February 25, 2019

Countering High-Tech Illiberalism

CNAS Launches Major New Initiative

Washington, February 25, 2019 – The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) and the Quadrivium Foundation today announced the launch of a major, multi-year initiative on Countering High-Tech Illiberalism.

This two-year, multi-disciplinary, Center-wide effort will address the ways in which democracies and open societies are threatened by illiberal regimes armed with cutting-edge technologies. By pulling together multiple lines of effort, the project will identify concrete ways through which the United States can defend itself against those seeking to undermine liberal democracy.

Today, the same digital technologies that connect people and enable a free exchange of ideas are also being used to polarize and distort the politics of democratic societies. Authoritarians use technology to deepen their internal grip, undermine human rights, spread illiberal practices beyond their borders, and erode public trust in open societies. Tech-enabled authoritarianism may even outperform liberal societies in key economic areas, enhancing the attractiveness of its model – and weakening the case for political freedom.

Supported by the Quadrivium Foundation, the Countering High-Tech Illiberalism initiative will create a broad coalition of stakeholders in the United States and partner nations – including engineers, academics, technologists, current and former policymakers, and practitioners – to develop the policy and technological approaches necessary to secure a freer and more open future. The project will be led by CEO Richard Fontaine, Executive Vice President Ely Ratner, and Director of the Technology and National Security Program Paul Scharre.

The CNAS Countering High-Tech Illiberalism initiative will be composed of the following major lines of effort:

Each component will combine research, convening, and analysis to produce a series of written and other outputs. In combination, the project’s conclusions will constitute a strategy through which free societies can strengthen their hand against those who would weaponize technology for illiberal ends.

“Technology is increasingly a key vector through which competition between autocracy and liberal society is waged,” said Center CEO Richard Fontaine. “The threats posed by high-tech illiberalism constitute a substantial national security challenge, and democracies must ready themselves for the contest. This major CNAS initiative aims to equip them to do precisely that.”

Kathryn and James Murdoch, Quadrivium’s founders, said, “We’re excited to partner with CNAS in this crucial effort. The success of rights-based democracy is not inevitable. It must be fought for and protected. A wide array of 21st-century tech tools, many of which are or were fostered by that rights-based democracy, are being weaponized to undermine established and nascent democracies around the world. This initiative is about mapping the threat and crafting the templates to thwart and defeat those efforts – both here and abroad.”

For more information or to schedule an interview with Mr. Fontaine, Mr. Ratner, Mr. Scharre, or the project leads, please contact Cole Stevens at [email protected] or (202) 695-8166.

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The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) is an independent and bipartisan research institution that develops strong, pragmatic and principled national security and defense policies. CNAS leads efforts to help inform and prepare the national security leaders of today and tomorrow. CNAS engages policymakers, experts, and the public with innovative, fact-based research, ideas, and analysis to shape and elevate the national security debate. A key part of our mission is to inform and prepare the national security leaders of today and tomorrow.

The Quadrivium Foundation invests at the intersection of challenges – where single actions can create multiple positive outcomes. Quadrivium was founded in 2013 by Kathryn and James Murdoch.