Controlling the spread of sensitive technologies has served American interests well up until now.
Export controls have helped the U.S. to protect its national security by regulating access to advanced military items while at the same time ensuring that the American industrial base is able to innovate and sustain the world's largest economy.
Historically, this approach has been underpinned by two assumptions: that most cutting-edge technologies come from the U.S., and that innovation originates domestically and can be controlled by Washington.
This mindset, however, is outdated.
Today, the genesis of innovation largely resides with industry, not government. Many of the technologies that the U.S. uses to develop cutting-edge war-fighting tools are now available to a broad group of countries, companies and individuals.
While the U.S. still leads in many areas of technological innovation, especially when it comes to military applications, it is not the sole source of cutting-edge advances.
Maintaining a policy framework built on the assumptions of a bygone era deprives the U.S. and its allies of the best possible technology and endangers interoperability and integration between them. A shift in mindset is required to move toward genuine collective resilience.
Many have identified the need to develop a collective response by harmonizing regulatory regimes and aligning strategic outlooks.
Washington, too, recognizes that such efforts are essential for U.S. national security. The administration of President Joe Biden has stressed that expanding cooperation with key allies on critical technology development and supply chain security is essential for prevailing in strategic competition with China.
To counter a highly capable adversary like China, collective resilience is required. What is less clear is whether Washington recognizes that its unilateral instincts are often at odds with forging a more collaborative approach to technology challenges.
Collective strategies that discount allied interests are not really that collective. The Biden administration's "get on board" approach to semiconductor export control measures -- consulting with allies before they are introduced but then implementing them unilaterally -- is a case in point.
If the U.S. is to achieve collective resilience with its allies, it will need to move toward genuinely collaborative action on technology development, sharing and protection.
Beijing is not the only player that is catching up with Washington.
Many of America's allies are now capable of being more than passengers riding on American technological dominance. They are increasingly important sources of innovation and cutting-edge technology in their own right.
While they may not be competitive at the platform level, many can provide innovative technologies that act as niche inputs into capability development projects in areas like sonar, radar and artificial intelligence, enhancing the operational effectiveness of both the U.S. military and their own. For example, it is no coincidence that the U.S. is looking to allies like Australia and Japan to accelerate research into hypersonic missile and counter-missile technologies.
Whether through co-development or co-protection, U.S. allies and partners are more capable of contributing to a collective technology strategy than is commonly recognized. Their capacity to do so is only growing, as is public support for a collective approach.
Public polling by the United States Studies Center in late 2022 showed great enthusiasm for collaboration on advanced technologies, including AI, quantum computing and semiconductor manufacturing in Australia, Japan and the U.S.
To maximize the benefits of collaboration, Washington will need to revisit its assumptions about the role that allies can play in a collective technology strategy. Among other things, this will involve reforming outdated policy frameworks that inhibit integration with even the closest of allies.
Take AUKUS, for example, the trilateral partnership involving the U.K. and intended to deliver nuclear-powered submarines to Australia and to enhance collaboration on the advanced capabilities that will underpin next-generation military technologies like hypersonic weapons, AI and unmanned systems.
Absent any meaningful reform of the U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations, innovative Australian companies will demur on collaboration for fear of losing control of their intellectual property. In that case, alliance collaboration on priority technologies will move slower than required.
At worst, it may not move at all. Forthcoming research from the United States Studies Center to be released this week will argue that presidential or congressional intervention to revise the regulations for trusted allies like Australia will be required to avert such a scenario.
Getting technology transfer provisions right really matters. Developing next-generation military technologies through AUKUS or other alliance mechanisms will require leveraging a complex ecosystem of technical and industrial inputs, universities, private-sector stakeholders, security and defense experts, and intelligence and information exchanges.
Leveraging the strengths of regional partners to the fullest increasingly demands rethinking the ways we are used to cooperating. Enabling allies to contribute their best technical expertise and commercial innovations will strengthen all our platforms and integrate and operationalize the best possible capabilities. Australia and Japan have their own homework to do too, such as workforce and information security, to ensure that technology transfers are protected.
U.S. allies in the region can and want to play a bigger part in its collective technology strategy. We all benefit from a free, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific region. But breaking free from an outdated and historically situated dominance mindset is crucial to the future of collective technology efforts and the security of the U.S. and its allies.