When Avenir Suisse held its 6th International Think Tank Summit on “Challenges of a multipolar world” earlier this year, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was not yet a topic. The focus lay on the rivalry between the USA and China, and how this has affected various policy areas. As a result, four panels were organised on trade and investment, technology and security, geopolitics and institutions and the role of small open economies.

The recordings of these discussions will be published in the following weeks. So far, we have shared the welcome speech by Avenir Suisse Director Peter Grünenfelder (see here) and the opening speech held by the Federal Chancellor Walter Thurnherr (see here) as well as the keynote speech and panel discussion from the “trade and investment” block (see here).

This week, we are publishing the keynote speech and panel discussion from the “technology and security” block: In his keynote speech, Dr. Tim Rühlig – research fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations – talked about the geopolitics of technology and technical standards. Among other things, he addresses the fact that the interdependence caused by globalisation is no longer considered a stabilising force in international affairs. Instead, there has been a paradigm shift where certain aspects such as global connectivity are weaponised and viewed as a way of gaining an advantage over others, rather than a reason to cooperate. This shift can be traced back to several factors.

Two important ones are:

  • China’s rise to power: previously there was no other option than to follow the USA’s lead and accept the standards or norms that it set. This led to global alignment between states. However, it was not based on a consensus, but on the fact that there were no alternatives. Since the emergence of China, this has changed, leading to a competition between standards.
  • Digital transformation of the economy, security and society: thanks to technological developments a country’s power and influence no longer purely stems from its military prowess, but also whether it can control networks. This creates opportunities for countries that were not traditionally considered to be “powerful”.

Dr. Rühlig’s speech was followed by a panel discussion, where he was joined by Fabio Rugge – Senior Associate Fellow at ISPI and Deputy Permanent Representative of Italy to NATO. The panel was moderated by Teresa Hug Alonso, researcher at Avenir Suisse.

In his opening statement, Fabio Rugge addressed the dangers of cyber security using the example of 5G-technology. He stated that “the 5G-network is the nervous system that connects all dimensions of society. If a foreign power is controlling this technology, there is the extraordinary risk that it will tap into the network, understand what we do and grasp information of strategic relevance.” He explained that this is the classic threat of espionage. But there is also threat of sabotage: “If we depend on a foreign power, what happens if a crisis arises – can we rely on the foreign power to continue supplying us with the technology?”