2 min read

The Security-Prosperity Reckoning

If it ever existed in the minds of the layperson, the white space between national security and economic prosperity is gone.
Chinese hackers are again targeting American universities

"Chinese hackers have targeted more than two dozen universities in the U.S. and around the globe as part of an elaborate scheme to steal research about maritime technology being developed for military use, according to cybersecurity experts and current and former U.S. officials."

If it ever existed in the minds of the layperson, the white space between national security and economic prosperity is gone. They are now two parts of one whole.

Call it economic security.

Nuclear weapons defined the Cold War, and terrorism has defined the post-9/11 period. Both were distinctly military activities.

But in the era of 5G, artificial intelligence, and mass urbanization, great power competition will happen at the intersection of government and business.

Despite enormous risk, America is unprepared.

Silicon Valley is having a moral food fight over whether to work with the American military, but the problem is much deeper and more dangerous than petitions and procurement.

American business leaders, entrepreneurs, and researchers must now manage a range of issues – cybersecurity, industrial espionage, geopolitical risk, and always-on emerging technology – that fall outside of what Warren Buffett calls their circle of competence.

They are not showing much interest, and are not receiving much help. Despite the public-private partnership chatter, there are precious few value-add forums that promote real, strategic collaboration between business and government.

This deficit is especially acute at the high-risk, high-value intersection of security and prosperity.

Part of the challenge is the differences in language and culture. Business people don't think about "national security." To them, national security is carried out by people in Washington DC, overseas, or secret offices far from Wall Street or Sand Hill Road.

In other words, national security happens "out there." (National security folks have a hard time speaking and understanding business, too.)

But what happens when the primary risks, fast-changing and expanding, shift from "out there" to "right here" like they are now?

The answer is that leaders – individually and collectively – need to fundamentally rethink their approaches to security, prosperity, and risk; to start, we must acknowledge that this shift is happening everywhere, on our phones and in our cities, right now.

As the Russians compromise social networks, and the Chinese pilfer universities' and corporations' intellectual property, Americans can no longer take false comfort in the clear lines between the public and private sectors, between the pleasant breakdown of responsibilities for security and prosperity.

Whether we like it or not, everyone with a smartphone is on the front lines. We better start acting like it.