Antony J. Blinken

Address to the National Security Commission

delivered 13 July 2021, Mayflower Hotel, Washington, D.C.

Audio AR-XE mp3 of Address


Thank you. Thank you all very, very much. It is actually wonderful to be in a room with real people -- with friends, with colleagues and without masks too. So in and of itself, that’s a very positive thing.

But there is a lot to be positive about today, and it starts with the remarkable work of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, especially the work of my friend Eric Schmidt, another friend and close colleague Bob Work, who I haven’t seen yet but hopefully is here, and -- Bob, there you are -- and the executive director Ylli Bajraktari. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this remarkable effort. I am in your debt, and quite frankly the country is going to be in your debt for the work that you’ve done. I’m going to put this down.

And I really want to thank the members of Congress who have come together across party lines to launch this enterprise at what is a pivotal moment for our country, and I think for the world at large.

Today, you’ve heard from the Secretary of Defense, you’ve heard from the Secretary of Commerce, the National Security Advisor, the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

In and of itself, that is testament to how seriously the administration takes these issues. And again, that’s in no small part due to the work of this commission.

You have helped clarify the links among AI, the broader set of emerging technologies, strategic competition, and our national security and prosperity.

And you have made crystal clear that our country needs to play catch-up and to do it fast. And not just our country. Countries around the world. And I’ll come to that.

We’re moving quickly, because we want to ensure that as AI and related technologies transform how we live, how we work, how we compete, how we defend ourselves, that we’re staying ahead of change, indeed that we are shaping change and, critically, making sure it delivers for our people.

My colleagues, I think, have very capably covered the administration’s work on these issues as it relates to our domestic renewal, our economy, and our defense.

So what I’d like to do today is to focus on the State Department’s distinct role, because diplomacy will be critical.

Working with partners and allies to develop and deploy technology is going to help us tackle the most urgent challenges we face, from pandemics to the climate crisis.

Diplomacy will also be essential to mitigating risks, from preventing cyber attacks that target our businesses, to regulating technology that threatens our privacy, to defending our democratic values and way of life.

And let me just pause for a second on that last point, because I think it deserves emphasis. It’s fundamentally what’s at stake here.

More than anything else, our task is to put forth and carry out a compelling vision for how to use technology in a way that serves our people, protects our interests and upholds our democratic values. It’s not enough to highlight the horrors of techno-authoritarianism, to point to what countries like China and Russia are doing, and say that it’s wrong and dangerous, even as it is. We’ve also got to make the positive case for our own approach, and then we’ve got to deliver. That is the challenge before us.

We need the United States and we need its partners to remain the world’s innovative leaders and standard setters, to ensure that universal rights and democratic values remain at the center of all the innovation that’s to come, and that it delivers real benefits in people’s lives. That fundamentally is the test that we have to pass, and it’s a test I think you’ve heard President Biden allude to.

In short, democracies have to pass the tech test together. And diplomacy, I believe, has a big role to play in that.

Now, any time you hear someone from the State Department talking, we’re likely to throw in pillars and frameworks and tranches, so I can’t be any different today. We have to have our pillars, so let me walk you through six of them -- (laughter) -- that cover the approach to these issues. I know you’d be disappointed without it.

The first is reducing the national security risks posed by malicious cyber activities and emerging technologies.

This is the most basic thing our diplomacy has to do: protect our people, protect our networks, prevent conflict, and establish standards of responsible conduct in cyberspace.

Already, we’ve brought countries together around an approach that recognizes international law to make it clear that countries are governed in cyberspace just like they are offline and that defines norms that apply not only in wartime but in peacetime too, because we’re now dealing with significant cyber incidents outside the context of war.

We’ve also called for practical confidence-building measures; for example, steps as simple as establishing points of contact, so that in the event of a major cyber incident we actually know who to call. Under American leadership, UN member-states have come together repeatedly to reaffirm this basic framework.

Now we’re working to bring allies and partners along to respond collectively when others engage in malicious cyber activity. That’s what happened after the SolarWinds intrusion. We attributed it to Russia; 22 countries, the European Union, NATO quickly supported that conclusion. And that’s important, because when we speak with one voice, we can more effectively deter future bad acts.

Last month, as some of you will have noted, at the NATO summit, NATO reaffirmed that a cyber attack could trigger Article V -- “an attack on one is an attack on all” -- and that’s an important step too in deterring those attacks and protecting our national security in the cyber age.

We’re also treating ransomware not only as a law enforcement issue but also as a national security issue. Ransomware and other cyber crimes affect all of us -- our businesses, local governments; our most critical infrastructure, from power grids to hospitals. As you know, one in four Americans has been the victim of a cyber crime, at a cost of more than $4 billion every single year. That’s a direct threat to the safety, to the well-being of our people, and so it’s at the top of our diplomatic agenda.

And it’s also why we’re elevating ransomware in our engagements with Russia. Our message is clear: Countries that harbor cyber criminals have a responsibility to take action. If they don’t, we will. We’re strengthening our diplomatic and foreign assistance tools to fight transnational cyber criminals, and we’re working to expand membership in the global cyber crime treaty known as the Budapest Convention.

We’ll launch similar efforts on AI and other emerging technologies. If they’re going to be used as part of our national defense, we want the world to have a shared understanding of how to do that responsibly, in the same way that we’ve hammered out rules for how to use conventional and nuclear weapons. That’s how we reduce the risk of proliferation. It’s how we prevent escalation or unintended incidents.

The second pillar is ensuring that our leadership in the fierce strategic technology competition that’s now underway not only continues but grows and strengthens.

We know China is determined to become the world’s technology leader. And they have a well-resourced and comprehensive plan to achieve those ambitions.

We must preserve our competitive and comparative advantages.

That means building resilient, diverse, and secure supply chains for critical technologies. Our proposed investments in semiconductor manufacturing here at home is an important part of that. And again, I really want to underscore the very important work that was done on a bipartisan basis in Congress to help allow us to do that.

But I think you know this too: We can’t onshore everything. We don’t need to. We’ll work with partners to “friend-shore” and “near-shore” our supply chains, and that will make all of us more resilient.

We’ll protect information communications technologies. The Biden-Harris administration is committed to 5G security. And we’re promoting the use of trusted and diverse vendors, including American companies, and advocating in multilateral settings for high standards for security and for trust.

We’re taking a fresh look at tools like export controls, investment screening, visa screening, to make sure our strategic competitors are not exploiting our own innovative ecosystems to gain military or national security advantage.

Today we also know that it’s harder to ensure that American innovations are used for commercial purposes only. Countries like China don’t differentiate between civilian and military in the same way, and emerging technologies, including AI applications, blur that line too. So we’ve got to think differently about how to protect our innovation and industries against that kind of misuse.

And of course, we need to do this at the same time that we’re growing our talent pipelines. Perhaps more than any other factor, having the right people will determine whether we win the competition for the future. We’ve got to recruit, we’ve got to retain the top talent, including talent from around the world, so that the best and the brightest study here, stay here, feel welcome here.

The third pillar: defending an open, secure, reliable, and interoperable internet.

We’ve been fighting for this vision of the internet for a long, long time. Many of you in this room have been engaged in that effort. These principles created the conditions that allowed the internet to grow into the transformative force that it’s become: an extraordinary resource for learning, for connection, for economic growth.

But the hard truth is that the internet is also growing more closed, more insecure, more fractured every single day.

We see country after country putting up firewalls, controlling speech, targeting activists, shutting down the internet to squelch dissent. And while authoritarian regimes deny access to their networks, they actively reach into others and into ours, taking advantage and meddling in more open societies. It’s no wonder that some countries are asking whether the principles around which we’ve organized the internet are still relevant, are still tenable.

In many ways, we are at an inflection point, some would say even a tipping point. And our choice is between giving up on our vision for the internet or stepping up the fight. We will step up the fight.

We’ll defend the principles of an open, secure, reliable, and interoperable internet across the full spectrum of our engagement -- from trade agreements to governance to hardware. We’ll use our diplomacy to unite governments and the private sector more firmly behind these efforts. The work we do today will determine what the internet looks like just a few years from now. That’s a responsibility we take very, very seriously.

The fourth pillar I want to talk about is setting technical standards and creating norms for emerging technologies.

Technical standards help ensure quality, protect consumer health and safety, facilitate global interoperability. They also help overcome trade barriers and expand market access.

We believe in a transparent, consensus-based, and private sector-led approach to developing standards for emerging technologies. That’s how we’ll arrive at standards that are technologically sound, have earned people’s trust, reflect our values, and help American companies compete on a level playing field.

And norms, of course, are standards of another kind. We’ll work with partners to ensure that technologies are developed and deployed in ethical ways that respect people’s rights.

That’s what we did at the UN International Telecommunications Union just a few months ago. Some countries proposed norms that would allow the use, for example, of facial recognition technology in ways that could threaten human rights. We brought governments and businesses together to stop it.

Whenever rules and norms that affect American lives are being debated and decided, American diplomats won’t be just -- won’t just be in the room; we will be leading the charge.

The fifth pillar is this: It’s making technology work for democracy.

Some of the leading threats to democracies today are playing out, as you all know, in cyberspace. We have to be leading the world’s efforts, and particularly the world’s democracies, in responding to those threats -- fighting back against disinformation, standing up for internet freedom, reducing the misuse of surveillance technology.

We’ve got to make sure that our companies are not inadvertently fueling authoritarian practices, whether it’s in China or anywhere else.

That’s why we’ve released “surveillance due diligence guidance” to try to help American companies prevent their products from being misused.

Technology is also disrupting democracies from within -- challenging the ways we think about privacy, free speech, the power of government, and corporations. President Biden will take on these issues here at home. For example, his new executive order on promoting competition in the U.S. economy asks the FTC to establish rules for companies on surveillance and how to treat personal data.

But democracies have to work together on these issues as well. We need to close the gaps in regulatory and legal frameworks so that democracies can collaborate more easily on issues like privacy, content moderation, data sharing, and on digital trade.

You all know very well these are incredibly complicated issues. The world’s democracies are not all on the same page on every single one of them. But at heart we do share the same principles, and I have confidence that we can work together through the differences that we have. I can tell you this: It is a diplomatic priority for the United States to do that.

So is advancing trustworthy AI. We need be able to reassure our citizens that AI is secure, that it does not have bias embedded in it, that it can be used safely. And here, we’re grateful for a lot of good work happening in some critical organizations, including at the OECD and the Global Partnership on AI. This is very important, too.

We’re interested in increasing access to shared public data sets for AI training and testing, while still preserving privacy -- especially in sectors like health, climate, and energy, where AI could create transformational breakthroughs.

Finally, the sixth pillar is promoting cooperation.

Yes, our work in this space is about protecting ourselves and our allies from threats. And yes, it’s about competition. But more than anything, we want and we need to bring a spirit of cooperation to tech diplomacy. Because the bottom-line truth is this: The United States cannot deliver on these pillars on our own. We need partners.

And this may be in some ways, I think, the most fundamental imperative of our time. And it, of course, extends beyond technology. If you think about virtually any challenge that we have to face as a country, as a society, challenges that have a direct impact on the lives of our citizens, whether it’s dealing with this pandemic, whether it’s climate change, whether it is emerging technologies, we know that not a single one can be fully and effectively addressed by any one country acting alone, even the United States. Now, more than ever before in my lifetime, there is an imperative for cooperation.

So we are building technology into nearly all of our diplomatic engagements -- tech by tech, issue by issue, bilaterally, multilaterally, always looking to assemble the right configurations of allies and partners to get things done.

And as we see it, this agenda has to start with our democratic partners.

And I think we’ve already gotten some good work under our belts. We’ve been developing shared principles at the G7. I think you saw some of that emerge just a few weeks ago with President Biden. We’ve created a new U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council that’s going to be an important vehicle for advancing this agenda. We’re starting a new science and technology partnership with the UK. We’re launching cooperative agreements with Korea and Japan on emerging technologies. We created a Critical and Emerging Tech Working Group with the Quad countries -- with Japan, Australia, India. We’re working with G7 partners through Build Back Better World to mobilize private capital and government finance to build digital infrastructure in low- and middle-income countries.

Our goal is strong networks -- plural -- of countries, companies, universities connected by shared values and a shared commitment to design and deploy technology for the benefit of all people, to strengthen open and interoperable systems, to encourage freedom of thought and expression, which are the heart of innovation, to defend each other against those who are intent on taking technologies that could be used for good and using them for harm.

To deliver on all of this, we need a State Department and a diplomatic corps that treats cyber and technology like the central issues that they are.

I’ve asked the two deputy secretaries of state, Wendy Sherman and Brian McKeon, to take the lead on delivering recommendations for how to elevate and institutionalize cyber and tech diplomacy across the department. And I am committed to driving this forward in full partnership with Congress.

We’ll make sure the State Department is organized for the task at hand because the issues before us really bear little relationship to borders on a map or the current organizational chart of the State Department.

We’ll build more expertise among our workforce in science, in technology, in innovation. And here’s a request: Help us spread the word. We’re looking for outstanding people, for talent who want to make the leap to government, spend some time in government. Now is a great time to put those skills to use, leveraging tech for the good of our country and for the good of the world.

In the coming weeks, the State Department will be releasing our first ever data strategy to help us use data more effectively and more creatively for diplomacy. If Netflix can predict what TV show my wife and I might choose to watch next, I think data can also help us and help the department predict maybe the next civil conflict, the next famine, the next economic crisis, and how we can respond more effectively.

I intend to leave my successor at the State Department with strong capabilities in cyber and tech diplomacy, with clear leadership, lines of authority, organizational homes, and talent at every level. We need to become much better at anticipating the foreign policy implications of the next wave of innovation, and the wave after that. I want to shape the strategic tech landscape, not just react to it.

And at the same time, we have to find ways to put tech and innovation to the task of solving the concrete problems that we’re facing, whether that’s verifying an arms control agreement or preventing the next pandemic. I’ve been in and out of government for the better part of 25 years, and the last time I was serving with Bob and others, we’d be in that Situation Room in the White House looking at one of the many challenges that would somehow wind up in our inbox, and I think it became clearer and clearer to all of us that for virtually every single one, there was some technological component to the solution. Part of the problem is that many of us who are engaged in these issues are not brought up on these disciplines. Bob is an exception to that, but many of us come from the humanities, from law. It’s not our first knowledge. It’s not our first instinct.

And I got to the point when I had the responsibility of chairing some of these meetings to thinking that I needed scientists and technologists in the room just to tell me whether I needed scientists and technologists in the room -- (laughter) -- to help identify the problems and help identify some of the solutions. And I became more and more convinced that virtually everything on our agenda has some tech or science or innovative component to the solution. So we need to do a better job bringing that knowledge, that expertise, that focus into the department and to everything we do.

We started to do that a few years ago when I was last here. We actually set up our first-ever office in Silicon Valley. Some of the other agencies of government were ahead of us. We developed partnerships with leading institutions. One of my very strong and positive memories was spending some time out at Stanford, we had started working with a class called Hacking for Diplomacy where 20 bureaus of the State Department sent this class problems that we were trying to solve. And these remarkable students over the course of a semester or even a year worked to solve them. And bringing that approach, bringing that perspective brought forward answers that I don’t think we would have come to doing it on our own in Washington. So we need to make this shift too, and the changes we’re making at State I think will help us to do that.

If there’s one thing I want to leave you with today, it’s this: For the Biden-Harris administration, this is not a standalone diplomatic issue. It’s not just another line of effort. We’re weaving cyber and technology diplomacy into our work across the board. Nothing is more consequential to our competitiveness, to our security, and ultimately, to our democracy.

We’re in the early days of this endeavor. All of us in the national security community have a tremendous amount to learn and even more to do. We intend to secure American leadership. We intend to get results for the American people. And as we do, we will build upon the work of this commission and continue to work in partnership with you.

Thank you so much for listening.

Book/CDs by Michael E. Eidenmuller, Published by McGraw-Hill (2008)

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