Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Global "Commons" and Strategic Planning

Given the presence of the tragedy of the commons with which I'm sure everyone is familiar, the DOD has some work to do (in conjunction with a multitude of stakeholders domestically and abroad). The 2010 QDR defines the global commons as "domains or areas that no one state controls but on which all rely," with the main ones being water, space (especially outer space) and cyber space. Recent reports and opinions have illustrated some of the challenges involved in both (1) securing our access for our military for its resource needs as well as our own, and (2) sustaining the commons themselves so they'll be available for others and our children.

Water. says 4,000 children around the world die daily from water sanitation issues that are easily preventable. From water shortages in the Tibetan plateau to the aqueducts in Nevada failing to fully quench the thirst for LA and other populations on the west coast, it is clear that without improved technology, drinkable water shortages could precipitate conflict as rich and consumer-driven nations like the US consume vastly more water per capita than others.

As far as the seas, laws and regulations such as the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas exist, but as we saw this month, tragedies still occur due to lack of enforcement. In the future, "land" grabs over parts Antarctica might be problematic, which is a space considered by the US to be international waters but by other nations to be extensions of their sovereignty (think Chile, Argentina, Australia).

Space. China, in its perpetual unique interpretations of international treaties and norms, has been for years trying to leverage its power using space, part of which above its mainland it considers sovereign Chinese territory. With Iran vying to get into outer space as well, who knows what could happen well into the future.

As reported by the economist recently, the first accidental collision in space due to "space junk" occurred a year ago. And not just the big, defunct satellites are issues of concern:
A fleck of paint may not sound dangerous, but if travelling at 27,000kph (17,000mph), as it would be in orbit, it could easily penetrate an astronaut’s spacesuit.
Since the collapse of USSPACECOM into USSTRATCOM in the 1990s, DOD is clearly focused on threats here on Earth presently.

Since we had a presentation on this topic in class yesterday, we've heard the song and dance routine about various cyber threats and the challenges in deciding what and how to protect "cyber assets." With the newly-created USCYBERCOM still awaiting a director, CJCS Admiral Mike Mullen recently interviewed with Danger Room and said:
But there’s a blurring, if you will, in the speed of cyber between defense and offense. And so I think you’ll see that, as well.
That statement certainly wouldn't go over well in the high seas.

What's more, cyberspace is a fundamentally different domain than its counterparts in the global commons. As has been known for quite some time, cyberspace and the internet in particular isn't exactly an easily structured or organized system since it was created in a piecemeal fashion.

What do all these global commons challenges tell us in the context of strategic planning? The US and the DOD can't expect long-term sustainability and acquisition of resources in the global commons if it plans in a vacuum. Without planning with other nations and militaries, the DOD can expect inevitable conflict in the global commons down the road.

No comments: