Digital infrastructure (DI) has emerged as an area of competition between the United States and China. This report defines DI, characterizes the competition for it, and describes the implications for long-term military competition and conflict. The authors also describe important trends and asymmetries shaping the competition and conclude by discussing the implications and opportunities for the United States.
Digital Infrastructure and Digital Presence
A Framework for Assessing the Impact on Future Military Competition and Conflict
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- How have digital technologies shaped competition and conflict between great powers?
- What does DI consist of? What role does it play in military competition and conflict?
- How has DI changed over time, and how have China and the United States addressed DI?
Information and intelligence — and the degree of access to and control of the systems within which the data reside — can yield power and influence at scale. These systems and the networks they create collectively make up digital infrastructure (DI). Spawned from internet growth and the interconnectivity of global telecommunication networks, today's DI — and a country's ownership of, access to, and control over it — has emerged as an area of competition between the United States and China. Beijing and Washington rely on DI to support military forces and use its capabilities to expand national power and extend influence globally. Both countries now aim to shape the DI in ways that align with their long-term strategic priorities and interests.
This report defines DI, characterizes the competition for it, and provides evidence showing that how DI evolves carries implications for long-term military competition and conflict. The authors also describe important trends and asymmetries shaping the competition and conclude by discussing the implications and opportunities for the U.S. government and the U.S. Department of Defense.
- DI will play a role in shaping the U.S.-China competition.
- China and the United States recognize DI as important to economic growth.
- U.S. diplomatic efforts provide structural advantages that may shape the competition for DI in ways favorable to the United States.
- How DI evolves may affect warfare in substantial ways.
- Ownership of, access to, and control over DI by an untrustworthy actor may introduce risk into a country's national DI.
- Characteristics of the future security environment are likely shifting because of DI and have the potential to disrupt the U.S. way of war and traditional approach to power projection.
- DI plays an important but distinct role within the differing U.S. and People's Republic of China visions of power projection.
- Shaping the long-term strategic competition between the United States and China will require a comprehensive understanding of DI.
Table of Contents
Defining Digital Infrastructure and Digital Presence
Characterization of the Competition
Digital Infrastructure Evolution, Trends, and Asymmetries
Findings, Implications, and Emerging Opportunities
Research conducted by
This research was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense and conducted within the Acquisition and Technology Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).
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