October 21, 2020

Common Code

An Alliance Framework for Democratic Technology Policy

Executive Summary

The 21st century will be defined by competition—a contest of economic power rooted in technological advances. How countries decide to compete will shape the lives of billions of people. Technology-leading countries will determine how to harness new technologies to combat disease, feed humanity, counter climate change, gain wealth, explore the universe, gain influence over others, secure their interests, and protect their independence and freedom. The leaders in adopting emerging technologies such as AI, quantum computing, biotechnology, and next-generation telecommunications, and those who shape their use, will garner economic, military, and political strength for decades.

The world’s liberal democracies stand at a crossroads. Political power and economic might is diffusing. The integrity and efficacy of postwar institutions are increasingly challenged. Fresh thinking and new approaches are needed to tackle the challenges ahead to ensure that the future of technology is a beneficial one.

No one country can achieve this on its own. The requisite knowledge and capabilities are too dispersed. Broad-based, proactive, and long-term multilateral cooperation among like-minded countries is needed to maximize effectiveness across a range of areas, including research and development (R&D), supply chain diversity and security, standards-setting, multilateral export controls, and countering the illiberal use of advanced technology. To achieve the necessary level of coordination and collaboration, the world’s tech-leading democracies should spearhead the creation of a new multilateral architecture for technology policy—a technology alliance.

Technological leadership by the world’s major liberal-democratic nations will be essential to safeguarding democratic institutions, norms, and values, and will contribute to global peace and prosperity. A unified approach by like-minded nations also is needed to counteract growing investments in and deployments of emerging technologies by authoritarian, revisionist powers.

Many have made the case for such a grouping, most notably the United Kingdom’s recent call for a “Democracy 10” to tackle 5G and other technology issues. Similarly, former U.S. government officials have advocated for the creation of a “Tech 10.” Despite this interest in a new coordination mechanism for multilateral technology policy, the work needed to create it has been elusive.

This document lays out what that alliance framework should look like, the opening chapter of a new, multilateral techno-democratic statecraft strategy for the 21st century. It answers the key questions needed to move from concept to an actionable blueprint necessary to tackle the 21st century technology competition:

  • What countries should be members of the technology alliance, and why?
  • Should the alliance be able to collaborate with non-members, and why?
  • Should the alliance grow, and how?
  • How should the alliance be organized and structured?
  • What is the ideal voting system?
  • How should the alliance engage with stakeholders from industry and civil society?
  • What is the best meeting structure and frequency?

After detailing recommendations for creating the technology alliance itself, the blueprint addresses the new organization’s top priorities, areas where the project leads identified both a common code between the proposed member countries and an urgent need for improved coordination:

  1. Restructure supply chains with a focus on security and diversity
  2. Safeguard competitive technological advantages with tailored multilateral export controls and by curbing unwanted technology transfers
  3. Fund and build secure digital infrastructure by creating new investment mechanisms
  4. Craft standards and norms for a beneficial technology future

The technology alliance’s longer-term agenda should include efforts to:

  • Pursue joint R&D
  • Engage in technology forecasting
  • Focus on data flows
  • Promote technology interoperability
  • Counter disinformation and other illiberal uses of technology
  • Maximize human capital

A summary of recommendations that answers these questions and expands on the tech policy priorities follows. The body of the report consists of seven sections. They detail the case for why collective action by the world’s tech-leading democracies is needed, present the purpose and goals of the proposed grouping, make recommendations on the bureaucratic considerations to create it, discuss the common code for technology policy with specific courses of action, and close with a preview of what steps follow. A survey of existing international organizations and new initiatives, and survey results are included in two appendices.

Summary of Recommendations

Creating a Technology Alliance

Recommendation 1: Establish a technology alliance of the following core members: Australia, Canada, European Union (EU), France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, South Korea, United Kingdom, United States.

  • Membership criteria are countries with large economies and broad capabilities in technology areas critical to the 21st century economy. They must be committed to liberal democratic values, the rule of law, and respect for and promotion of human rights.
  • The EU would be a core member with no voting power on alliance activity. The EU can engage in agreed-to actions in line with its competencies.

Recommendation 2: Create a mechanism to collaborate with other countries and organizations.

  • Countries and organizations beyond alliance founding members still bring to bear significant expertise that is key for broader technology policy objectives.

Recommendation 3: Plan for a modest expansion of core membership.

  • Growing the group should be considered once the alliance framework is proven. India is a logical candidate for member expansion.

Recommendation 4: Create an informal organization and adopt a network structure for organizational architecture.

  • The organization would not be subject to a formal treaty.
  • A network approach promotes nimble decisionmaking and preserves equal standing among member countries.

Recommendation 5: Use a consensus-based “one-member, one-vote” system to start.

  • Consensus among the members is necessary to avoid a relapse to fractious, ad hoc decisionmaking.
  • Additional alternative voting structures could be added once the alliance concept is proven and mature.

Recommendation 6: Ensure multi-stakeholder participation to inform alliance decisions and actions.

  • The views and technical expertise of actors from industry, NGOs, scientific and technical organizations, and academia are essential for effective policy action.

Recommendation 7: Hold regular meetings, especially between working-level officials and stakeholders.

  • The technology alliance would be most effective if regular meetings occur.
  • Heads of state and ministers to provide strategic direction (annually), senior government representatives to set goals (quarterly), mid-level officials to guide implementation (as needed), and working groups and committees of subject matter experts to inform actions and implementation (as needed).

Top Priorities: The Common Code for Activating the Technology Alliance

Recommendation 8: Secure and diversify supply chains.

  • Member countries would benefit from coordinating and cooperating on the scope, process, and policy instruments to diversify important supply chains, which is a complex and expensive effort.

    Proposed Area of Focus: Establish a semiconductor fab consortium.
    • Complex supply chains foundational to economic and national security—such as semiconductors—are particularly well suited for an international cooperative approach. Semiconductor manufacturing facilities, referred to as “fabs,” are expensive, costing between $10 and $20 billion.

Recommendation 9: Protect critical technologies.

  • Protecting technologies and know-how from theft, usurpation, and misuse is foundational to safeguarding economic and national security.

    Proposed Area of Focus: Align export controls for semiconductor manufacturing equipment.
    • Restrictions on semiconductor manufacturing equipment (SME) exports to China would be an effective way of maintaining a technological competitive advantage in semiconductor fabrication.
    Proposed Area of Focus: Strengthen information sharing on Chinese technology transfer activities.
    • Share knowledge and experience and assist other members with investigating unwanted tech transfer would make this acquisition pathway much more challenging.
    Proposed Area of Focus: Harmonize definitions of “critical technologies.”
    • Agreement here would improve actions on a range of technology policy issues from investigating export control violations to joint studies on the trajectory of technological change.
    Proposed Area of Focus: Share counterintelligence best practices and provide capacity building for industry.
    • Better cooperation on commercial espionage, which costs alliance members hundreds of billions each year, would help to protect valuable technology and know-how.
    Proposed Area of Focus: Develop guidelines for research integrity.
    • Such guidelines should emphasize addressing the balance between protecting sensitive technical information and openness for scientific inquiry, and addressing human rights and other ethical risks of international cooperation in science and technology.

Recommendation 10: Create new investment mechanisms.

  • Democracies have shared interests in promoting secure digital infrastructure built by fair and sustainable investment mechanisms. Digital infrastructure provides a backbone for economic and societal connectivity, but low-quality vendors pose risks for the confidentiality, integrity, and accessibility of infrastructure.

    Proposed Area of Focus: Pool resources to create a multinational investment mechanism for digital infrastructure.
    • Build on existing capacity to prioritize secure digital infrastructure development in middle powers and developing countries.
    Proposed Area of Focus: Establish common criteria to certify fair investments.
    • Use the Blue Dot Network certification model as the foundation for broader sound and sustainable development projects.
    Proposed Area of Focus: Pursue new approaches to digital infrastructure.
    • Promoting novel ways of building out digital infrastructure could position firms in member countries to compete effectively on level playing fields. For example, promoting open radio access networks for 5G wireless networks would reintroduce competition, widespread innovation, and vendor diversity to the telecommunications sector.

Recommendation 11: Reclaim the integrity of international standards-setting.

  • China is pursuing a comprehensive strategy to have Chinese-origin technologies be the foundation for global technology platforms and reduce its dependence on foreign intellectual property (IP) and standards. The way the Chinese government links standardization with mercantilist industrial policies is at odds with the purpose and spirit of international standards-setting.

    Proposed Area of Focus: Counter unfair practices in international standards-setting bodies.
    • Member countries can preserve the integrity of global standards-setting by making resources available for companies to send full delegations and submit the broadest possible portfolio of technologies to standards-setting bodies for consideration, and to call for reforms of the bodies to prevent bloc-voting.

Recommendation 12: Codify norms and values for technology use.

  • Core alliance members, in cooperation and coordination with partner countries and relevant companies and civil organizations, should define and diffuse the norms and principles for how technology should and should not be used.

    Proposed Area of Focus: Establish unified norms for the use of surveillance technology.
    • The alliance framework is a useful forum to come to agreement on how surveillance capabilities should fit into existing legal structures, what types of due process should be available, and what uses are acceptable.

Longer-Term Agenda for Alliance Activity

Recommendation 13: Evaluate the broad array of other technology policy areas ripe for multilateral cooperation by tech-leading democracies. They include efforts to:

  • Pursue joint R&D, and related IP rights improvements and intra-alliance export control reforms
  • Engage in technology forecasting
  • Focus on data flows, such as unified policies for data governance and data privacy
  • Promote technology interoperability
  • Counter disinformation and other illiberal uses of technology
  • Maximize human capital

Download the full report.

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  1. Sabahat Jahan, “UK seeks alliance to avoid reliance on Chinese tech: The Times,” Reuters, May 28, 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-britain-tech-coalition/uk-seeks-alliance-to-avoid-reliance-on-chinese-tech-the-times-idUSKBN2343JW.
  2. Anja Manuel, “How to Win the Technology Race with China,” Stanford.edu, June 18, 2019, https://fsi.stanford.edu/news/how-win-technology-race-china; Anja Manuel and Pavneet Singh with Thompson Paine, “Compete, Contest and Collaborate: How to Win the Technology Race with China,” Stanford Cyber Policy Center, October 17, 2019, https://fsi-live.s3.us-west-1.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/manuel_et_al_china_tech_race_101619_final_updated_0.pdf.


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