In an era defined by geopolitical and security competition, with important economic impacts at stake, what are the critical problems that need solving in America today?
A hollowed-out industrial base, Chinese strategic competition, climate change and challenges to democracy all present themselves as key challenges
And, according to the White House’s National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, America’s got an answer for them all.
During a speech on Renewing American Economic Leadership in April, Sullivan outlined seven fundamental priorities for the United States to solve these era-defining challenges.
For this blog post, two of those priorities really stood out for me: ensuring trust, safety, and openness in our digital infrastructure, and creating diversified and resilient supply chains.
The resurgence of “American Made”
To address China’s dominance in strategic sectors, the Biden administration swiftly passed two critical acts, namely The CHIPS and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, last August. These industrial policies established a blueprint for the future, connecting trade, geostrategic concerns, and national security interests in an inseparable manner.
Under these policies, the resurgence of American Made over the last several months has become more than just a catchy slogan; it represents a profound transformation in America’s aspirations for its productive capacity and how it approaches the supply chain and digital infrastructure security. This in practice is a combination of export controls over technologies such as semiconductors that can tilt a military contest and vast subsidies and tax breaks to boost manufacturing in critical industries.
Sullivan emphasized that America’s “charge is to usher in a new wave of the digital revolution—one that ensures that next-generation technologies work for, not against, our democracies and our security”.
This sentiment is echoed by technology industry leaders like Apple, who made a commitment in 2021 to invest $430 billion in the U.S. economy over five years. Apple cited the need for enhanced supply chain security as a driving factor behind this investment. In May 2023, Apple further solidified its commitment by announcing a multi-billion dollar, multi-year deal with Broadcom to develop 5G radio frequency components.
While export controls and industrial policies are crucial for reducing dependence on China and strengthening America’s industrial base, we cannot ignore the existing risks within American digital infrastructure that have their roots in decades of dependence on opaque and compromised supply chains. Millions of Chinese-made chips and hardware currently operate in American data centres. By turning a blind eye to this present risk, we are neglecting an urgent problem.
Take for example the Chinese hack of US critical infrastructure assets on Guam announced in May.
It is a rare public example of a bitter cyber contest waged secretly every day in critical networks across the world.
Volt Typhoon, the China-backed cyber entity responsible for the hack, has reportedly been active since 2021. For two years, no one noticed.
Notionally the aim of the hack was espionage, but the real objective, we can safely assume, was to preposition malware that will disable critical networks and impede any future US military mobilisation.
It begs the question, what other digital infrastructure has China compromised with dormant hardware or malware?
While it’s impossible to determine the full extent of the problem, the answer is undoubtedly alarming. The lack of a viable alternative explains to an extent why Chinese-made hardware is so prevalent. Technologies such as HyperCloud from SoftIron, which are designed, assembled and manufactured in America, mitigate the risk of Chinese interdiction.
Furthermore, the effective ban on the use of Micron Technology chips in China serves as a stark reminder that cybersecurity risks and threats to critical information infrastructure supply chains are highly prevalent and serious risks, no matter what side of the fence you sit on.
The Opportunity to Safeguard Critical Technologies
Looking ahead, the commitment to American-made products will continue to shape industries, drive innovation, and enhance the resilience of supply chains. By prioritising domestic manufacturing and export controls, we not only safeguard critical technologies but also protect national security interests and pave the way for sustained economic growth.
As Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, aptly stated, “We’re thrilled to make commitments that harness the ingenuity, creativity, and innovative spirit of American manufacturing.” This unwavering commitment, coupled with a bipartisan dedication to American Made, will propel the United States toward a more secure, prosperous, and resilient future.
However, we must address the lingering question: What is the cost of ignoring the elephant in the room? We cannot disregard the risks posed by compromised digital infrastructures while striving for self-sufficiency and security. It is paramount that we confront these latent vulnerabilities as we navigate an increasingly interconnected and technology-dependent world.