State Department wants ‘digital solidarity’ at center of tech diplomacy

Secretary of State Antony Blinken points to the response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a model of nimble tech diplomacy.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to the press at the port of Ashdod in southern Israel on May 1, 2024. (Photo by Evelyn Hockstein / POOL / AFP via Getty Images)

SAN FRANCISCO — A U.S. State Department strategy document released Monday said the Biden administration aims to orient its cyber-diplomacy around the concept of “digital solidarity” to help partners and allies responsibly use technology and to help developing nations grow their economies. 

The long-awaited strategy for how the United States will pursue its digital diplomacy goals reiterates Washington’s commitment to an open, interoperative internet but comes at a time when that idea has never been under greater threat, including in the United States, where a recently passed law aims to force ByteDance to divest from TikTok. 

Nonetheless, American officials said Monday’s strategy document provides a blueprint for cracking down on malicious behavior online, assembling an international coalition to effectively govern digital technologies, and promote economic development. 

In remarks at the RSA Conference in San Francisco, Secretary of State Antony Blinken described digital solidarity as the document’s “North Star.” Blinken said that while “‘move fast and break things’ is the literal opposite of what we try to do at the State Department,” technology diplomacy is key to promoting economic development, aiding other countries in responding to cyber attacks and harnessing technological innovation to tackle hard problems, like climate change. 


Blinken pointed to the U.S. response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — when the U.S. government and tech companies collaborated to provide technological assistance to the government in Kyiv — as an example of how the United States can be more responsive in its technology diplomacy. 

“That is digital solidarity in action, and it’s the kind of collaboration we want to scale and apply around the world,” Blinken said. 

Monday’s strategy lays out four “action areas” for American diplomats to pursue. The document calls on the State department to promote and maintain an open inclusive and secure digital ecosystem; align their technology governance work with partners in a way that respects human rights; encourage responsible state behavior online, including by discouraging cyberattacks on critical infrastructure; and improve the cybersecurity and tech policy capacity of partner states. 

The strategy does not break much new ground and mostly reiterates existing U.S. policy, but Nate Fick, the top cyber diplomat at the State Department, told reporters in San Francisco that the strategy offers an affirmative vision of what the internet might look like at a time when authoritarian states are increasingly censoring their domestic web, and countries in Europe are looking to controls on data flows to wrest back their technology ecosystem from both Chinese and American firms. 

“It’s our obligation to provide a compelling choice,” Fick said. 


Open internet advocates have described the move to force a TikTok divestiture as an abandonment of the United States’ commitment to an open internet, but Fick argued that TikTok represents a “sui generis” national security threat.

“It’s not a slippery slope to determine which platforms can and can’t be used in a free and open society,” he said. 

To develop a positive American vision of a contemporary internet, the 54-page document provides a lengthy to-do list of thorny diplomatic problems with no clear solution in sight.

Among its goals are the crafting of a new international treaty regarding cybercrime. U.S. officials have been battling Russian and Chinese diplomats on this issue at the United Nations, where the Kremlin’s diplomats have sought passage of a broad cybercrime treaty that experts warn would severely undermine online rights. 

The document calls on U.S. diplomats to step up their work in international standards bodies and to reinvigorate their work before the International Telecommunications Union, one such key standard body. U.S. diplomats are instructed to pursue “more action-oriented discussions at the UN” to promote responsible state behavior online and improve cyber capacity. 


The document also calls on U.S. diplomats to encourage the free flow of data and an open internet and to counter what the document describes as many American partners’ growing embrace of “narratives of digital sovereignty and protectionism.” This includes a proposal by the European Union to certify the cybersecurity of cloud computing providers, an idea that has sparked intense criticism by some U.S. observers and the American technology industry. 

Conflicts such as these gesture at the tension in the new strategy document. Around the world, governments are increasingly seeking greater control over technology in all its forms — whether that’s the data collected by online platforms or the supply chain for critical chips — and that often comes into conflict with the United States’ historical emphasis on an open internet, with U.S. technology firms providing its essential components. 

China’s growing technological clout is challenging that model, and Monday’s strategy document can perhaps be most clearly understood as a summation of U.S. policy to counter Beijing’s influence on matters of technology and public policy. As 5G cellular technology was rolled out over the past decade, Chinese firms dominated its deployment, and Blinken said on Monday that this experience is informing the State Department’s efforts to promote the work of companies committed to an open web.

“We’ve learned in the 5G experience that we cannot be complacent and let strategic competitors dominate the technologies that form the backbone of the global economy and that determine how and where information flows,” Blinken said. 

Elias Groll

Written by Elias Groll

Elias Groll is a senior editor at CyberScoop. He has previously worked as a reporter and editor at Foreign Policy, covering technology and national security, and at the Brookings Institution, where he was the managing editor of TechStream and worked as part of the AI and Emerging Technology Initiative. He is a graduate of Harvard University, where he was the managing editor of The Harvard Crimson.

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