Exploring Great Power Competition through Technology: The Stanford Gordian Knot Center Class
Stanford University’s Technology, Innovation, and Great Power Competition class has completed its second year, under the Stanford Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation. The course was designed to provide students with an understanding of the strategic competition between the United States and its rivals, primarily China and Russia, and how commercial technology is changing the elements of national power.
Why This Class?
The return of strategic competition between great powers became a focus of the 2017 National Security Strategy and 2018 National Defense Strategy. The 2021 Interim National Security Guidance and the recently released 2022 National Security Strategy highlight China’s growing assertiveness and its potential to challenge a stable and open international system. Prevailing in this competition requires a paradigm shift in thinking, where technology can be integrated rapidly into new capabilities and platforms to drive new operational and organizational concepts and strategies.
The class explored how emerging commercial technologies pose challenges to and create opportunities for the United States in strategic competition with great power rivals, mainly focusing on China. The course included comprehensive readings, guest lectures from senior officials/experts, and written papers. What set the course apart was its experiential learning approach, where students formed teams to identify priority national security challenges and validate solutions against stakeholders in the technology and national security ecosystem.
The course drew on the experience and expertise of guest lecturers from industry and across US government agencies to provide context and perspective on commercial technologies and national security. Speakers led discussions on critical commercial technologies, such as semiconductors, space, cyber, AI and machine learning, high performance computing, and biotech.
Team-based Experiential Project
A quarter-long, team-based project was unique to the course. Teams developed hypotheses on how commercial technologies could be used creatively to help the US wield its instruments of national power. They interviewed beneficiaries, policymakers, and other key stakeholders to test their hypotheses and proposed solutions. Students realized that the problem they had selected had morphed into something bigger, deeper, and more interesting.
Team 1: Climate Change
The team explored how the US could mitigate climate change and China’s dominance in solar panels.
Team 2: Networks
The team delved into creating an open, free internet and maintaining effective lines of communication in Taiwan to prepare for a potential invasion.
Team 3: Acquisition
The team investigated how the US Department of Defense could deploy alternative funding mechanisms to enable and incentivize the delivery of critical next-generation technology in under five years.
The Technology, Innovation, and Great Power Competition class provides students with a practical, theoretical, and tactical understanding of geopolitical tensions and critical areas of technological competition. It helps students develop cutting-edge solutions to some of the most challenging national security problems. The course is a strong call to public service, urging students to apply influential and proven methodologies to rapidly develop effective solutions.