The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
National Greatness Democrats in Silicon Valley

Google’s Eric Schmidt has a new book coming out (co-authored by former State Department whiz-kid Jared Cohen), and it looks like it will be quite provocative. [Full disclosure: Schmidt is the chair of the New America Foundation, an organization WRM helped launch and on whose board he sits.] The Wall Street Journal has gotten an advance copy and has teased out some fascinating passages:

[...] the pair come close, on occasion, to suggesting western governments follow China’s lead and form closer relationships between state policy and corporate activity.

Take the equipment and software that comprises the Internet. Most of the world’s IT systems were once based almost entirely on Western infrastructure, but as Chinese firms get more competitive, that is changing, and not necessarily for the better, they say:

“In the future superpower supplier nations will look to create their spheres of online influence around specific protocols and products, so that their technologies form the backbone of a particular society and their client states come to rely on certain critical infrastructure that the superpower alone builds, services and controls.”

Chinese telecom equipment companies, rapidly gaining market share around the world, are at the front lines of the expansion this sphere of influence, they say: “Where Huawei gains market share, the influence and reach of China grow as well”. And while western vendors like Cisco Systems and Ericsson are not state controlled, the will likely become closer to their governments in the future, Schmidt and Cohen say:

“There will come a time when their commercial and national interests align and contrast with China — say, over the abuse of their products by an authoritarian state — and they will coordinate their efforts with their governments on both diplomatic and technical levels.”

Fascinating—and plausible. We look forward to reading the book here at Via Meadia when it comes out in April.

In the meantime, a couple of tangential thoughts about these leaked passages:

Others have pointed out how over time, Silicon Valley has rediscovered the state. Companies that once tried to fly below the radar are now much more aware of the importance of government policy for their industry. This runs very much counter to the popular idea that in the modern world, multinational corporations will lose a sense of connection to their ‘home country’. Google, for one, seems to be getting more patriotic lately.

This has implications for the politics of American defense policy, and foreign policy generally. Silicon Valley is a major donor to Democrats, and it seems to be moving toward an understanding of the importance of a strong and outward looking America. Historically, cutting edge corporations have supported the rise of American power partly as a way of assuring that U.S. foreign policy and power would support their corporate agendas and help them get fair treatment in a world where foreign corporations enjoyed clear backing from their governments. It’s beginning to look as if Silicon Valley is heading down this well-trodden trail. This suggests a revival of a strong national defense and national greatness lobby in the Democratic Party, especially if we reflect on the degree to which defense spending in the future is likely to intersect with the kinds of products Silicon Valley makes.

Interesting times ahead.

Published on February 2, 2013 1:13 pm