Weaponizing Trust in Tech Diplomacy

Weaponizing Trust in Tech Diplomacy

Tech diplomacy is about trust.

As Russia and China continue to deploy technology that undermines the sovereignty of free nations, democratic governments and corporations must weaponize trust to counter these authoritarian regimes. 

Keith Krach, Chairman and Co-Founder of the Krach Institute for Tech Diplomacy at Purdue, charged America’s C-Suite with implementing a contingency plan to safeguard our technology.

Keith talked with us about:

  • Why trust is the most fundamental principle of freedom
  • The U.S. State Department’s need for private sector talent
  • Why corporate executives need a China contingency plan

Weaponizing Trust in Tech Diplomacy

“Trust is the most important word in any language. You do business with people you trust. You partner with people you trust. You buy from people you trust. And you love people you trust.” — Keith Krach

The Latin word for trust, fiducia, was birthed from the word fides.

Fides has several implied meanings, such as confidence, courage - and security.

When Keith Krach partnered with the U.S. State Department to help them combat China’s technological statecraft, trust was at the forefront of his strategy.

That’s been the case since his days in the private sector when he was the CEO of DocuSign.

“At DocuSign, I would say, ‘We’re not in the software business. We are in the trust business,’” Keith told us.

He maintained that philosophy when his institute helped our government establish a Trust Doctrine as the basis for using technology to fight foreign actors of ill intent. 

“We use that Trust Doctrine to defeat them,” Keith said.

Russia and China continue to assault our technological assets through corporate subterfuge, like Huawei’s attempt at monopolizing 5G.

As these regimes continue to show disdain for human rights and the sovereignty of their international neighbors, Keith’s team is turning the tables.

“China and Russia have been using those principles against us,” Keith said. “So, we weaponized the very principles that protect our freedoms, and that all adds up to trust.”

Reinforcing Our Public Sector

“In the business world, the ultimate strategic weapon is speed… It’s not the big that’s going to eat the small - it’s the fast that’s going to eat the slow.”— Keith Krach

Expediency is not a word that usually comes to mind when addressing our government agencies.

Keith knew that speed would be essential if they were to succeed in slowing China’s momentum. But to boost efficiency, they needed a plan.

“We had a playbook. We got our teams totally aligned,” Keith said.

And he recruited as much outside help as possible.

“I brought in 12 results-oriented executives, entrepreneurs, and techs from Silicon Valley,” he said.

Keith also knew that America couldn’t fight this battle alone. Yet, our blunt approach of demanding that other countries abstain from adopting Chinese tech was clearly not having the desired effect.

Once again, he suggested taking a classic private-sector approach.

“Why don’t we treat these countries and these telecommunication firms like customers?” he suggested. “Nobody likes to be told what to do. You need a value proposition if you expect somebody to partner with you.”

Keith and his team followed through, developing a seven-step plan as a worthwhile alternative for those parties considering partnering with nefarious forces.

But their work is far from over, and the State Department needs talented individuals in the fight.

“We need more people from the private sector,” Keith said. “We need wealth creation people and people in manufacturing and high tech.”

Our government has enough politicians and lawyers. They need people who can get things done quickly.

“It’s all about economic and tech statecraft,” Keith said.

The C-Suite’s Call to Action

“CEOs have to have a China contingency plan. Our fiduciary duty to our shareholders is to mitigate risk. We have a plan if there's a cyber breach. Well, this is a big risk, and you've got to have a plan.” — Keith Krach

Keith believes that tech diplomacy isn’t just a state matter - it should also concern corporate executives.

By partnering with China, American businesses are only opening themselves up to industrial espionage.

“If you’re going to build a plant in China, you’re not just handing them your blueprints,” Keith argued. “You’re teaching them your process. You’re training a workforce, and they’re going to come back and compete against you.”

Keith thinks every company in the free market, large or small, should have a contingency plan for Chinese interference.

After all, he witnessed their contempt for intellectual property rights first-hand during his time at software giant Ariba.

“Alibaba took a lot of our intellectual property,” he reminisced. “I said, ‘When are you guys going to stop stealing our technology?’ They just laughed.”

So, what steps can the C-Suite take to mitigate these risks? Keith’s solution is simple and to the point.

“Pull your supply chains out of China,” he argued. “They’re at risk. They really are.”

Regarding preventive measures on the homefront, organizations like the Krach Institute are willing to help.

“We’re putting together a checklist for boards and CEOs to follow because there are a lot of nuances,” Keith explained. “And you don’t want to miss one of the key prongs.”

Shifting the Paradigm in Tech Diplomacy

The war for hearts and minds is closer than you may think.

It’s in our homes with Huawei products. It’s in our pockets with TikTok.

Tech diplomacy is a trust battleground. One side wishes to elevate trust to its rightful place as the figurehead for freedom. The other only cares for its annihilation.

Thankfully, the Krach Institute and other champions for freedom are in the trust business.        

Would you like to hear more? You can find this interview and many more by subscribing to C-Suite Blueprint on Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, or here.