The U.S. Reorients Foreign Policy With An Eye On Changing Tech Policy

The Biden Administration will change course from the Trump White House on technology policy, largely through engaging allies.

Naturally, the new government in Washington has articulated a new vision of how the United States (U.S.) will engage with the world and policies and policies it will pursue. Even though much of what the Biden Administration is calling for is fairly mainstream for many recent U.S. Administrations, it is a sharp break from the Trump Administration’s approach to the world with its America First strategy that eschewed the multilateralism the U.S. has traditionally pursued since the Second World War. And given the central role technology plays in statecraft in the 21st Century, the Biden Administration touched on this policy area.

The White House issued the “Interim National Security Strategic Guidance” “to convey President Biden’s vision for how America will engage with the world, and to provide guidance for departments and agencies to align their actions as the Administration begins work on a National Security Strategy” per its statement. In the cover letter, President Joe Biden Jr. stated he issued “interim guidance to convey my vision for how America will engage with the world” and will “direct departments and agencies to align their actions with this guidance, even as we begin work on a National Security Strategy.”

The Biden Administration claimed in its Interim National Security Strategic Guidance:

  • Today, more than ever, America’s fate is inextricably linked to events beyond our shores. We confront a global pandemic, a crushing economic downturn, a crisis of racial justice, and a deepening climate emergency. We face a world of rising nationalism, receding democracy, growing rivalry with China, Russia, and other authoritarian states, and a technological revolution that is reshaping every aspect of our lives. Ours is a time of unprecedented challenges, but also unmatched opportunity.
  • This moment calls upon us to lean forward, not shrink back – to boldly engage the world to keep Americans safe, prosperous, and free. It requires a new and broader understanding of national security, one that recognizes that our role in the world depends upon our strength and vitality here at home. It demands creative approaches that draw on all the sources of our national power: our diversity, vibrant economy, dynamic civil society and innovative technological base, enduring democratic values, broad and deep network of partnerships and alliances, and the world’s most powerful military. Our task is to ensure these advantages endure, by building back better at home and reinvigorating our leadership abroad. From a position of renewed strength, America can meet any challenge.
  • Together, we will demonstrate not only that democracies can still deliver for our people, but that democracy is essential to meeting the challenges of our time. We will strengthen and stand behind our allies, work with like-minded partners, and pool our collective strength to advance shared interests and deter common threats. We will lead with diplomacy. We will renew our commitment to global development and international cooperation, while also making smart, disciplined investments in our national defense. We will address the crises of today while promoting resilience, innovation, competitiveness, and truly shared prosperity for the future. We will recommit to realizing our ideals. We will modernize our national security institutions and processes, while ensuring we take advantage of the full diversity of talents required to address today’s complex challenges. And in everything we do, we will aim to make life better, safer, and easier for working families in America.

The Biden Administration is again calling to redouble efforts to build, or in some cases rebuild, a domestic U.S. technology industry and to place a renewed emphasis on cybersecurity policy. The administration speaks in general terms and much of what they propose is not objectionable across the political spectrum in the U.S. However, the language is so broad it is sometimes unclear how U.S. policy would change in practice. For example, the Biden Administration asserted “we will hold actors accountable for destructive, disruptive, or otherwise destabilizing malicious cyber activity, and respond swiftly and proportionately to cyberattacks by imposing substantial costs through cyber and non- cyber means.” This phraseology lacks some of the rhetoric the Trump Administration used, but its substance is very much the same. Incidentally, this passage may be read as saying the Biden Administration will not reverse the previous White House’s greater use of offensive operations, but it may impose new limits. The Biden Administration does place “cyberattacks, disinformation, and digital authoritarianism” among the international threats to democracy the U.S. and its allies will fight. The Biden Administration is also stressing the price other nations will pay for interfering in U.S. elections and how it plans on working with like-minded nations to address supply chain and “technology infrastructure” vulnerabilities.

Regarding technology policy, the administration specifically stated:

  • As we bolster our scientific and technological base, we will make cybersecurity a top priority, strengthening our capability, readiness, and resilience in cyberspace. We will elevate cybersecurity as an imperative across the government. We will work together to manage and share risk, and we will encourage collaboration between the private sector and the government at all levels in order to build a safe and secure online environment for all Americans. We will expand our investments in the infrastructure and people we need to effectively defend the nation against malicious cyber activity, providing opportunities to Americans of diverse backgrounds as we build an unmatched talent base. We will renew our commitment to international engagement on cyber issues, working alongside our allies and partners to uphold existing and shape new global norms in cyberspace. And we will hold actors accountable for destructive, disruptive, or otherwise destabilizing malicious cyber activity, and respond swiftly and proportionately to cyberattacks by imposing substantial costs through cyber and non- cyber means.
  • Our work defending democracy does not end at our shores. Authoritarianism is on the global march, and we must join with likeminded allies and partners to revitalize democracy the world over. We will work alongside fellow democracies across the globe to deter and defend against aggression from hostile adversaries. We will stand with our allies and partners to combat new threats aimed at our democracies, ranging from cross-border aggression, cyberattacks, disinformation, and digital authoritarianism to infrastructure and energy coercion. We will take special aim at confronting corruption, which rots democracy from the inside and is increasingly weaponized by authoritarian states to undermine democratic institutions. We will defend and protect human rights and address discrimination, inequity, and marginalization in all its forms. We will crack down on tax havens and illicit financing that contribute to income inequality, fund terrorism, and generate pernicious foreign influence.
  • We will coordinate the use of economic tools, leveraging our collective strength to advance our common interests. We will work together to impose real costs on anyone who interferes in our democratic processes. We will join with like-minded democracies to develop and defend trusted critical supply chains and technology infrastructure, and to promote pandemic preparedness and clean energy. We will lead in promoting shared norms and forge new agreements on emerging technologies, space, cyber space, health and biological threats, climate and the environment, and human rights. And we will convene a global Summit for Democracy to ensure broad cooperation among allies and partners on the interests and values we hold most dear.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s made remarks on the Interim National Security Strategic Guidance and below are excerpts relevant to the new course on foreign policy and technology. Blinken, of course, amplified and elaborated on the White House’s message. He more explicitly identified the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as a major issue and focus. He asserted:

  • Fifth, we will revitalize our ties with our allies and partners.  Our alliances are what the military calls force multipliers.  They’re our unique asset.  We get so much more done with them than we could without them.  So we’re making a big push right now to reconnect with our friends and allies, and to reinvent partnerships that were built years ago so they’re suited to today’s and tomorrow’s challenges.  That includes countries in Europe and Asia that have been our closest friends for decades, as well as old and new partners in Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America.
  • Over the decades, these commitments have created new markets for our products, new allies to deter aggression, and new partners to help meet global challenges.  We had a name for it: “enlightened self-interest.”  We’ll be clear that real partnership means carrying burdens together, everyone doing their part – not just us.  And whenever we can, we will choose engagement.  Wherever the rules for international security and the global economy are being written, America will be there, and the interests of the American people will be front and center. We’re always better off at the table, not outside the room.  You should expect nothing less from your government.
  • Seventh, we will secure our leadership in technology.  A global technology revolution is now underway.  The world’s leading powers are racing to develop and deploy new technologies like artificial intelligence and quantum computing that could shape everything about our lives – from where get energy, to how we do our jobs, to how wars are fought.  We want America to maintain our scientific and technological edge, because it’s critical to us thriving in the 21st century economy.
  • But we know that new technologies aren’t automatically beneficial.  And those who use them don’t always have good intentions.  We need to make sure technologies protect your privacy, make the world safer and healthier, and make democracies more resilient.  That’s where American diplomacy comes in.  We’re going to bring our friends and partners together to shape behavior around emerging technologies and establish guardrails against misuse.
  • At the same time, we must strengthen our tech defenses and deterrents.  We need only look at SolarWinds, the major hack of U.S. Government networks last year, to see how determined our adversaries are to use technology to undermine us.  Today, safeguarding our national security means investing in our technological capabilities and elevating this issue in our diplomacy and our defense. We will do both.
  • And eighth, we will manage the biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century: our relationship with China. Several countries present us with serious challenges, including Russia, Iran, North Korea.  And there are serious crises we have to deal with, including in Yemen, Ethiopia, and Burma.
  • But the challenge posed by China is different.  China is the only country with the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to seriously challenge the stable and open international system – all the rules, values, and relationships that make the world work the way we want it to, because it ultimately serves the interests and reflects the values of the American people.
  • Our relationship with China will be competitive when it should be, collaborative when it can be, and adversarial when it must be.  The common denominator is the need to engage China from a position of strength.
  • That requires working with allies and partners, not denigrating them, because our combined weight is much harder for China to ignore.  It requires engaging in diplomacy and in international organizations, because where we have pulled back, China has filled in.  It requires standing up for our values when human rights are abused in Xinjiang or when democracy is trampled in Hong Kong, because if we don’t, China will act with even greater impunity.  And it means investing in American workers, companies, and technologies, and insisting on a level playing field, because when we do, we can out-compete anyone.

© Michael Kans, Michael Kans Blog and, 2019-2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Kans, Michael Kans Blog, and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Image by Dwinslow3 from Pixabay

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