By Doug Kelly

As Russia and China join in an authoritarianism alliance to undermine democracy across the globe, most evidently in Ukraine, American technology stands as a bulwark against their efforts. Yet driven by an anti-Big Tech political agenda, some in Congress are intent on crippling America’s ability to innovate – a central element of our country’s defense against autocracy. If successful, Congress’ misguided efforts will surrender America’s competitive edge, embolden our adversaries, and have lasting geopolitical consequences.

Just yesterday (4/5/2022) in his testimony to Congress, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin bluntly emphasized the critical importance of technology and innovation to our national security, saying: “The United States’ technological edge has long been key to our military advantage. To keep that edge razor-sharp, the Department will support the innovation ecosystem, both at home and in expanded partnerships with our allies and partners.

Innovation has always played a pivotal role in the United States’ geopolitical standing. For the past 75 years, America’s global leadership has rested on three pillars – a steadfast belief in democratic values, a willingness to rally allies to defend these values, and an uncommon ability to innovate new ideas and technologies.

In addition to creating ladders of economic opportunity, American technology protects our citizens, defends our allies, and guards us against cyberattacks. It also articulates our principles of freedom, expression, and association, and empowers millions of citizens around the world to make their voices and truths heard.

Contrast this with the closed, undemocratic societies of China and Russia. Both use technology and the internet for surveillance, control, censorship, and to deny and abuse fundamental human rights. They are united by a common disdain of the United States, free societies, open discussion, western values, and a desire to become a global superpower.

In 2022 alone, this alliance’s threat to democracy has grown even more acute. Just before the Olympics, Russia and China announced a friendship with “no limit.” They share technology, conduct joint military training exercises, and assist each other in weaponry development. Rather than help avert Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, China handed Russia secret intelligence the U.S. had gathered. And, while Russia commits atrocities against thousands of innocent civilians, including women and children, China blames the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), parrots Russian state propaganda, refuses to condemn Putin’s actions, launched cyberattacks against Ukraine, and is considering helping Russia bypass sanctions with military and economic aid.

Despite the imminent, high-stakes threat posed by these two countries, Congress is considering a series of proposals that take aim at the very “innovation ecosystem” that Secretary Austin referred to in his testimony. Innovation doesn’t happen by itself – it requires an ecosystem of ideas, talent, and capital that is underpinned by a supportive legal and regulatory framework at the federal level.

Congress’ plans would undo this supportive federal framework and instead break up some of America’s most innovative tech companies, restrict their product lines, prohibit acquisitions of break-through technologies, and dictate how and with whom they can compete. Worst of all, many of these bills apply only to American technology companies and not to their foreign counterparts, namely China and state-owned entities.

If these bills pass, Congress will be assisting our toughest adversaries. China’s grand ambition is to be the world’s leading power. To accomplish that, China knows it must erode our technological edge, both by acquiring core technologies and increasing its capacity for innovation. Even China’s President Xi himself admitted that China’s low level of domestic innovation is the “Achilles’ heel” of its global plans. To achieve its aims, China is using every and any means available, including trade, acquisitions, and outright theft of more than $500 billion in intellectual property each year from the United States.

Just how averse is Congress to considering the national security implications of their anti-innovation bills? One day after Secretary Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley outlined technology’s important role in American security, POLITICO reported that a private Congressional staff briefing on anti-tech legislation would feature media lawyers, hospitality researchers, and subcommittee staffers – but no national security experts.

Rather than pushing a political agenda that undercuts American innovation and hands a permanent edge to our adversaries, Congress should offer policies that accelerate innovation and encourage even greater investment here at home. This means heavy investment in research and development (R&D) and preserving the stable legal and regulatory ecosystem that has created America’s current technological edge. The free world, starting right here at home, is counting on Congress to get it right.