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Chip War

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Chip War

The Fight for the World's Most Critical Technology


15 min read
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Access to computer chips is increasingly crucial to nations’ economic well-being and defense.

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The chip industry’s importance extends beyond consumer electronics. Historian Chris Miller argues that integrated circuits or silicon chips – semiconductors – are critical to strong national economies and modern militaries. As of the 1960s, many US firms began making chips in East Asia, notably Taiwan. Miller says the island’s future and the possibility of conflict with China may hinge on how China pursues its goal of reducing its reliance on imported chips and other tech. Though he does not shy away from technical details, even nontechies will appreciate and understand his cogent analysis.


The miniaturization and fabrication of silicon chips – semiconductors – eclipses every engineering feat in modern history.

In 1961, Fairchild Semiconductor, a company located south of San Francisco, California, in the area that would become Silicon Valley, introduced a silicon chip with four transistors. Today, the silicon chip in the Apple iPhone 12 has 11.8 million transistors. 

Only a few companies control production of advanced silicon chips, also known as integrated circuits or semiconductors. China is spending heavily to develop its domestic semiconductor industry in hopes of loosening the “stranglehold” the United States and its allies enjoy over the global supply of microchips.

Silicon Valley remains the “epicenter” of the chip industry. But the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) now fabricates nearly all the most sophisticated processor chips.

A series of discoveries and inventions built the semiconductor industry.

In 1945, William Shockley, a physicist from Palo Alto, California, first theorized that the qualities of semiconductors could make them a better alternative to mechanical...

About the Author

Chris Miller teaches international history at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He is also the Jeane Kirkpatrick Visiting Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and Eurasia Director at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He has written several other books including: We Shall Be Masters: Russian Pivots to East Asia from Peter the Great to Putin and Putinomics: Power and Money in Resurgent Russia.

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