Article by Kate Lamar, Photo by Javier Chagoya
Posted April 20, 2010
The Global Commons are those areas that are used by multiple nations and private industries, and yet are not controlled by any single nation or private entity. They include international waters, international airspace, cyberspace and outer space. Since so many different actors operate within these shared spaces, including the U.S. military and its allies, regulation and protection of these areas becomes extremely complex.
The recent attacks by Somali pirates on private shipping and military vessels from multiple nations highlights the vulnerabilities of the Global Commons and the complexity of protecting them. Since the pirates are non-state actors, normal state-to-state diplomatic solutions are not a viable option. Also, since the pirates are operating within international waters, there is no clearly defined police force or military body with jurisdiction over the pirates. The U.S., Germany, China, India and the Netherlands are just of few of the countries that have deployed naval vessels to the region in attempt to thwart the pirates.
The day-to-day operations that support defense agencies and even national economies are increasingly dependent on the Global Commons. This dependence is causing international security sector and defense leaders to examine the vulnerabilities inherent in the commons.
Retired Navy Capt. Scott Jasper, a faculty member at the Center for Civil-Military Relations and the National Security Affairs department, recently edited a book that examines these vulnerabilities and their implications, titled Securing Freedom in the Global Commons. The book, released March 15 by Stanford University Press, is Jasper’s second.
The book is a compilation of articles by academics and practitioners focusing on the challenges to the freedom of the commons. Some of these challenges include pirates and smugglers on the open seas, hacker and malware attacks in cyberspace, jamming and destruction of satellites in orbit and proliferation of advanced air defense systems. As the editor, Jasper ensured the book presented a coherent examination of the threats and vulnerabilities of all aspects of the Global Commons, from the defense professional’s perspective.
“What’s exciting about this book is that it’s tackling such a relevant topic. Multiple defense leaders and a recent Quadrennial Defense Review report have been emphasizing the importance of the Global Commons,” Jasper said. “This book is the first in-depth examination of the issues related to securing the commons.”
“The authors all represent academic institutions and operational commands working within the commons,” Jasper said. “They are the leaders who will define the military operational implications related to securing these areas. I am very grateful for their contributions, and the assistance of Scott Moreland, Paul Giarra and Libby Skinner, who work routinely for our Center.”
One of the authors was also a Naval Postgraduate School faculty member. Jeff Kline, from the Operations Research department, contributed a chapter on maritime security.
“The maritime common is the oldest international common,” said Kline. “The universal good derived from the concept of “freedom of the seas” cannot be overstated. The seas are a highway for almost all international trade, the source of food for much of the world’s population, and contain abundant energy and mineral resources. Their security relies on international cooperation and depends on the capabilities accessed through other commons such as space, air and cyber.”
Kline believes modern discussions about the commons should look back at the maritime community’s long history of dealing with some of the same issues, which include natural phenomenon disrupting shipping, sovereign states blocking passage of sea lanes during conflict, and pirates and smugglers endangering legal trade vessels.
“The international community has been evolving the knowledge, platform and legal requirements to provide security in the maritime common,” said Kline. “This history, then, may provide a template for those interested in establishing security in the newer commons like cyber, air and space.”
Jasper also believes there are universal themes and security issues within the Global Commons. These themes and vulnerabilities are woven throughout his book and provide a structure for future discussions by military and political leaders.
“I hope this book will influence the thinking for the strategic documents related to the Global Commons for the U.S. and its partners,” said Jasper. “It provides a framework to consider how the commons are integrated, how they are vulnerable to intrusion, and how they should be protected to ensure our ability to operate in them.”
“We framed what I believe is the primary concern of the world today, security for the global commons for all peoples to have safe and equal access,” said Kline, who enjoyed partnering with Jasper and the other contributors to complete the book. “This book lays the foundation for those discussions that will affect national and global public policy.”