Time — and technology — stand still for no man. Quo Vadis Ukraine?
The Ukrainian government does not currently have any discernible technology policy. Of course, the country has many more pressing priorities. Yet, even in the midst of an on-going war, sluggish reform programmes, and a tight national budget, Ukraine can’t afford not to clearly define its future priorities in the technological realm. The first step in doing so is to ask the right questions.
The Role of Government
Should the Ukrainian government play an active role in stimulating commercial technological innovation, or will the market naturally identify and fill such needs? As with any policy programme, potential benefits need to be weighed against potential harms. Many countries (most notably China), have had major success with their government technology policy, but in the Ukrainian case the cure might be worse than the disease if it led to oligarchal capture of the technology sector. Direct government involvement might make the most dynamic part of Ukraine’s economy a victim of the same corruption which plagues its other spheres.
Corruption is not the only reason to be concerned about state involvement in the IT sector. Even with the best intentions, these policies are difficult implement. Trade barriers between Ukraine and the global economy are falling, Ukrainians are ever more mobile, and Tech development moves fast. Ukrainian innovation will be global from the outset. Therefore, it is likely that efforts by the government to choose its own domestic winners, invest when implementing a technology policy, or otherwise attempting to unilaterally control technological outcomes, would be self-defeating.
Ukrainian policymakers might be wiser to focus on policies that create an innovation friendly environment, rather than attempt to unilaterally control technological outcomes. With the right infrastructure, innovations developed elsewhere could be quickly commercialized and improved upon in Ukraine. Such a strategy would play to Ukraine’s strengths, and avoid the need for massive R&D expenditures which the country can ill afford. This is of course not to say that R&D should be neglected entirely. There remains a place for it, especially in the military sector.
Whether government adopts the the above strategy or another approach, the private sector must continue to innovate. Ukraine’s human capital and unquestionable technological and engineering expertise should not be confined to a government technology policy designed to provide infrastructure that could swiftly and cheaply bring the new innovations of others to the global market. Can the Ukrainian government find a technology policy that makes, dynamic national- scale innovation a fundamental attribute of the Ukrainian economy? Only time will tell.
Nick Holmov is The Odessa Review’s political columnist. He is a writer and consultant specializing in Ukrainian politics, civil society, local governance and security affairs. He is the founder of the widely read Odessatalk blog.