlink platform to keep Ukraine online.
But tough compromise signals: should Apple and Tesla give up their Chinese factories? Should the US push Chinese tech companies like TikTok off its shores? Now that they have set a precedent in Russia, these are realistic scenarios for Washington to consider and Silicon Valley for planning.
Zoom out, so what happens when US technology priorities clash with the broader diplomatic agenda? Should the US government ally with Brussels on antitrust law or stand up for American tech companies? What happens when the interests of the tech sector clash with progress in sustainable development or climate change in Taiwan? These are important questions that remain to be answered.
In the meantime, national security planners must remember that we are once again living in an era of superpower warfare. The conflict in Ukraine has shocked many for its traditional nature, but it has also proved to be a testing ground for new technologies such as drones. For the first time, we are seeing a war flare up in an all-online community – let’s not ignore the massive soft power Ukraine provides through social media. Would Western support be so strong without Kyiv’s active online presence (or publicity, as you might call it)?
A year ago, I asked what role technology plays in US foreign policy. America is certainly in a better position than at that time. Technology is at the center of its foreign policy and national security agenda.
But if the US is to maintain its global leadership while leaving its rivals behind, it must do more than just spur innovation and develop new capabilities with little more than “innovation” justification. It must develop a theory that comprehensively explores how every aspect of the technological state of skill—cybersecurity, antitrust, regulation, supply chain, basic science, standards, not to mention the role of tech companies—is, to the extent possible, a U.S. foreign policy goal. Serve. If you don’t, you risk not only creating strategic confusion, but destroying perhaps America’s greatest asset: its entrepreneurial and scientific excellence. What is at stake is nothing less than American power, prestige and prosperity.