The rollout of speedy new cellular networks is a geopolitical turning point, but neither Trump nor the public yet recognizes this.
The rollout of fifth-generation cellular networks around the world will likely be a defining geopolitical dilemma of 2020. But American and European consumers could easily mistake 5G for just another marketing ploy for early adopters—to the detriment of democracies worldwide.
When the number in the corner of our smartphone screens changed from 3G to 4G, few of us even noticed. Ditto when LTE, another step in the evolution of cellular networks, appeared as an alternative to 4G. Still, for the better part of the past two years, wireless carriers on both sides of the Atlantic have been hyping 5G—which, they promise, will offer data speeds of up to 100 times faster than current connections. Tech futurists say fifth-generation networks will support a plethora of internet-connected sensors, vehicles, appliances, and other devices that will perform functions yet unimagined.
In Europe, the walls of nearly every major airport from Stockholm and Brussels to Lisbon and Madrid have been plastered with 5G-related ads. In the United States, network providers such as AT&T have even rolled out what they’re calling “5GE” networks—a pre-5G deployment that capitalizes on the vaguely futuristic branding of fifth-generation networks even before all the requisite new radios and chipsets have been installed. Still, 7 of 10 Americans tell PricewaterhouseCoopers they’ll wait patiently to receive a 5G device until they are eligible for an upgrade from their current provider.
Amid this much public indifference, 5G may seem like an unlikely battleground between China and the West. Yet the transition to 5G may mark the point, after decades of Chinese integration into a globalized economy, when Beijing’s interests diverge irreconcilably from those of the United States, the European Union, and their democratic peers. Because of a failure of imagination, Western powers risk capitulating in what has become a critical geopolitical arena. Simply put, neither the American nor the European public seems to view the networks that supply Snapchat clips and Uber cars as anything close to a security threat.
Some of the world’s leading telecom-equipment manufacturers, including Huawei and ZTE, are Chinese companies with murky ownership structures and close ties to China’s authoritarian one-party government. Many in the U.S. national-security establishment rightly fear that equipment made by these companies could allow Beijing to siphon off sensitive personal or corporate data. Or it could use well-concealed kill switches to cripple Western telecom systems during an active war. The mere threat of this activity would endow China’s leadership with geopolitical leverage at all times.
This is why Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently exhorted EU allies not to “trust Chinese firms with critical networks.” China has fought back, threatening to scuttle a trade deal with Denmark’s Faroe Islands and, more recently, to retaliate against the German auto industry should European officials bar the use of Huawei equipment in 5G networks.
The framing of 5G primarily as a consumer-technology matter works to China’s benefit. “Choose 5G,” proclaimed one ad in the Brussels airport—part of a campaign that presents a false choice between Huawei and the 4G status quo. A focus on tech alone would also suit U.S. and EU telecom operators eager to deliver faster speeds while minimizing their own costs. The Huawei equipment they buy is typically cheaper than the gear produced by the three suppliers based in democratic countries—the European firms Ericsson and Nokia and South Korea’s Samsung.
Meanwhile, policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic, from European economics ministers to President Donald Trump, have viewed the 5G dispute first as a trade issue. Even as the Trump administration has taken steps, as The New York Times has described it, to “block China’s national telecommunications champion, Huawei, from operating in the United States and starve it of American technology as it builds networks around the globe,” the president has also hinted at a willingness to waive restrictions in exchange for economic concessions from China. In 2018, Trump backed down from national-security sanctions against ZTE as a sweetener in his trade negotiations with Xi Jinping.
Against these attitudes, Pompeo and others sounding alarms about Huawei can be perfunctorily dismissed as protectionists, xenophobes, or military hawks. The American secretary of state has become a particular target of criticism in China, where government officials and the media have described him as a font of “lies and fallacies” and a “Cold War warrior.”
Yet the West has ample reason for caution about Chinese 5G suppliers. For one, the recent Chinese National Intelligence Law requires these companies to comply with Communist Party demands to turn over data or otherwise engage in snooping or network-disruption activities. Party-backed actors in China’s public and private sectors also have a long record of cyberattacks on the West, including stealing intellectual property from companies and sensitive personal information on citizens.
The case against Huawei isn’t just guilt by association. The company itself is suspected of committing blatant corporate espionage: A Justice Department indictment from early 2019 cited highly specific demands by Huawei headquarters in China for information from engineers embedded in T-Mobile’s facility in Bellevue, Washington. An email exchange exposed Huawei’s pressure on employees in the field to steal even guarded equipment and trade secrets; according to the Justice Department, a bonus program offered rewards for the most valuable information stolen. One Huawei employee, the U.S. government alleges, literally walked out the door with a proprietary robotic arm in his bag.
And recent revelations about how China’s ruling party exploits the full panoply of personal information it has amassed about its citizens—facial-recognition images, mandatory DNA samples, 24-hour GPS coordinates, and search-history and online-activity tracking, as well as plain old eavesdropping—to quash religious freedom and basic rights should give major pause to Western governments and wireless carriers alike.
While Pompeo’s State Department has been pressing its case at one international forum to the next, his message has been met with some skepticism in Europe. Simply to acknowledge 5G as a security threat invites headaches that EU governments and telecom carriers would rather not contemplate. Ripping out Chinese gear would be a massive financial and logistical undertaking.
European regulators are used to viewing the American tech industry as a rival, and they bristle today at taking direction from Washington. And despite the fact that two 5G suppliers are European, and EU officials have argued for “technological sovereignty”—a term most reasonably construed to mean technological independence from the United States—member nations have not yet settled on a joint policy.
On top of that, the EU single market prides itself on principles of fair competition and an unwillingness to favor or reject a company because of its national origin, especially when its products are competitive, as Huawei’s are, on metrics such as price. The irony in this approach, of course, is that the Chinese state has subsidized efforts by Huawei to undercut its European and South Korean competitors, not least because of the possibility of obtaining geopolitical leverage. The Wall Street Journal estimated recently that as much as $75 billion in state support fueled Huawei’s rise. The failure to see 5G beyond the consumer lens is also a failure to understand Chinese companies as implements of state power as much as private entities in their own right.
The dispute over 5G isn’t the first time in recent history that economic infrastructure matters have overlapped with geopolitics in unhealthy ways. Nor is it the first time that overlap has caused problems for the transatlantic relationship. The European energy sector has long relied on cheap natural gas piped in from Russia, and deregulation has allowed Russia’s state-owned gas company, Gazprom, to buy or build a large share of the infrastructure used to transport and distribute it. American policymakers have implored European leaders to diversify their energy sources, for fear of increased dependence on an authoritarian Russia. These warnings are often dismissed as self-serving, since American energy firms compete with Gazprom for European business.
The Trump administration’s mixed messaging on 5G lends credence to the cynical view that the United States is not serious about China as a national-security threat but regards it mostly as an economic competitor. (Never mind that U.S. telecom firms do not compete with Huawei on 5G equipment.) And the president’s trade threats against Europe—targeting products as varied as cheese, whiskey, and airplane fuselages—are not helping. Such positions prioritize trade conflicts over common security interests and alienate allies that the United States needs.
Even as Pompeo and others in the Trump administration warn against Huawei, European policymakers don’t know if Trump is serious about 5G as a national-security problem or planning to trade away the issue in exchange for the reduction in Chinese tariffs against U.S. farm products. But they do think he is serious about tariffs on them. They see trade as the one issue on which Trump has been consistent from the start of his presidential campaign.
The United States can work with its European partners to reduce geopolitical dependence on China and protect privacy and human rights in a data-centered age. But that will require Western policymakers and the public alike to conceive of 5G as something more than a consumer issue or a trade issue and devise a shared solution to protect the networks whose importance in our lives will only grow.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is struggling to manage the widening fallout from the drone strike on Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani.
WASHINGTON — Last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was the loudest voice in the administration pushing President Trump to kill Iran’s most important general. This week, he is back in his role as the nation’s top diplomat, trying to contain the international crisis the general’s death created.
True to form, Mr. Pompeo is not backing down. “You saw, more tactically, just these last few days the president’s response when the Iranians made a bad decision to kill an American,” he told reporters at the State Department on Tuesday, referring to a deadly rocket attack in Iraq on Dec. 27 by an Iran-backed militia. “We hope they won’t make another bad decision just like that one.”
The strike against the Iranian general has affirmed Mr. Pompeo’s position as the second-most powerful official in the Trump administration, behind only the president himself. A hawk brimming with bravado and ambition, Mr. Pompeo is ostensibly the cabinet member who smooths America’s relations with the rest of the world.
But as the man at the center of the argument to launch the drone strike that killed Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani — and who pushed Mr. Trump to withdraw from the landmark Iran nuclear deal in 2018 — he is in the unusual role of shaping national security policy that makes his diplomatic job harder.
“Pompeo’s end run got the decision he may have wanted, but the messy day after —
- sloppy explanations of the threat,
- disorganized public statements, and
- hasty diplomatic and military efforts —
limited the effectiveness of the policy and made it far riskier for the country and president,” said John Gans, a former chief speechwriter at the Pentagon and author of a new book on the National Security Council, which includes Mr. Pompeo.
Congress is demanding that Mr. Pompeo and other senior administration officials testify about the intelligence that led to the decision to blow up General Suleimani’s convoy on Friday as it was leaving Baghdad International Airport.
Here’s how the situation developed over the last two weeks.
And as Iran begins retaliating aggressively, Mr. Pompeo, 56, could become known as the man who helped lead the United States into another conflict in the Middle East — breaking one of Mr. Trump’s key campaign promises just as the president faces re-election. Early Wednesday, Iran launched more than a dozen ballistic missiles at two bases in Iraq that house American troops, the Pentagon said.
“I think Secretary Pompeo is playing a rather naïve and destructive role in all this,” said Wendy R. Sherman, who was the third-ranking State Department official in the Obama administration and helped negotiate the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and other countries from which the United States withdrew just days after Mr. Pompeo arrived at the State Department.
Mr. Pompeo said he and other Americans officials “evaluated the relevant risks” that the strike against General Suleimani might bring. He cited “continuing efforts on behalf of this terrorist to build out a network of campaign activities that were going to lead potentially to the death of many more Americans.”
In the fall, during the impeachment inquiry, Mr. Pompeo’s standing plummeted among career employees at the State Department, Democrats in Congress and much of the public, when it became obvious he had enabled Mr. Trump’s shadow Ukraine policy. He also lost some of Mr. Trump’s confidence after failing to prevent veteran diplomats from testifying on Capitol Hill.
The Iran crisis presents similar risks for Mr. Pompeo, who considered running this year for an open Senate seat in Kansas. His associates say he now has an eye on a presidential campaign in 2024.
The upheaval is unfolding at a pace that Mr. Trump and top aides never expected, officials said.
Millions of Iranians have taken to the streets to protest General Suleimani’s killing — a drastic change from only weeks ago, when demonstrators were denouncing the rulers in Tehran. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, told officials that any retaliation should be direct, proportional and carried out by Iran itself.
European allies have expressed anger to Mr. Pompeo over the strike, which they were not told about in advance.
And Mr. Pompeo has been unable to convince Iraq’s government that the United States remains a reliable partner. Its parliament, furious at what Iraqi officials call a violation of their sovereignty, voted Sunday to expel more than 5,000 American troops from the country.
Diplomats and other American employees at the United States Embassy in Baghdad remain on high alert, with some heading by airplane to the safety of the American Consulate in Erbil, in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq. The Pentagon has added 4,500 troops to some 50,000 who were already in the region, and the British Navy deployed two warships to the Persian Gulf.
American embassies around the world are warning American citizens to stay alert to potential dangers — an action that undermines the administration line that the killing of General Suleimani made Americans safer.
The security of State Department personnel abroad is a big potential political liability both for Mr. Pompeo, who played a leading role in the House Benghazi inquiry as a Republican congressman from Kansas, and for Mr. Trump.
Both men excoriated Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state who ran for president against Mr. Trump, for the 2012 deaths of four Americans, including an ambassador, in an attack against a diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. As director of the C.I.A. and then secretary of state, Mr. Pompeo has warned his subordinates that he does not want to see “any Benghazis.”
Mr. Trump and Mr. Pompeo were outraged by images of pro-Iran protesters in Baghdad on Dec. 31 attacking buildings at the United States Embassy, though no Americans were injured.
A senior administration official said a severe but unspecified threat against the embassy was the reason that Mr. Trump made the decision to kill General Suleimani.
Yet no major attack against the sprawling and heavily-fortified diplomatic compound in Baghdad’s Green Zone is “imminent,” even though Mr. Pompeo has asserted that repeatedly, said the official, who discussed administration deliberations only on the condition of anonymity. Some Pentagon officials had said earlier that there was no intelligence revealing any unusual threats.
On Tuesday, Mr. Pompeo did not repeat his assertions that the United States had intelligence about an “imminent” attack and instead pointed to recent violent episodes.
“If you’re looking for imminence, you need look no further than the days that led up to the strike that was taken against Suleimani,” Mr. Pompeo said, apparently referring to the rocket attack by an Iranian-backed militia that killed an American interpreter, Nawres Hamid, in Iraq on Dec. 27. The Americans then carried out airstrikes that killed 25 militiamen, which led to protests by mostly Iranian-backed militiamen inside the American Embassy compound in Baghdad.
American officials say that over the last two months, there have been 11 attacks by Iran-backed militias on bases in Iraq where American service members, diplomats and contractors work.
Critics say Mr. Pompeo, the only surviving member of the president’s original foreign policy team, is a chief architect of the rising tensions between the United States and Iran.
As Mr. Trump’s first C.I.A. director, he created a special center to deal with Iran, appointing as its head Michael D’Andrea, a veteran officer and convert to Islam known as the Dark Prince, who oversaw the hunt for Osama bin Laden and the drone strike campaign in the Middle East and Central Asia.
In December 2017, Mr. Pompeo said he had sent a letter to General Suleimani warning him against attacking American forces in Iraq. The general had helped plan deadly attacks on American troops in Iraq during the mid-2000s. When he received the letter, Mr. Suleimani was in Syria guiding a campaign against the Islamic State — which meant he was nominally on the same side in that fight as the Americans.
Days after becoming secretary of state in 2018, Mr. Pompeo pushed Mr. Trump to withdraw from the nuclear agreement and reimpose strict sanctions on Iran. He has nurtured closer partnerships with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, enemies of Iran that sometimes have agendas that run counter to American interests.
In April, he advised Mr. Trump to designate as a foreign terrorist organization the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, an arm of the Iranian military that includes General Suleimani’s elite Quds Force. It was the first time the United States had applied that label to a part of another government.
And after the Dec. 31 breach of the American Embassy in Baghdad, Mr. Pompeo pushed for the strike against Mr. Suleimani, which Defense Department officials had presented to Mr. Trump as an extreme and not particularly palatable option only days earlier.
Yet Mr. Pompeo’s hawkish role on Iran could increase his support in a Republican establishment that has long wanted the United States to adopt more aggressive policies toward Tehran, with some advocating leadership change against the ayatollahs.
A notable voter base — conservative supporters of Israel, including white evangelical Christians like Mr. Pompeo — promotes hard-line actions against Iran. They denounced the 2015 nuclear deal as appeasement. Last year, on a trip to Israel, Mr. Pompeo invoked the Bible in saying Mr. Trump was a modern-day Queen Esther sent by God to save the Jews from Iran.
Since Friday, Mr. Pompeo has spoken on the phone with senior officials and leaders in Europe, the Middle East and Asia to explain the United States’ need for defensive actions and, in some cases, stress that Washington wanted de-escalation. The United States also sent a message to Tehran on Friday through a Swiss diplomat, a senior administration official said.
In a joint statement issued Sunday, the leaders of Britain, France and Germany condemned Iran for its “negative role” in the Middle East but also described “an urgent need for de-escalation.”
Pompeo is an interesting figure here
because Mike Pompeo who as I’m sure you
know has been the head of the CIA and is
now going to be confirmed probably to be
Secretary of State
Mike Pompeo comes into existence as part
of the energy industry when he becomes a
politician when he runs for office as a
congressman from Kansas his campaign is
funded by the Koch brothers and by other
energy lobbies to the tune of 1.1
million dollars and duly elected he
proposes that climate change is not real
when he’s confirmed as CIA director he
says that it’s a terrible mistake to say
that climate change is a problem for the
national security of the United States
however if we just look at his career a
little bit and if we look at the actual
challenges that he’ll have to confront
were the challenges that are in front of
us now we can see at a deeper level
how-how-how his his his own life shows
how false the position is so Lebanon for
example Mike Pompeo made his name by
criticizing Hillary Clinton on Lebanon
why was there a crisis in Lebanon why
was there an Arab Spring in the first
place because of the droughts because of
the droughts which created the bread
lines which created the riots
why were there droughts because of
Syria is a problem which mr. Trump can’t
wish away and which mr. Pompeo can’t
wish away why is there a problem in
Syria there are many reasons one of them
a horrifying dictator one of them is the
presence of the Russian army but one of
the root causes is that drought in Syria
destroyed what was once called the
Fertile Crescent leading to mass
migration to cities leading to civil
unrest which was one of the conditions
of the Civil War now why does this
matter because Libya and Syria are the
kinds of things which mr. Trump and mr.
Pompeo talk about and we’ll have to talk
about and the main way that US policy
could actually make a difference in
these parts of the world and in the
Muslim world generally is by having a
policy on climate change you see there’s
this odd coincidence which is that the
crescent of the world where more than a
billion Muslims live is also the place
where climate change is having the
greatest effect the fastest if one were
serious about unrest in the Muslim world
if one were really worried about
terrorism coming from the Muslim world
one would then then one would then
insist on having a policy about climate
change if you think about foreign policy
as entertainment you’ll just let the
individual crises come you’ll drop a
bomb you’ll launch a missile you move on
to the next thing if you’re really
thinking about the Muslim world if
you’re really thinking about Muslim
terrorism as a growing threat then you
would think about climate change
the thing is climate change makes fake
problems real your your little
entertainment number becomes the real
world if you don’t address climate
change with policy Mexico is another
example right now it’s entirely
entertainment but if we continue to
desertified Mexico with climate change
there really will be waves of migrants
from the south if we continue to
desertified Mexico Mexico City can
collapse as groundwater reserves are
taken out from under it and then there
really will be mass migration from
Mexico to the United States do you want
to head that off if you do then you have
to be in favor of a serious policy on
climate change now the relationship
between climate change and national
security is actually even more direct
than that so who are our rivals in the
world now who are the countries that are
in the headlines
Russia in China let’s imagine that you
think that Russia is an adversary
what’s imagine that you think that
Russia does things that are not in the
national security interest the United
States what’s the most effective policy
the most effective policy would be to
develop renewable energies because the
Russian regime and every regime like it
depends precisely on the world being in
a carbon economy you get past the carbon
economy there will not be a Putin led
oligarchy or regime in Russia China the
Chinese like everybody else know that
climate change is real the Chinese
unlike us are devoting a great deal of
state investment to renewable energy
precisely with the goal of being the
people who developed the technology
which get us around this Bend into a new
energy economy is that a technological
competition that we want to lose the
only way to maintain some kind of parity
technological parity with China is to
acknowledge a real problem and then to
invest in the real solutions but it gets
even more direct than that so let’s say
you’re not concerned about these
long-term things but say you just think
are our armed forces can run out to
various spots in the world and solve
whatever problem arises okay if you want
to send the US Armed Forces out to the
world to solve various problems where do
they leave from they leave from a naval
base in Norfolk Virginia what’s the
problem with the Naval Base in Norfolk
the rising tides the rise of sea level
because of global warming and the
melting of ice and the north and south
our own major Naval Base in Norfolk
Virginia will soon not be functional who
is saying that the United States Navy is
saying that right so even if you think
that these long-term things don’t matter
and the national security is just a
matter of sending soldiers and sailors
out to hot spots in the world we’re not
going to be able to do that unless we
get our minds around climate change so
in all these ways real national security
the things that we should really be
afraid of as opposed to the
entertainment industry around national
injustice national security the things
that were made to be anxious about day
after day real national security depends
thinking about everybody in the country
the country is a whole the country’s
future and that means caring about
climate change so if we if this whole
thing isn’t just a joke right this whole
thing isn’t just a performance by paid
lobbyists if the next Secretary of State
is really going to be someone who cares
about national security which one would
think would be the basic Job Description
it has to start with climate change
that’s that’s what the real national
security interest the United States are
going to have to do with thanks