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Scott Jasper (ed.) Conflict and Cooperation in the Global Commons: A Comprehensive Approach for International Security (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2012), pp. 280.

Reviewed by: Manas Dutta (Department of History, Kazi Nazrul University, India)

In recent times, the global community is witnessing that several countries, both friendly and unfriendly to the United States (U.S.), have tried to gain economic power and military capabilities. This stimulates concerns about whether there can be peace and harmony in the near and distant future. China, for example, continues to increase its economic power by rapidly acquiring scarce assets around the world. Natural resources such as agricultural land, water, oil, and precious metals, such as gold and silver, have been acquired by China. Besides, North Korea continues to acquire greater military capability and challenges the U.S. by defying it and by violating basic human rights. North Korean leadership continues to refuse to sign agreements that will limit the production of nuclear weapons. On the other hand, in the Middle East, Iran’s leaders seek to establish better relations with the U.S. Still, one wonders whether North Korea is going to use their nuclear assets and capabilities only for peaceful purposes. Amidst such uncertainties, which cause discomfort and unease, it is hard to establish global peace and security. Conflict and Cooperation in the Global Commons tries to addresses our concerns and indicates areas where freedom of action is threatened mainly in the air, at sea, in outer space, and in cyberspace.

The book explains the conditions of the global commons in the international scenario, which is more congested, contested, and competitive. Scott Jasper, the editor of this volume, is a retired navy captain, who served in the U.S. Navy. He describes the four global commons, namely maritime, air, space, and cyberspace, which, according to him, “no one state can control but on which all states must rely.” (p. 1)The text tries to emphasize the collaborative efforts in each sphere, yet more emphasis is placed on cyberspace and maritime domains.

US support for the global war on terrorism. photo credit: Wikimedia Commons: United States Navy.

The foreword of this monograph addresses three complex and challenging security areas that influence the commons: violent extremist organizations, regional antagonists, and a rising China (p. ix). Conflict and Cooperation in the Global Commons includes thirteen  essays which are categorized into five sections under the subheadings of security dynamics, conflict methods, cooperative opportunities, interface mechanism, and behavioural norms. At the outset of the book, the authors mention that the U.S. has a long-standing interest in protecting access to the global commons. The U.S. military has protected the global commons as this, not only provided security and prosperity for the nation, but also protected international airspace and the high seas to guarantee a global free flow of ideas, commerce, and travel. Though, the U.S. involvement in the protection of the global commons has been a matter of debate for quite some time among the security strategists and policy makers of the globe.

The monograph tries to identify and explore the trends, contexts, and implications of persistent conflict and shared cooperation that occur within the four domains of the global commons. In this respect, the global commons according to the authors, “can serve as an organizing principle…for developing strategy, policy, and capabilities” (p. 12). The first section of the book explains various aspects of security dynamics and introduces the reader to the notion of competing interests and motivations. These competing interests and motivations in turn threaten the security and prosperity in the global commons. Thus, this section provides a ground through which one can build a basic understanding regarding the collective action, where groups cooperate to ensure the security of the global commons. This section also explains various causes and types of conflict in the global commons and elaborates on concepts of deterrence.

China Victory Day parade 2015. photo credit: Wikimedia Commons: Voice of America.

The next three essays namely, ‘Problems in Collective Action’, ‘The Character of Conflict’, and ‘Strategies of Deterrence’ deal with conflicts, which according to the authors, could originate within the global commons. It is evident that these three essays are wide-ranging, however they primarily discuss the impact of Chinese military modernization within the maritime, aerospace, and cyberspace domains of the commons. This section also explores how China’s ballistic missile improvements could potentially undermine the U.S.-Russian Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. This example demonstrates that any changes within the global commons can affect all of the global players.

The next two sections, cooperative opportunities and interface mechanisms, provide a notion of alternative solutions to conflicts that occur in the global commons. Two of the essays from these sections address maritime security, two others address cyberspace concerns, and one of the essays discusses the U.S. joint operational access. Theses sections explain the collaborative methods undertaken jointly by the government, commercial, and military stakeholders in defence of the commons and provide insights on the various types of forums, practices, and incentives used in implementing a comprehensive approach for the commons.

Paul Giarra’s “Assuring Joint Operational Access” is one of the excellent articles published in this book. The article summarizes intellectual changes required by the U.S. strategists to deal with complex challenges. Giarra examines operational access needs embedded in traditional American war models of “getting forward, staying forward,” and operating along secured lines of communication (p. 150). Adversary modernization, highlighted in earlier essays, could prevent the U.S. from enjoying these advantages as fully as in the past. Giarra suggests that we need to elevate operational access planning to a new strategic context by recognizing our past assumptions, “enroute and forward-deployed infrastructure” demands, and how our competitors exploit the commons (p. 150). As Giarra suggested, we cannot move forward if the U.S. falls back to its old strategic mind-sets.

Discussion on Cyber Security Held at UN in Geneva. photo credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré.

The last section of Conflict and Cooperation in the Global Commons argues that new mind-sets and global understanding of the actors and of the threats must be shaped by new behavioural norms. The two essays namely, ‘Setting Norms for Activities in Space’ and ‘Establishing Rules for Cyber Security’ focus on space and cyberspace domains. They explain the notion of behavioural norms used to maintain peace and stability in the international environment. The ‘Setting Norms for Activities in Space’ article highlights the responsibilities of state and non-state actor to provide debris mitigation, prevent harmful interference, and manage space traffic. An essay on “Establishing Rules for Cyber Security”, written by Eneken Tikk, is the second exceptional article in this volume. State and non-state actors should be more responsible and should avoid vulnerable ambivalence in the cyber security area. The readers can identify with several international issues that connect people around the global commons. One can argue that all ideas presented in the book are interesting, while some could be seen as contradictory during implementation.

Scott Jasper sheds a light on a crucial area of international relations – the global commons – that most of us have not looked at closely enough, but need to. Overall, Conflict and Cooperation in the Global Commons provides excellent ideas that can be used to promote cooperation in a comprehensive manner against the ongoing security threats, military domination, civilian antagonism, commercial agendas, and conflicts. All of these factors play active role in creating a global crisis in the global commons. This book will definitely fill our knowledge gaps about shared international domains that are absolutely essential to our security and prosperity. The book specifically highlights the importance of cooperation as a prerequisite required to overcome national power in the political, diplomatic, economic, and military realms. Finally, the book tries to highlight issues that can enhance cooperation by avoiding conflict among the nations.