Just ask Israel: Strategic tech investments benefit national development
As technological developments accelerate across the board, governments must take the lead and create incentives for the private sector to develop those that serve the national interest – or risk falling behind.
State of Israel initiatives to promote development ecosystems in the cybersphere are an example of what government-led development can do for national security and the national economy.
Societies that do not wish to leave their well-being to market forces alone need governments that clearly define national technological requirements and chart the course to achieve these goals.
While governments cannot force companies to research and develop anything, they can certainly encourage them to do so through tax breaks and investments, as the office of the Chief Scientist of Israel for over a decade.
Often, technological development comes in recognition of a requirement, and many of these requirements have their origins in wars. For example, mass rail transport took on a new dimension after trains became essential for moving troops during World War I.
During the Cold War, many defence-related technological developments, such as satellite communications and global positioning systems, later revolutionized the civilian world with the emergence of spin-off technologies.
In the 20th century, the emergence of nuclear energy from the science behind the atomic bomb solved serious energy problems for many advanced countries, especially among states that lacked oil.
It took about forty years to develop advanced unmanned aerial vehicles to provide real-time battlefield intelligence, a process in which Israel played a pioneering role. Today, however, quadcopters deliver packages and monitor traffic.
Yet, despite the plethora of developments, many countries are also seeing technologies emerge that have no obvious good use.
This deluge of unguided technology means governments face dilemmas when planning for times of crisis – times when falling back on domestic tech development can make the difference between weathering a crisis successfully or not.
It was the thinking that guided Israel’s creation of its National Cybersecurity Directorate in 2012 after the government completed a process of defining the kind of technology goals it wanted to achieve.
Unfortunately, this is not a frequent or common pattern in state-level decision-making, especially in the West. While states excel in forming academic institutions and infrastructure, they have not been so successful in deliberately guiding technological development.
Israel, which was a barely functional country just seventy years ago, is today a technological hub that rivals the great powers, not least because it has encouraged the development of industries such as cybersecurity.
The same goes for Israel’s domestic defense industries, which really began to flourish after the French arms embargo in 1968; until then, Israel had relied on French weapons systems.
Israel’s lead in agricultural technological development is another example – and with the prospect that food insecurity is a greater threat to global prosperity than war, countries must urgently start developing such technologies. technologies.
The impending climate change and disruption of food supplies created by events such as Russia’s war on Ukraine puts millions of lives at risk. Famine, however, is not the only threat facing vulnerable countries. Droughts are another peril. Developing a national desalination infrastructure provides states with a (albeit costly) shield against such dangers, as Israel learned from its pioneering desalination technology.
These maneuvers force governments to take a strategic view of present and future needs and to position themselves in such a way as to allow technological developments to serve as a defense against major threats, whether they are the result of natural or man-made phenomena.
Such a guiding hand from government also yields significant economic dividends. When Israel created the National Cybersecurity Directorate ten years ago, it only exported hundreds of millions of dollars worth of cybersecurity solutions. Today, these exports exceed ten billion dollars a year, not to mention the billions of investments by international companies in the local cyber-industry. Today, that pace of growth is slowing, but its economic and national achievements remain significant.
Going forward, AI will be a major area for deliberate government-powered development, for any country that wants to be influential and relevant in the 21st century. If such targets are not set, enormous resources will be invested in research and development of projects that may produce negligible tangible results at the national level.
brigadier general Doron Tamir (IDF, ret.) is a publishing house expert at The MirYam Institute. He was a founding member of Israel’s National Cybersecurity Directorate in the Prime Minister’s Office.