By Doug Kelly, CEO of American Edge
February 24, 2023, marks the one-year anniversary of Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine. One critical lesson from this past year is that America’s technology industry not only is a vital element of our national security and prosperity, but it is also a powerful and proactive force when it comes to defending and advancing democratic values.
A year ago, as Russian troops surged across the Ukrainian border and bombs fell on cities and towns all across Ukraine, American tech companies responded quickly with a series of bold actions to slow Russia and support the cause of freedom, democracy, and human rights. These included:
- Deleting Russian government propaganda from social media platforms, and removing thousands of channels, videos, and accounts linked to the Russian government and its operatives.
- Creating a digital squeeze of Russian society by restricting public access to official government sites, reducing the visibility of its content, ending product and advertising sales in Russia, and suspending numerous services.
- Providing satellite-based Internet service to replace destroyed on-the-ground infrastructure in Ukraine.
- Disabling live traffic functions in mapping software in Ukraine, which could have allowed Russia insight into locations of Ukrainian forces.
- Creating complex software patches overnight to thwart Russian cyberattacks, helping Ukraine quickly recover from attacks that were successful, and housing critical Ukrainian data securely away from the battlefield.
- Committing over $130 million in humanitarian aid to support Ukraine and our Western allies, especially the more than one million refugees who had to leave the country.
These are but a few examples of the “digital front lines” American tech companies have served on the since the invasion began. While they leveraged their resources, capabilities, and expertise to assist Ukraine and defend its sovereignty against Russian aggression, many U.S. tech companies were banned from operating in Russia and some were formally labeled “extremist” organizations by the Russian government.
Contrast these actions by U.S. firms with those of China’s tech companies. When China’s government blamed the United States for the war, China’s internet giants eagerly disseminated this lie widely across their platforms (and continue to do so today). While U.S. companies were removing Russian false narratives, China’s tech giants amplified the Kremlin’s propaganda while censoring posts that were sympathetic to the Ukrainian cause. And while U.S. tech companies have lost billions in revenue through their actions, China’s tech firms have aggressively expanded their business operations in Russia to secure greater market share.
In a dramatic break from the past, the past year has demonstrated that large technology companies can shape war in real time by deciding what services and capabilities to supply to countries and what actions they are willing to tolerate. This is having a direct influence on geopolitical power and is one of the reasons why The Wall Street Journal called American tech companies “a key asset in the West’s rivalry with Russia and China.”
That’s why it’s so important that American technology companies win the global innovation competition in 5/6G, artificial intelligence, quantum sciences, semiconductors, extended reality, and other strategic technologies. Though U.S. companies don’t always get it right, they are responsive and stand up for American and Western values. This is critical as China pushes to dethrone the United States as global technology leader. China doesn’t embrace democratic values, it seeks to actively spread its vision for global digital authoritarianism, and its tech companies fully embrace the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) agenda.
So rather than thwarting U.S. innovation through short-sighted, anti-tech legislation, U.S. lawmakers at all levels need to help accelerate innovation so we never lose our technological edge. The stakes are high, and the democratic world is counting on us to get it right.