Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Emerging Technologies and National Rejuvenation
Emerging Technologies and National Rejuvenation

Emerging Technologies and National Rejuvenation

Original Orbis piece: Lawrence Rubin, “Guest Editor’s Corner,” Orbis, vol. 64, no. 4 (Fall 2020).

Revisiting Orbis essay: Shay Stautz, “China’s 5G Challenge to the United States is for … the Future,” November 24, 2020.

Initial Takeaways: In introducing the special Fall 2020 Orbis issue on emerging technologies and national security, guest editor Lawrence Rubin highlighted the importance of “novel technologies, including quantum technologies (such as advanced computing), autonomy, robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), hypersonic weapons, biotechnologies, and 5G” for national security. In a subsequent Revisiting Orbis follow-up, Shay Stautz discussed the importance of the new technological infrastructure for providing “the backbone of what Klaus Schwab referred to the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’”; speaking specifically of 5G, he quoted a Deloitte and Touche analysis that “first adopter countries” of these new technologies “could sustain more than a decade of competitive advantage.” Rubin also called attention to how the “intensifying competition to acquire capabilities to dominate or to pace an adversary” would have “profound geo-political implications, including arms racing, inadvertent and intentional escalation, or even conflict.”

Expanding the Argument: Harlan Ullman, the Arnaud de Borchgrave distinguished columnist for United Press International, has expanded the argument and linked it to not only renovating technological infrastructure, but also to jump-starting economic growth and restoring America’s leadership of the community of nations. In his January 21, 2021, column, he calls for the creation of a national reinvestment fund “to stimulate biomedicine, renewable energy and sustainable environment, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, cyber, 3-D printing, advanced materials and other technologies with the purposes of rejuvenating infrastructure and the economy and containing the new MAD. It is these technologies that will empower economic growth.”

Ullman’s concern about what he terms the “new MAD”—not mutually-assured destruction, but “massive acts of disruption”—connects with Rubin’s warnings about the disruptive nature of new technologies. Indeed, Ullman would make a central organizing principle for policy “preventing or containing massive disruption to people, commerce and communities.”

Ullman’s proposal to seed the fund “with about $1 trillion in federal money and at least an equal amount from the private sector through the issuance of 30-year bonds incentivized with 2% to 3% interest rates above prime guaranteed by the government” ties in with Stautz’s call for returning to “America’s historic investment” in technological development, both through government action and public-private partnerships.

The fund proposed by Ullman is not a panacea to the challenges that Rubin and Stautz have laid out, but it offers the chance to modernize America’s technological infrastructure and, at least, to contain and mitigate the impacts of “massive acts of disruption.”

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a non-partisan organization that seeks to publish well-argued, policy-oriented articles on American foreign policy and national security priorities.