The words of President Dwight Eisenhower, uttered more than 50 years ago about military and private corporations engaged in weaponry, and the consequent global prospects for peace are proving prophetic. Eisenhower warned the world of the consequences of companies, in the arms business for profit, partnering with the military establishment and circumventing the norms of government and society in an unholy marriage. He alluded to the potential problems emanating from such collaboration, which he termed the Military-Industrial complex, which could grow out of control and affect the global balance of power, or lead to more conflicts worldwide.
The same thing may be occurring in China today, where, wittingly or unwittingly, US tech giants have aligned themselves with the Chinese government and Chinese companies in partnerships that could undermine US national security interests, thus putting profits ahead of patriotism, and potentially altering the balance of power in the world. An article that appeared recently in the New York Times explores the ramifications of this clandestine collusion.
These links, which are generally not well publicized, are now at the center of a debate among some in the American defense community, including former United States military officials, analysts, and others. While the cross-border partnerships, under which American tech companies share, license or jointly develop advanced technologies with Chinese counterparts, are a growth area for business, security experts are increasingly questioning whether the deals harm United States national security, and thus outweigh the benefits, while posing enormous potential risks. In other words, they could be speeding up the pace in which China acquires more dangerous military capability!
A recent report pegged IBM as a major collaborator with its Open Power program to assist the Chinese government, saying that,
“IBM is endangering the national and economic security of the United States, risking the cybersecurity of their customers globally, and undermining decades of U.S. non-proliferation policies regarding high-performance computing.”
IBM defends its position, contending that the report is a mischaracterization of its endeavors, while the US Defense Department is adamant about valuable technology being apparently sold to the highest bidder at the expense of national security. It should be noted that IBM and others, are not violating any laws, but many prickly situations have arisen from selling sensitive technology to the Chinese. Scott Kennedy, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said,
“It’s so difficult to keep tech away from China commercilly given how large China’s market is.”
Companies such as Microsoft and Cisco have been cited for colluding with the Chinese but maintain they are following the same business protocols, as they do with other countries. While American tech companies have long worked with the Chinese government, Beijing has over the last two years pushed companies for tighter relationships, such as joint ventures, and agreements to transfer technology with Chinese companies. Chinese officials have used the incentive of market access to spur more American corporate collaboration, and American companies, whose appetite for profit is incessant, are only too eager to acquiesce.
Lost in this corporate chess game of is the greater good of the American public, who may never suffer the effects of war because of these actions, but are nonetheless hurt by the interminable loss of jobs due to offshoring. And because companies have become savvier in relocating their profits abroad, Americans derive little benefit from these machinations. While economic cooperation has many benefits, the potential of an increasingly sophisticated Chinese military running amok in the region (and the world) is not one of them.