Michael Likosky Headshot

We Need a High Tech Foreign Policy: Clinton and Richardson Working Together

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By all counts, innovative uses of high technology played a key role in the election outcome. It's unsurprising then that the role of technology in our next administration is being enthusiastically debated. Will making information on government expenditures readily available make governance more transparent? If patients can access their medical records over the internet, will this lower premiums and deliver better health care? Will bottom-up loyalists participate directly in governance?

None of these questions are amenable to easy quick answers, so we'll talk and argue, with luck reaching a consensus to move forward with one policy or another. One question though that we spend little time debating is what role technology should play in our foreign affairs. We have a world wide web, Microsoft in Malaysia, Google trying to spend more quality time in China, but we have no coherent high tech foreign policy.

In the last twenty years, US foreign policy has driven industrial growth in emerging markets. High tech has been central. Silicon Valleys dot the map from Saudi Arabia to Malaysia, Stanford to Singapore. While our tech companies must take credit for much of this, importantly, the government has contributed subsidies, technologies, and diplomacy. Undoubtedly there is much to be proud of as we fight seemingly intractable diseases and poverty as well as bringing financial capital to productive places otherwise ignored.

At the same time, we have allowed companies to evade environmental laws, shipping damaging chip manufacturing abroad. We have spent large amounts of money to ensure that telemarketing would be more cheaply done abroad. More recently, we may have risked making the world far less secure by providing waivers from stringent laws prohibiting the sale of high tech security equipment to authoritarian places -- making sure that our firms don't miss out on the market for making the Olympics safer.

It may be that all these decisions were sensible and ultimately promote the public interest within America and abroad. That's the idea at least. We bring liberation technology by market means, evolving others from authoritarianism to freedom, democracy and human rights-respecting. Regardless, we probably should talk about this stuff before giving away the keys to the car.

For the health of our own high tech industry and national security as well as many other principles we hold dear, we must move away from ad hoc decision-making and towards a deliberative foreign high tech economic policy that reinforces our domestic economy and values. This is pressing as allies become competitors. Our national security and economic competitiveness increasingly depend upon effective government policy.

This is a job not only for our soon-to-be President. It is also essential that Senator Clinton and Governor Richardson develop a close working relationship. This is a matter of State and Commerce. Technology is a cornerstone of our political and economic policy, from clean tech to high tech. It is central to our national economy as well as our human rights and environmental concerns.

Without a coherent high tech foreign policy, formulated through public debate and carried out through inter-agency coordination, interests are ineffectively coordinated, responsibilities and costs are unevenly distributed. To achieve an equitable domestic and global economy, Clinton and Richardson, as well as domestic and overseas interests must inform and drive policy-making. Tasks now dispersed throughout government, from the State Department to the Department of Commerce, must be subject to a coherent, publicly-debated foreign high tech policy.