The development of 5G technology poses a new challenge within the informal alliance of the “Five Eyes”. This new technology dramatically improves data throughput speed, network interoperability and is setting the new standard in wireless telecommunications. Its development is concentrated in the hands of a small number of players, including Huawei, one of the largest manufacturers of telecommunications equipment. The closeness between the Chinese government and Huawei is leading to concerns about the possibility of China hijacking this technology for political purposes. Illegal use of the 5G network poses significant threats to the security devices of Western states. President Trump has strongly opposed Huawei’s development of 5G and has gone so far as to indicate that the United States will stop sharing intelligence with countries that do not exclude Huawei from their telecommunications. The development of 5G and the presidency of Trump therefore pose new challenges for the future of the Five Eyes, of which Canada is a member. President Trump’s particular governance and the security character of 5G upset the unity of the alliance, but member countries can adapt to these challenges if they do not want it to be problematic in the long term.
The Interweaving of Technology and Security
The development of 5G poses a new challenge for the Five Eyes alliance, as it is the first time for member countries that a tool for technological modernization has been perceived as such a high threat to internal security. 5G can improve the efficiency of many areas such as transport, communications and defence. This technological revolution brings, at the same time, new threats to the cyberspace of member countries and therefore makes it a considerable security issue. To control the effects, it is necessary to put in place control mechanisms, but the development of these is struggling to catch up with that of 5G technology itself. The cyber threat represents a new international issue and requires increased and effective intelligence sharing in order to counterbalance the vulnerability of infrastructure.
Also, the threat represented by 5G is amplified by the monopoly that Huawei has on its development. In China, the private sector is intrinsically linked to government. The active funding of the Huawei group by the Chinese government suggests that it has significant interests in its activities. In addition, two laws regarding intelligence sharing in China require Huawei to participate in Chinese government intelligence activities. For China, national security objectives are inextricably linked with the participation of actors from all branches of society. The lack of clarity in the legal language of the two laws suggests that it would be straightforward for China to invoke security concerns in order to use 5G technology to infiltrate the infrastructure of these enemies. In the context of the development of 5G, by establishing itself as a disruptor of the established international order, China is crystallizing its relationship with the Western powers. The members of the Five Eyes have therefore set up committees within their respective countries to determine the potential danger that Huawei represents in the installation of 5G and all highlight the risk associated with it. However, not everyone has yet made a decision about Huawei’s involvement in the development of 5G networks. This suggests that there is not a uniformly accepted approach to the subject, which is surprising, as the field of communication technologies is rather a factor of alignment within the alliance.
The Special Intelligence Status of the United States
The United States is, within the alliance and globally, the largest provider of intelligence to the international system. The US intelligence community is made up of a multitude of agencies that work independently, but in collaboration with one another. One of the main missions of these is to prevent the theft of American secrets by countering the espionage efforts of other states and by acquiring information to assess the intelligence services of these actors in order to counteract those who may be hostile. It is in this dynamic that Huawei’s surveillance is developing. The country is positioned as one of the main detractors of Huawei. Since Obama’s presidency, concerns have been conveyed about the potential danger Huawei poses to the telecommunications industry. In 2018, these concerns were formalized by a declaration from the three major US intelligence agencies not to use the company’s products. This was followed, in 2019, by the signing of an executive order by President Trump that placed Huawei on a list of ‘foreign enemies’ and prevented it from marketing products in the United States. As such, the US sought to completely exclude Huawei from its commercial apparatus in order to protect its national security.
The fact that the United States is the largest intelligence provider within the alliance gives it authority status among member countries, and its positioning against Huawei must be shared in order to maintain a stable relationship within the Five Eyes. The influence of the US is such that some member countries have changed their decision following pressure from the Americans. Britain initially chose to allow Huawei access to some means of communication by setting certain restrictions on access to more sensitive parts of the network. The United States expressed its disagreement with the move and threatened the future of intelligence sharing between the two actors. These pressures led Britain to revise its decision and eliminate all Huawei technologies from its networks by 2027. The same is true for Canada. Although no official decision has yet been made, the country has been warned several times of the possible disastrous consequences if Canada were to compromise its network. The specific case of Huawei and 5G therefore highlights the presence of asymmetries and bilateral tensions that member countries have every interest in addressing if they want the alliance to continue.
Trump’s Presidency and Amplified Tensions
Donald Trump’s presidency of the United States has amplified tensions within the alliance. In relation to Huawei, Trump is influenced by the US’s strategic rivalry with China, and this rivalry has been exacerbated since Trump came to power. When it comes to intelligence sharing, the President demonstrates unpredictable behavior, leading to breaches of trust among the allies. For example, sharing information with Russia about the Manchester bombings has altered the relationship between Britain and the United States. Indeed, the special relationship that Trump has with Russia creates tensions within the alliance. The implications of the relationship between Trump and Putin on the US security apparatus and that of its allies are difficult to identify. However, there is a multitude of links between the two leaders. This ambivalence has led Britain to seek reassurance from the US intelligence community that President Trump will not compromise espionage operations in Russia. Also, Trump has a delicate relationship with his intelligence community, frequently publicly criticizing the community’s espionage practices. He has repeatedly pressured the intelligence community to present analyses in accordance with his views. These internal divisions have implications for the ability of the United States to be seen as a trusted actor with whom to share intelligence.
Trust is an essential component of the maintenance and effectiveness of the Five Eyes. Its member countries share a common strategic culture as well as a significant amount of confidential information. It is a complex sharing network, the success of which has been guaranteed by maintaining trust and transparency among the allies. Trump’s presidency and his relationship with the leaders of member countries threaten the alliance’s initial balance of trust. However, it is important to note that this is not the first time that there has been a breach of trust within the alliance. For example, the case of Canadian Second Lieutenant Jeffery Delisle, accused of sharing classified intelligence with Russia, had an impact on the level of trust among the allies.
Policy Considerations and Recommendations
The development of 5G in the context of Trump’s presidency brings many challenges that will continue even if the United States changes administration. The country’s position on Huawei is clear and is unlikely to change. Canada is heavily dependent on intelligence provided by the alliance and therefore must actively participate in the alliance’s efforts to address these challenges.
First, to mitigate and better control the security issues associated with the development of 5G, Canada and the rest of the alliance must take a proactive and collective stance on the issue of cybersecurity. Intelligence activities and military operations, on an international scale, will soon be conducted using 5G. Regardless of the vendor, 5G poses a significant threat to national security if the government does not have the means to control it. The alliance must therefore set an example by ensuring that security is a priority for all in the acquisition of 5G. Decryption is a prime intelligence concern within the alliance and is highly relevant to the issue of cybersecurity. Each country must therefore ensure that it has the necessary means to mobilize this type of intelligence to protect cyberspace. In Canada, initiatives must be put in place to improve intelligence sharing on this issue. This requires a further orientation of strategic priorities towards cybersecurity. As with the fight against terrorism, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service must develop an integrated centre made up of experts to analyze this type of threat. Canada can also take this opportunity to assert itself in non-traditional security by developing formalized standards on good conduct in 5G. If the members of the Five Eyes participate in this standardization work, which is necessary for the entire international community, it helps to realign the interests of each member to this collective interest.
Second, with respect to US dominance in the alliance, Canada has an interest in aligning itself with the US decision to ban Huawei from its 5G network first. A choice has to be made between the security protection the United States provides and the lucrative Chinese commercial market. It is necessary for Canada to maintain a strong relationship with the United States. As a middle power, the country is particularly vulnerable to state and transnational threats, not having as many intelligence capabilities as its southern neighbour. To maintain a beneficial partnership with the Five Eyes member countries, Canada must ensure that it always presents itself as a relevant partner in the eyes of others. To do this, Canada must continue its efforts to overhaul its surveillance and intelligence-sharing process. Since 2016, the country has worked to propose reforms that aim to modernize and energize the Canadian intelligence community. This includes the creation of the Committee of Parliamentarians on National Security and Intelligence, responsible for overseeing all the activities of the various agencies. This modernization effort will allow Canada to reaffirm its relevance in the eyes of member countries and even perhaps grant it a more prominent place within the alliance. Also, Canada must remind the United States that it is in its national security interest to protect American interests. It is therefore important to move beyond the differences of opinion among leaders and to continue to align with the American interest.
Finally, Trump’s presidency crystallized the balance of power with China. The Five Eyes members’ security apparatuses are closely linked, particularly that of Canada with the United States. If a Chinese threat is perceived by the United States, it directly applies to the rest of the allies. To moderate the effects of these diplomatic tensions and regain a spirit of unity, Canada and the rest of the alliance must reorient the strategic priorities of the Five Eyes towards the common threat posed by China. Each country in the alliance has strategic or diplomatic issues to settle with China. A clear orientation of the alliance’s priorities towards containing the Chinese threat sends a strong message to the latter. This strategic orientation requires a broadening of the interest of the alliance beyond signals intelligence. Uniting unilaterally against a threat will help to reaffirm the unity and trust that exists among members. Also, by making the Chinese threat a priority, the alliance sets an example and sends a message to supporters of the established international order. This leadership position can, on its own, remedy the breach of trust caused by Trump’s presidency and the development of 5G.