Ask Israel: Strategic Tech Investments Benefit National Development

As technological developments across the board advance, governments must take the lead and create incentives for the private sector to develop those that serve the national interest, or risk being left behind.

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

Societies that are not interested in leaving their welfare solely in the hands of market forces need governments that clearly define national technological requirements and plan ways to achieve those goals.

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

Technological development often arises in recognition of a requirement, and many of these requirements have their origins in wars. For example, mass rail transportation took on a new dimension after trains became the key to moving troops in World War I.

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

In the 20th century, the rise of nuclear power from the science behind the atomic bomb solved serious energy problems for many advanced countries, particularly among states that lacked oil.

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

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However, despite the plethora of development, many countries are also seeing the emergence of technologies that are obviously not put to good use.

This avalanche of technology without a guiding hand means that governments face dilemmas when planning for times of crisis, times when resorting to national technological development can make the difference between successfully overcoming a crisis or not.

This was the thinking that guided Israel’s establishment of its National Cyber ​​Directorate in 2012 after the government completed a process to define what kind of technology goals it wanted to achieve.

Unfortunately, this is not a frequent or common pattern in decision-making at the state level, particularly in the West. While states excel at building academic institutions and infrastructure, they have not done as well at providing deliberate guidance for technological development.

Israel, which was a barely functional country just seventy years ago, is now a technological hub that competes with the great powers, in particular because it has fostered the development of industries such as cybersecurity.

The same goes for Israel’s national defense industries, which really began to flourish after the French arms embargo in 1968; up to that point, Israel had relied on French weapons systems.

Israel’s leadership in agricultural technology development is another example, and with food insecurity a bigger threat to global prosperity than war, countries must urgently start developing such technologies.

Imminent climate change and food supply disruptions created by events like Russia’s war against Ukraine are putting millions of lives at risk. However, famine is not the only threat facing vulnerable countries. Droughts are another danger. Developing a national desalination infrastructure provides states with a shield (albeit an expensive one) against such dangers, as Israel has learned through its pioneering desalination technology.

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These maneuvers require governments to take a strategic view of present and future requirements, and to position themselves in ways that allow technological developments to serve as a defense against major threats, whether the result of natural or man-made phenomena.

This guiding hand of government also generates significant economic dividends. When Israel established the National Cyber ​​Directorate a decade ago, it exported only hundreds of millions of dollars worth of cybersecurity solutions. Today, those exports exceed ten billion dollars a year, not including the billions in investment by international companies in the local cyber industry. Today, that pace of growth is slowing, but its economic and national achievements remain remarkable.

Looking ahead, artificial intelligence will be an important sector for deliberate government-driven development, for any country that wants to be influential and relevant in the 21st century. If such goals are not set, enormous resources will be invested in research and development projects that may produce negligible tangible results at the national level.

Brigadier General Doron Tamir (IDF, ret.) is a publisher expert a Miryam Institute. He was a founding member of the Israel National Cyber ​​Directorate in the Prime Minister’s office.

Image: Reuters.

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