The U.S. must work with its international allies to ensure that its national security interests are considered in global talks around the development and use of innovative technologies, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during a discussion at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution on Monday.
Blinken—who spoke at the event with Hoover Institution Director and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice—said the world is at “an inflection point” when it comes to competition between global powers, even as there is a growing need to leverage innovative technologies “to solve big challenges.”
“We have to find ways to make sure that, on technology, we are more aligned with other countries, starting in many cases with close partners in Europe and Asia and then broadening out,” Blinken added.
During the event, Blinken said that greater tech-centric coordination with global allies would allow the U.S. to push back on the interests of adversaries like Russia and China, while also helping to strengthen supply chains, defend democratic freedoms and ensure that other countries have the resources needed to manufacture semiconductors and other essential technologies.
“This alignment with other countries—trying to all move in the same direction and trying to work together on shaping some of the norms, the standards, the rules by which technology is used—that’s also profoundly a part of our national interest and our strength around the world,” Blinken said.
Blinken’s appearance at the Hoover Institution came amid a two-day visit to Silicon Valley, as part of his effort to “highlight the key role for technology diplomacy in advancing U.S. economic and national security,” according to the State Department.
Blinken said one concern for the State Department is that leading global challenges—such as issues related to cyberspace and digital policy, climate change, health and food security—haven’t always been its top priorities. That’s why it’s important, he said, for the State Department to “be fit for the purpose of this moment and the moments to come.”
“Our bread and butter remains issues of war and peace, preventing conflict, helping to end conflict where we can, and making sure that the American people are secure through diplomacy,” Blinken said. “But each of these issues is directly tied to that. So what we’ve done is we’ve engaged in modernizing the department to make sure that we’re organized in a way—and attract the talent in a way—that allows us to play a leadership role on these issues.”
Blinken cited the State Department’s establishment of the Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy in April as a recognition of the need to place a greater emphasis on the national security challenges and global implications of digital technologies. The Senate voted last month to confirm Nathaniel Fick, who accompanied Blinken on his trip to California, as the inaugural head of the new bureau.
“This is how we make sure that we have a place that the expertise can come to in the department, and ultimately we can grow the expertise so that we can engage effectively on these issues,” Blinken said, adding that the State Department is also in the process of establishing a similar bureau focused on global health.
Rice pointed to the Biden administration’s recently released national security strategy, which included a focus on “investing in our strength,” as an example of how safeguarding and promoting domestic technology development and innovation advances U.S. interests around the globe. Blinken called those efforts “quite simply foundational,” noting that we’re in “a moment of intense competition to shape what comes next.”
“Technology, innovation, entrepreneurship, they’re at the heart of that,” Blinken added. “This is how we are going to retool economies for the future. This is how we’re going to modernize militaries as necessary. This is, through technology, how we are quite literally reshaping people’s lives. And so it goes fundamentally to our national strength, but it also goes to a positive vision for the future that can be attractive for the United States around the world.”
Blinken pointed to the CHIPS and Science Act—which provided $52 billion to subsidize domestic semiconductor manufacturing and billions more in funding for the research and development of emerging technologies—as a potentially seminal moment in U.S. engagement with international allies. He said that “the conversations that I’m having with counterparts around the world have changed” since that bill and other legislation, such as the Inflation Reduction Act, became law.
“There’s now this view that, ‘wait a minute, maybe America is getting its act together and this is something we want to be a part of,’” Blinken said.