The “global commons” belongs to the world. Should America control it?

Summary: Our DoD has rolled out another master plan. We’re oblivious to how aggressive these strategies look to our rivals; perhaps we’re oblivious even to the idea that our rivals have rights . That’s appropriate to a global hegemon, a role we no longer have the power to fill. The growth of rivals makes that less feasible with each new year. Our unwillingness to accept a multi-polar world makes a fearful transition to more likely.  (2nd of 2 posts today.)

Hegemon Robot
We no longer scare our foes.


  1. We’re number one and tolerate no rivals
  2. What is the “global commons”?
  3. Conclusions
  4. For More Information

(1)  We’re number one and tolerate no rivals

Most Americans have no idea how belligerent our government sounds, especially our military strategy. Read this 9 November 2011 Background Briefing on Air-Sea Battle as would someone in China or Iran (its edited for intelligibility). If DoD’s flacks had written Case Yellow — the Wehrmacht’s plan for the invasion of France it would have sounded something like this (“the Maginot Line is a French anti-access challenge, which we must respond to!”). Goebbels could have learned much from them.

We’re going to talk to you today about the air-sea battle — the anti-access/area-denial challenge. State, regional, and non-state actors have been developing, proliferating, and acquiring modern military technologies that enable anti-access area denial. Things like precision fires, electronic warfare and cyberwarfare, air and missile defense systems. Plus submarines, surface combatants and aircraft all of increasing capability. Combined together they could keep you out of an area or make it very difficult for you to maneuver within an area.

Our {goal} was that U.S. military forces will maintain freedom of action in the global commons. … That demands that U.S. forces be able to turn quickly from a defensive posture to one of offensive posture — to stay in place and operate within an area of the global commons. We must be able to fight in those contested environments across all domains in order to prevail.  We cannot cede a single domain in order to prevail in an environment such as that.  We’re talking about five domains: air, maritime, land domain, space and cyberspace.

This became doctrine in 2010, recently rebranded by DoD as the Joint Concept for Access and Maneuver in the Global Commons (JAM-GC; see an early version here).  What does it mean? You cannot understand DoD speeches and documents without proficiency in NewSpeak, but the man who coined this concept spoke in clearer language…


How we see the world
How we see the world.

(2)  What is the “global commons”?

From “Command of the Commons: The Military Foundation of U.S. Hegemony“, Barry R. Posen (Professor Political Science, MIT) , International Security, Summer 2003:

The U.S. military currently possesses command of the global commons. Command of the commons is analogous to command of the sea, or in Paul Kennedy’s words, it is analogous to “naval mastery.” The “commons,” in the case of the sea and space, are areas that belong to no one state and that provide access to much of the globe. Airspace does technically belong to the countries below it, but there are few countries that can deny their airspace above 15,000 feet to U.S. warplanes.

… Command means that the United States gets vastly more military use out of the sea, space, and air than do others; that it can credibly threaten to deny their use to others; and that others would lose a military contest for the commons if they attempted to deny them to the United States. Having lost such a contest, they could not mount another effort for a very long time, and the United States would preserve, restore, and consolidate its hold after such a fight.

Command of the commons is the key military enabler of the U.S. global power position.

The global commons (like its cousin, the global battlefield) is an assertion of American hegemony. That’s a problem. Successful strategy requires some understanding of how the world looks like to other players, and empathy for their concerns. A sociopath lacks these qualities, which sometimes lands them in prison (or, due to our defective social systems, to success in Washington or on Wall Street). How do other nations see our quest for dominance in space, the air 15,000′ above their lands, and on the seas off their shores? We need not guess; recent history tells the answer.

There was hysteria in American at China’s first small step to building  blue-water navy — its acquisition of the 30-year old aircraft carrier Liaoning, half the size of US carriers, a bathtub toy compared to the Gerald Ford class of carriers we’re building (one completed, one under construction, more coming).

How would we react if other nations staged cyberattacks on the US, as we have done on others? Attacks like the Stuxnet attack on Iran, or the NSA placing malware on North Korea’s computers. The hysteria that followed the cyberattacks on Sony shows that we believe other nations cannot retaliate — even to our attacks.

How we see the world
How we see the world

(3)  Conclusions

Secure in our belief of our pure motives and exceptional power, since 2000 America has played bumper cars on the world stage. It’s one of the many policy changes made by George W. Bush, breaking with our post-WWII policy of global alliances and collective action.  It’s delusional, adopting imperial overstretch as policy and deliberately antagonizing rising powers with whom we have to share the world (e.g., China as a global power, Iran as a regional power).

Playing geopolitical bumper cars give leaders the satisfaction of brave bold actions. A century ago Europe suffered the result. It might not end that drastically for us. But it will probably end badly.

Some people watch this with pleasure. Iran (the Sasanian or Neo-Persian Empire) and Byzantium (the Eastern Roman Empire) ruled the Middle East for centuries, but exhausted themselves fighting each other from 602-628. In 632 came the first Arab raids on Persia. The Rashidun, the first Caliphate, rose on the ashes of these Empires.

Some in the Islamic State believe this might happen again, and that they would pick up the pieces after a conflict between the USA and China. I cannot imagine that happening. But then such a thing seemed insane during the early 7th century, yet it did occur.

Grand Strategy

(4)  For More Information

About our hegemonic grand strategy:

  1. Is America a destabilizing force in the world?, 23 January 2009.
  2. Where is the outer boundary of our military operations?, 21 January 2010 — Coast guard to the world!
  3. No matter how skilled the author, US geopolitical analysis so often looks like something from Oz, 18 June 2010.
  4. Is America fighting the tide of history? Are we like the Czars in the 19th century?, 29 July 2010.
  5. The Obama Doctrine:  we will attack and destroy all non-nuclear rivals, 13 March 2012.
  6. Why does the US government seek a hotter conflict with China?, 15 October 2012.
  7. Look at America’s grand strategy. Why do we believe this nonsense?, 5 March 2013.
  8. Danger, America! Wet your pants in fear of China!,4 June 2013.

Some notes about China:

  1. China becomes a super-power (geopolitical analysis need not be war-mongering), 9 July 2008.
  2. How China builds its commercial empire, 12 July 2010.
  3. Will China become a superpower?, 9 September 2011.
  4. What China Wants Us to Understand about China’s Rise, 12 March 2012.

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