NATO Should Count Spending on Secure 5G Towards Its 2% Goals

 In China, GDI, Russia, Defense, Cyber/ICT, Infrastructure, Threats, Information

Getting 5G right is key to the alliance’s very future.

The agen­da at NATO’s London sum­mit report­ed­ly includes talk about the future of inter­net secu­ri­ty — that is, estab­lish­ing rules and roles for next-gen­er­a­tion 5G gear. This is both a vital issue and a bell­wether. If done right, mov­ing to secure 5G sys­tems can reju­ve­nate the alliance around its cen­tral mis­sion: pro­tect­ing demo­c­ra­t­ic states from author­i­tar­i­an incur­sion. Botch it, and the rift will only increase.

Whether NATO comes togeth­er or falls apart over 5G presents an ini­tial test of how it will han­dle China’s rise. For Beijing, leapfrog­ging Western telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions firms is part and par­cel of a vision to spread norms of author­i­tar­i­an inter­net gov­er­nance, pro­mote sur­veil­lance tech­nolo­gies, build glob­al depen­den­cies, and under­mine the lib­er­al demo­c­ra­t­ic order NATO anchors. U.S. offi­cials can take sev­er­al steps to help move the debate from admo­ni­tion to action.

First, NATO should allow mem­bers to count a por­tion of out­lays on secure 5G sys­tems towards nation­al 2‑percent defense spend­ing goals. There are a num­ber of ways 5G-inclu­sive tar­gets could be defined, includ­ing one-time com­mit­ments or line-item funds, but if invest­ing in tech­nol­o­gy built by trust­wor­thy ven­dors is a pri­or­i­ty for the United States—and it should be—the alliance’s cost-shar­ing struc­ture should reflect it. 

Second, NATO should con­duct thor­ough tech­ni­cal and polit­i­cal risk assess­ments on 5G net­works and build shared cyber­se­cu­ri­ty stan­dards. Last month, NATO announced plans to update rules for civil­ian 5G. The United States should use this process to push for trans­paren­cy require­ments on the com­pa­nies that build 5G net­works, includ­ing dis­clo­sures on cor­po­rate own­er­ship struc­tures, direct gov­ern­ment fund­ing, and state influ­ence and con­trol. Whether an author­i­tar­i­an gov­ern­ment sub­si­dizes telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions equip­ment to under­cut local competitors—or con­trols a com­pa­ny to steal mil­i­tary, com­mer­cial, or per­son­al data—is rel­e­vant when con­sid­er­ing allow­ing it to build the foun­da­tions of eco­nom­ic oppor­tu­ni­ty for NATO mem­ber states.  

Put sim­ply, NATO should require par­tic­i­pat­ing sup­pli­ers to show cred­i­ble inde­pen­dence from for­eign gov­ern­ments. In addi­tion to help­ing secure net­works, such a require­ment fos­ters inter­net gov­er­nance that resists author­i­tar­i­an sur­veil­lance and erects bar­ri­ers to the unfet­tered access of pri­vate cit­i­zen data.

Related: Installing Chinese 5G Gear is Dangerous — and Probably Inevitable: NATO Center Report

Related: A New Consensus Is Emerging On How to Handle The Risk from China’s 5G

Related: It’s Time for a NATO-China Council

Third, the United States should urge its allies to con­sid­er coop­er­a­tive busi­ness mod­els and infra­struc­ture shar­ing arrange­ments that would help mem­ber coun­tries choose trust­ed-yet-cost­lier sys­tems over cheap­er alter­na­tives. Some cre­ativ­i­ty may be in order here, but NATO part­ner­ships with the EU, Finland, and Sweden could build joint fund­ing and research mod­els for secure 5G and even 6G sys­tems.

Proposing these ini­tia­tives would add con­struc­tive action to the U.S. government’s steady drum­beat against Huawei. Concerns over Chinese-made 5G have cen­tered on espi­onage, but extend to amass­ing sen­si­tive per­son­al and cor­po­rate infor­ma­tion and lever­ag­ing inter­net depen­dence for geopo­lit­i­cal con­trol. In cap­i­tal after cap­i­tal, U.S. diplo­mats have warned allies and called for out­right bans.

For the rest of NATO, these con­crete steps are also more polit­i­cal­ly viable. Amid divi­sions with­in allied nations over 5G and ample pres­sure from China, a ten­u­ous “plau­si­ble deni­a­bil­i­ty” con­sen­sus may emerge: to ratch­et up require­ments with­out sin­gling out one coun­try or com­pa­ny. A recent European Union risk assess­ment on 5G, for exam­ple, notably cau­tioned against threats from state actors, but stopped short of nam­ing China explic­it­ly. 

Disunity here has real con­se­quences. A split over cyber­se­cu­ri­ty and the vary­ing pres­ence of “untrust­ed” sup­pli­ers from China in mem­ber coun­tries’ 5G net­works threat­ens vital NATO mil­i­tary and intel­li­gence coop­er­a­tion. The United States has already warned that it will lim­it intel­li­gence shar­ing if allies build 5G net­works with Chinese equip­ment. In the words of one offi­cial, “the Americans will assume that every­thing we share with Germany will end up with the Chinese.”

Such an out­come would be dis­as­trous for the alliance. A NATO intel­li­gence-shar­ing rift would open the door to greater author­i­tar­i­an inter­fer­ence in Western democ­ra­cies, and not just from China. NATO’s intel­li­gence shar­ing and threat analy­sis cell is a cen­tral tenet of its plan to com­bat hybrid threats from Russia and oth­ers: dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns, malign finan­cial flows, the annex­a­tion of Crimea, and more. Given Russia’s long-stand­ing goal of frac­tur­ing NATO, it’s no coin­ci­dence that Russian state media cham­pi­ons Huawei.

Democracies need a com­pet­i­tive offer and a com­pet­i­tive vision for the future inter­net that starts with count­ing trust­ed 5G spend­ing towards 2‑percent tar­gets, con­duct­ing joint risk assess­ments, and pur­su­ing coop­er­a­tive busi­ness mod­els.

Aligning on 5G won’t solve all of NATO’s prob­lems. It won’t stop China’s eco­nom­ic coer­cion of NATO mem­bers or its human rights abus­es in Xinjiang, and it won’t stop Russia’s influ­ence oper­a­tions in Europe.  But a fail­ure to get 5G right most cer­tain­ly will exac­er­bate them and bode ill for the future uni­ty of the alliance.

Source: Defense One

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