International politics are currently characterized by tensions and disagree...
2021-04-07 2 ENGLISH REPORTS
In late 2018, amid American concerns about whether Canada would welcome Huawei into its telecommunications networks, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a series of statements that captured conventional wisdom across much of the world. “It shouldn’t be a political decision,” he declared at the time, and Canada would not “let politics slip into decisions” about Huawei’s role in its network.1 The notion that power politics could be removed from questions over telecommunications was not only optimistic, it was also out of step with the history of telecommunications. This report explores that history, and it shows how power and telecommunications have almost always been closely linked. When states ignored those linkages and were cavalier with the security of their own networks, the results were disadvantageous and at times even disastrous.
This report examines several major cases of great power competition in telecommunications dating back to the earliest inception of electrical telecommunications in the 1840s. These cases demonstrate that many of the questions policymakers confront today have close analogues to the past. While the present debate over network security and 5G infrastructure may feel new, it in fact echoes forgotten disputes dating back to the dawn of electrical telecommunications some 150 years ago. Moreover, many of the familiar elements of telecommunications competition today — such as the use of standardsetting bodies, state subsidies, cable taps, information warfare, developing country markets, and encryption to gain advantage — were developed more than a century ago, with important lessons for present debates.
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