Security concerns about the role of Huawei in Western 5G telecom infrastructure are to be taken seriously, the head of NATO said Thursday, as Washington steps up pressure on Europe not to use the Chinese firm.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the 29-member alliance has begun internal consultations on Huawei, which the US says poses a “threat” to Europe.
The US and several other Western nations have shut Huawei out of tenders for the development of super-fast fifth-generation, or 5G, networks, because of the company’s close ties to the Chinese government.
“Some NATO allies have expressed their concerns over Huawei and their role in providing 5G infrastructure. NATO takes these concerns very seriously,” Stoltenberg told reporters.
“We are now consulting closely on this issue including on the security aspects on investments in 5G networks.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Tuesday that Berlin would consult Washington over using Huawei technology after reports of US threats to scale back intelligence cooperation.
The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that the US ambassador had warned Berlin that Washington could cut intelligence and other information exchanges if Huawei technology was built into Germany’s 5G telecoms infrastructure.
The Chinese telecoms behemoth has strenuously denied allegations its equipment could be used for espionage.
US General Curtis Scaparrotti, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, outlined concerns about Huawei to US lawmakers on Wednesday.
“We’re concerned about their telecommunications backbone being compromised in the sense that, particularly with 5G, the bandwidth capability and ability to pull data is incredible,” he told the House Armed Services Committee.
If Huawei technology is used in defence communications systems, the US military would no longer communicate with them, Scaparrotti said.
Next-generation 5G systems will bring near-instantaneous connectivity that can enable futuristic technologies such as self-driving cars.
Stoltenberg said creating 5G networks was a trade and economic issue but also had security implications.
“That’s the reason why we will continue to consult, continue to assess and look into whether NATO has a role to play in addressing the securty aspects related to this kind of infrastcture,” he said.
NATO has been stepping up its defences against cyber warfare in recent years as the domain takes on an increasingly vital role in modern conflict.