Government Leaders: Export Controls, Public-Private Partnerships Key To Safeguarding U.S. Tech Development

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Reps. Jim Himes and Brad Wenstrup joined Commerce Undersecretary Alan Estevez talking about the national security implications hinging on the U.S.’s leadership in emerging tech innovation.

Maintaining the U.S.’ competitiveness in developing new, emerging technologies will rely on a tenuous combination of strategic alliances combined with export controls to stop intellectual property theft, a panel of government leaders said.

Discussing the posture of the technological industry within the U.S., lawmakers and officials spoke during the Center for a New American Security’s 2022 National Security Conference on Tuesday, praising the U.S.'s leadership in innovation as well as advising on how to maintain its international leadership in technology development. 

Reps. Jim Himes, D-Conn., and Brad Wenstrup R-Ohio, both agreed on the fertile environment the U.S. provides for businesses, namely due to funding opportunities.

“We just have the, in this country, a culture of entrepreneurialism, which is unmatched,” Himes said. 

Wenstrup agreed, citing the free market economy as conducive to that culture. 

“I think a lot of what makes the United States a strong place to innovate is our freedom and our opportunities, freedom to innovate, freedom to operate without authoritarian controls and the opportunities to grow that exist,” he said. 

While both Congressmen agreed that the nation is currently making strides in continuing to foster business and technological growth, they recommended that the U.S. funnel additional federal funding into research programs, and potentially enter into new alliances with other countries that allocate significant resources to technology development, including China. 

“You know, areas like drug development, areas of, you know, hybridized crops,” Himes said. “There's an awful lot of smart people in China, where—in those areas where we don't have a national security competition—we shouldn't wall off the progress of innovation that could cure diseases or make for better crop yields.”

Some areas, such as quantum technology development, may be difficult for partnering with other countries. Both Himes and Wenstrup, along with Alan Estevez, the under secretary of commerce for industry and security at the Department of Commerce, agreed that fostering U.S. domestic manufacturing of technological inputs will prevent the U.S. from becoming dependent on rival nations and secure supply chains against disruption.

“What we do want to do is ensure that we're not relying on adversaries or a particular capability, and in certain circumstances we are today,” Estevez said. 

Wenstrup added that the U.S. should follow China’s lead in expanding federally funded tech innovation and research, potentially through legislative commitments and data analysis to support a strong tech innovation sector.

“We need to start looking at 10, 20, 30 year increments and this is going to require some good bipartisan hard work and a sustained commitment to do that,” he said.

Simultaneously, Himes, Wenstrup and Estevez, agreed that export controls can help secure intellectual property fostered within the U.S.

“What I'd like to do is build the new export control regime for the 21st century around AI technology, and especially AI technology in a place that says there's no difference between dual use military, civil military affairs,” Estevez said. He further added that ensuring this technology isn’t used by adversaries in human rights violations is a chief concern.

Himes agreed, saying that some aspects of AI tech and quantum computing have “profound” national security implications and that officials should be protecting intellectual property with heightened cybersecurity defensive measures, including stopping IP theft.

“If people are diverting U.S. tech or allied tech to build out their military to defeat us, then we need to stop that,” Estevez commented. “So that's protecting our chat from being used against us.”