Flashpoints | Diplomacy | Security

Pompeo Approves New State Department Tech Bureau

A focus on new technologies as a key element of U.S. national security would likely be one of the few bright spots from Trump’s time in the White House.

Abhijnan Rej
Pompeo Approves New State Department Tech Bureau
Credit: Flickr/Thom Watson

The U.S. State Department announced on January 7 that outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has approved the creation of a new Bureau of Cyberspace Security and Emerging Technologies (CSET). Making the announcement, a media note from the department stated: “The need to reorganize and resource America’s cyberspace and emerging technology security diplomacy through the creation of CSET is critical, as the challenges to U.S. national security presented by China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, and other cyber and emerging technology competitors and adversaries have only increased since the Department notified Congress in June 2019 of its intent to create CSET.”

The Trump administration’s decision to establish a separate bureau for cyberspace and emerging tech is part of its larger thrust on geotechnology as a key element of great power competition and, as such, part of its legacy (insofar as speaking of Trump’s achievements during his term in office has become a rather difficult task given the events of January 6). Over the course of his four years in office, Trump and his team had prioritized research in artificial intelligence, quantum information science, and other critical and emerging tech – not to mention, push for military space activities and tech.

But what is notable is that the U.S. government during that period has also sought to bring allies and partners on board when it came to new tech in instances. As example, in September last year, the Pentagon’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC) organized a meeting involving officials from 13 other countries around the ethical use of artificial intelligence in military activities. In October last year, the Trump White House released a “National Strategy for Critical and Emerging Technologies.”

While it too had a keen national security focus – and had Chinese and Russian tech efforts in mind –  one of the “priority actions” that it proposed to sustain U.S. base in national security related innovation was building “strong and lasting technology partnerships with like-minded allies and partners, and promote democratic values and principles.” By way of illustrating how this action point has already been put into play, in December 2019, Japan and the United States issued a joint “Tokyo Statement” around cooperation in quantum information science.

In pushing for international cooperation around emerging tech as well as recognizing the importance of emerging technology as a key element of grand strategy and national security, the U.S. is not alone. In the recent past, the Scott Morrison government in Australia has spotlighted emerging tech cooperation as a major element of its foreign policy. The Australian government recently announced its decision to hold a one-of-a-kind conference, “The Sydney Dialogue,” later this year which would have emerging technologies and their geopolitical ramifications as its exclusive focus. In January last year, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs announced the creation of a new “New, Emerging and Strategic Technologies” division with the ministry.

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“The CSET bureau will lead U.S. government diplomatic efforts on a wide range of international cyberspace security and emerging technology policy issues that affect U.S. foreign policy and national security, including securing cyberspace and critical technologies, reducing the likelihood of cyber conflict, and prevailing in strategic cyber competition,” the media note also stated. “The Secretary’s decision to establish CSET will permit the Department to posture itself appropriately and engage as effectively as possible with partners and allies on these pressing national security concerns,” it added.

It is likely that the Trump administration’s thrust on emerging tech leadership as a key element of U.S. national security will outlast Trump’s time in office, and the CSET bureau figure prominently in the incoming Biden administration’s foreign policy efforts. Earlier on January 8, the Biden-Harris transition team announced that it will appoint Tarun Chhabra, a senior fellow at  Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology, to the newly created position of senior director for technology and national security in the incoming National Security Council.