ArgumentHuawei and the Third Offset

Published 7 April 2020

In order to effectively mitigate the security risks posed by Huawei, the U.S. Department of Defense needs to fund and integrate cutting-edge technologies from the private sector. Offset strategies are intended to counterbalance an adversary’s military advantages by developing asymmetric technological strengths.

Although concern over Huawei’s implications for national security remains high, current U.S. strategies against Huawei have largely been framed as a counter to Chinese spying and focused on retrospective actions, such as lobbying allies against adopting Huawei’s 5G kit (when those allies’ mobile networks are already dependent on Huawei infrastructure), and using the Department of Justice (DOJ) to hold Huawei accountable for intellectual property theft and sanction violations.

Perri Adams, Dave Aitel, and Sophia d’Antoine write for the Council of Foreign Relations that unnoted by many, however, is that Huawei’s actions are part of the military competition between Beijing and Washington, a cycle of technology offsets and counter offsets to offsets.

They add:

Huawei’s global dominance in 5G infrastructure is no mistake, rather it is an attempt by China to project power over significant swathes of the global information sphere. China is pursuing an information age “manifest destiny,” bridling the global conversation under its influence. Efforts to convince allies to avoid Huawei equipment have been met with resistance, and the latest in a series of setbacks came with the UK’s recent decision to use the company’s equipment with added security mitigations. This may seem like a reasonable compromise but, in reality, mitigation is impossible against risks posed by an adversary supplying critical network equipment, and there is little doubt that Huawei is beholden to the Chinese government in this regard. So, while countries have argued over the details of these ultimately useless mitigations, China has achieved a strategic coup.