For the first time in 70 years, the US faces a serious challenge to its science and technology leadership. The primary challenge comes from China, both a strategic competitor and one of our most important economic partners. The cost of losing our leadership position would be high in terms of both economic and national security. Our government needs to rise above partisan conflicts and address this challenge directly. 

Today the Council on Foreign Relations published a fascinating report on this subject that I had an opportunity to work on over the past year as part of a Task Force led by James Manyika, the head of the McKinsey Global Institute, and Admiral William McRaven, the former Head of Special Operations Command, with participation from some great people in the tech industry including Eric Schmidt, Reid Hoffman, DJ Patil, Doug Beck and others.

We propose a comprehensive National Security Innovation Strategy that consists of four pillars: restoring federal funding for R&D, making a foundational investment in our STEM workforce, supporting more rapid adoption of advanced technologies in the defense sector and strengthening our technology alliances.

We conclude that attempts to slow down China’s technological progress will be far less effective than attempts to outpace it. We believe that our current trade policy toward China has become over-weaponized, alienating our allies and imposing constraints on our innovative capacity. Efforts to maintain our scientific and technological edge must begin at home with investments in our people, education and research and with smart policies to enhance our talent pools and capabilities.

Managing the relationship between the United States and China effectively is one of the keys to the economic and national security of both countries and to global stability generally. We must strive to make our partnership a constructive and peaceful one. There are many areas where we will cooperate in ways that will make both countries more prosperous. There will be others where our security and economic interests will differ and where we will compete. Science and technology innovation will be an area infused with both.

The U.S. has faced significant challenges to its technology leadership in both the economic and national security spheres in the past, and sometimes we have lost our lead in a certain area only to regain it after significant national effort. Each time we have responded effectively, and each time our response has created unforeseen benefits for the country. We must rise to this challenge again today.