Germany is finding itself more and more drawn into the multi-faceted US-Chinese conflict.
In a letter dated March 8th, US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell issued a warning to Germany of repercussions if Germany chooses Huawei to upgrade its wireless networks to 5G, the WSJ reported.
“The letter, which was dated Friday and reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, marks the first known time the U.S. has explicitly warned an ally that refusing to ostracize Huawei could lessen security cooperation with Washington. Among other things, European security agencies have relied heavily on U.S. intelligence in the fight against terrorism.
U.S. officials declined to say whether other countries have received or would receive similar warnings… [Grenell] noted that the code running on 5G equipment would need frequent updates and was so complex that the potential for so-called backdoors and other system vulnerabilities couldn’t be ruled out even if Huawei were to let regulators regularly inspect its software,” the Wall Street Journal reported.
Korbinian Wagner, a spokesperson for the German ministry for economic affairs, confirmed the receipt of the letter but declined to comment on its contents.
A spokesperson for the State Department said Wednesday: “We believe the risks posed by vendors subject to extrajudicial and/or unchecked compulsion by foreign states that do not share our values need to be weighed rigorously before making procurement decisions on critical infrastructure such as 5G, which will affect our economies and our security for decades.”
The US antagonism to Huawei is part of a larger conflict on several fronts it has with China.
According to the US, allowing Huawei to work on the 5G system would create security-related risks, potentially allowing Chinese espionage of sensitive information.
The European Parliament also repeated the US concerns in a resolution released on March 12th.
The European Union assembly stressed the need for the bloc to protect the next generation of wireless networks, known as 5G, from intruders and to bolster cybersecurity defenses in general.
The resolution “expresses deep concern about the recent allegations that 5G equipment developed by Chinese companies may have embedded backdoors that would allow manufacturers and authorities to have unauthorized access to private and personal data and telecommunications from the EU.”
The assembly “is equally concerned about the potential presence of major vulnerabilities in the 5G equipment developed by these manufacturers if they were to be installed when rolling out 5G networks in the coming years,” the non-binding text said.
MEP Markus Ferber from Germany also had some words of warning.
“If there’s the slightest suspicion that Trojan horses end up in critical infrastructure due to Chinese technology, all alarm bells should ring. The EU has to make sure it becomes more independent from third countries when it comes to infrastructure and central technologies.”
On the same day, the EU’s executive body – the European Commission also issued a list of 10 actions that should be discussed by the EU Council. These actions were a result of a review of relations with China.
Notably, Action #9 calls “to safeguard against potential serious security implications for critical digital infrastructure, a common EU approach to the security of 5G networks is needed. To kickstart this, the European Commission will issue a Recommendation following the European Council.”
On March 13th, Bloomberg also reported that a member of Germany’s BND intelligence services warned a committee of lawmakers that Huawei is not trustworthy.
Past “security-relevant incidents” involving the company are part of the reason. An official from the Foreign Ministry, speaking at the same meeting, said it would be hard to work with a company that cooperates with its national secret service.
“It’s above all a matter of trustworthiness and of the impact on our relationship with our allies,” the unnamed Foreign Ministry official said.
So far, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and most of Europe have dropped plans to use Huawei gear. Germany remains on the fence, with Economy Minister Peter Altmaier saying that Germany doesn’t wish to ban Huawei, while adding that Berlin would tighten security criteria for all vendors instead.
Another reason of the US opposition of the potential Huawei establishment of the 5G network in Germany is that it would impede US access to EU’s IT infrastructure. It is no secret that US intelligence services spy on Europe and its leaders, a very prominent example are the leaks by NSA’s Edward Snowden, which turned out into a massive scandal, which has since somewhat subsided.
The US shares only a limited amount of the information it gathers in Europe and it wouldn’t be surprising if it uses the EU IT infrastructure and information sharing mechanisms to pursue its own policy goals. Thus, the Washington establishment would not want to part with this source of information, which the Chinese company potentially threatens.
Germany, on its part may succumb to US pressure, since its dependence on US intelligence is no also not a secret. A more recent example of this sort of co-operation is the foiled terror attack in Cologne, Germany in October 2018.
Over the last several years, Germany has been ever more dependent on co-operation with US intelligence services due to the massive influx of illegal immigrants, many of which are targets for indoctrination by various radical groups.
This tendency will only become more serious with the incoming defeat of ISIS in the Middle East, and the potential influx of ISIS members fleeing Iraq and Syria and entering EU through various channels. Naturally, US intelligence assistance will be invaluable in dealing with these threats in Germany, and throughout the EU, since they are also active in their information gathering operations in the Middle East.
That information sharing would quite possibly depend on whether Germany wishes to co-operate with US in its antagonism of China.
As a result, the EU and Germany are in a precarious position, since Washington may “twist their hand” and abuse its stronger position to force its “partners” in making decisions against China they otherwise would avoid. Since, the US has shown that it treats the EU as another battleground against China, similarly to the trade sphere, Africa and the South China Sea. And it will certainly not treat Germany and the other as an equal side of any kind of negotiations on this issue.