Bytes and bravery over bullets

This year’s military aggressors – Russia, China, Iran - have faced resistance in their target nations because of democratic values.

People from Israeli startup High Hopes Labs demonstrate a balloon designed to capture carbon at a high altitude.

So far in 2022 the world has witnessed three major displays of military might. Russia, of course, invaded Ukraine in February with nearly 200,000 troops and indiscriminate rocket attacks. In August, China responded to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan by encircling the island nation for four days of massive “military exercises” that included, for the first time, firing missiles over the island. Less noticed, Iran has announced it has “hundreds of thousands of rockets” arrayed against Israel from Syria to Lebanon to Gaza.

As scary as all this aggression is, the three recipients of that violence – Ukraine, Taiwan, and Israel – have found the mental and moral qualities to respond.

By the pluck of his leadership to defend Ukraine’s freedom, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been voted the world’s most influential person by Time magazine’s readers. That began with his decision to stay in a besieged Kyiv, walking about with brave certainty of Ukraine’s sovereign future. Most likely he will be named Time’s Person of the Year. Mr. Zelenskyy has rallied both his country and much of the democratic world by asking this sort of inspirational challenge: “When hatred knocks on your door, will you be ready?”

As part of its defense against China, Taiwan is championing essential qualities of a democracy, such as freedom of thought and rule of law that nurture individual innovation. The island is home to the world’s largest contract chipmaker, making it an essential source for the high-tech industry – including in China. Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, said Monday that democracies like hers can ensure a reliable supply of semiconductors to each other, or what she called “democracy chips.”

China is making “the mistake of thinking that simple military might makes a nation a great power,” former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told Radio Free Asia this week.

In Israel, a similar democratic spirit of innovation has helped erode Iran’s menace. The country is a world power in high-tech entrepreneurship despite its small population. It is home to 10% of the world’s “unicorns,” or companies worth $1 billion and not yet publicly traded. Last year, $25 billion was invested in Israeli high-tech startups.

Many of Israel’s Arab neighbors want to join that freedom-fueled innovation. They signed the 2020 Abraham Accords to recognize the Jewish state and now eagerly welcome Israeli investments. “I liken it to the ‘Sand Curtain’ just dropped, much like the Iron Curtain,” OurCrowd founder and venture capitalist Jonathan Medved told The Media Line news site.

Israel’s tech dynamism, built on the creativity that open societies nurture, has begun to corner Iran’s regional ambitions by the new political alliances. Like China and Russia, Iran may be discovering that the bytes and bravery of democracies are a strong match for bullets and ballistic missiles.

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