What is ‘national’ security in a globally connected digital economy?

“If everything is national security, nothing is national security; we must have the ability to distinguish” – Former Senior Government Official

The United States government (USG) increasingly invokes “national security” in the formation of its information and communications technology (ICT) policies. Many other governments, both democratic and authoritarian, are doing the same. In the US, foreign investment reviews are no longer confined to majority control acquisitions with clear and direct implications for military capabilities, but have been expanded to include any investment in “emerging technologies.” Because the definition of an “emerging technology” cannot be precise given the unpredictability of tech evolution, this includes almost anything. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the US (CFIUS) is applying a presumption of denial to any incoming capital in virtually any domain if it is associated with Chinese companies. The USG has also vastly expanded its use of export controls, extending them to “foundational and emerging technologies.” It has used its pre-eminence in semiconductors to weaponize its control over global ICT supply chains.

These actions are not properly weighing the potential harms to prosperity, competition, innovation, and security. In the current political and intellectual climate, there is no clear understanding of the causal relationships between economic growth and development, technological leadership, and national security. There is, in short, no sound theory of national security underlying our interventions in global ICT markets. Instead, claims of national security threats have become political trump cards that pre-empt careful examination of trade-offs.

On November 10, 2023, IGP convened a diverse group of experts at the National Academies of Sciences in Washington D.C. for its 8th Annual Workshop to examine the critical question: what should national security look like in a globally connected digital economy? This workshop was thematically organized according to the following questions:

  • When and how do ICT-based interactions among the market economies of different nation-states constitute a national security threat? When do they not?
  • How can determinations of the national security risks associated with ICT be made more scientifically, and more publicly accountable?
  • When is ICT trade with an adversary nation mutually beneficial and when does it amplify security risks? When it is both, how should we balance the two?
  • When national security claims are used to intervene in ICT markets, how can policymakers clearly differentiate special interests seeking monopoly rents from actual public security benefits?When do foreign trade and investment enhance US technological capabilities and economic prosperity? and when do restrictions backfire by driving talent and capital to other nations or undermining market leadership?
  • To what extent do US restrictions on ICTs based on a national security rationale encourage and amplify the application of similar restrictions to US firms in foreign markets? What is the overall cost of such trends to global prosperity and innovation?
  • If US strength and security hinges on economic leadership, are other threats to the US digital economy being ignored or deprioritized, and if so, what are the most pressing?

A summary of the workshop proceedings can be found here: