EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES AND TRADE CONTROLS:
A SECTORAL COMPOSITION APPROACH
The rapid development of dual-use emerging technologies has magnified the importance of reconciling technological leadership, economic competitiveness, and national security objectives. While trade controls on dual-use technology transfer can promote peace and mitigate security threats, overly cumbersome policies may impose economic burdens on the private sector that threaten competitiveness and innovation. Striking a balance between these opposing agendas has become especially challenging in the context of emerging technologies that have elicited significant interest in both the military and civilian markets. The dilemma has also been complicated by the merging of economic security discourse and policy with national security. Policymaking mechanisms should be calibrated at the level of individual technologies to avoid security and/or economic consequences of under or over-regulation. This report offers policymakers data, findings, and recommendations to strengthen the effectiveness of individual policies and to work towards a comprehensive technology strategy.
In order to develop trade policies that can achieve the intended security benefits without unwarranted damage to economic competitiveness and technology innovation, policymakers must recognize technology-specific development characteristics and the associated global sectoral composition – companies, universities, research institutes, and public-private collaborations - worldwide. This report applies a mapping methodology to three emerging technologies whose level of emergence and security relevance qualifies them as “chokepoint” technologies: position, navigation, and timing (PNT), quantum computing, and computer vision. Entities in each technology category were selected and analyzed using open source information in order to identify trends with respect to global dispersion, foreign involvement (including partnerships, commerce, and investment), and specific technology focus area. A second level of analysis was conducted to compare and contrast the key trends for each of the three sectors to determine how technology-specific factors impact innovation and market establishment and to illustrate the importance of technology-specific trade policies.
Analysis of the data shows clear differences among the three technologies that have important implications for the desirability and feasibility of strategic trade controls:
Position, Navigation, and Timing:
• Many existing PNT technologies are commercially available, but new
research approaches that offer significant improvements to precision are
in a more nascent development stage.
• The advanced PNT sector is concentrated in a relatively small number of
countries and maintains close ties to government entities due to dual-use
• Extreme hardware requirements for new approaches, including cold atom,
nuclear magnetic resonance, and other forms of quantum navigation
make rapid dispersion of small, low-cost advanced PNT unlikely in the
• These factors suggest that trade controls on cutting-edge technologies in
the area are feasible.
• The quantum computer sector is at a relatively nascent stage of
development but is expanding rapidly as newer companies seek to
capitalize on the civilian applications.
• Hardware is consolidated into a narrow group of companies, with many
software companies identifying creative approaches for sharing time
and usability of quantum computers in order to make them more widely
available to diverse industries.
• Due to the large upfront cost of quantum computing hardware, this trend
is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.
• Access to the actual quantum computers could be restricted based on
user or application by targeting quantum clouds, or platforms that share
access to quantum computers.
• The computer vision sector already has a global commercial reach, with
a large number of software companies being served by a fairly tight circle
of hardware companies, and accommodates both military and civilian
• The majority of the computer vision technology innovation has already
occurred, and systems are cost-effective and commercially available.
This means that computer vision is likely not a suitable target for trade
• However, as indicated by the BIS ruling on geospatial imagery software
in January 2020, heightened security concerns over data collection and
analysis methods may result in controls on applications that utilize
computer vision technologies.
• Recent calls for controls on facial recognition indicate that other end uses
of the technology may be ripe for politically desirable trade controls,
even if technology dispersion has already occurred.
The results from the three technology analyses highlight the importance of technology-specific trade policy development. Trade controls must be applied with consideration given to unique characteristics of each independent emerging technology sector, including the breakdown of hardware and software supply chains, the stage of development, foreign availability, and the scope of the civilian market. One of the major trends that the authors identify across the technologies is the role of software as a means to connect technologies to specific industries. But even in the context of this overarching trend, individual technology security risks and commercial benefits must guide policymakers’ solutions to control intangible technology transfers or accumulated data that present security risks, without cutting into civilian applicability.
The research, data, analysis, and findings presented in this report are useful to the formulation of an effective policy approach to emerging technologies and the development of a comprehensive technology management regime. The report findings are relevant to:
• Formulating effective export and investment controls;
• Identifying targets for policy and industry outreach;
• Understanding potential threats to economic and national security that
stem from technological competition;
• Identifying foreign partners for a global technology management strategy;
• Assessing impacts related to changes to ownership and entity structures;
• Establishing a mapping methodology that can be applied to emerging