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Conflict and Cooperation in the Global Commons: A Comprehensive Approach for International Security

Conflict and Cooperation in the Global Commons: A Comprehensive Approach for International Security, edited by Scott Jasper. Georgetown University Press, 2012, 272 pp., $29.95.

Conflict and Cooperation presents potential international security strategies for global commons challenges as they grow more congested, contested, and competitive. Jasper addresses four global commons—maritime, air, space, and cyberspace—and defines them as, “those areas no one state can control but on which all states must rely.” He sees three complex and challenging security areas influencing the commons: violent extremist organizations, regional antagonists, and a rising China. This work includes 13 essays in five sections: security dynamics, conflict methods, cooperative opportunities, interface mechanism, and behavioral norms. Although the entire text strives to emphasize collaborative efforts in each sphere, the emphasis is weighted toward cyberspace and maritime domains.

The first section evaluates security dynamics and introduces the reader to public goods as nonexcludable and nonrival; hence, use cannot be denied, and individual use does not detract from others. All essays support these shared qualities. The shared environment describes the causation behind both the second article’s conflict and the deterrence model used in the third. No essay provides a revolutionary viewpoint, but all contribute to building basic understanding.  

The next three essays detail where conflicts could originate within the commons. All three are wide-ranging but primarily discuss Chinese military modernization impacts within the maritime, aerospace, and cyberspace commons. An interesting analytic point emerges on how China’s ballistic missile improvements could potentially undermine the US-Russian Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, demonstrating how any changes within the global commons can affect all players.

Jasper bundles the next two sections as cooperative opportunities and interface mechanisms to provide alternative conflict solutions. Two essays address maritime security, two address cyberspace concerns, and one discusses the US joint operational access future. The primary maritime or cyberspace commons solution is building partnerships and then sharing technological tools to increase awareness and security across the domain. The essay merges cyberspace and space despite the obvious differences. Their only similarities are that both are global commons and both use information. If anything, space requires cyber access much more than cyber requires space access.

One particular article stands out from this group; Paul Giarra’s “Assuring Joint Operational Access” summarizes the intellectual changes required by US strategists to deal with complex challenges. Giarra highlights operational access needs embedded in traditional US war models of getting forward, staying forward, and operating along secured lines of communication. Adversary modernization highlighted in earlier essays could prevent the United States from enjoying these advantages as fully as in the past. Giarra suggests elevating operational access planning to a new strategic context by recognizing our past assumptions, en-route and forward infrastructure demands, and how our competitors exploit the commons. Ultimately, he correctly states that moving forward cannot occur if the United States falls back to old strategic mind-sets.

New mind-sets must be shaped with new behavioral norms: Jasper’s last section. Unfortunately, these essays only address space and cyberspace. Adjusted behavioral norms reinforce those cultural standards the United States wants expressed in the global commons. The whole process matches a suburban “Keep off the Grass” sign. The space article highlights state and nonstate actors’ responsibilities to provide debris mitigation, prevent harmful interference, and manage space traffic within the domain.

“Establishing Rules for Cyber Security” by Eneken Tikk is the second exceptional article within the text. Tikk offers 10 standards as a code of conduct within cyberspace. The most interesting requires state and nonstate actors to assume responsibility for any cyberspace actions initiated from their environment. One other central element suggests all actors using cyberspace are responsible for ensuring they possess sufficient security. A patch is the commonly used term to fix a known cyber vulnerability. This patch mandate could close many cyberspace vulnerabilities, but the problem remains who will enforce the issue. Tikk hopes laying out ground rules will encourage all users of the commons to increase the collective standard.

My overall impression is the text never solidly falls behind any of the proposed solutions. Although all ideas are interesting, some could be contradictory during implementation. Most articles were under 20 pages and could use additional depth and discussion. Jasper defined five sections but splitting the work into two halves, conflict dynamics and collaborative techniques, would have been more efficient. Limiting the editorial selection to a narrower scope or a single area would improve the work, as the articles did not blend smoothly. The widely ranging subjects disguised any shared themes, and the editorial wrapper at either end failed to provide a clear path.

Overall, Conflict and Cooperation in the Global Commons provides many excellent thoughts, but Jasper may have overreached his goal in his desire to fit everything into a single work. The two articles singled out above are definitely highlights, but all were relatively well written and concise. As an Air Force officer dealing with many A2/AD issues, I would have liked more emphasis on potential strategic considerations. Future conflicts will turn on those strategic elements bridging the commons and they were rarely mentioned. The text whets the appetite for those challenging and complex issues waiting within the commons, but the main course never materialized.  

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"The views expressed in this book review are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."