Security Challenges in the 21st Century Global Commons
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The sea provides passageway to 45,000 merchant ships worldwide and over 90 percent of global trade.' Each year, 2.2 billion passengers, 40 percent of international tourists, and 44 million tons of freight travel by air. The global economic impact of air transport in 2007 was estimated to be $3.5 trillion, or 7.5 percent of global GDP.2 Additionally, the economic worth of the commu- nications, imagery, and positioning data gained from satellites in space was $257 billion in 2008, and each day, financial traders in New York City transfer more than $4 trillion, or approximately 25 percent of annual U.S. GDP, via the Internet.' As the 2010 U.S. Department of Defense's QuadrennialDefense Review Report states, "Global security and prosperity are contingent on the free flow of goods shipped by air or sea, as well as information transmitted under the ocean or through space."' Access to the global commons enables these flows, in turn promoting both international stability and prosperity.
Indeed, global commerce, travel, and information have greatly contributed to the growing wealth of nations and to the stability of the post-Cold War international system. The world's seas, air, space, and-more recently- cyberspace also play critical roles in states' national defense and their ability to conduct military operations worldwide. The United States relies on free- dom to operate in the commons in order to protect the U.S. homeland and its vital national interests. Yet as the global commons grows, the number of emerging trends that threaten this freedom of action also increases.
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In 2003, Barry Posen wrote a seminal piece on the defense and security benefits of unchallenged freedom of operation in the commons entitled, "Command of the Commons: The Military Foundation of U.S. Hegemony."" Posen argues that dominance in these shared domains serves as the foundation of the leadership role that the United States holds in the international system. He states, "Command of the commons is the key enabler of the U.S. global power position. It allows the United States to exploit more fully other sources of power, including its own economic and military might as well as the economic and military might of its allies." Posen's work on this topic brought to the forefront the role that the global commons play as a key enabler of U.S. defense and national security strategies.
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Ensuring the security of the maritime commons against piracy is another motivating factor of such endeavors.26 China, for instance, has shown some signs of beneficent intentions by increasing its role in international counter-piracy missions. In 2008, the PLA Navy (PLAN) sent warships to join U.S. naval operators patrolling the Somali Coast. More recently, Beijing has expressed interest in leading some of the planning of such missions." Unfortunately, these positive steps are tempered by concerning Chinese actions with respect to the seas. Specifically, China's assertion of exclusionary rights in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ)-in opposition to UNCLOS treaty provisions and its territorial claims in the South China Sea-heighten suspicion of Chinese intentions in the region. If other states follow suit to prevent safe, unrestricted passage of sea vessels through their EEZ (200 miles from the coastline into a bordering body of water), the openness of the commons is directly challenged and could have devastating economic results.
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Similarly, Iran sees the necessity of negating key U.S. advantages in the global commons as critical to success in any military engagement with the United States. Consequently, Iran is working to modernize and augment its arsenal of A2/AD capabilities and refine its methods to debilitate U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf. Iran has a significant mine-laying capability, which presents a threat to larger commercial and military vessels navigating the narrow passageways of the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz. These anti-ship mines could effectively slow the ships to make them easy targets for attack by land- and sea-based weaponry. The Iranian navy also fields small surface combatants armed with ASCMs and small boats loaded with small arms ranging from man-portable surface-to-air missiles to heavy machine guns and rifles." These capabilities, particularly mines, can present a significant threat to a modern fleet in the shallow, narrow, semi-enclosed waters of the Persian Gulf. Indeed, Iranian leaders can rely upon relatively low-tech weaponry to combat more advanced U.S. forces, especially if they can maintain the element of surprise. However, the presence of anti-ship mines and small boats that may conduct suicide attacks are not only of concern to the United States. Over 90 percent of Persian Gulf oil passes through the Strait of Hormuz,32 making it a strategic chokepoint whose disruption would have severe consequences for the global economy. Even absent a crisis, this increasing militarization of a waterway that is so critical to global resource distribution is a concern for the international community and a threat to maritime security.
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Twenty-first century global challenges demand global solutions that harness innovation to develop countermeasures and collaboration-between private and public sectors, and among global state and non-state actors-to ensure these threats are adequately addressed. International efforts to modernize and strengthen governance regimes are an important additional step, as international legal frameworks and norms put pressure on states to act in ways that support the global good. By working toward these goals in concert with other nations, U.S. leaders can help ensure the continued openness of the global commons, the literal and virtual foundations upon which international security is pursued, achieved, and protected.