Assured Access to the Global Commons
Maritime | Air | Space | Cyber
Termed the “connective tissue” of our vibrant global economy, the four domains of the Global Commons - maritime, air, outer space, and cyber space - constitute a universal public good that serves as a crucial enabler of international security and trade. The architecture of the modern international system rests on a foundation of assured access to and stability in the Commons. Alfred Thayer Mahan described the world's oceans as "a great highway... a wide common" in his classic 1890 work, "The Influence of Sea Power Upon History." He further observed that the fundamental purpose of a strong navy was not simply to attack enemies, but to protect maritime trade.
The domains of the high seas, international airspace, outer space, and cyber space are interlinked and critical to the prosperity and security of the Alliance nations. Access to these domains is both a military and economic necessity. In this inter-woven environment, the loss of access to any domain would affect the ability of the Alliance to fulfil its essential core tasks of collective defence, crisis management, and cooperative security.
Access to and transit of the four domains may be threatened or disrupted by nations and non-state actors, who seek to break the supply chain of critical resources and thus damage the global economy. While globalization and the use of the Commons have increased dramatically, the cost of disruption has declined precipitously as disruptive dual-use technology has become more readily available, affordable, and easy to use. To prevail in this complex security environment, the Alliance will require comprehensive maritime, air, space, and cyberspace strategies, policies, and capabilities to defend and respond to emerging threats.
The final report, Assured Access to the Global Commons, is intended to inform and stimulate debate within NATO and the nations. Moreover, the implications and conclusions provide a necessary starting point for follow-on work and study. In the wake of the new Strategic Concept and the Political Guidance, this report provides a prudent approach to thinking about the future. Doing so will help nations to better understand their potential roles and responsibilities in assuring access to and use of the four domains – actions that we believe are critical to the future security and prosperity of the Alliance.
To identify vulnerabilities and challenges affecting assured access to the global commons for NATO and to make recommendations for NATO’s way ahead.
The Global Commons Engagement Plan envisioned a series of six workshops, which were held at various locations in Europe and the United States, as well as one in Singapore. Each of these workshops centred on a theme: the four domains, Alliance feedback, and the perspective from Asia. A seventh workshop brought together representatives from the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) to elicit their ideas and concerns regarding the Global Commons.