Something extraordinary has been happening in the realm of 5G technology in the past few weeks, for which the Trump administration deserves full credit.
After months of wondering whether China would flip two of our closest allies—Great Britain and Canada—by agreeing to let the tech equipment giant Huawei to build their advanced wireless networks, the integrity of the oldest intelligence-sharing network in the world, remains unshaken.
The global advance of the Huawei juggernaut has seemed unstoppable. For NATO allies like Germany or Italy to join forces with Huawei is certainly bad news. But for Canada or the U.K., it would be far worse. Both countries are members of the exclusive intelligence-sharing club known as The Five Eyes or FVEY. Dating back to World War II, the FVEY agreement allows the U.K., the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand to share vital intelligence on the basis of decades-old traditions of security and mutual trust.
FVEY is the gold standard for intelligence gathering and sharing. Huawei threatened to debase that standard, by tempting the British and Canadians to opt for its low-cost service already embraced by some ninety countries around the world—even though members of their own intelligence services warned about the dangers of letting a company with alleged deep ties to China’s military and spy services, facilitate the flow of vital government and civilian information over those networks.
The Trump administration launched a major diplomatic offensive to convince the British and Canadians not to let Huawei have a role in their 5G future. There were firm warnings that such a decision might threaten the solidarity of the FVEY (Australia has adhered to the Huawei ban Washington has called for, while New Zealand has been working with Nokia on 5G instead of Huawei).
After months of wavering, the British government has finally agreed to join the Huawei purchase ban. As I pointed out in a previous column, that decision is not flawless. But it is a landmark event in preserving the integrity of the FVEY. When Canada formally agrees to the same ban, along with New Zealand, the alliance will be complete.
The battle between the West and China for the wireless future, is by no means over. Too many U.S. allies are still looking to do business with the Huawei empire. As Winston Churchill might say, securing the integrity of the FVEY alliance may not be the beginning of the end. But it is certainly the end of the beginning.
But the implications go beyond 5G. Another battle with China for the high-tech future is already raging, over quantum computers.
Today the United States, China, Russia, and more than twenty other nations are racing to develop the first universal quantum computer, which, among other capabilities, will be able to decrypt asymmetric encryption algorithms that even the fastest digital supercomputers cannot crack.
It is vitally important that the U.S. and the West make sure they win that race. As it happens, the Five Eyes are also leading countries in quantum technology. We already know that their intelligence services, including the National Security Agency, are working together on this breakthrough technology. But the channels of cooperation can be even broader and deeper.
Two years ago I published a report for the Hudson Institute calling for a Five Eyes Quantum Network, which would coordinate the efforts in quantum information science for all five countries. I wrote:
“By devising a common quantum strategy; by securing common platforms and developing a system for testing those platforms as well as mobilizing quantum technology resources across national boundaries…by establishing a venue for regular consultation to plan and oversee the activities of the FVEY Quantum Network; by constructing a framework for adding other countries to the network, for example Japan and Israel; and by devising standards upon which quantum information-sharing with competitors is limited and/or monitored, a Quantum Network would further the national and economic security of all five countries, including the U.S. It would also encourage scientific and technical progress in the most constructive sense, for the benefit of all humanity, and not just a single country.”
The FVEY alliance played a vital role in winning the Cold War; later it had a decisive impact in fighting the War on Terror just as it will on 5G. Tomorrow it can play an equally vital role in winning the quantum race. Nothing less than the future of technology, including 5G itself, is at stake.