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5G’s Role in State Competition
by Scott Kelly
The adoption of 5G will trigger an evolution in how we share and use information, creating opportunities for innovation and growth that will touch every industry and aspect of our lives. The successful pursuit of these opportunities will be critical to our national security. It will expand the arena of great power competition among states, and directly affect the diplomatic, informational, military, and economic aspects of national power. If we are to beat the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), we need to understand the nature of these changes and pursue policies that will maximize 5Gs benefits for us and our allies, while minimizing the CCP’s ability to pursue growth by stealing our innovations.
Trust as Currency
While security is critical at home, trust is critical abroad and is more valuable than the U.S. dollar as a reserve among nations. The U.S. and China are currently the only countries capable of developing and manufacturing large scale 5G infrastructure. The low monetary cost of Chinese components gives them a nominal advantage as a vendor in many countries. However, due to China’s 2017 national security law, (*1) transmitting any information over equipment provided by Chinese firms is tantamount to handing it directly to the CCP. Providing a domestically produced and owned American 5G network solution will allow countries to access the critical infrastructure needed to participate in the modern global economy while protecting their intellectual property and state secrets from being stolen by the CCP.
(*1) On June 27th, 2017 China enacted a new National Intelligence Law, which created an affirmative responsibility for all Chinese citizens and companies to provide access, cooperation and support for Beijing’s intelligence gathering activities. This extends to citizens living, studying, or doing business abroad.
Knowledge is Power
5G will supercharge connectivity and power massive networks of users, fueling innovation at a previously unseen pace. The power of nations, and their relative position of strength over one another will be determined by how this innovation is fostered and harnessed. Open, democratic societies like America have a key advantage over authoritarian regimes like the CCP in driving these innovations and harnessing their benefits, provided we can secure our infrastructure.
In open, democratic societies access to information and the free communication of ideas among citizens fuels a cycle of creative destruction that leads to innovation and growth. In authoritarian societies, this same process enables collaboration against the current political regime and is a direct threat to those in power. This creates a dilemma where open access to information and collaboration fuels the innovation necessary for growth and state power, but also requires ever increasing state control over how people communicate in their daily lives to prevent domestic opposition to the regime from forming. This stifles the potential for future growth. The move to 5G will further exacerbate this divide between how increased access to information affects open and authoritarian societies.
To prevent domestic opposition from forming, the CCP has employed strict population control measures such as social credit scores, massive online censorship, and genocide against ethnic minorities.(*2) To pursue growth while being unable to allow domestic innovation, they have relied on stealing technologies from more developed nations, achieving growth while avoiding the need to allow their own population to collaborate and innovate. Their 2017 national security law ensures that they can leverage any Chinese citizen or corporation studying or doing business abroad to collaborate in the theft of technologies. Having a domestically owned and produced 5G infrastructure, from hardware to software, can stifle these efforts and help ensure the next generation of American innovation turns into economic and military advantages for America, widening the power gap between us and the CCP.
(*2) In 2014, it was revealed that the CCP had begun perpetrating a genocide against Uygher Muslims who lived in western China which has continued to expand as they seek to destroy Uygher ethnic and religious identity which are viewed as incompatible with the CCPs values and a source of potential domestic political opposition.
There are two people on the battlefield: the quick and the dead.
5G’s ability to enable secure networks that can support massive amounts of devices in austere locations with minimal infrastructure will drive an evolution in how wars are fought. The type of maneuver warfare that is employed by modern militaries relies on the ability to coordinate long range fires from air, land, and sea forces in close coordination with rapidly moving ground forces(*3) to overwhelm an enemy. This has made tracking where friendly forces are in real time a critical element in modern warfare. It’s not enough to have more combat power than the enemy, you need to be able to quickly mass it at critical points so your military’s strength is greater than the sum of its parts.(*4)
5G networks allow massive amounts of devices to be employed to track everything from vehicles to individual soldiers, enabling unprecedented coordination among maneuver forces. When combined with other advances in long range fires and the ubiquitous use of drones for reconnaissance and attacks, field expedient 5G mesh networks will become a decisive feature on future battlefields, as necessary as the machine gun after WWI and fighter jets after WWII.
(*3)Think artillery, rockets, cruise missiles, strike fighters, and bombers that need to land on the enemy while avoiding our troops on the ground and each other in the air
(*4)Ukraine’s recent success in pushing back and wiping out entire Russian army formations during its Kharkiv offensive, enabled by its ability to effectively mass fires to support ground maneuver is a modern example.
Developing a robust suite of 5G technologies that can be deployed domestically would be a boon to the American economy. Its immediate impact would be an increase in domestic spending on manufacturing and transportation as we develop the infrastructure needed for production and distribution. It would decrease the exposure of U.S. firms to intellectual property theft from China (which routinely steals 225 to 600 billion dollars of property from U.S. firms annually) by providing a ready source of secure network connectivity absent built in malware and back doors by foreign firms.
It would also provide an exportable solution to allies and partners who wish to benefit from the evolution to 5G without risking exposure to subversion and manipulation by the CCP. This would enable increased export of American products and further boost our domestic economy by creating new markets for our goods and services. American made 5G can become as important to global networks and telecommunications as Boeing is to global aviation.
Winning in the Information Age
America is well into a new era of great power competition, against a regime that seeks to present totalitarianism as a credible alternative to the western democratic model of statehood and supplant the U.S. as a world leader. After WWII, in the age of nuclear weapons, we relied on containing the Soviet Union through military alliances and economic aid to allies and partners. Beating China in the information age will require a new type of containment, built around secure networks and the opportunity to express ideas free of censorship and bullying. 5G with the windfall of innovation and economic growth it will provide is the next competitive arena we must master. We need 5G here, we need it now, and we need to own it, or we will find ourselves continuing to underwrite the growth of the CCP as they bully their neighbors, commit genocide against their own citizens, and undermine the credibility of the modern world order.