The U.S. alliance system currently lacks clear and future-oriented goals. As a result, the alliance system is struggling to justify its existence and form a coherent and unified strategy to shape the international order. Alliance disunity and strategic regression are glaring examples of a loss of U.S. international leadership.
To strengthen U.S. global leadership and competitiveness, the United States should take an alliance-based approach to frontier domains like outer space, the Arctic, and the deep seabed. The primary goals of engagement would be to ensure U.S. cognizance and awareness of developments in contested areas, prevent dominance of these domains by any one nation, and promote sustained U.S. norms and global engagement. Leadership and competitiveness require a future-oriented and values-driven strategy that is practical and achievable.
Frontier domains are contested environments and are expected to increase in competition due to growing economic, security, political, technological, and environmental importance. Frontier domain engagement and development also are often expensive—some technologies necessary for exploration and operation are cost or resource prohibitive for certain countries. Considering these realities, frontier domains provide both long-term opportunities for the United States to reassert its global leadership and competitiveness, as well as multiple avenues for the United States to strengthen and advance its alliance system in the following ways:
- The international community relies on systems and capabilities linked to frontier domains; this reliance is likely to increase due to a proliferation of planned government and commercial projects, with the United States and its allies projected to continue leading on this front.
- Given that frontier domains lack established and easily enforceable rules and norms for engagement, the United States has an opportunity to actively influence global rules and norms in these areas aligned with its values and ambitions—a key measure of global leadership and competitiveness.
Case Study: Envisioning a Unified Alliance-Based Approach to Space
Space—and more specifically cislunar space—represents a large and expansive frontier with numerous challenges that have considerable global impact on political, economic, security, and military considerations. Space is integral to the international system, whether the domain is being exploited for scientific advancement, commercial gain, defense planning and disaster management, or everyday use via mobile apps. Space power is effectively a force multiplier in the military sense and in all other sectors that are dependent on rapid communication and the transfer of information. Space is likely to continue to grow in importance as emerging technologies, such as 5G and the internet of things, are expected to rely on space-based systems.
The United States should focus on establishing a national vision for space. The vision should propose responsible and sustainable engagement and development of outer space, staying consistent with prior U.S. National Space Policy documents. Additionally, an alliance-based approach to space should lay the foundation to ensure space stability, shape the strategic environment, and cooperate with allies and partners—an objective and priorities noted in the June 2020 Defense Department Defense Space Strategy Summary. With the aforementioned in mind, the U.S. government should:
- Clarify a national vision and strategy for space activities rooted in U.S. values. Referencing NASA’s May 2020 Artemis Accords and international space law, key values could include: the peaceful use of space; recognition of space as a strategic asset to humanity; maintaining space as secure, stable, and accessible; sustainable and responsible development and engagement in space; and the use of space to inspire and improve the lives of humanity.
- Create a multilateral body that coordinates public, private, and academic stakeholders and experts from allied nations to better develop a unified vision and strategy for engagement in space. Initial key space allies would likely include Canada, Japan, the UK, the European Space Agency, and Australia. This multilateral body could be structurally similar to a combination of the Arctic Council (only including spacefaring allies) and the Combined Space Operation Center. This new body would train and promote close coordination and collaboration between allies on space policy, strategy, activities, and operations, particularly in terms of security cooperation (U.S. Space Force, Japan’s Space Operations Squadron, Canada’s Armed Forces Space Cadre, etc.).
- Work with allies to develop a comprehensive approach to tackle pressing domain-specific issues. Some initial pressing challenges include developing guidelines to keep low Earth orbit as a renewable resource via active debris removal—an issue which the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee mitigation guidelines lays a framework to work from. Guidelines for delineating how resource ownership will work in space and on foreign celestial bodies (the moon, Mars, etc.) should also be discussed. Easy areas of cooperation include crisis and disaster management efforts, and information sharing and collective development of space situational awareness capabilities.
- Aim to balance the development of existing partner and non-ally space relationships with the development of new domain-specific relationships across key space agencies and defense forces. The United States should continue its cooperation with Russian space agency Roscosmos, despite concerns regarding greater global competition between the two nations. U.S.-allied space cooperation should focus on establishing rules and norms for domain engagement in order to allow for the development of space capabilities to continue to be competitive, while limiting the potential for heightened tensions with domain competitors. Additionally, the United States and allies should continue to work with developing spacefaring nations—particularly those who share U.S.-allied space values and goals.
Frontier domains present important opportunities for the United States and its allies in exploration, commercial engagement, and security consideration for the international community. It is crucial for the United States to define a clear and future-oriented vision with allies and partners to defend against potential conflict resulting from miscommunication or unchecked aggression. This will help ensure U.S. values are a core component of generations of exploration and engagement in progressively crucial domains.
About the Author
Khyle Eastin is a D.C.-based geopolitical analyst focused on China and foreign affairs in Asia. He is the co-founder of the National Association for Black Engagement with Asia. His professional and academic interest areas include China’s national security and foreign policy developments, including its activities in outer space and the Arctic, and interests in the Middle East region. He holds an MA in Asian studies from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, and a BA in international relations from Pomona College. Twitter: @khyledank
The author would like to thank the following people for their support, edits and guidance throughout the drafting of this piece: Kevin Ball, Sarah Mineiro, Grace Kim, and Eunjee Koh. Special thanks to Sarah Mineiro for her industry and topic-specific expertise in reviewing the piece, and thanks to Kevin Ball and Grace Kim for their general foreign policy and national security-related comments and discussion to better the article’s analytical take and presentation. Additionally, thank you to the Center for a New American Security for providing a platform for young professionals in the national security and foreign policy field to voice their ideas.
About The Pitch
In 2020, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) launched a premier event to elevate emerging and diverse voices in national security. Selected applicants made their pitch for innovative policy ideas to renew American competitiveness in front of a distinguished panel of judges and live virtual audience at the CNAS National Security Conference on June 24, 2020. Winners included Grace Kim (Best in Show and Military and Defense Heat Winner), Tina Huang (People's Choice Award), Luke Chen (National Security Institutions Heat Winner), Khyle Eastin (Alliances and Multilateralism Heat Winner), and Alan McQuinn (Economics and Technology Heat Winner).
More from CNAS
CommentaryThe Pentagon must act now to address vulnerability in its enterprise
The Defense Department cannot wait for another stress test before addressing fragility in its enterprise; it must learn and adapt now....
By Tara Murphy Dougherty & Billy Fabian
CommentaryStorm Clouds Ahead: Musings About the 2022 Defense Budget
One hopes Washington won’t lose another year as its competitors continue to chip away at America’s conventional overmatch....
By Robert O. Work
CommentaryAll About Eve: What Virtual Forever Wars Can Teach us About the Future of Combat
The defense world could learn a lot from the gaming world. In some cases, it already has....
By Tom Shugart
CommentaryWant an Agile Pentagon? Don’t Go Chasing ‘Waterfalls’
Clinging to familiar, outdated processes will provide little comfort when China surpasses the United States as the world’s foremost military power....
By Chris Dougherty