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ECONOMY > Economic Policy

Expert: Private sector and gov’t must join hands to utilize advanced technology for economic security

By Kanehara Nobukatsu, Special Visiting Professor at Doshisha University


What is “economic security?” It is not a new area of specialization. I consider it a broad area, a mixture of security policy–especially military policy–with science and technology policy and industrial policy.


Today in the 21st century, great advances in science and technology are about to revolutionize the world of security. Among them, quantum computers are said to fundamentally change what it is to be human. It takes quantum computers about three minutes to solve a calculation which a conventional supercomputer would need 10,000 years to work out. It is thought that advances in artificial intelligence (AI) also depend on how quantum computers are utilized.


These technological advances will dramatically change such industries as materials, finance, biotechnology, genetic engineering, and autonomous driving. These changes will be driven by state-of-the-art semiconductors. It can be said that the evolution of semiconductors influences all technologies, as well as private industry and the military.


For many years after World War II, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), the Ministry of Defense (MOD), and the National Police Agency (NPA) were in charge of security policy, with an eye to taking a stand against Russia, China, and North Korea. The U.S., an ally, was the biggest competitor of the so-called “economic agencies,” the Ministry of Finance (MOF) and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). Little connection was made between the economy and security and national defense. The issue with semiconductors was mainly one of “industrial protection” policy, as seen in the trade friction between Japan and the U.S. in the latter half of the 1980s.


Recently, METI has finally begun to say that the semiconductor industry is important for security. The reason is clear when we look at the military scene today. All U.S. military operational centers are controlled by computers. We can see the positions of enemies and allies in real time. Computers process information at tremendous speeds, reveal enemy locations, hide us from enemies, and issue commands. Computers instantly collect in one location information from satellites, ground radars, airborne early warning and control aircraft (AWACS), and Aegis for comprehensive processing.


Besting the enemy in terms of computing performance is said to result in gaining “cognitive superiority.” Until now, “control of the skies” was important. Going forward, information superiority will determine the outcome of battles. The development of semiconductor technology will be essential.


This is the main reason why the U.S. has come to state both domestically and abroad that we should not let China use or imitate our cutting-edge semiconductors. China is also pushing forward with the national strategy of “military-civilian integration,” which uses cutting-edge science and technology for the military purposes.


Recently, there has been a remarkable development: the creation of “AUKUS,” the new security framework that the Biden administration launched with the U.K. and Australia in September 2021. Although people have focused on the deployment of nuclear submarines to Australia, the framework should be seen as far-reaching and close collaboration.


The leaders of the three countries stated that they would “share cutting-edge technology and strengthen interoperability efforts” in four fields: cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, and undersea capabilities. In December 2021, the leaders further announced that cooperation would expand beyond the four fields. They naturally have deterrence against China in mind. I think that the Anglo-Saxon forces have begun to take action joining industry, government, and academia together to gain military superiority and seize the hegemony of the world’s most advanced technologies.


This is a modern military alliance. Government needs to work with industry and academia to protect our country. Of course, there is technological development, but today’s threats have various components and have “hybrid” (mixed) characteristics, such as military attacks, cyberattacks, economic intimidation, propaganda, destruction of important infrastructure, and disruption of supply chains.


In Japan, there has been no collaboration between security and fields like science and technology or industrial technology since the end of World War II. This is because there is still a strong taboo against research and development related to national defense, based on the remorse over researcher and company involvement in the war effort during World War II.


The Science Council of Japan (SCJ), the organization representing scientists, is a key organization promoting this taboo. The SCJ made a statement in 1950 that it will never engage in “scientific research for war purposes.” The SCJ reiterated in 2017 that it maintains this stance.


Japan has many world-class consumer technologies. In the government today, there is no system, on a par with that in the U.S., Europe, and China, that makes use of such technologies for national defense and for the protection of the lives of SDF personnel. The aforementioned division of central government agencies also reflects this situation. Japan today does not meet eligibility requirements to participate in AUKUS, even though one of AUKUS’s major goals is to deter China.


Awareness of economic security has finally spread in Japan, and we have taken a step toward legislation in the current Diet session. The expert panel established by the Kishida administration submitted a proposal for an Economic Security Promotion Bill (tentative title) to the government on Feb. 1. I am a member of the panel, and since the end of November last year, I have been discussing the issues with other members while being frustrated in the ways mentioned above.


The four pillars of the proposal are (1) strengthening supply chains, (2) ensuring the safety and reliability of key infrastructure (social infrastructure), (3) public-private cooperation in technology, and 4) not disclosing patents. My particular emphasis is on public-private technological cooperation.


Among the above four items, the other three items mainly focus on “defense,” such as preventing technology leaks and strengthening supply chains. Public-private technological cooperation seeks to enhance the security cooperation among the government, companies, and researchers. It is an “offensive” strategy. Economic security must be promoted from both the offensive and defensive perspectives.


The proposal pointed out that “science and technology and innovation are at the core of the intensifying battle for hegemony among nations.” The proposal also requested the enactment of a law that establishes a council and research institute (think tank) for industry-government-academia collaboration. This is not a great leap toward the military-civilian cooperation which exist in the U.S. and Europe. The proposal makes little use of words like “defense” and “military.” The proposal is a small step, but I think it reflects some awareness of the issues I have noted.


I would actually like to include the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) and call it an “industry-government-academia-SDF” collaboration. If the current SCJ does not change [its stance], I think we should establish a separate research base for national security that is comparable to Tsukuba Science City.


I have witnessed the enactment of the security legislation by the Abe administration in 2015 at the Prime Minister’s Office [Kantei]. The political environment was initially one where it was thought difficult, given history, to seek a new interpretation of the Constitution to allow the limited exercise of the right of collective self-defense. The political environment changed little by little. The significance of public-private partnerships in economic security should be carefully considered.


More and more researchers are aware of this issue and have aspirations in this regard. I would like to use the discussion on the economic security legislation as an opportunity to start public-private technological cooperation. (Slightly abridged)

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