Technology has long been a key frontier in the quest for power in the 21st century. The forming of at least three key technology ecosystems - American, Chinese and European - is clearly underway. Russia is facing the dilemma of whether to join an existing technology and economic platform or to develop its own. If so, on what terms and what should its key variables consist of?
The US system is the oldest, the largest and the best developed. It relies on the unconditional leadership of the United States in technology. Retaining a proactive position in innovation is the United States’ top priority. To this end, a proper personnel policy and favorable environment for promoting a startup ecosystem has been put in place. Good market capacity and favorable domestic conditions have allowed the United States to take its technology and internet juggernauts to market, which, in turn, promoted the development of one of the world’s most thorough and effective legislations in this area.
Numerous common goods are an indirect, but important product of the US technology and economic system. Taken together, this allows US companies to take trial versions of their products to the international market, thus allowing users to access advanced technology without spending excessive amounts of money. Prolonging its market dominance and preventing the emergence of comparable competitors is the ultimate goal of US technology strategy. US-proposed principles of openness and freedom in the digital sphere can be appealing, but make no mistake: as soon as the Americans start having doubts about their hegemony in the global technology environment, these principles will be revised overnight. Borders and barriers will be built to deter competitors and to protect US leadership.
Third, the European ecosystem is inferior to that of the United States and of China. However, some of its foundations may be of potential interest to Russia. Key European countries, such as Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands, are wary of becoming dependent on the key players, the Americans and the Chinese. The French are particularly emphasizing the need to develop a national technology platform. Fearing dependence, the Europeans worry about losing their subjectivity in the global technology environment and, ultimately, finding themselves in a situation where their voice is not taken into account. This motive is behind French President Macron’s initiative to bring 25 French technology “unicorns” to market by 2025. Hungary’s authorities are actively inviting Chinese producers to set up 5G networks in Budapest. In Germany, the discussion about China’s participation in the development of national 5G networks has reached the president and chancellor level.
Russia and Europe are united by their fear of becoming dependent on the leading players and losing their subjectivity. However, Russia, like some other European countries, has the competence to form an independent pole of power in the digital sphere. Russia’s arguments on developing a data compatibility standard are likely to be heard in Europe but not in China or the United States, which themselves have a significant amount of data and are unwilling to share it with third countries.
The idea of rejecting hegemony in the digital environment can unite Russia with other key technology countries seeking independent roles in the 21st century. The thesis that sovereignty extends to the digital environment will be heard by a number of our European colleagues who are unwilling to take instructions from the United States. Russia as a provider of digital sovereignty is a potentially effective strategy in a world where pragmatism begins to prevail over allied solidarity.