In an era where technology evolves at breakneck speed, national security is more reliant on technological advancements than ever before. From artificial intelligence to hypersonics, countries worldwide are making significant strides in military technology. However, there’s a noticeable gap between the rapid progress in the tech sector and the needs of national security. While governments historically turned to defense manufacturers for the latest equipment, today’s technological innovation often originates in the startup community. This dynamic presents both opportunities and challenges, and to address them, Western governments should consider offering national security training for the tech sector.
At the heart of the issue lies a disconnect between the world’s most brilliant tech minds and the complexities of national security. Those immersed in the tech realm typically lack experience in national security matters, making it difficult for them to innovate effectively for this critical sector. To bridge this gap and ensure that tech innovation aligns with national security needs, Western governments must take proactive steps.
China, for instance, is unapologetic about its intentions. Through its ambitious Military-Civil Fusion program, it aspires to transform its military into a world-class force powered by groundbreaking technology. In contrast, Western nations are also recognizing the importance of modern military technology. Between 2019 and 2021, venture capital investment in U.S. defense technology grew by a staggering 280%, surpassing the 240% growth rate in the broader tech sector. NATO and the European Union are also investing in defense tech initiatives.
However, the tech community has historically been cautious about becoming involved in military projects. A glaring example is Google’s decision in 2018 when its engineers refused to work on an AI project for the Pentagon, citing concerns about its association with lethal activities. It underscores the reality that tech innovators excel when working on products and solutions they understand intimately, such as ride-sharing apps or social media networks. For many, the world of national security remains unfamiliar territory.
The consequence of this gap is missed opportunities for collaboration and innovation. Those with limited exposure to national security may struggle to identify relevant solutions, and this is where governments need to intervene. By providing national security training for the tech sector, governments can empower tech entrepreneurs and innovators to better comprehend the security challenges their countries face and contribute more effectively to national defense.
To gain a deeper understanding of why this training is crucial, it’s essential to explore the complexities and nuances of national security. In a rapidly evolving global landscape, it’s not merely about traditional weaponry and military might. Today’s national security concerns encompass a broad spectrum of challenges, including cyber warfare, economic security, critical infrastructure protection, and counter-terrorism efforts.
General Sir Gordon Messenger, a former UK deputy defense chief, lamented that technology with great potential for military applications often goes underutilized due to a lack of understanding. He noted that many technologies have dual-use potential, serving both civilian and military purposes. The challenge, however, lies in the military’s relative opacity, making it challenging for startups to navigate the bureaucratic maze and connect with defense ministries.
This issue is a substantial impediment to progress. Imagine the possibilities if the tech community possessed a sophisticated understanding of national security threats and the role of the military. These innovators, armed with their unique insights and skills, could potentially develop groundbreaking solutions that government officials might never conceive.
Giedrimas Jeglinskas, a Lithuanian former banker and military officer who currently serves as a Nato assistant secretary-general, rightly points out that tech entrepreneurs gravitate towards areas where they see promising returns on investment. Whether it’s developing pizza delivery apps or creating social media networks, tech entrepreneurs have a knack for identifying lucrative opportunities.
However, Jeglinskas also emphasizes that the vast majority of national security tech innovation has little to do with traditional weaponry or combat. Instead, it involves technologies like quantum computing, blockchain, artificial intelligence, and advanced data analytics. These tools can be harnessed for various applications beyond the battlefield, such as enhancing cybersecurity, safeguarding critical infrastructure, and countering hybrid threats.
To facilitate this collaboration between the tech sector and national security, Western governments can adopt various strategies. Embedding liaison officers within tech companies can serve as a valuable starting point. These officers would act as bridges between the tech community and national security experts, helping tech innovators navigate the complexities of defense ministries and communicate their ideas effectively.
Another, more accessible solution would be to offer tech experts national security training. Such programs could take place at national defense universities, mirroring the curriculum of Finland’s national defense course, which educates future leaders from diverse sectors about the security challenges facing their country.
The key distinction here is that tech entrepreneurs would not be mere students; they would bring their wealth of experience and unique perspectives into these training programs. Their familiarity with emerging technologies, such as quantum computing, blockchain, and AI, could provide valuable insights that traditional national security experts may lack.
In essence, national security training for the tech community would be a mutually beneficial endeavor. Tech experts would gain a deeper understanding of national security, enabling them to develop solutions that are not only innovative but also relevant to the evolving threat landscape. Simultaneously, national security agencies would tap into a wellspring of tech innovation, harnessing the skills and creativity of those at the forefront of technological advancement.