25 January 2010

Contested Commons: The Future of American Power in a Multipolar World

Abraham M. Denmark and James Mulvenon, eds., Contested Commons: The Future of American Power in a Multipolar World (Washington, DC: Center for a New American Security, 25 January 2010).

Contested Commons is an edited volume featuring five chapters and a capstone piece on the future of American power in the sea, air, space and cyberspace. Authors include CNAS Fellow Abraham M. Denmark, Dr. James Mulvenon, Frank Hoffman, CNAS Military Fellow Lt Col Kelly Martin (USAF), Oliver Fritz, Eric Sterner, Dr. Greg Rattray, Chris Evans, Jason Healey, and CNAS Senior Fellow Robert D. Kaplan.

The United States has been the primary guarantor of the global commons since the end of World War II. …The United States derives great benefit from open access to these global commons, but so too does the world at large. … For the past 60 years, and especially since the end of the Cold War, America’s nearly unchallenged military advantage in the global commons has guaranteed their openness and stability. Yet, this dominance is increasingly challenged. New powers are rising, with some adopting potentially hostile strategies and doctrine. Meanwhile, globalization and technological innovation are lowering the threshold for states and non-state actors to acquire asymmetric anti-access capabilities, such as advanced anti-ship cruise missiles, anti-satellite weapons, and cyber warfare capabilities. The decentralization of military power and expanded access to technologies once reserved for superpowers will necessarily contest America’s 60-year-old dominance over the global commons and its ability to maintain their openness.

While disturbing on their own, these trends are developing concurrently with America’s growing reliance on the commons. … As threats mount, it is in the interest of the international community to reaffirm its commitment to preserving the openness of the global commons. American military primacy will not dissuade rising powers from acquiring capabilities designed to contest U.S. power on the sea, in the air, in space and in cyberspace. Thus, while the United States should continue to develop military capabilities to ensure it can counter anti-access threats posed by state and non-state actors in the global commons, it must recognize that it cannot and should not protect the commons alone. … This report advocates a new strategy that is firmly grounded in the American traditions of maintaining openness, building institutions and empowering friends and allies. …