We are proud to release the American Edge Project’s national security policy framework – the details of which reflect decades of experience and expertise gained in the subject, including from our respective tenures at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the White House.
As the policy makes clear: the United States risks critical long-term national security consequences if it relinquishes its global leadership role in technology. Put more plainly, policies that forfeit the U.S. competitive edge to foreign entities with diametrically different values put the safety, privacy, and economic prosperity of Americans at risk. Those stakes are too high to adopt practices that unnecessarily hamper an industry so intertwined with the future of American strength and security. A smart regulatory and policy approach is needed.
The United States has traditionally used a mix of hard power (military strength), soft power (diplomacy), and smart power (a sensible blend of both hard and soft power) to advance its interests at home and abroad. With a new administration sworn into office, it is time to build the architecture for the deployment of U.S. digital power. U.S digital power will empower American technology innovation and promote it globally as a way to defend our interests and advance our values in the competition between “techno-democracies” like the U.S., European Union (EU), Japan, and other democratic allies and techno-autocracies” like Russia and China.
Our framework forges a path towards maintaining America’s technological edge globally through three key pillars: protecting the ability to innovate, securing U.S. technology, networks, and data through enhanced cybersecurity, and advancing a democratic and open internet.
The following takeaways underscore why each pillar is not merely important, but imperative:
PROTECTING THE ABILITY TO INNOVATE
“It is crucial for U.S. national and economic security that the U.S offers the most capable and cutting-edge technologies and services. While the U.S. maintains an advantage in emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and semiconductors, it has lost what was once a comfortable lead to China, with many experts thinking China is a few years behind in these technologies. More troublingly, the U.S. has fallen behind China in technologies including facial and voice technology, 5G deployment, and the commercial drone market. The Trump Administration laid the groundwork for overtaking the lead in 5G technology, and the new Biden Administration has indicated this will remain a priority issue. It is fortunate there is bipartisan agreement around the understanding that the country that leads in the global telecommunications deployment and in standard setting for new technologies will influence the international economic landscape in the decades to come.”
SECURING U.S. TECHNOLOGY, NETWORKS, AND DATA THROUGH ENHANCED CYBERSECURITY
“Integral to digital power at home and abroad is the ability to secure the cyber networks of American citizens, businesses, and government agencies. The recent SolarWinds hack is a reminder of the persistent and sophisticated nature of cyber threats. America’s commitment to infrastructure integrity, the strongest possible cybersecurity protections, and privacy stand in sharp contrast to the internet infrastructure of techno-autocracies in which data protections are nonexistent and there is a risk of data being harvested for Chinese AI algorithms. The U.S. technology industry will be instrumental in the effort to detect and deter future cyber threats as part of a broader effort to advance U.S. digital power that upholds the privacy of U.S. citizens data through secure networks and cyber protections.”
ADVANCING A DEMOCRATIC AND OPEN INTERNET
“One of America’s greatest allies in the tech race against techno-autocracies is the U.S. technology industry and the massive research and development (R&D) investments made by technology companies to maintain an edge in key emerging technologies. U.S. tech companies promote freedom of speech, non-censorship, and the value of an open internet. The most efficient way to share and maintain these U.S. values is through U.S. technologies used abroad. To export U.S. digital power, the government must partner with the private sector and incentivize domestic innovation to help empower the U.S. tech industry to continue to thrive at home and around the world.”
By leveraging two distinctly American assets – technological supremacy and a network of allies, partners, and friends around the world that share our commitment to freedom and democratic principles – lawmakers can help defend our interests and advance our values. Those interests and those values are particularly vital as the competition between “techno-democracies” like the U.S., EU, Japan, and other democratic allies and “techno-autocracies” like Russia and China escalates at an increasingly swift clip.
Admiral James Stavridis, USN (Ret.) is the former Supreme Allied Commander at NATO and commander of U.S. Southern Command, and Frances Townsend is former White House Counterterrorism and Homeland Security Advisor. Both are National Security Advisory Board Co-Chairs for the American Edge Project.