Opinion | The Biden administratin nhas been slow to roll out its strategy for alligning the world's techno-democracies – The Washington Post

The Biden administration has a big and potentially pathbreaking idea about connecting the world’s advanced democracies on technology policy. But it has been agonizingly slow in rolling out a broad strategy to accomplish this goal.
The broad vision was expressed by incoming secretary of state Antony Blinken in his confirmation hearing in January. “We have a very strong interest in making sure the techno-democracies come together more effectively so we are the ones doing the shaping of those norms and rules,” he told senators.
So far, though, the administration has floated its agenda for economic and tech cooperation in a piecemeal series of individual initiatives — such as the meeting in Pittsburgh last month of a U.S.-European Trade and Technology Council; last month’s “Quad” summit in Washington with India, Japan and Australia; and this week’s joint statement for more than 30 countries to work together to fight ransomware. In baseball jargon, it has been a series of singles and doubles, rather than a home run.
“Technology alliances will help define this part of the 21st century,” Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told me in an interview Thursday. “Starting something broader based than NATO or Five Eyes [the intelligence alliance of the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand] is a critical message at this time.”
An example of the administration’s slow roll is Warner’s own $52 billion plan to maintain U.S. dominance in semiconductor technology against a growing challenge from China. The bill passed the Senate in June with a big bipartisan majority, but it has languished in the House ever since.
Political flaps keep interrupting good policy. The administration had considered a broad technology initiative at the ministerial meeting of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development earlier this month in Paris. But French anger about cancellation of its submarine deal with Australia helped scuttle that effort.
Politics intervenes in other ways, as well, for this very politically sensitive administration. Global technology policy requires working closely with the biggest U.S. tech companies. But in the fracas surrounding Facebook, politicians are talking about breaking up tech giants, rather than making them allies in the competition with China. Some of the attacks on Facebook are just political posturing; Biden should say so.
The administration’s trade phobia is another obstacle. Sadly, at a time when China, South Korea and Taiwan want to join the U.S.-created Trans-Pacific Partnership, American participation in the group is verboten for Democrats. Biden continues his predecessor’s use of tariffs as a bludgeon in trade policy. Sad! U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai’s supposedly major policy speech last week mostly reiterated Trump administration goals instead of offering an innovative proposal for, say, a new digital services pact for Asia that some colleagues favor.
Biden’s cautious approach to global economic and technology policy has some supporters, to be sure. Officials note that the piecemeal announcements don’t draw antiglobalist fire the way a big initiative might. And by keeping its policies in separate lanes, the White House avoids the appearance of an anti-China alliance that might scare off India or some European countries. Biden’s bland plan for a virtual summit for democracies in December is lauded by those who fear a bolder gathering of “techno democracies” might exclude some valuable partners that are deficient on the democracy ledger.
Trade and technology policy is one area where Biden is more like Donald Trump than he pretends. The Biden White House repeats the mantra that foreign policy must benefit American workers so often that it’s easy to forget we have other goals, too. Yes, America is back, and allies are pleased that Washington is once again part of global, multilateral discussions. But they’re frustrated by what they say is inadequate consultation or, in the case of France and the submarine deal, no consultation at all.
Regardless of whether it’s announced with bold fanfare, the idea of gathering the world’s technologically advanced democracies should be a centerpiece of administration policy. Because it’s focused partly on competing with China, it can gain bipartisan backing. Because it leverages America’s still-dominant position in technology, it will draw support from key allies who need us — from the Quad countries to the European Union.
Army Gen. David H. Petraeus used to press his battlefield lieutenants: “What’s the big idea?” Biden has such a big idea — in combining the power of technology and democracy as an operating system for our network of allies and partners abroad. It’s silly for Biden to run scared of the “globalist” label, or to remain allergic to trade initiatives. It’s time for him to push the start button on global strategy.
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