Dunford: American Innovation Is the Key to Deterring and Winning the Wars of the Future

Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the 19th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Joseph Dunford Jr., a retired four-star Marine Corps general, served as the 19th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2015 to 2019. He currently serves on the National Security Advisory Board for the American Edge Project.

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At a time when our country seems more divided than ever, we must unite on the issues that are critical to our nation's future and security. One of those issues is technology. Technology is more than just another sector of the economy, it is the backbone of our national security, economy and our core values. Effective deterrence, and winning the next fight if deterrence fails, will depend in large part on whether we maintain our technological edge.

As someone who has dedicated his career to defending American interests at home and on the battlefield, who has studied our nation's adversaries, and who has publicly criticized America's tech sector when warranted, I offer our policymakers a set of principles to guide their thinking on technology issues.

First, we must defend the ability of American companies to compete globally on a level playing field. This will fortify our ability to develop key strategic technologies. Although the U.S. has led the world in technological innovation since World War II, our continued leadership is no longer assured. China is aggressively seeking to surpass U.S. capabilities in advanced dual-use technologies, such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and quantum computing. America's private sector, which now provides many of the military's critical technologies, faces a range of protectionist policies from both Asia and Europe, including market access restrictions, the use of antitrust law to promote industrial policy, and even outright theft of intellectual property. I applaud those in Congress and the administration who are fighting for fair treatment for U.S. companies abroad.

Second, we must harness all of America's assets to promote innovation -- our government, universities, students, workers and companies both large and small. For example, the recent "CHIPS and Science Act" effectively melds America's economic and national security interests to promote the manufacturing of semiconductors and chips in the United States, helping to secure our supply chain. The bill also funds pure scientific research into advanced dual-use technologies, creates 20 regional tech hubs around the nation, and invests heavily into science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and workforce development to build a critical domestic labor pipeline for emerging industries.

Third, we must ensure that American companies continue to have a predictable regulatory framework to manage the risk of sizable investments. For the past four decades, both political parties have embraced the "consumer welfare standard" as the touchstone for U.S. antitrust law. This transparent standard generally allows large companies to invest in new technologies and startups, unless the evidence shows that an investment would harm consumers. Due in part to this framework, our economy remains the most dynamic in the world; Europe, which has far more stringent rules, lags far behind us in venture capital funding and startups. Unfortunately, some pending legislation would replace this framework with subjective standards that would invite uncertainty, permit politicized enforcement decisions, and wrongly move our economy in the direction of Europe. Congress should think long and hard about the unintended consequences of such bills.

Fourth, we must maintain the policies that reward, rather than punish, investments in high-end technologies. Capitalism and competition are both cornerstones of American exceptionalism. They benefit our citizens, consumers, workers, investors, retirees and soldiers. They have allowed American technology companies to lead the world and, if allowed to continue, will enable the next generation of smaller businesses to garner the financing and technical expertise they need to become global giants. Our economy and, ultimately, our national security hinge upon the ability of these companies, many of which are barely in the mind's eyes of today's high school students, to grow and prosper.

The strength of our country lies in our values, freedoms and the intellectual capital of the American people. It also lies in the competitiveness, innovation and capacity of our private-sector innovators, large and small, aided by sensible policies that encourage growth and reward risk. To win the future, America needs all of us to work together, because it matters greatly which country builds the future.

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