Eighty years ago in 1940 Great Britain was an embattled island, standing alone against the totalitarian blitzkrieg that had swept over the European continent, from Germany and Austria to France and Italy. A brave prime minister rallied his nation to preserve its independence and freedom, while also appealing to America for help.
Eighty years ago America came to the rescue. As I have recounted in my book Freedom’s Forge, America’s president Franklin Roosevelt and his advisors, including General Motors CEO Big Bill Knudsen, devised a plan to supply Britain with the material resources it needed to reverse the tide of Nazism. It became known as the Arsenal of Democracy (a phrase Knudsen coined and which FDR borrowed as his own).. It’s what stemmed the Nazi tide, until America was willing to bring its full weight to bear in the struggle for freedom.
Then it was Germany that the free world needed to rally against. Today it’s China, and its corporate stalking horse IT equipment giant Huawei which has entangled more than ninety countries in its web of future 5G networks, including large chunks of Europe—despite constant American warnings about the risks of working with a company with alleged deep links to the Chinese military and intelligence services.
Now Britain is engaged in an existential struggle over whether to bring Huawei into Britain’s 5G future. Some intrepid Britons like Brexit architect Nigel Farage realize the need to stand up to the Huawei juggernaut, in order to keep that company from dominating the future of wireless technology that will interconnect everything from cell phones to driverless cars—as well as controlling the flow of twenty times the data of current 4G networks.
Farage and others are doing a courageous job of sounding the alarm. They point out how the embrace of Huawei can threaten not only the U.K.’s national security but its “special relationship” with the U.S.—the same special relationship that was forged in the dark days of 1940.
Boris Johnson, unaccountably, seems reluctant to emulate his hero, Winston Churchill, on this issue. Indications are Johnson may still come around, but the U.S. still needs to do more to support its embattled ally, in order to turn 5G into a modern-day Arsenal of Democracy.
The White House has bandying about a long-term plan to develop a 5G network with the help of companies from free nations like Nokia and Ericsson. Pentagon officials have met with wireless carriers, investors, and equipment-makers, while Defense Secretary Mark Esper convened a 5G-focused dinner with telecom executives around Thanksgiving. Undersecretary Ellen Lord even said during an event last year that the Pentagon plans “almost a national industrial policy for 5G.” We also need a figure from private industry, a modern-day Bill Knudsen, to assume the role of leading the charge from his own telecommunications sector.
Even more importantly, we need a fast strike on the Huawei lines—the equivalent of the commando raids in World War Two. We need to put out a plan that will upset and disrupt China and Huawei’s strategy, and light a beacon of hope in Britain that there’s a viable alternative to Huawei.
Fortunately, the Pentagon has on hand a public request for proposals that could be released tomorrow, for building a secure, nationwide, wholesale, carrier-neutral 5G network using a portion of the Pentagon’s available wireless spectrum. Built and operated by the private sector, this 5G could be made available to wholesale buyers large and small: cell carriers, oil and gas companies, electrical utilities, companies like FedEx and GM who would be able to get additional bandwidth capacity without having to pay middlemen for the privilege.
The disruption this plan would unleash on China’s long-term plans for dominating 5G technology through the usual wireless carriers, is hard to overstate. Unfortunately, this bold plan faces opposition in some quarters, including the FCC—just as arming Britain faced resistance from isolationists until Pearl Harbor ended the debate about whether America needed to unleash all its energies to face up to tyranny.
We can’t wait for a Pearl Harbor today. Not only Britain, but the U.S. must take concrete steps to push back on this newest wave of tyranny. An effective international consortium led by the U.S. is one (long overdue) step; unleashing the wholesale option would be another.
And if we can win this Battle of Britain, then—just as in 1940—the liberation of the rest of Europe from Huawei hegemony can’t be far behind. It might not be the beginning of the end of the struggle for 5G; but to borrow Churchill’s phrase, it may be the end of the beginning.
Read in Forbes