Announcing a Series of Papers on the National Security Imperative of Commercial Licensed Spectrum for 5G

As I learned first-hand as an Army lieutenant serving in the thriving free market democracies of South Korea and Germany in the years immediately following the Soviet Union’s collapse, commercial strength is the foundation of national security, both in peace and war.  The extraordinary scale, capacity, and dynamic technology innovation of the U.S. and allied industrial base has been our greatest strength for over a century, and it was indispensable to Allied victories in World War II and the Cold War.  This will also be the case in the 21st century, in which the key strategic security question is whether the United States and our market democratic allies will set the world’s course, or if China, Russia, and other authoritarian regimes will predominate. Will our future be one of freedom and innovation, or surveillance and control? 

The U.S. role in advancing commercial wireless communications – and particularly 5G, the most secure wireless communications technology ever – will be central to answering that question.

The ubiquitously connected society driven largely by 5G wireless broadband will provide connected and autonomous vehicles, connected warehouses and logistics, and remote sensors in every sector.  This connectivity will capture exponentially more digital data than has ever existed in history, expanding the capabilities of AI, advanced analytics, and cyber capabilities beyond anything we can imagine today.  This will be a crucial national security domain for both autocracies and market democracies in the 21st century.

If leveraged for dynamism and innovation rather than authoritarian command and control, 5G wireless connectivity provides the foundation for solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. In contrast, the social control and information operations from abusive exploitation of ubiquitous connectivity is essential to China’s autocratic ambitions as it seeks global influence and domestic power through control of natural resources, technology supply chains, and information. 

China is seeking dominance in every key technology sector in the world, and its spectrum strategy for 5G is central to its plans.  China has a significant amount of mid-band spectrum allocated to commercial 5G in China, and it is leading the world to harmonization in alignment with its allocations.  The United States is playing catch-up on this front.

Put simply, this is a potential long-term national security catastrophe; if the United States does not lead 5G, China will, and the repercussions would be dire.  Consider the insidious threat of a TikTok or Huawei equivalent “national champion” dominating every key sector of the global economy – including those related to weapons and force projection such as quantum computing, AI, and cyber operations.  There are no weapons, technology bans, or mitigation possibilities that could adequately defend U.S. security interests in such a scenario.

The availability of licensed radiofrequency spectrum for commercial 5G is therefore indispensable to our security.  In the coming weeks, CSIS will publish three papers exploring this security imperative and practical steps that the United States can take to address this challenge:

  1. This first paper will explain why China’s lead in mid-band licensed spectrum is a national security issue. 
  2. The second paper will explore lessons learned from past reallocation experiences for the purpose of freeing up more mid-band spectrum for commercial licensed use. 
  3. The third paper will make specific recommendations for how the government can free up more mid-band spectrum for commercial licensed use.