Science and Technology Net Assessment and Competitive Strategy

This paper explores the challenges of S&TNA and S&TI, and of doing them both in the ways our nation requires in its technology-powered strategic competition with the People’s Republic of China.

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It is critical to U.S. national security and competitive strategy for our leaders to have a deep understanding of the science and technology dynamics that so powerfully shape the modern world. This makes the comparative assessments of trends, key competitions, risks, opportunities, and future prospects of national capabilities in the technology arena—that is, Science and Technology Net Assessment (S&TNA)—an essential tool of modern statecraft.

Technological revolutions can have earth-shaking implications in many dimensions, such as massive geopolitical payoffs akin to those won by Britain and then by the United States in the First, Second, and Third Industrial Revolutions. With this in mind, China hopes to seize “first mover” advantages in what it anticipates will be a Fourth Industrial Revolution. As the United States attempts to respond to these Science and Technology (S&T) challenges, our leaders will need to be much better equipped for sound decision-making in this arena. Hence the critical importance of S&TNA and Science and Technology Intelligence (S&TI).

If done right, S&TNA has many potential customers, both in the federal system and beyond, but the U.S. policy community is not yet getting the support it needs in terms of S&TNA collection and analysis for a number of reasons. In addition to the more specific challenges of mobilizing appropriate substantive expertise and resourcing, no single executive branch entity owns the responsibility for developing whole-of-nation “technosystem” understandings and for subsequent net assessment production. Nor is the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) properly equipped to support S&TNA. It is not well staffed or resourced to do S&TI well, does not place much priority on relevant collection or analysis, and suffers from an instinctive prejudice against just the sort of unclassified information that can often be so crucial in S&TNI and S&TNA alike. In addition, the IC is generally prohibited from analyzing U.S. capabilities in the ways that would be needed for S&TNA. Adding to the challenge, U.S. institutions are not currently well prepared to share relevant insights across the range of key stakeholders.

A solid S&TNA system would need to draw heavily on contributions from federally funded research and development centers, as well as university research institutions, academic researchers, and commercial industry stakeholders. The United States should urgently take a number of basic initial steps to start building an effective S&TNA and S&TI system in support of its national competitive strategy, beginning with a pilot program to implement a set of S&TNA initiatives focused on current technology competitive challenges.