April 23, 2020

Sharper: The 5G Future

Analysis from CNAS experts on the most critical challenges in U.S. foreign policy.

5th Generation (5G) telecommunications promises to be a foundational next-generation technology—and vital to enabling the next industrial revolution. The stakes in 5G are high, and the U.S. government must work alongside private industry leaders, international allies and partners to ensure a secure 5G future.

Experts from across the Center continue to sharpen the policy debates on 5G's implications for U.S. national security. Continue reading this edition of Sharper to explore their analysis on the challenges and opportunities posed by the development of 5G technologies.


Today, China appears poised to become a global leader and first mover in 5G, to the critical disadvantage of the United States. In a November 2019 report, expert Elsa B. Kania examined Washington and Beijing’s approaches to 5G development, finding that the U.S. government has yet to commit to any funding or national initiatives in 5G that are close to comparable in scope and scale to those of China. Kania argued, however, that the notion of a “race for 5G” is problematic and misleading, as security will be more important than speed for establishing a durable foundation for 5G’s future.

The United States is steadily losing ground in the race against China to pioneer the most important technologies of the 21st century, and the stakes could not be higher. In a March report, CNAS experts argued that Washington’s global network of alliances is a unique asset in the technology competition with Beijing. "American allies," they wrote, "have emerged as leaders in specific technology areas that are core to future U.S. prosperity and military advantage, such as 5G next generation wireless networks, autonomy, and microelectronics." To compete effectively with China, the authors called on the United States to forge an "alliance innovation base" that would feature a web of cooperative connections and incentivize technology protection through mutual benefits.

Technology & National Security

Securing Our 5G Future

Elsa B. Kania examines Washington and Beijing’s approaches to 5G development and proposes an American strategy for 5G security....

Indo-Pacific Security

Forging an Alliance Innovation Base

America’s current approach to allies on technology innovation and protection remains a work in progress....


Experts from across the Center have offered timely analysis on strengthening America's 5G competitiveness.

  • In an August 2019 piece for Lawfare, Martijn Rasser argued that "the long time horizons for technology development in this field mean that U.S. political and industry leaders cannot afford to wait when it comes to 6G."
  • Kara Frederick warned in a May 2019 article for Foreign Policy, "The key to security in the 5G future is not just about Huawei. Instead, it is about the systemic risk that results from relying on tech components from countries with a history of cyberespionage and a lack of rule of law into critical infrastructure."
  • In August 2019, Andrea Kendall-Taylor and Rachel Rizzo wrote in POLITICO Magazine that "allowing China to play a foundational role in Europe’s 5G future would aid in Chinese espionage, jeopardize U.S.-European intelligence sharing and present novel threats of disruption or exploitation."
Technology & National Security

Setting the Stage for U.S. Leadership in 6G

Every day there are more headlines about China’s rise in 5G, the next generation of wireless communications technologies, and the economic and national security risksto the Un...

Technology & National Security

The 5G Future Is Not Just About Huawei

This week, representatives from the United States and more than 30 European Union and NATO countries met in Prague to hash out security principles for 5G—fifth-generation wire...

Transatlantic Security

The U.S. or China? Europe Needs to Pick a Side

Amid ten consecutive weeks of protest in Hong Kong, Beijing is looking to a seemingly unlikely place for support: Europe. In recent days, Chinese ambassadors across the contin...

  • Ashley Feng argued in a February 2019 article for Foreign Policy that "better intelligence sharing among close allies of the United States, as well as other close partners abroad, could help countries more clearly understand the potential threats that Chinese companies such as Huawei and ZTE present to their own national security."
  • In February 2020, Elsa B. Kania wrote in POLITICO, "If the the U.S. is serious about fostering competition in an important industry, then it needs to reckon with an uncomfortable fact: It actually did have a chance to lead the way in 5G. And there is still a chance for the United States to be at the forefront—but the window for action may be closing."
  • Carisa Nietsche and Bolton Smith observed in The National Interest in October 2019 that "talking to Europe about data privacy and pointing out the risks that Huawei would pose to Europe’s data privacy standards could resonate and help peel Europe away from the technology company."
Energy, Economics & Security

We Can’t Tell if Chinese Firms Work for the Party

On Jan. 28, the U.S. Justice Department announced two indictments against China’s largest telecommunications company, Huawei, alleging that the company tried to steal informat...

Indo-Pacific Security

Why Doesn’t the U.S. Have Its Own Huawei?

The Trump administration has tried one tactic after another to confront the rise of Huawei, the Chinese company that has been fighting to establish a dominant position in 5G. ...

Transatlantic Security

Why Europe Won't Combat Huawei's Trojan Tech

The United States has been unsuccessful at getting European countries to ban Huawei from building their fifth-generation wireless (5G) networks. It’s not for a lack of trying....

In the News

Featuring commentary and analysis by Paul Scharre, Peter Harrell, Elsa B. Kania, and Eric Sayers.

Technology & National Security

China makes the first big 5G move

China switched on a massive 5G network Friday, bringing 50 cities online in one of the largest-ever single rollouts of the super-fast mobile networks. Why it matters: Right no...

Indo-Pacific Security

Huawei or the Highway

“Huawei” — The name at the center of the trade war between the United States and China, and the foremost player in the battle over 5G. Recently becoming the second-largest sel...

Indo-Pacific Security

The Newest US Sanctions on China's Huawei Could Backfire

Worsening relations between Washington and Beijing could trigger punishing new US restrictions on Huawei’s supply of cutting-edge microchips. But some experts believe this wou...

Britain Defies Trump Plea to Ban Huawei From 5G Network

Britain said on Tuesday that it would not ban equipment made by the Chinese technology giant Huawei from being used in its new high-speed 5G wireless network, the starkest sig...

Across the Center

The nation that leads in 5G wireless technology could shift the global center of gravity for growth and innovation, and a secure 5G infrastructure is essential to U.S. security. In April 2019, the CNAS announced the launch of a cross-Center project, Securing Our 5G Future, which explores the opportunities and challenges of 5G in a world of highly globalized and competitive innovation.

This January, CNAS launched “America Competes 2020,” a Center-wide initiative to renew American competitiveness at home and abroad. Amid increasingly fractured and partisan policy debates, CNAS will produce specific, actionable policy recommendations for how the United States can compete more effectively across a range of vital national security arenas.

Indo-Pacific Security

Securing Our 5G Future

5th Generation (5G) wireless promises to be a foundational next-generation technology that will be vital to enabling the next industrial revolution. The nation that leads in t...


America Competes 2020

America Competes 2020 is a Center-wide initiative featuring cutting-edge CNAS research, publications, events, and multimedia aimed at strengthening the United States’ strategi...

About the Sharper Series

The CNAS Sharper series features curated analysis and commentary from CNAS experts on the most critical challenges in U.S. foreign policy. From the future of America's relationship with China to the state of U.S. sanctions policy and more, each collection draws on the reports, interviews, and other commentaries produced by experts across the Center to explore how America can strengthen its competitive edge.


Sign up to receive the latest analysis from the CNAS expert community on the most important issues facing America's national security.

  • Reports
    • April 30, 2024
    Beyond China's Black Box

    China’s foreign and security policymaking apparatus is often described as a metaphorical black box about which analysts know little. That is true to an extent, but at the same...

    By Jacob Stokes

  • Commentary
    • Sharper
    • April 3, 2024
    Sharper: Maritime Security

    The importance of securing the maritime domain is rapidly increasing. From the South China Sea to the Red Sea, the U.S. and its allies are experiencing escalating challenges t...

    By Anna Pederson & Charles Horn

  • Reports
    • March 29, 2024
    Countering Coercion

    The People’s Republic of China’s (PRC or China) has been engaging in gray zone activity—coercive behavior that is aimed at changing the status quo but that is below a threshol...

    By Lisa Curtis & Nilanthi Samaranayake

  • Congressional Testimony
    • March 26, 2024
    Deterring the Powerful Enemy

    It is a privilege to testify here on matters that are important to the vital national security interests of the United States, as well as those of our other allies and partner...

    By Tom Shugart

View All Reports View All Articles & Multimedia