As part of the DoD's Quadrennial Defense Review for 2010, Michèle Flournoy and Shawn Brimley discuss emerging threats to a "global commons" comprising sea, air, space, and cyberspace. It's an interesting use of the word "commons," in that these domains remain "free" to the extent that America dominates them.
Apparently, this contradiction has not escaped people in other countries:
[R]ising powers will not likely be content to simply acquiesce to America's role as uncontested guarantor of the global commons. Countries such as China, India, and Russia will demand a role in maintaining the international system in ways commensurate with their actual or perceived power and national interests. Such demands are already occurring, from declarations of interest in space capabilities, to indications that the Indian and Arctic oceans will become new global centers of gravity.It sounds like what we're discussing is not maintaining these commons, but enclosing them. Though as we learned when we were trying to save Western Civilization from the Viet Cong, it sometimes becomes necessary to destroy a village in order to save it.
The consequences of a shift in the international system that opens [!!!] the global commons for other state and non-state actors to pursue their interests — and perhaps credibly threaten America's use of these domains — are likely to be profound....One worry is that The Evildoers will "look for ways to deter, deny, or frustrate our ability to swiftly employ and sustain combat forces across a variety of scenarios." The logical method is asymmetric warfare, which involves "using both simple and sophisticated technologies in innovative ways."
Of course, a strong global posture isn't necessarily a good defense against these tactics. A few years back, we bankrupted and demoralized ourselves by launching two pointless wars, which just goes to show how easily strength becomes weakness. The state's "need" to launch and sustain attacks is a structural flaw that asymmetrical warfare seeks to exploit, as I've illustrated more than once with this quote from Mr. Osama bin Laden:
All that we have to do is to send two Mujahedin to the farthest point East to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al-Qa'ida in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human economic and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note …One of the exciting new challenges, in coming years, will be to "[advance] our interests while legitimizing our power in the eyes of others." It's hard to believe no one thought of this before.
While legitimate global dominance has its diplomatic and philosophical aspects, it's sustained, as ever, by "power projection"...armed drones, for instance. Like heaven in the eyes of fundamentalist Christians, it's a generous gift from a loving father, and woe betide you if you dare to refuse it.
Being as the Obama administration has rejected the more déclassé aspects of BushCo's imperial arrogance, Flournoy and Brimley are careful to stress that "protecting and sustaining stability throughout the global commons cannot be achieved by America alone. We must lead in the creation of international norms and standards that can help advance the common good and expand the rule of law in these domains of growing importance."
Which sounds pretty good, as long as we don't simply come up with norms and standards that sanctify transnational logistics, and enforce them "surgically" with all sorts of long-range, remotely controlled weapons. Unfortunately, we may have no choice, given the likelihood that there'll be opposition to our domination of the global commons...even though we can be fairly sure that this opposition will grow louder and more compelling and more violent as a direct result of the actions we're taking to head it off.
Such is life, though. Maybe thermite-bearing termites will help.
Either way, there are difficult days ahead, and "the same factors that may engender the rise of new great powers may also accelerate the decline of other states that — by virtue of poor leadership, economics, and/or geography — are unable to adapt to a new era and meet the basic needs of their populations." Let's hope it can't happen here!
On the bright side, Flournoy and Brimley are concerned about the effects of climate change. So we are making progress, of a sort.