NATO Summit Expands Discussion of Huawei Security Concerns

Reports from the NATO summit in London show a debate facing many countries about how to deal with security concerns related to the push to implement 5G networks, including the use of Chinese-made equipment. Reuters reports that security concerns are being linked to dominance over 5G networks and that some are comparing the race for this next-generation network technology to the Cold War arms race.

The German and British governments are holding internal debates on regulating or altogether banning technology from Chinese telecommunications equipment manufacturer Huawei. The United States placed Huawei on a trading blacklist back in May and subsequently began implementing regulation of the use of Huawei technology. This includes an FCC ruling to prevent federal funds from being used to buy Huawei technology for use in 5G networks and discussions to ban the technology altogether. Huawei has appealed that ban.

At the summit, President Donald Trump spoke of his concerns about Huawei in response to the NATO push for 5G communications, saying “I do think it’s a security risk, it’s a security danger,” continuing, “I spoke to Italy and they look like they are not going to go forward with that. I spoke to other countries, they are not going to go forward. Everybody I’ve spoken to is not going to go forward,” Trump said.

The position of Italy and other countries in attendance at the summit is not clear. NATO itself made a summit declaration that “NATO and Allies, within their respective authority, are committed to ensuring the security of our communications, including 5G, recognizing the need to rely on secure and resilient systems.”

Deutsche Telekom, Europe’s largest telephone company, has already launched 5G communications in some German cities but has put a hold on all its plans to buy 5G network equipment, pending the outcome of the debate in Germany. Deutsche Telekom told Reuters “In light of the unclear political situation, we are not currently entering into any 5G contracts – with any vendor.” When asked about their current working relationship with Huawei Deutsche Telekom said only that “It’s well known that Deutsche Telekom relies on multiple vendors for reasons of security.”

Deutsche Telekom is the parent company of T-Mobile, who as part of a merger with Sprint has promised to build 5G networks in Nevada and other U.S. states. This promise is a negotiation tactic of the Sprint/T-Mobile merger, in a bid to get states to drop out of the ongoing antitrust lawsuit pending against the companies.  The trial in that case is set to begin in New York on December 9. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel backed a proposal to place all vendors and their technology to a certain level of scrutiny, rather than placing specific regulations on a single company or country. In an act of dissent, senior lawmakers from Chancellor Merkel’s coalition called for a ban on Huawei, who Merkel estimates is responsible for 70% of Germany’s current mobile networks. Chancellor Merkel expects some of this business to shift to Nokia and Ericsson, Europe-based competitors of Huawei.

The coalition’s senior lawmakers pushed through a resolution at a recent party conference to add some parliamentary oversight to the current regime. The Social Democrats, allies Chancellor Merkel’s coalition, are backing calls for a tougher regime. Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas suggested creating an official political body in charge of 5G security.

Britain is still weighing its political options. According to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the decision to use Huawei technology in the United Kingdom’s 5G networks will depend not only on national security but also on ensuring the Five Eyes intelligence alliance. Five Eyes (FVEY) is an intelligence-sharing alliance between the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand which has existed in some form since World War II. 

A spokesman for Huawei said “We’re confident the UK government will continue to take an objective, evidence-based approach to cyber security,” stating that, “We supply the kind of secure, resilient systems called for by the NATO Declaration and will continue working with them to build innovative new networks.”