The Geopolitics of Technology

Understanding and anticipating the effects of emerging, disruptive technologies on the international balance of power, within states, and between governments and industries

Technology is playing an increasingly complex role in helping shape the outcomes of global conflicts, democratic norms and systems, and rising authoritarian power. Both the technologies used to ensure democracy functions–such as voting systems–and digital technologies that influence how we view and engage with information have profound impacts on a key ingredient for a healthy, functioning democracy: trust.

While disinformation, affective polarization, and anti-democratic behavior have always existed, the growing scale of these problems, aided in part by the evolving Internet landscape and our growing reliance on digital technologies, poses novel threats to democracy.

Technology not only increasingly shapes the future of individual democracies, but also of global power dynamics and international conflicts. The days of assuming technology is neutral are over, as the war in Ukraine has so clearly highlighted. From SpaceX’s Starlink providing internet access to Ukraine, to non-state hackers deploying ransomware to cripple Belarusian supply lines, to social media companies’ decisions to ban Russian state media, technology is playing an ever-increasing role in global political outcomes. The information environment has already been pivotal in helping determine on-the-ground outcomes and how we understand events as they unfold.

Through our Geopolitics of Technology practice area, IST is working to help governments, private companies, and civil society understand these threats so we can devise plans, policies and products to bolster our resilience as well as seeking novel ways that technology can be used to help strengthen democracy. Through our current and past initiatives, we have convened interdisciplinary coalitions, provided insights of contested information environments and the malign narratives that pollute them; and developed practical policy and technical recommendations.

IST Initiatives (Current)

Strategic Balancing Initiative

Understanding and anticipating the positive and negative security effects of emerging, disruptive technologies on the international balance of power, within states, and between governments and industries by ideating and integrating novel solutions to technology-driven security vulnerabilities across U.S. innovation and economic ecosystems

IST Initiatives (Past)

Blogger reporting using a smartphone during a political action in Moscow.

The Digital Cognition & Democracy Initiative

Investigating how digital technologies affect human cognition, and what those effects mean for democracy

Support for Civil Society in Ukraine

Strengthening the resilience of Ukraine’s media ecosystem to counter disinformation

Future Digital Threats to Democracy

Examining the elements and potential implications of digital threats to democracy over the next ten years, in partnership with the Center for a New American Security (CNAS)