The West's Technological Edge in Geopolitical Competition
The US and its allies enjoy a significant technological advantage over China and Russia. The Chinese are working hard to catch up but the West is not standing still. It is making huge investments in research and development to maintain this edge as it becomes increasingly clear that the outcome of the ongoing international geopolitical competition will largely be determined by technology.
|East-West Comparison of GDP, R&D. Source: IMF (GDP), OECD (R&D) via WSJ|
In 2019, the United States and its allies invested $1.5 trillion in research and development, far outpacing the combined Chinese and Russian R&D investment of half a trillion USD. This gap will likely narrow if the East's GDP continues to grow faster than the West's, allowing for higher investment in technology.
After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the US, EU, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan have made it clear that the Western allies can and will use technology sanctions to control the behavior of China and Russia.
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) will no longer fabricate computer chips for Russia, according to media reports. The ban will particularly affect Russia's Elbrus and Baikal processors, unless China agrees to step in to manufacture these chips, and risk additional US sanctions itself. Both Russian processors use mature 28 nm technology. The world's most advanced TSMC fabrication technology today is 5 nanometers. The best US-based Intel can do today is 7nm technology. China's SMIC (Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation) has the capability to produce chips using 14 nm technology. Semiconductor chips form the core of all modern systems from automobiles to airplanes to smartphones, computers, home appliances, toys, telecommunications and advanced weapons systems.
There is no question that the current western technology sanctions can seriously squeeze Russia. However, overusing such sanctions could backfire in the long run if the US rivals, particularly China and Russia, decide to invest billions of dollars to build their own capacity. This would seriously erode western technology domination and result in major market share losses for the US tech companies, particularly those in Silicon Valley.