Whatever the intention, the U.K. has a lot to lose if the U.S. can no longer trust that its most sensitive intelligence and military programs can be protected from China’s prying digital eyes. For example, the U.K. hosts the NSA’s largest overseas base at Menweth Hill, which was essential in combing through electronic data used by the U.S. military and CIA to target the locations of foreign terrorists. According to a 2016 story in the Intercept, that base contains powerful antennae that can intercept signals between foreign satellites. It can also use U.S. satellites hovering above foreign countries to monitor wireless traffic below.
The Huawei decision has already disrupted some plans for basing U.S. equipment in the U.K. The U.S. is scheduled to send sensitive RC-135 surveillance planes to Royal Airforce Base Fairford by 2024. One Senate staffer told me these shipments may be on hold for now.
It’s not just in the U.S.’s interest to have this equipment in place — it’s also beneficial for the U.K. Especially with its departure from the European Union, the U.K. needs to maintain a high level of intelligence sharing with the U.S. for its own self-defense, given the long decline of its defense budget. And downgrading the U.S.-U.K. relationship now, in the face of a rising China, would signal a divided front against a potent adversary.