Artificial Intelligence as a Strategic Asset in Technological Race For Global Leadership

UDC 327,8
Publication date: 30.09.2022
International Journal of Professional Science №8-2022

Artificial Intelligence as a Strategic Asset in Technological Race For Global Leadership

Khlopov Oleg Anatolyevich
PhD, Political Science, Associate Professor,
Department of American Studies
Russian State University for the Humanities (Moscow)
Abstract: The article analyses the phenomenon of artificial intelligence both as a hard and soft power instrument, digital abilities and a set of related technologies and processes that can be used to achieve goals in different fields. Artificial intelligence has become a strategic asset, whose evolution impacts such diverse areas as economic growth, warfare and national security, climate change, healthcare, labor force. Economy, politics, geopolitics and technology have become so intertwined that one can talk about the Tech Cold War or Cold War 2.0 as of a new phenomenon. The author argues that the race for artificial intelligence dominance among leading nations the United States, China, Russia, the European Union leads to strategic competition and for investment, talent, research in the field of technology that are necessary for global leadership.
Keywords: artificial Intelligence, strategic asset, technology, digital diplomacy, rivalry, USA, European Union, Russia, China.


            In 2017 the Russian President Vladimir Putin at a meeting with students in Yaroslavl declared that “whoever becomes the leader in the sphere of artificial intelligence will become the ruler of the world”[1]. That statement was an acknowledgement that technological superiority could easily be translated into global political power.

            Artificial intelligence (AI) has become a strategic asset, whose evolution impacts such diverse areas as economic growth, national security, climate change, transportation, healthcare, labor force. Economy, politics, geopolitics and technology have become so intertwined. The major artificial intelligence contenders have come up with policy documents and underlying measures, which are worth an in-depth analysis. The race of artificial intelligence dominance is currently a two-horse race — the United States and China when it comes to patent applications, investment, talent, research and companies in the sector [2].

            Until recently, the leading countries have avoided engaging on a collision course, including in the technology field. They have allowed each other and smaller actors to practice a “mix-and-match strategy”. Germany, for example, has been one of cooperating with the United States on certain policies and with China on others. Inquiry into the expansion of both US and Chinese tech giants shows. In the European Union some of its member states have made recent progress in the technology direction too. In this context, the EU’s AI4EU artificial intelligence project officially launched on January 1, 2019 “with a view to mobilising Europe’s AI community to build the first European on-demand Artificial Intelligence platform” [3]. The Aachen Treaty signed by Germany and France on January 22, 2019 stipulates the intensification of “co-operation in the field of research and digital transformation, particularly in the field of artificial intelligence and breakthrough innovation” (Article 21). This can also be read as “France-Germany first in AI [4].

            The definitions of the artificial intelligence

            Artificial intelligence has a big potential for governments, can be used to analyze large amount of data, and to identify trends and insights that strengthen the cyber diplomacy goals of a nation state. Furthermore, artificial intelligence will be able to assist in the analysis of data and intelligence, pointing human analysts and police officers in the right direction ].

            There are several definitions of artificial intelligence as seen from an optimistic or pessimistic perspective, but we will take into account the dimensions that shape the potential of artificial intelligence in foreign policy. AI is also a field of science that seeks to provide machines with human-like qualities in problem solving, reasoning and learning.

            There are several types of artificial intelligence, such as narrow artificial intelligenceusing algorithms to complete a specific task suck as face recognition and general artificial intelligence — seeking to empower a machine to learn and solve any number of problems, much as humans can.

            As a scientific discipline, artificial intelligence includes several approaches and techniques, such as machine learning, machine reasoning, which includes planning, scheduling, knowledge representation and reasoning, search, and optimization, and robotics, which includes control, perception, sensors and actuators, as well as the integration of all other techniques into cyber-physical systems [6, p. 6].

            Artificial intelligence includes methods such as machine learning, which trains algorithms to identify patterns and regularities in realms of data. Reinforcement learning is part of machine learning, based on a program built with feedback mechanisms rewarded on the actions it carries out. An example of reinforcement learning is AlphaGo, the machine that learned to play Go by itself and beat the world’s top Go player.

            The European Union’s AI strategy is based on the member states national AI strategies or programmers. So far, only seven EU member states such as Belgium, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, together with the Nordic-Baltic region have published such strategies [7].

            According to the Digital Economy and Society Index in 2019 Finland, Sweden and the Netherlands are the top three countries in Europe on digitalization. These countries are followed by Denmark, the United Kingdom, Luxemburg, Ireland, Estonia, and Belgium. While these countries have the most advanced digital economies in the EU, Bulgaria, Romania, Greece and Poland have the lowest scores of the index.

            Artificial Intelligence in the Global Technological Race

            There is a growing consensus that the battleground on which the two competitors making up the G2 (U.S. and China) is the technological one. Thus the emergence of the term  is encapsulating the contemporary tech race as the “Technological Cold War”, with variations such as “digital Cold War” [8],  “AI Cold War” [9], “AI Superpowers”,  or  “digital deterrence” [10].

            Governments are nowadays looking for the best ways to help national economies deal with artificial intelligence. In other words, they are trying to prepare companies, labor markets, and societies for the technology disruption, aiming to facilitate world-class research within the national AI strategy [11]. Economy, politics, geopolitics and technology have become so intertwined that we can talk about the Tech Cold War or Cold War 2.0 [12].

            There is a strong global competition on artificial intelligence among the USA, China, Russia and Europe. The USA leads for the time being, but China is catching up fast and aims to lead by 2030. Each region has about one quarter of key players in the AI field, including research and industry.

            The USA is characterized by a dominance of start-ups (almost half of the total wordwide) and venture capital, more than one third of the total [13, p. 9].

            US President Donald Trump signed an executive order, “accelerating America’s leadership in Artificial Intelligence”, which include five areas of interest: “investing in AI Research and Development”, “unleashing AI resources”, “setting AI governance standards”, “building the AI force” and “international engagement and protecting US AI advantage”. All these “in order to protect the advantage of the United States  against strategic competitors and foreign adversaries. In other terms “America First in artificial intelligence”.

            The American corporate landscape is dominated by five big companies (“The Big Five”): Facebook, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon. Each company is associated with a service: Facebook with a social networking site, Instagram, WhatsApp, Spaces, Snapchat, online dating, Apple with telephones, laptops, watches etc., Google with the search engine, online advertising, Google Maps, Google Translate, Microsoft with software products, personal computers, HoloLens, cloud computing, LinkedIn, Skype, and Amazon with e-commerce, film studio, hardware. The Big Five is, in fact, the most powerful instrument through which the USA has projected its soft power.

            There are at least three other recent US initiatives that are intertwined with the AI executive order: 1) the set-up of the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board with  most prominent members of  Apple and IBM); 2) the space executive order recreating US space command; 3) Pentagon’s first AI strategy, which points to China and Russia as main AI competitors.

            In 2017, China’s State Council issued the New Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan, which along with “Made in China 2025”, released in 2015, “form the core of China’s AI strategy”. This Plan outlines the ambition to lead the world in artificial intelligence AI theories, technologies and applications. The plan has initiatives and goals for industrialization, talent development, education and skills acquisition, standard setting and regulations, ethical norms, and security.

             China has released the Three-Year Action Plan to Promote the Development of New Generation of artificial intelligence industry, advancing four major tasks: 1) focus on developing intelligent and networked products such as vehicles, service roborts, and identification systems; 2) emphasize the development of AI’s support system, including intelligent sensors and neural network chips; 3) encourage the development of intelligent manufacturing; 4) improve the environment for the development of AI by investing in industry training resources, standard testing, and cybersecurity [14]. Besides these tasks, the Government has also partnered with national tech companies to develop research and industrial leadership in specific fields of artificial intelligence.

            In 2018, the Chinese tech giants Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, iFlytek, and SenseTime were officially deemed as the country’s “AI Champions” and the seemingly perfect alignment between the interests of such giants and the interests of the Chinese state is remarkable. At the same time, there are weaknesses relative to the United States in “top talent, technical standards, software platforms, and semiconductors” [15].

            Each Chinese tech company has a main area of expertise – Alibaba in e-commerce, Tencent in social networking, and Baidu in search and information indexing. An interesting fact is that more than half of the country’s major AI players have funding ties that lead back to Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent. Alibaba has developed a “City Brain” for a new special Economic Zone, soaking up data from thousands of street cameras and using it to control traffic lights with AI, optimizing traffic flow.            In other words, the Chinese AI systems have more specialized surveillance experience, and other training that translated well to military applications.

            Major AI contenders have come up with policy documents and underlying measures, which are worth an in-depth analysis. Thus, the race of artificial intelligence dominance is currently a two-horse race, the United States and China being top of the charts when it comes to patent applications, investment, talent, research and companies in the sector There are areas in which one or the other is far stronger, with China dominating in terms of investment and financing (60% of global investment since 2013).

            European Union and some of its member states have made recent progress in this direction, too. The EU’s AI4EU artificial intelligence project officially launched on 1 January 2019 “with a view to mobilising Europe’s AI community to build the first European on-demand Artificial Intelligence platform”. The Aachen Treaty signed by Germany and France on January 22, 2019 stipulates the intensification of “co-operation in the field of research and digital transformation, particularly in the field of artificial intelligence and breakthrough innovation”

            In 2018 Russia launched several initiatives over artificial intelligence. The Russian President V. Putin instructed the government to create a national strategy for research into and development of Artificial Intelligence, with a view to unifying national efforts in the private and public sectors. President Putin’s declaration that “whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world” is frequently used as evidence of global artificial intelligence arms race.

            Russia’s Ministry of Defense has released a list of policies for the Russian government, as a result of the 2018 conference on “Artificial Intelligence: Problems and Solutions”. The recommendations include creating a state system for artificial intelligence education and talent retention, establishing a national centre for artificial intelligence, and hosting war games to study the impact of artificial intelligence on military operations [16].

            There is some time lag between US, European (and Russia’s AI policy initiatives and China’s moves. All these initiatives and their underlying actors and ecosystems can be analyzed in terms of strengths and weaknesses, and too strong predictions about who is going to win the AI race are exaggerated.

            Russia has a strong tradition in technological breakthroughs and in mobilizing national energy towards such ends, but it lacks tech champions and it places sole emphasis on embedding AI into modern warfare. Thus, the Russian government is far more centralized and holds more power over the ways that artificial intelligence will develop at a national level, like China. This leads to an emphasis on military and intelligence applications.

            The European Union has a good talent pool and is well-placed to make the most of the marriage between frontier technologies and its huge, Germany-driven, manufacturing base (the so-called industry 4.0). It also lacks tech champions and its fragmentation along national or geographical lines (North-South, East-West) is visible in the field of artificial intelligence, too. Such things as a pan-European artificial intelligence strategy and the corresponding resources are difficult to come up with when the EU budget accounts for less than 1% of the GDP combined of member states.

            Thus, data technology can positively affect many aspects of human life, they also create new vulnerabilities for humanity, for example, confidentiality, information transparency, and that states and other actors can use technologies in different ways, depending on their own interests that points to the ambivalence of technologies [17].

Artificial intelligence for Cyber Diplomacy

            Traditionally, the state has been an important actor and played a central role in diplomatic practices. Diplomacy at its core is about how states exchange, seek, and target information. The governments have realized that foreign relations can no longer be managed by traditional diplomatic practices alone, that is why public diplomacy is needed as an imperative of a nation’s international life, and foreign policy is an important instrument making communication between countries possible.

            Thus, there is a distinction between public diplomacy and traditional diplomacy. Foremost, public diplomacy refers to transparent ways of communicating to international audiences, in order to promote national interests and achieve foreign policy objectives. On the other hand, traditional diplomacy relies on diplomatic communication between nation-states. In this case, the audience is limited only to diplomats, while public diplomacy operates with several publics, such as non-state actors, supra-national organizations, NGOs, or corporations. The focus is on mutual-beneficial relationships, with a lot of state-actors adapting to a fluid globalized context.

            Public diplomacy is also understood as “government communication with foreign audiences”, referring to domestic publics in two ways: “either as the domestic input from citizens for foreign policy formulation (engaging approach), or explaining foreign policy goals and diplomacy to domestic public (explaining approach)”. Citizens have an important role in the debates over foreign policy, while the role of the nation is in perpetual reconfiguration.

            Furthermore, the concept of public diplomacy is also connected to the new information technologies, with a special focus on the impact of non-state actors in international affairs. Public diplomacy and nation branding should also be comprehended in the contemporary fake news phenomenon and post-truth era, which puts an emphasis on fabricated content, aiming to generate maximum attention, where the distinction between reality and simulation is blurred. Content generated on the Internet, especially on the digital platforms, shapes public perception, offering a compelling vision of division, an “Us vs. Them” rhetoric [18].

            Recent worldwide events (US elections in 2020, Brexit, conflict in Ukraine) force us to rethink the basis of public diplomacy and whether this impacts the individual and the society. We live in a post-truth era or in a “truth-decay” era, understood as a set of “increasing disagreement about facts and analytical interpretations of facts and data” [19] declining trust in formerly respected sources of factual information. In this context, facts are secondary that lead further to a semiotic war, with a potential struggle over meaning [20].

            Today communication between nation states is affected by the development of technology. The Internet has changed the context in which international relations play out, while new actors have been empowered by the new information communication technologies as well. The nation-state is responding to the new communications environment by reinventing itself. Smith and Sutherland use the term “networked diplomacy”, defined as major ICT-related factors that affect the practice of diplomacy [21]. Nowadays we can talk about cyber diplomacy, understood as “the use of diplomatic tools and mindsets in resolving, or at least managing, the problems in cyberspace” [22].

             Public diplomacy is important in cyberspace, especially in fighting against cyber information war and disinformation operations. Cyber diplomacy is also connected to cyber-challenges such as cyberwar, cyberterrorism, cyberespionage or cybercrimes. In cyberwar, state and non-state actors penetrate foreign computer systems with the intention of damaging the systems, extracting sensitive information and using it for various purposes. For instance, WikiLeaks has released more classified information that the whole rest of the world’s media combined, compiling a database of more than 10 million documents. The leak consisted of US Army fields reports of the Iraq War from 2004 to 2009, being the biggest leak in the military history of America up to this point [23].

            There are three main vectors of cyberattack: via networks, via supply chains, and by human insiders who may be malicious or just careless. The need for cybersecurity is necessary in this context, concentrating on technological innovation in artificial intelligence, cloud computing, big data analytics, the Internet of Things or blockchain.

            The new technological development is driving a change in restructuring international governance. Many governments have concerns over digital misinformation campaigns (cyber propaganda) and the emerging relationship between artificial intelligence and digital security. The artificial intelligence  is both a hard and soft power instrument. The soft power instruments must be able to use information and knowledge to set the terms of debate on issues, shaping them in ways that are advantageous to it [24]. Even though soft power does not consume as many resources as military power, it requires investments in technology, in order to be in line with the main leaders in cyberspace. Artificial intelligence is also a hard power instrument, especially because of its involvement in military and economic activities. According to Cathy O’Neil, as technology advances, is “a dramatic growth of surveillance”, while “advances in facial recognition technology will soon allow for much broader surveillance” [25, p. 87]. These advances in technology are used in diplomacy as well, if we take into account predictive models and the impact of Big Data in the state policy.


            Artificial intelligence is both a hard and soft power instrument. The EU is not a tech-alone giant because it lacks tech champions comparable to the American or the Chinese ones and its fragmentation along national or geographical lines is visible in the artificial intelligence field.

            The European Union’s artificial intelligence strategy is based mainly on the member states national AI strategies or programmers.

            In terms of artificial intelligence strategy, the European Union is dominantly concerned with ethical and legal issues, being less focused on research and development. When it comes to investments and cutting edge research, the EU cannot compete with America and China, the top leaders in artificial intelligence. Until now, the EU concentrates more on shaping global development through ethics and regulatory responses.

            From a vantage point, the race of artificial intelligence dominance is a two-horse race with the United States and China being top of the charts when it comes to patent applications, investment, talent, research and companies in the sector. The Tech Cold War or Cold War 2.0 among major artificial intelligence contenders constantly updating their policy documents and underlying measures.

            Artificial intelligence has changed the goals, objectives, and purposes of diplomacy, leading to a paradigm shift. The cyber diplomacy and technological innovation shape the Cold War 2.0, so the nation states have to get in line with the most powerful methods and techniques. Cloud computing, big data analytics, the Internet of Things, or blockchain are driving a change in diplomacy as well, restructuring international governance.

            New technological race has the potential to become the hottest area in which U.S.-China rivalry has the biggest potential to emerge. This will have a huge impact on policy formulation processes inside Russia, the European Union and all over the world in the field of artificial intelligence.

            Artificial Intelligence appeared as a realization of an old dream of political decision-makers, namely to store in a very short time huge amounts of information, based on which to create political, economic, military strategies. However, artificial intelligence technology is not fully understood and even less mastered by governments, and most of the ways in which its use rather in aggressive way, in order to reduce the power of countries considered enemies. Increasing the number of actors capable of using Artificial Intelligence both internally and externally may  lead to “a new global order” but to “a new world war” in which artificial intelligence will play a very important role.


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