Autocracy and Innovation: Lessons from Russia and China.
Posted by democratist on February 17, 2011
17th February 2011,
Democratist has just read another interesting article by Stephen Blank over at Jamestown, which serves to once again illustrate our oft-repeated point that autocratic rule and corruption in Russia have had a devastating (and continuing) impact on national research and development, especially over the last 10 years, and that this weakness is in turn seriously damaging the country’s status as an international political, economic and military player.
Blank quotes Konstantin Sivkov (Vice-President of the Academy for Geopolitical Issues, and a former General Staff officer) to the effect that the avionics and technical specifications of China’s new J-20 strike fighter may suggest the PRC will be capable of attaining highly advanced strategic-technological breakthroughs for fighter-aircraft over the next five to fifteen years.
According to Sivkov, while the J-20 does not approach the capabilities of the US F-22, its specifications may imply that China could soon surpass Russia, whose defense industrial sector still relies on Soviet models (Interfax-AVN, January 17). There is no sign, according to Sivkov, of Russia’s defense industry’s capability to keep pace with its peers.
While autocrats (and their apologists) may find comfort in the technological advancements of the PRC, Democratist notes that, despite having recently become the second largest economy in the world, and in many ways the world’s industrial “workshop”, China still apparently lags considerably behind the US in terms of military technology, and is still heavily reliant on espionage and the reverse-engineering of Western technology in an attempt to catch up. Democratist believes that, even with plenty of resources, a lack of democracy, openness, and accountability will make innovation difficult, even for the PRC.
So, while Russian and Chinese espionage certainly pose a threat to US military superiority, it does not appear that either country is currently producing their own military industrial innovations, but are rather seeking to copy those of Western countries. As long as the West can prevent their secrets from falling into the wrong hands for a reasonable amount of time, they seem likely to be able to maintain an innovative advantage over autocratic states for several decades, if not longer.