January 27, 2010

Contested Commons and Natural Security

The full CNAS team attended our awesome colleague Abe Denmark’s event yesterday at the Newseum that focused on his just-released edited volume, Contested Commons. The event featured Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead, USN; Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force General Carrol Chandler, USAF; renowned aerospace expert and former Chairman of the Defense Science Board Norman R. Augustine; and Dr. James Mulvenon from Defense Group, Inc. each presenting remarks and answering questions from Abe and the audience.

For any of our readers unfamiliar with just why the global commons are so important, here is a quick passage from the CNAS report:

Dependable access to the commons is the backbone of the international economy and political order, benefiting the global community in ways that few appreciate or realize. Over 90 percent of global trade, worth over 14 trillion dollars in 2008, travels by sea. Every year, 2.2 billion passengers and 35 percent of the world’s manufactured exports by value travel through the air. Governments, militaries, and corporations around the world rely on space for communications, imagery, and accurate positioning services, making space a 257 billion dollars industry in 2008 alone. Financial traders in New York City use the Internet to transfer 4 trillion dollars, greater than 25 percent of America’s annual GDP, every day. Moreover, any computer in the world with access to the Internet can access and transmit information to any place in the world within seconds, allowing unprecedented connectivity for global social networks, commercial enterprises and militaries. 

There are some pretty clear ways in which the air, seas and space can involve natural security questions. Yesterday’s speakers mentioned a few. We’ll post the exact quote when the transcripts come in, but to paraphrase, Admiral Roughead mentioned that he’s often concerned about resources such as minerals outside of state territories, but with the effects of climate change on the world’s oceans he’s increasingly concerned about fish stocks migrating and dwindling, leaving many without adequate protein sources. Colleague Will Rogers noted that Norm Augustine also suggested that Antarctica should be the fifth global common, which would have interesting natural security implications. I also overheard a reporter asking Abe about climate change a bit more in-depth after the event.

Cyber concerns were most obviously the most central and timely for yesterday’s purposes. But if I had to name my top two concerns, which weren’t really touched on during the event, they would be geoengineering and the Law of the Sea treaty. In Frank Hoffman’s paper in the Contested Commons compendium, he recommends ratifying the treaty, noting that “Doing so will benefit immediate U.S. national security interests and lay the groundwork to build up cooperative efforts to minimize conflict over the long term. Additionally, the treaty facilitates economic and environmental objectives.”

Geoengineering – intentionally manipulating the earth or atmosphere to produce effects that could slow climate change – presents significant policy questions with regard to the global commons as well. Indeed, some countries claim that developed country contributions to climate change are a form of geoengineering and disregard preservation of the commons. The report doesn’t mention it explicitly, but I’ll be thinking about this topic while I read through the report over the next week.