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Issues & Insights Vol. 21, SR 1 – 21st Century Technologies, Geopolitics, and the US-Japan Alliance: Recognizing Game-changing Potential 

  • Kathryn Ibata-Arens

    DePaul University

  • Akira Igata

    Center for Rule-making Strategies, Tama University

  • Keisuke Inoue

    FabLab KandaNishikicho

  • Erick Nielson C Javier

    National Defense College of the Philippines

  • Elsa B. Kania

    Technology and National Security Program at the Center for a New American Security

  • Margaret E. Kosal

    Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at Georgia Institute of Technology

  • Edward Parker

    RAND Corporation

  • Willem Thorbecke

    Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry

  • Mariko Togashi

    Edwin O. Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies

  • Takahiro Tsuchiya

    Kyoto University of Advanced Science

  • Mason Venturo

    Delta Air Lines


Key Findings

Throughout the month of October 2020, with support from the US Embassy Tokyo, the Pacific Forum cohosted with the Center for Rule-Making Strategies at Tama University, the Keio University Global Research Institute, and the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology a series of virtual panel discussions on “Game Changing Technologies and the US-Japan Alliance.” Over 280 individuals joined the 10 sessions – 7 closed door and 3 public panels – that examined issues such as artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, big data, cybersecurity, drones, quantum computing, robots, and 3-D printing. A conversation of this length and breadth is difficult to summarize, but the following key findings attempt to capture this rich and variegated discussion.

General landscape

Mastery of new and emerging technologies is key to success in 21st century economic competition and global leadership. There is much talk about those technologies’ impact on “the balance of power,” but a fundamental question remains: The power to do what?

Technological prowess is vital not only to national defense and dominance, but also to provide a bulwark against interference by authoritarian governments in domestic and personal affairs.

Democracies are losing their historical influence over technology development, standard-setting, and limiting proliferation relative to the growing capacity of authoritarian competitors, but this can be corrected.

Japan has made national economic statecraft a priority but has considerable work to do to deal with the suite of issues associated with creating and effectively exploiting emerging technologies.

The ubiquity of many of these technologies and government initiatives like China’s Military-Civil Fusion (MCF) erase historical distinctions between military and civilian use. Traditional export controls focus on protecting military and dual-use items. The growing difficulty in distinguishing between military and civilian end-use and end-users makes export controls challenging to apply, and ineffective in practice.

Emerging technologies

Despite growing attention to emerging technologies in the US and Japan and acknowledgement of the need for coordinated action to regulate their use, disparities between the two countries in terms of knowledge about, impact of, and proficiency in these technologies inhibit coordinated action.

Uncertainties inherent in the development of “emerging technologies” make regulation of their use and control of their dissemination difficult, if not impossible. Identifying the appropriate technology to control is also problematic, and there is agreement that “casting the net” too wide will inhibit innovation.

There is an inherent tension between a desire for international collaboration to spur innovation and the perceived need to control access to technologies to preserve economic and security-related advantages, particularly to prevent their diversion by or to other countries.

While there is an instinct in the US to decouple economic exchange from perceived adversaries to prevent technology leakage, connections afford the US and its allies a window into the work of perceived adversaries and prevent surprise – both economic and strategic.

Economic incentives to get new technologies to market as quickly as possible may undermine the readiness of entrepreneurs to build in safety, security, and ethics. The declining cost of new technologies and their increasing availability to the public democratize access to dangerous tools and create a leveling effect among nations.


If data is “the new oil” – and there was little dissent about this – then the norms and regulations regarding its “ownership” and/or use will be vital to success in the 21st century economy. Coordination among governments that facilitate or inhibit sharing of such data is critical.

We are only beginning to understand how data processing outcomes can be influenced by the types of algorithms used. Ostensibly “neutral” algorithms can prejudice decision-making by incorporating subtle but important biases. Even nontechnical policy people should seek to shine light into the algorithm “black box” to understand what assumptions are being made.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated demand for better cybersecurity practices – and made plain the alarming gap in both the capacity and the will to implement those practices. At the same time, the pandemic-triggered recession has forced companies to cut their cybersecurity budgets just as they have increased spending on IT capabilities to account for a surge in remote working arrangements.

Be wary of comparisons of who is “winning” cyber or technology races. Much depends on the metrics used and assumptions about the nature of the competition. The “race” metaphor also obscures the importance of international collaboration and reduces the equation to a zero sum.

Identifying and thinking about cyberspace as a separate military domain on par with air, sea land, or space encourages clarity in relevant decision making – whether civilian, military, government, or private. On the other hand, such a distinction risks obscuring the fact that cyberspace is intrinsic to, and fully permeates, the other domains.

As governments attempt to secure national cyber networks, small- and medium-size businesses continue to struggle to protect themselves from cyberattacks. Their shortage of cybersecurity resources makes them vulnerable to cyberattacks, and both government and industry-driven initiatives have been launched to help these smaller businesses enhance their cybersecurity.

There is a tension between resilience and deterrence in national security planning for cyberspace. While technology is often the focus of security concerns, the human factor must not be overlooked. Trust may be the key concept in developing secure cyber networks.


While there is concern about the role of robots or autonomous weapons on the battlefield and their impact on human control and delivery of intended effects, advocates counter that autonomous weapons can be discriminating and more accurate than humans, creating less collateral damage.

Public sensitivity to (or aversion toward) the application of advanced technologies in the national security space has kept some researchers (many Japanese but also some American) from considering the military applications of their work.

Semiconductors, 3-D Printing, and Supply Chains

Japan is several years behind the world in adopting additive manufacturing practices like 3-D printing. While 3-D printing offers many advantages, problems persist in acquiring the necessary raw materials for printing at scale. Effective utilization of 3-D printing will require more and better education about this technology.

The US has much to learn from Asia about reviving its manufacturing sector and resourcing supply chains.

Given a 60-70% cost differential between manufacturing in the US and China, relocating low-cost production out of China makes little sense in a short-term analysis that relies solely on cost. Yet there are competing and sometimes compelling longer-term factors to consider, such as geopolitical relations, political risk, and the security of supply chains in a crisis. Establishing new supply chains demands close attention to these factors.

For the US, a “National Manufacturing Guard,” modeled after the National Guard, may be one way to ensure the availability of manufacturing capacity in a crisis such as a global pandemic.

Quantum Technology

While impressive progress has been made, the world is a long way from a game-changing quantum computing capability. Small quantum computing capabilities may appear in the next three to five years, but the potential – and the hype – outpaces the technology.

It is too early to tell which quantum technologies will have an impact on national security, and different states are pursuing different lines of effort. Japan, China, and the EU are prioritizing quantum communications, which might improve the security of encrypted communications. The US and a few other countries are focusing on quantumcomputing, which could threaten the security of encrypted communication, as well as provide useful commercial applications.

It is also too early to set broad international standards for quantum technologies. Instead, it may make more sense to focus on limited cooperation among allies or like-minded countries.


Biotechnology proliferation poses new security threats as nefarious actors will be able to access these capabilities soon.

While most of the focus of biotechnology is on medical and health-related products, it is estimated that more than 60% of physical inputs into the global economy can be replaced by biological production.

A shift to biological production can yield profound reductions in energy, water use, and land use, along with substantial cuts in “food miles” (the distance from production to the table).

For new types of food production, economies of scale are not everything: there is room for individual or startup competitiveness. However, supply capacity is a key limiter, particularly with regard to amino acids and water.

While Japan has been developing biotechnologies, gains have been limited by bureaucratic factionalism and stove-piping between government departments.

Areas of Cooperation

Technology can only be successfully managed through whole-of-government and whole-of-society approaches. Policymakers should promote coordinated action between allies, partners and like-minded states, where technology-generated impacts have their most far-reaching effects.

The US-Japan Cooperation Dialogue on the Internet Economy, which included discussions with private-sector representatives, is a best practice for US-Japan cooperation. The exchange of ideas among industry, government, and academia will create an open architecture highlighting the values of transparency, vendor diversity, and standardization, creating market opportunities for US and Japanese vendors and benefitting third countries by improving supply chain security.

The fundamental challenge the US and Japan face in 5G competition is a lack of attractive, alternative options to very cheap technologies offered by China to third countries. An area of focus for the US and Japan in 5G should be R&D collaboration to ensure multi-vendor interoperability on technology challenges. Our countries should also be thinking to develop 6G technology, in particular multilateral and bilateral industry consortiums for standard-setting.

One important lesson from the US-Japan trade and technology competition of the 1980s is that the US exaggerated the “threat” from a highly capable competitor to a point that it almost missed opportunities to work together for mutual benefit. (The allies should not lose sight of opportunities to do so with China.)

The US needs an accurate understanding of government involvement in industrial development.  The vital role that Washington played in creating what came to be known as Silicon Valley is often downplayed to foster a myth of “entrepreneurial independence” and advance ideological positions that are not based on history.

Alignment between the US and Japan on trade, investment, and technology controls is necessary. Otherwise, attempts to address shared security concerns will generate friction between our two countries. One vital step Japan can make is developing more sophisticated procedures to handle classified information, including a security clearance system. As a first step, the US and Japan should update their science and technology agreement signed in 1988.













































5G 競争において米国と日本が直面している根本的な課題は、中国が第三国に提供している非常に安価な技術に代わるような魅力的な選択肢がないことである。5Gにおいて日米が焦点とすべきは、技術課題に対するマルチベンダーの相互運用性を確保するための共同研究開発である。日米はまた、6G技術の開発、特に規格設定のための産業界での多者間及び二者間のコンソーシアムについて考えるべきである。

1980 年代の日米貿易及び技術競争からの重要な教訓の一つは、米国が有力な競争相手からの「脅威」を誇張しすぎて、協力して相互に利益を得るチャンスをほとんど見逃してしまったことである。(米国の同盟国は中国との協力という観点を見失うべきではない。)



より詳しい情報についてはクリスタル・プライアー([email protected])またはブラッド・グロッサーマン([email protected])に連絡してください。本書に記載された意見は各カンファレンスのオーガナイザーによるものであり、必ずしも全参加の意見を反映させたものではありません。

Edited by Brad Glosserman, Crystal Pryor, and Riho Aizawa

Japanese translations by Harunari Soeda, Yu Inagaki, and Erika Hongo

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