The rise of techno-nationalism – and the paradox at its core

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(Unsplash, 2019)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Kate Lamb, Writer, World Economic Forum


It’s globalization’s counterswing. After years of rising global connectivity, the anti-globalization blowback has manifested in the rise of techno-nationalism. But in such an interconnected and tech-driven world, can protectionist stances on technological innovation and transfers around the globe even work?

For some tech experts, the answer to that question is an emphatic no. “The phenomena of globalization is not reversible. The sense of a unipolar or bipolar world is not there anymore. It is a multipolar world,” argued Jayraj Nair, the Chief Training Officer of the Indian multinational, Wipro. “As far as technology is concerned, the scaling of AI, or 5G, or blockchain, any of these technologies will continue with the velocity that is happening today. In fact, the velocity will only exponentially escalate.”

Michelle Zatlyn, Co-Founder of cybersecurity firm Cloudflare, said: “The internet is a fairly new innovation, 25 years old, and it has been the technologists who have driven that forward.” She suggested that the question over the next 10 years “is whether technology is going to become all about policy”. She said: “We are at this interesting crossroads. It’s hard to imagine a world where we are not going to be connected around the world and so these policy questions keep coming up.”

Zatlyn added that there won’t be any “silver bullets” to increasingly complicated problems and she called for increased dialogue between technologists and policy-makers to avoid and resolve techno-nationalistic tensions. “We need policy-makers to understand more about the technology and we need the technologists to understand more about implications on the policy side,” she said. “I feel like these are the murky waters we are in right now.”

From Iran, a country where technology transfers are currently being hampered by US sanctions, Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, Iran’s Minister of Information and Communications Technology, argued there was a paradox at the heart of techno-nationalism. “We cannot believe in globalism and concurrently believe in techno-nationalism,” he noted.

 

Indicating that Iran would allow the Chinese tech giant Huawei to operate 5G in the country, the minister argued that blocking a tech firm because of potential “backdoors” was irrational. Governments should operate on the assumption that all tech companies potentially have such tech, he said.

“We believe that all these kinds of technologies have some backdoors; Huawei maybe has and also other companies. All of them have it, maybe,” he said, “We should define national security based on some other facts and we should accept that technology has arrived in our country and cyberspace is a fact. Industry 4.0 is coming, AI and 5G, so we should have all the strategies to address that.”

He went on to say: “If we decided to stop, for example, Huawei, who would come to our country? Another company will come. So, we should have good laws and regulations and a good agreement with them that if you are spying in our country, we will fine you.”

Pan Jiafeng, President of the Institute of Science and Development at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said that China has felt the impact of rising techno-nationalism, with increasing difficulties in personnel exchanges and high-end imports in the past two years. However, Pan, who put the rise of techno-nationalism down to the uneven developments of globalization, agreed that current ups and downs would be temporary.

“We need to further enhance interdependence,” he said. “We need to renew our emphasis on win-win collaboration while at the same time respecting security concerns. I think looking into the future we will come to this conclusion. We should take control of technology and use technology to serve the best interests of humans and all countries – not close the door.”

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