By Frances Townsend
The ever-worsening stream of cyber aggressions launched by foreign adversaries continues to underscore why “most Americans across party lines have serious concerns about cyberattacks” from China and Russia ― as well as the need for policymakers to refrain from undermining our country’s competitive tech edge. On the heels of harrowing incidents that range from April’s Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack to the “tsunami” of cybercriminal activities that hit dozens of already battered hospitals in 2020, it was reported just this week, for instance, that “suspected foreign hackers have breached nine organizations in the defense, energy, health care, technology and education sectors.” Washington must promptly elevate the foregoing wake up calls into clarion calls as “techno-autocracies” work to cement their global superpower status. The security of our nation depends on our ability to maintain a flourishing tech industry here at home — and, in turn, mitigate such hostile cyberwarfare tactics exploited abroad.
As Beijing moves to achieve its China Standards 2035 strategy to dominate the technology sector ― per President Joe Biden’s observation, China believes it will “own America” by that same year — an important new report released by the Atlantic Council’s GeoTech Center and the American Edge Project details the importance of supporting our domestic technology sector, along with helping make certain “that new technologies emerging from the United States are of the highest quality.”
To be sure, the report’s review of how the United States can “navigate the geopolitics of international technology standards” includes promising findings regarding the durability of Standard Developing Organizations. Amid China’s “systematic strategy to expand its involvement in standards setting for new technologies… in what many US policymakers view as an effort to dominate international standards and work against the United States and its allies,” the Atlantic Council concludes that “such bodies are structurally sound and have been able to withstand pressure from individual governments in the past.”
Though this key takeaway — coupled with the conclusion that “the United States has a dominant presence in standards bodies, holding at least 50 percent of votes in eleven of the thirty-nine organizations evaluated by [the] paper” — serves as a source of reassurance, the report rightfully urges our elected leaders to “maintain awareness” of China’s activities “as they design a strategy for future US engagement with standards organizations.” More specifically, the authors call on Washington to “support the US technology sector and ensure that new technologies emerging from the United States are of the highest quality, since well-engineered products are the most likely to be selected for global use.”
Given the need for the United States to improve our innovation capabilities and better compete with an increasingly aggressive Chinese Communist Party in the space, it is confounding that some members of Congress are pushing misguided antitrust proposals. The effort would embolden China and other foreign adversaries to dominate the digital landscape, undermining a key national security advantage. And by subjecting domestic companies to rules that do not apply to state owned enterprises, the legislation would also handcuff America’s innovators as the very entities often responsible for cyber threats enjoy a leg up.
Working alongside, rather than against, our tech innovators is a critical key to combatting such threats. The unintended consequences that may well result from anti-competition policies being debated in Washington would weaken American innovation — and, as a result, leave us vulnerable to global adversaries as their sophisticated ransomware attacks escalate in both severity and scale.
And so, as they review the harrowing headlines concerning the rise in cyber aggressions, lawmakers must also heed the important findings of the Atlantic Council’s new report — and swiftly help fortify America’s domestic tech edge.
Frances Townsend is the former White House Counterterrorism and Homeland Security Advisor to President George W. Bush. Townsend serves on the National Security Advisory Board of the American Edge Project.