How American Innovation Can Overcome the Asian Challenge

A contrarian analysis of how the United States can succeed in the technological race with Asia.

Foreign policy analyses written by CFR fellows and published by the trade presses, academic presses, or the Council on Foreign Relations Press.

Read an excerpt of Advantage.

As the United States struggles to emerge from recession, India and China's continued robust growth is the subject of much concern and interest. In his new book, Advantage: How American Innovation Can Overcome the Asian Challenge, Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Senior Fellow Adam Segal analyzes Asia's technological rise, questions assumptions about the United States' inevitable decline, and explains how America can preserve and improve its position in the global economy by optimizing its strength of moving ideas from the lab to the marketplace.

More on:

Technology and Innovation

United States



Segal explains that Asia's growth has been fueled by its "hardware of innovation"—growing middle classes that will eventually outstrip the spending power of Americans, a cheaper labor force, more students studying to become engineers, and increased money pouring into research and development.

However, Segal maintains that the region lacks a "software of innovation"—a cultural, social, and political framework that enables and sustains a new-idea generation. As an example, he cites a survey conducted by China Daily that found 60 percent of graduates with doctorates admitted they had copied someone else's work.

India's main problem, he writes, is a decrepit educational system. "A 2007 study rated two-thirds of [India's eighteen thousand colleges and universities] and found that 90 percent of the degree-granting colleges were poor or middling quality."

Through his research, Segal concludes the United States has an advantage over Asia in the realm of the software of innovation. "In America, your ideas can make you rich. Intellectual property is protected, and individual scientists are able to exploit their breakthroughs for commercial gains," he writes. "It is time to realize that software in its most expansive sense offers the most opportunities for the United States to ensure its competitive place in the world." The challenge is "to recover a culture of innovation that was driven underground, overshadowed by sexy credit default swaps and easy spending."

Visit Adam Segal's website.

More on:

Technology and Innovation

United States



Reviews and Endorsements

By far the most sophisticated analysis of the complexity of international relationships between the U.S. and emerging economies.

Financial Times

This lucid, stimulating analysis shows why America's open, multicultural society can make a significant contribution to innovation in the decades to come . . .

Publishers Weekly

A must for policymakers.

Kirkus Reviews

Top Stories on CFR

NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization)

The Madrid summit paved the way for Finland and Sweden to join and underscored that Russia is NATO’s chief security threat. But the alliance’s new defensive efforts aren’t likely to change Putin’s strategy in Ukraine.

Immigration and Migration

Support for immigration in the West must be balanced with concern about governance in African countries. 


Ukraine’s first steps toward eventual EU membership are the start of a long process that has raised the stakes in the country’s war with Russia.