How to Make the 21st Century Another American Century
Whoever wins the Nov. 3 election will face a rapidly changing national security landscape unlike any we have seen before.
The nature of warfare has changed. During the Civil War, we fought traitors on land; during World War II, we fought Nazis and imperialists in the air. The next generation’s defining battle, which has already begun, is against the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in cyberspace. This current conflict is happening at the beginning of the Fourth Industrial Revolution where technological change over the next 30 years is going to make the last 30 years look insignificant.
We know the CCP is trying to supplant the United States as the sole superpower in the world by 2049, the year the Middle Kingdom celebrates 100 years of communist rule. For years, the Chinese government has threatened global supply chains, stolen American intellectual property and economically bullied smaller countries in an effort to be the unparalleled global leader in advanced technologies, like artificial intelligence, quantum computing, aerospace engineering and 5G.
Foiling the CCP’s ambitions will not be easy. In November 2018, the National Defense Strategy Commission, a bipartisan panel of national security experts appointed by Congress, issued a report that determined the U.S. “might struggle to win, or perhaps lose, a war against China or Russia.” Thus, we have entered an age where America’s military and economic dominance is no longer guaranteed.
Every American voter should care about this struggle because we face a potential future where Mandarin and the yuan, not English and the dollar, dominate the global economy. Whoever wins this generation-defining struggle will not just affect our economy but will shape the rest of the century for the entire world.
Within this context of great power competition with China and the ongoing Fourth Industrial Revolution, the next administration needs a foreign policy and national security strategy where one of its planks is based on a simple principle: Be nice with nice guys and tough with tough guys. This is a lesson I learned during my career as an undercover officer in the Central Intelligence Agency. If we want our enemies to fear us and our friends to trust us, we must have a clear understanding and delineation between our adversaries and our allies.
Unfortunately, both the current and previous administration have failed to execute on this principle. The last administration treated Israel as an adversary and Iran as an ally, and, at times, the current administration has treated Mexico, Canada, South Korea and Japan as enemies and Russia and North Korea as friends.
Countering a global threat is easier when you have friends. American leadership in international organizations, like NATO, has enabled 70 years of peace and prosperity for hundreds of millions of people. It is a period almost without precedent in the history of the world. This peace has allowed our economy to become the world’s most important; the U.S. military to evolve into the most dominant fighting force in the world; and Americans to enjoy a life the world envies. To continue this unprecedented run and to best China, the next administration needs to strengthen our alliances, not weaken them.
Building upon existing coalitions, like the trilateral partnership codified in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, we can strengthen North American supply chains and bolster advanced manufacturing in the Western Hemisphere. This creates an alternative to the Chinese government’s growing global influence by enabling us and our partners to compete with and out-innovate General Secretary Xi Jinping’s state-controlled economy.
Collaborating with our friends can also help the next administration ensure American leadership is maintained in next-generation technologies. If we abdicate leadership in this arena, we leave a vacuum for authoritarian countries to decide and define norms for the rest of the world on everything from warfare to privacy to how the global economy works.
Today in Xinjiang, the Chinese government has erected a technological surveillance state that has brought George Orwell’s 1984 into the 21st century, and they want to export this to authoritarian regimes around the world. American leadership in advanced technology has been essential to our nation’s power since World War II. If we lose our advantage in advanced technology, there will be devastating effects on our economy and national security.
The challenge we face is not whether next-generation technology will be transformative and disruptive, but how we will manage the disruption. We must meet this head-on and mobilize the resources of our nation. If we do this, we can ensure the United States remains the most important economy and innovation center of the world and that the values of the free world, not autocracies, guide the development of technology.
Many debate when the U.S. became a global power. I believe we became a true global superpower when America helped the Allies win World War II, then helped rebuild Europe from the ashes. We stood up to despots and tyrants and helped our friends stand on their own. We didn’t take spoils after that war, but instead gave Europe a hand. If the next administration embraces the understanding that America has become an exceptional nation not because of what we have taken, but because of what we have given, then this century will continue to be the American Century.