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.
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."
- 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."
In the News
Featuring commentary and analysis by Paul Scharre, Peter Harrell, Elsa B. Kania, and Eric Sayers.
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.
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.
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