Just Ask Israel: Strategic Tech Investments Benefit National Development

Just Ask Israel: Strategic Tech Investments Benefit National Development

As technological developments race ahead across the board, governments must take the initiative and create incentives for the private sector to develop those that serve the national interest—or risk falling behind.

As technological developments race ahead across the board, governments must take the initiative and create incentives for the private sector to develop those that serve the national interest—or risk falling behind.

The State of Israel’s initiatives to promote ecosystems of development in the cyber sphere are an example of what government-guided development can do for both national security and the national economy.

Societies that are not interested in leaving their wellbeing up to market forces alone need governments that clearly define national technological requirements and chart ways to reach those objectives.

While governments cannot force companies to research and develop anything, they can certainly encourage them to do so through tax breaks and investments, as Israel’s office of the chief scientist has been doing for over a decade.

Often, technological development comes in recognition of a requirement, and many of these requirements have their origins in wars. For example, mass train transport took on a new dimension after trains became key to moving troops in World War I.

During the Cold War, many defense-related technological developments, like satellite communications and global positioning systems, later revolutionized the civilian world as spinoff technologies emerged.

In the twentieth century, the emergence of nuclear power from the science behind the atomic bomb solved severe energy issues for many advanced countries, particularly among states that lacked oil.

It took around forty years to develop advanced unmanned aerial vehicles to deliver battlefield intelligence in real-time, a process in which Israel played a pioneering role. Today, however, quadcopters deliver packages and monitor traffic.

Yet, despite the plethora of development, many countries are also seeing the appearance of technologies that have no obvious good use.

This deluge of technology without any guiding hand means that governments face dilemmas when they plan for times of crisis—times when falling back on national technological development can make the difference between getting through a crisis successfully or not.

This was the thinking that guided Israel’s establishment of its National Cyber Directorate in 2012 after the government completed a process of defining just what kind of technological objectives it wished to achieve.

Unfortunately, this is not a frequent or common pattern in state-level decisionmaking, particularly in the West. While states excel in forming institutions and academic infrastructure, they have not fared as well in providing a deliberate guiding hand to technological development.

Israel, which was a barely functional country just seventy years ago, is now a technological hub that competes with major powers, specifically because it has encouraged the development of industries such as cyber-security.

The same is true of Israel’s domestic defense industries, which truly began to flourish after the French arms embargo in 1968; until that time, Israel had relied on French weapons systems.

Israel’s lead in agricultural technological development is another case in point—and with the prospect of food insecurity being a larger threat to global prosperity than war, countries must urgently begin developing such technologies.

Impending climate change and disruption to food supplies created by events like Russia’s war on Ukraine are putting millions of lives at risk. Famine is not the only threat faced by vulnerable countries, however. Droughts are another peril. Developing national desalination infrastructure provides states with a shield (albeit an expensive one) against such dangers, as Israel has learned through its pioneering desalination technology.

These maneuvers require governments to take a strategic view of present and future requirements, and to position themselves in ways that enable technological developments to serve as a defense against major threats, be they the result of natural phenomena or manmade.

Such a guiding government hand also yields significant economic dividends. When Israel established the National Cyber Directorate a decade ago, it exported just hundreds of millions of dollars worth of cyber security solutions. Today, those exports surpass ten billion dollars a year—not including billions in investment by international companies in the local cyber industry. Today, that pace of growth is slowing down, but its economic and national achievements remain prominent.

Looking ahead, artificial intelligence will be a major sector for deliberate government-fueled development, for any country that wishes to be influential and relevant in the twenty-first century. A failure to set such objectives will result in huge resources being poured into the research and development of projects that may yield negligible tangible results on the national level.

Brigadier General Doron Tamir (IDF, ret.) is a publishing expert at The MirYam InstituteHe was a founding member of the Israeli National Cyber Directorate in the office of the Prime Minister.

Image: Reuters.