Amid Russia’s war in Ukraine, the world has witnessed the unparalleled role that U.S. technology plays in advancing the democratic values of freedom, transparency and openness across the globe. The Ukrainian people are using American platforms and tools provided by our tech companies to combat Russian disinformation, broadcast wartime atrocities in real-time, and rally support the world over. Meanwhile, American technology companies are working with the U.S. government to detect, deter and blunt cyber attacks.
Indeed, America’s technological edge is one of our nation’s most important assets. Over the course of our 98 years of combined public service careers, we have seen firsthand the vital role domestic innovation plays not only in promoting economic prosperity, but also in strengthening our security at home, deterring threats from abroad, defending our allies, and solidifying America’s standing as the world’s superpower.
It is critical that we do not take for granted our technological edge, nor its role in supporting freedom and democracy.
But our adversaries — China, in particular — are determined to supplant the United States as the most powerful and prosperous nation in the world, and their leaders are clear-eyed about what it will take to achieve that goal. Last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping declared that “technological innovation has become the main battleground of the global playing field, and competition for tech dominance will grow unprecedentedly fierce.”
This battleground is evolving rapidly. For example, after Russia asked China for military and economic aid for its war, the European Union warned that China may be providing Russia with microchips and other crucial technologies to sustain its military invasion of Ukraine and prop up its flailing economy. News outlets report that China’s tech giants are helping Russia bypass sanctions by stepping in to support Russia’s wireless and 5G efforts after Western companies left, and China is leveraging its digital and traditional media platforms to amplify Russian propaganda.
At the same time, we have seen China devise and implement several ambitious plans aimed at eroding America’s technological edge and undermining our standing as the world’s sole superpower.
For example, the “Made in China 2025” plan, which was rolled out in 2015, directs massive investments into key technologies such as quantum computing, 5G, robotics, and biotechnology. Their Artificial Intelligence Development Plan outlines a whole-of-government strategy to propel China to global leadership in AI by 2030. And their state-sanctioned mercantilist policies, such as illicit technology transfers and intellectual property theft, are bolstering their domestic industries, eroding our technological edge, and costing our companies hundreds of billions of dollars a year.
These efforts are having an impact. America has fallen behind China in 5G deployment and commercial drone development. Although we remain the world leader in AI research and development, China has made significant strides and threatens to overtake us in the years to come.
Make no mistake: We are in a high-stakes global leadership contest with China and Russia, and the policies the U.S. implements now will have lasting consequences on American and global economic prosperity and security.
If we are going to win this battle for freedom, we must maintain America’s technological and economic preeminence. That means supporting and strengthening our domestic technology industry. The United States is fortunate to be home to the most successful and innovative tech companies in the world. These companies are the backbone of our economy, a cornerstone of our national security and — as we have seen since Feb. 24 — an indispensable force for protecting and promoting the causes of freedom and democracy.
That is why we are troubled by a series of policies some members of Congress are pushing. Analyses have found that these proposals would undermine American innovation, stifle capital investment in cutting-edge ventures, and even dismantle some of our most critical technology companies. There has been insufficient congressional review of how these bills might adversely impact our national security interests, including our economic security. These potential consequences, which would be pivotal for our nation’s prosperity and security, must be taken into account, analyzed and studied, by seeking input from experts and respected institutions; otherwise, we run the risk of handing authoritarian adversaries a permanent advantage that would be hard for our nation and our allies to overcome.
We urge America’s leaders to take a step back and focus on the stakes associated with their policy prescriptions. Our domestic technology companies are critical elements of America’s arsenal of democracy, and lawmakers need to focus on ways to accelerate, not deter, American tech innovation.
Michael J. Morell was acting director and deputy director of the CIA from 2010 to 2013. Joseph Dunford, a retired four-star Marine Corps general, was the 19th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2015 to 2019. Frances Townsend was the third U.S. Homeland Security Advisor from 2004 to 2008. They are National Security Advisory Board co-chairs for the American Edge Project.