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Afghanistan’s Hard Lessons. A British Perspective.


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Xi Jinping’s Coronavirus Challenge


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The Worst Possible Day: US Telecommunications and Huawei


Thomas Donahue is a Cipher Brief expert and former Senior Director for Cyber Operations on the U.S. National Security Council Staff.  His article was originally published by National Defense University Press PRISM. 

In case you missed it, you can read The Worst Possible Day: US Telecommunication and Huawei – Pt. 1 here 

Pt. 2

Options for the Nation

Given the shortfalls of a “just say no” policy, the United States will need to compete in the telecommunications equipment integration sector, both in terms of products and trade strategy. The U.S. Government typically seeks to use procurement for federal networks and research and development investment as the primary levers for influencing high technology. U.S. industry already leads in component and subsystem technologies (notably in optics); however, that advantage has not overcome the boom and bust cycles of the equipment integration market. Thus, a new element will be required that will involve some combination of direct investment, subsidies, loans, and tax incentives as has been done for other industries, either for national security purposes or to preserve national economic or industrial capabilities. In addition, the USG could include preferred telecommunications equipment manufacturers (no matter where they are from) in U.S. trade, defense, and foreign policy packages that the United States seeks to implement with other nations that are upgrading their telecommunications infrastructure.

Similar ideas have been raised before, including by this author and by James Lewis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Lewis cited three options: build networks from insecure components, build a national champion, or subsidize European producers. According to Lewis, the Obama Administration considered funding a national champion using the Defense Production Act, “but it could at most allocate 1 percent of what China spent. The discussion of how to respond to the telecom problem made it as far as a Deputies Committee meeting, but none of the major information technology companies wanted to reenter this field. Though a few medium-size companies could have been candidates for investment, the administration ultimately decided to rely on Google and Silicon Valley to innovate our way out of the problem without the need for the government to spend anything.”

The U.S. Defense Science Board’s June 2019 report on “Defense Applications of 5G Network Technology” notes that “the lack of a U.S. integrator and Radio Access Network vendor industrial base” creates challenges. The report recommends that the Department of Defense “should provide seed funding for western industrial base alternatives of key system components, e.g., Radio Access Networks.”

The scale of investment required—as can be seen from the size of the European companies—would require the U.S. Congress to appropriate additional funds, even if implemented under existing authorities, such as Title III of the Defense Production Act (annual appropriations typically range only in the 10s to 100s of millions of dollars). Ericsson and Nokia each employ about 100,000 or more workers (although not just for telecommunications integrated equipment manufacturing), and each as of 2018 had net equities in the range of $10-20 billion and net assets in the range of $25–45 billion. Nokia spent $16.6 billion acquiring Alcatel–Lucent in 2016.

Maintaining leadership requires huge research investments. Huawei is participating comprehensively in the international standards process and makes large investments in research and development, now increasing to $15–20 billion per year from levels of $13–15 billion in 2017–18. European firms lag significantly. Nokia has increased investment in research and development to about 20 percent of its revenue or roughly $5 billion per year after a significant decline during 2013–15. In addition, the European Investment Bank in August 2018 provided a $583 million five-year loan to Nokia in 2018, and Canada in January 2019 provided Nokia with a $40 million research grant. Ericsson in 2017 increased investments to at least 15 percent of its revenue—a bit more than $4 billion per year—despite concurrent net income losses.

The major U.S. telecommunications service providers with operations in the United States and abroad would need to be included at least in the planning process for such an investment policy given that they would be the ultimate customers for most of the equipment, have expertise on the markets and systems and, most likely, would serve as the final systems integrators and operators during implementation and deployment. Indeed, the service providers could be provided incentives to participate directly in the investment strategy; however, they are also burdened with high levels of debt from capital expenditures. Other operators of critical infrastructure (financial systems, electric power, oil and gas distribution, transportation, etc.) also might benefit by participating in the planning and investments.

The following three options are not mutually exclusive. 

Option 1: Champion the European and South Korean Companies

U.S. telecommunications infrastructure already depends on Ericsson and Nokia (and to a much lesser degree on Samsung), each of which have a significant economic presence through their U.S. subsidiaries. As noted previously, these companies include some of the residual capabilities that once belonged to now-defunct U.S. integrated telecommunications equipment companies. The USG, perhaps working primarily through the U.S. subsidiaries, might be able support these companies with stock investments, tax policies, debt guarantees, loans, and procurements, particularly to stabilize their finances and to boost their research and development investments that lag significantly behind those of Huawei. Both companies have undergone significant adjustments in management and business portfolios to stabilize their financial situation while investing for future growth. Both companies expect global demand to grow as most countries seek to take advantage of the benefits of 5G. In the unlikely event that the two Nordic companies merged to gain economies of scale relative to Huawei (despite potential EU, Chinese, and U.S. anti-monopoly concerns and challenges merging product lines), the USG could support the new merged entity in the same way.

As a sign of the Samsung’s commitment to diversifying its product line, press reports in July 2019 indicated that Samsung plans to invest more than $100 billion over the next 10 years to gain prominence in global chip processors. Samsung, however, in November 2019 announced the closure of its US-based research lab for mobile phone chips after failing to win market share from Qualcomm from external customers.

Option 2: U.S. Entities Acquire Either or Both European Companies

If the United States needs to have a home-based champion for 5G and beyond, the fastest approach might involve working with the private sector to acquire a controlling interest in parts of one of the existing European companies, possibly using authorities under the Defense Production Act Title III or else with a separate Congressional authorization. Nokia Networks would be the primary division of interest from Nokia along with Bell Labs, and Business Area Networks would be the key division within Ericsson. Samsung’s 5G segment may not be a good target for acquisition because it has much less market share and is part of a growth strategy for the otherwise very large vertically integrated South Korean conglomerate.

  • The USG could use past models of loan guarantees, tax incentives, and direct investment. Either of these companies would benefit from significant U.S.-based investment and more innovative and agile management to help them stabilize their finances and close the gap in research and development that these companies have with Huawei.
  • Both companies have significant presence in the United States and recently have sought to expand their U.S. research and production. For example, Ericsson plans to open a fully automated factory for advanced antenna systems in the United States by 2020 and previously set up a design center in Texas for 5G-related application specific integrated circuits (ASICs). Nokia is expanding its operations in Texas and operates the original Bell Labs facilities in New Jersey.
  • These companies, however, are major contributors to the economies of their home countries, suggesting a major acquisition might be resisted by those governments and the European Union.
  • For example, Nokia owns Alcatel Submarine (undersea cables) that competes with the U.S. company now known as Subcom, as well as the optical networking capabilities of Alcatel–Lucent, and is likely to be seen by the Europeans (particularly Paris) as an asset that needs to remain European. Meanwhile, Ericsson is not a major player in optical networks and depends more on microwave for backhaul communications.
  • In addition, these companies have facets unrelated to integrated telecommunications equipment manufacturing that are, in part, artifacts of prior mergers and acquisitions. Culling out the equipment manufacturing alone, however, might leave behind unsustainable business organizations. Also, as Lucent experienced, the equipment manufacturing by itself may not be sustainable through demand cycles. These companies also have existing business arrangements and obligations, in some cases with China, that may create complications for U.S. trade policy.

Option 3: Create a U.S.-Based Consortium

The USG could seek to create business conditions through a combination of procurement, investment, and financing to bring together the robust, diverse capabilities of existing U.S. private sector capabilities and patent rights that foreign integrated telecommunications equipment manufacturers already depend on under an integrated corporate management. Private equity could supplement USG funds, leading over time to an eventual reduction in the share of government investment while maintaining U.S. financial guarantees and trade support in the background.

Over time, this “consortium” could be led by a “prime” company comparable to the big integration companies that dominate U.S. defense contracting. Such an entity could add or even subtract “sub-prime” capabilities as needed in accordance with changes in technology, fluctuating demand, and maturation of national infrastructures. Again, the USG could use combinations of past strategies to drive the formation of this consortium, with the ultimate goal of leaving the private sector in control.

  • Rather than be treated as direct competitors, Nokia and Ericsson could contribute subsystems (particularly for radio access networks)—as might other companies from trusted international partners, notably the Five Eyes, Germany, France, Japan, and South Korea.
  • Such an approach could in effect create a single, trusted U.S.-based, international consortium with the financial backing of the USG for use by U.S. allies and any nation that would trust such an alliance more than Chinese providers.
  • Success would depend on a competitive pricing strategy in combination with U.S. and allied incentives to participate. Such a consortium also would benefit from strong relationships with the U.S. and allied defense departments and ministries.

A Bottom Line Comparison of Options

Each option involves positive and negative tradeoffs. All of them face potential resistance from overseas, including the Nordic countries, the EU (especially France), and possibly China. The resistance could be regulatory or through the WTO.

  • Support to an existing foreign firm would involve the least commitment from either the USG or private sector; however, this option offers the least influence or certainty of a useful result.
  • Buying one of the two Nordic firms would be easier than creating a new corporate entity and the fastest way back into the telecommunications equipment integration business but would require greater investment than simply supporting a firm with its current ownership. The United States would not have as much leverage on the outcome as would occur with the purchase of both firms.
  • Creating a new consortium would be the hardest to implement in terms of creating product lines, gaining market share, and licensing patents but would offer the greatest control of the outcome and thus the best opportunity to invest for longer-term technologies. As a result, this option potentially would require the greatest investment but also has the potential for the greatest return in terms of U.S. jobs and stimulating the U.S. high-technology sector.

Economic success of the strategy would depend on international trust of the equipment provider. In some parts of the world, U.S. ownership would provide comfort; however, in other parts of the world even some friendly countries might prefer “neutral” European products, a potentially useful outcome if the U.S. policy goals include not undermining a viable European competitor. In any case, western entities will need to persuade potential customers that the reliability and quality of products combined with transparent security policies is an attractive feature in comparison to what is offered by Chinese alternatives.

The final implementation of 5G will represent more than an upgrade to 4G technology components; the new systems over many years will evolve to a fundamentally different architecture and drive massive changes in the infrastructures and businesses that will benefit from 5G. With this longer perspective in mind, the best U.S. strategy might involve a combination of the options. In the near-term, the United States needs to “get in the game,” perhaps through options 1 or 2, to avoid surrendering future incumbent advantages to China and to gain experience in working with the new systems. For the long run, however, the United States as a second step might need to focus on the broader U.S. high-technology industry with Option 3 to drive innovation and to be in the best position for future generations.

The deployment of 5G technology across all of the infrastructure will take at least 10 years; however, discussion of 6G technology has already begun. In November 2018 a Chinese official claimed that the Ministry of Information and Industry Technology had already begun work on 6G with a view toward initial commercial deployments as early as 2030. Finland’s Oulu University’s 6Genesis Project seeks to develop communication networks with bandwidths over 1 terabit per second with a grant of more than $250 million. As the Finnish researchers note, 6G will build on 5G infrastructure and applications, and thus any investment in 6G will need to build on a prior investment in 5G.

Find a USG Champion

Justification for the amount of resources needed to reboot the nation’s supply chain for integrated telecommunications systems would need to be framed in terms of ongoing U.S. strategies for resilient global command and control systems for national security and for maintaining control of critical infrastructure functions under the most stressful circumstances of a war with a peer adversary, such as Russia or China. This level of demand is a unique national-level governmental requirement and thus must be met at least in part by the USG. The measure of success would be determined by whether U.S. defense and critical infrastructure planners could demonstrate greater resilience against the full spectrum of threats. The U.S. military already is seeking to improve the resilience of critical systems, including for nuclear command, control and communications (NC3).

The biggest player within the USG, and the most likely center point for a successful effort, would have to be DOD. This is the only department with the global reach and mission requirements, technical depth, procurement and large-scale integration experience, budgetary capacity, and existing authorities to handle such a large project. The Office of the Secretary of Defense would need to work with the Joint Chiefs of Staff to incorporate military strategic requirements and with the Department of Homeland Security and other government agencies that work with private sector critical infrastructure.

Conclusion: Resiliency Strategy Must Determine Way Forward

As noted by West Point authors Borghard and Lonergan, the United States needs to examine its policies toward the next generation of telecommunications in the context of strategic requirements for resilient global command and control of U.S. military forces and other U.S. interests, to include how the U.S. military depends on commercial communications.   This discussion must consider the worst possible day, not the routine day. The challenge is primarily one of availability on that worst day, not espionage. These requirements abroad and for critical infrastructure at home are uniquely the purview of government, and thus the government must step up and make the strategic investment in what is essentially the central nervous system of the nation. An effort of this magnitude will require a unified approach across the Executive Branch and broad bipartisan support from the U.S. Congress.

Trade policy alone, particularly one given to broader compromise, will not allow the United States to define how other nations choose to implement infrastructure that U.S. national security communications may need to pass through. The United States needs a unified vision of how to compete in terms of technology and closing deals for U.S. advantage. As with the defense industrial base, the USG in the long run should seek to have the private sector operate any new manufacturing capability and thus would need to work in partnership with the industries that best understand the technology and customer needs. The USG would need to stand behind industry efforts to gain deals with other nations—just as it has for other vital industries with national security implications, notably aviation.

The USG, as it has with most national security efforts abroad, would need assistance from traditional national security allies and countries located at what already are or should be key communications junctures. For example, new pathways might be needed that are less vulnerable to disruption as compared to the ones now passing where they are vulnerable to adversary disruption, through areas of dense commercial activities, or in regions of longstanding conflicts. As has been done for some military systems, the United States would need to work with trusted nations that can provide useful technology and manufacturing capacity, in part to gain their support for a new player in the integrated telecommunications marketplace.

It will not be enough for the private sector with government support just to create a company to manufacture and integrate telecommunications systems. The USG, in partnership with the private sector, will need to consider how it will remain competitive over the long term.

  • This may require financial support to help industry get through demand lulls, including if demand lags expectations, as occurred from 2000 to 2010, because of slower than expected implementation of applications elsewhere in U.S. infrastructure and businesses.
  • In addition, a long-term strategy would require reinvigoration of investment in the hardware elements all across the U.S. high-technology sector that have either moved to Asia or been too long dependent on investments made years ago. A telecommunications equipment integrator based in the United States would provide an anchor for investment in all of the component technologies and their associated supply chains, including future generations of semiconductors. The success of innovation in the U.S. high technology sector will depend on preserving homeland-based manufacturing and supply chain ecosystems.

Key challenges going forward include mobilizing the USG to act and then drawing in the right elements of the private sector as investors or participants in product development. Then the real work would begin with developing a product line that can compete in terms of the best combination of technology, pricing, and financing. Additional incentives from U.S. and allied governments might be needed to overcome incumbent advantages or to walk back some past infrastructure decisions in key, strategic locations.

This will be a “long march” (as China’s President Xi would say). But better to start now than repeat this conversation in 10 years.

In case you missed it, here’s part one of The Worst Possible Day: U.S. Communications and Huawei, by Cipher Brief expert and former Senior Director for Cyber Operations on the U.S. National Security Council Staff.  Thomas Donahue.

PRISM is the flagship professional journal published as a public educational service by National Defense University. In its 10th year of publication PRISM has a quarterly print run of 11,000 with recipients in 83 countries. A complimentary subscription is available to Cipher Brief members by request to [email protected]. Please provide an accurate postal mailing address and the preferred number of copies desired.

Read more national security news, insights and analysis in The Cipher Brief. 

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Avenging the Death of Qassem Soleimani


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Is the Maximum Pressure Campaign Working with Iran?


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Reconsidering Great Power Competition Below Armed Conflict


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Kim Jong Un’s Frustration and the Risk of Hybrid Warfare


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NATO’s Most Elite Operators and their Biggest Challenges


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Syria: WTF Do We Do Now?


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NATO’s New Mission


There is little argument that the 70-year-old NATO Alliance today finds itself in one of the most complicated security environments it has ever seen. China and Russia continue to pose significant challenges, the fast-paced development of new technology is adding borderless perimeters that must be defended and the organization is managing internal strife from its own members including Turkey and the United States.

As part of a joint statement issued Wednesday, leaders said, “We, as an Alliance, are facing distinct threats and challenges emanating from all strategic directions.  Russia’s aggressive actions constitute a threat to Euro-Atlantic security; terrorism in all its forms and manifestations remains a persistent threat to us all.  State and non-state actors challenge the rules-based international order. Instability beyond our borders is also contributing to irregular migration. We face cyber and hybrid threats.”

Alliance leaders have been focused this week on developing a strategy to address security concerns with China for the very first time, and considering the implications of Beijing’s global investments and growing military. They were also aiming for agreement on a defense plan for the Baltics and Poland, as well as considering new approaches to common threats like terrorism.

Internally, the Alliance has been challenged by Turkey’s seeming lean in toward Russia and with a consistent demand from the U.S. to address burden sharing among NATO members.

“Since 2016, Canada and European allies have added 130 billion more to their defence budgets. And this number will increase to 400 billion U.S. dollars by 2024. This is unprecedented. This is making NATO stronger and it shows that this Alliance is adapting, responding when the world is changing,” said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the opening of the two-day conference. “NATO is the most successful Alliance in history because we have been able to change when the world is changing. That is exactly what we are doing again. And the fact is that we are doing more together in this Alliance now then we have done in many decades.”

While there has been no shortage of theatrics among leaders this week, The Cipher Brief tapped two of its experts, both former NATO Supreme Allied Commanders Europe (SACEUR) to help cut through some of the rhetoric to understand the Alliance’s strategic importance today to both the U.S. and its allies.

Gen. Philip M. Breedlove served as the 17th Supreme Allied Commander, NATO.  Prior to his position as SACEUR, General Breedlove served as the Commander, U.S. Air Forces in Europe; and Commander, U.S. Air Forces Africa.

Admiral James Stavridis (Ret.) served as the 16th Supreme Allied Commander, NATO and is currently an Operating Executive at The Carlyle Group.  His is the author of, Sailing True North: Ten Admirals and the Voyage of Character.

Background:

  • The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was established in April 1949 with 12 initial nations signing on.
  • The Alliance was founded on three basic goals: to deter Soviet expansionism, to form a strong partnership with the United States to deter nationalist militarism in Europe and to encourage political integration throughout Europe.
  • U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower became NATO’s first Supreme Allied Commander (a role always held by an American) in 1950.
  • On September 12, 2001, NATO invoked its mutual defense clause in support of the United States after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
  • Today, NATO is comprised of 29 member countries including: Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, The United Kingdom, and The United States.

 

Why is NATO so important right now?

General Philip Breedlove (Ret.), Former Supreme Allied Commander Europe

“The bottom line is we’re living in some of the most uncertain times of our history. We used to understand our opponents, who they were and where the lines on the ground and the lines in the sand were. Now, there are no lines out there for us to understand. There are all kinds of gray zone conflicts going on. Russia is attacking us in cyber every day. They’re engineering social media against the West every day. They’re interfering in elections, every single one of them including the French, German, U.S., and British elections. Where and how we draw lines and understand what our opponents are doing to us is critical. More than ever, we need NATO. In the last five years, Russia as a major world power, has used its military to cross internationally recognized borders into Crimea and into the Donbass and has changed internationally recognized borders by using their military. I don’t know what more we need to look for in order to understand how important NATO is.”

 

Admiral James Stavridis (Ret.), Former Supreme Allied Commander, Europe

“I’ll give you three reasons. One is the challenges that we collectively face with Russian adventurism. I think there’s still a significant role for NATO in deterring Russia and by the very nature of its invasion of Ukraine, we see that Vladimir Putin is a gambler. He’s a risk taker and I think will continue to put pressure on the Alliance. Number two, cyber security. We are increasingly at risk in the world of cyber where the level of threat far outpaces the level of preparation. And I think it’s an area in which we would be collectively much, much stronger if we operated together. Third, and finally I think the Alliance matters because of its potential impact in the Middle East and here whether we’re working on counter terrorism, helping to calm the situation in Syria, or in working over-time to deter Iran from bad behavior. And I think there are still significant missions ahead for NATO. I just mentioned three. We also have a continuing mission in Afghanistan and we have challenges in the Arctic. There’s plenty for NATO to do and it’s still great value for the United States.”

 

What needs to happen in London?

Admiral James Stavridis (Ret.), Former Supreme Allied Commander, Europe

“I think we need the Alliance to take a deep breath and work on the overall center of gravity for this Alliance, which is political coherence. At the moment, you have the French pulling in one direction, you have the Turks distinctly pulling in a different direction to the South, you have questions about where Afghanistan is going and you have the American side, which continues to constantly talk only about funding and who’s paying what. So right now, the Alliance doesn’t feel like a synchronized political Alliance, although its military capability remains strong. So, I would say the number one thing we need is more coherence out of the leadership assembling in London.”

 

Gen. Philip Breedlove (Ret.), Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Europe

“What needs to happen in London is the same thing that should happen every time NATO meets at the senior level. And that is to reinforce the commitment by all of the allies to the alliance, and what the alliance stands for, to its Western values, and to the military commitment that we make to each other. There is essentially a commitment to collective defense, but there are also 28 individual bilateral commitments to defend each other.”

 

Access your full Cipher Brief debrief with Admiral James Stavridis here

Access your full Cipher Brief debrief with General Philip Breedlove here

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