Maneuver in the Commons
Image Credit: U.S. Navy

Maneuver in the Commons


The annual report to Congress by the Pentagon acknowledged that North Korea will move closer to striking the US homeland if it remains determined to pursue nuclear weapons technology and missile delivery programs. The assessment came weeks after war threats by Pyongyang about exercises by South Korea and the United States. The Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff recently expressed concern over the North Korean KN-08 intercontinental ballistic missile, which first appeared during a recent military parade, remarking, “we believe the KN-08 probably does have the range to reach the United States.”

Pyongyang’s strident approach, although generally targeted at rival nation states, poses alarming security challenges in the global commons.

The global commons are areas that no one state controls but on which all rely. The commons comprise four domains: maritime, air, space, cyber. These domains share the infrastructure that underpins a global system of commerce, communication and governance. Recent issues with transit and access points expose the risks of globalization. As a result, each of the domains has become vulnerable to intrusion, exploitation and attacks by competitors.

The global commons serve as conduits for the free flow of trade, finance, information, people and technology. Even though the responsible and sustainable use of the commons represents the best interests of mankind, certain state actors are conducting or sponsoring various asymmetric forms of maneuver to gain advantages over competitors. “Maneuver” means moving forces into a position of advantage. It can encompass attempts to either circumvent or undermine enemy strength while exploiting weakness, sometimes imposing asymmetric measures that differ from normal modes of operation to achieve disproportionate effects.

The North Korean quest to obtain a nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missile system to counter the perceived hostility of the United States is a classic asymmetric military approach. In the maritime domain, China seeks to achieve missile saturation by developing multi-dimensional platforms to employ anti-ship cruise missiles. Iran poses an asymmetric threat using swarm tactics.

The perpetrators of aggressive maneuver in the commons may use the inherent ambiguity of international law and weak enforcement to carry out veiled attacks with impunity.

For instance, Pyongyang denied sinking the Cheonan in March 2010, an incident that killed 48 crew members. But a team that recovered debris from the scene matched the evidence to a blueprint of the 7.35-meter torpedo, which appeared in a North Korean weapons export brochure.

In March 2013, Beijing insisted that accusations of Chinese government involvement in recent hacking attacks were part of an international smear campaign, despite a U.S. cyber security report of a persistent state-sponsored campaign. Nevertheless in May 2012 the head of U.S. Cyber Command stated in Congressional testimony that China was responsible for the intrusion into RSA SecurID systems the previous year.

And in May 2012, Seoul accused Pyongyang of jamming the signals from the Global Positioning System in an anonymous disruption of civilian as well as military air and sea traffic. Flights at Incheon and Gimpo airports as well as merchant vessels off the west coast of the Korean Peninsula were forced to use alternative navigation systems. The jamming appeared to emanate from the border city of Kaesong and was believed to be the third such occurrence.


[...]  Maneuver in the Commons – The Diplomat [...]

[...] Scott Jasper at the Diplomat writes Maneuver in the Commons [...]

June 11, 2013 at 16:09

"Indeed. American ships are slowly eating away the territories of countries in Latin America."

In the future when China has built more aircraft carriers, they will be deployed to gulf of Mexico and North America to protect global commons. U.S. has nothing to worry at all from these carriers as their mission is a peaceful one of safeguarding global commons.


"Washington DC might even have a many-dashed lined map tucked away somewhere"

lol, entire western hemisphere is the U.S. "backyard". What dash map are you talking about? Dash map means there are still areas that are off limits. Every square inch in latin america belongs to the U.S. lol.

John Kerry: "Latin America is our back yard"​



June 11, 2013 at 13:58

It works both ways. China and Russia must also guard their advantages in access by any means. However one looks at it, the ground-to-space missile (2007) was a pioneering act which sent shock waves throughout the established space practices. This technology holds tremendous potential. With increased sea based access and anti-access efforts, land based transport systems are getting popular. Russia and China hold the key to it. Armed rebel groups can be used to deter them.

An innovative area to look at is how sea based terrorism (not just piracy) will evolve in the 21st century. Already a few rebel groups have taken the sea route.

June 11, 2013 at 01:28

China is a paper dragon.  They have problems projecting power in the sea that laps their shores.  Agressive China is an invention of the MIC.  A last futile grab at a new round of trillions of taxpayer dollars.  Generation X is too smart to fall for that old con.

Go to the library and look at their globe.  Adjust it so you are looking directly down on China.  You are looking at a small, poor, backward nation surrounded by enemies.  One with a long history on being partitioned by various enemies.  Now spin the globe and look at the USA.  Combine the land with the oceans surrounding it that are American lakes and you are looking at 1/4 of the planet.  1/20 of the human population (+ Nancy Pelosi), 1/4 of the world's GDP, 9/10th of the world's military power, an unrivled lead in culture and a moral underpinning unmatched in human history.

An analogy for the MIC posing China as a threat would be the bank security guard requesting a raise and new weapons because the kid down the street got a pocket knife for his 5th birthday. 

June 11, 2013 at 00:22

Indeed. American ships are slowly eating away the territories of countries in Latin America. Washington DC might even have a many-dashed lined map tucked away somewhere, ready to be brought out once they can come up with excuses about 'inherent' territories that are 'inalienable' part of the United States. China should protect us from such blatant neo-imperialism.

[...] JASPER: Maneuver in the Commons [...]

June 10, 2013 at 18:44

"The Global Commons theory belongs in the same trash can as Manifest Destiny."

You don't think that China should pivot to latin america to protect global commons? I think China should go to europe, gulf of mexico, eastern pacific, north america, arctic and middle east to protect the global commons.


June 10, 2013 at 17:13

"The global commons – vital for trade and other flows – are under growing threat. Action is needed to protect them."

I think other powers should also start to pivot to latin america and gulf of mexico in order to protect the global commons.

Alex Millar
June 10, 2013 at 15:48

The article is somewhat disingenuous – no mention of (for example) US cyber attacks such as Stuxnet, the use by various states of UAVs for surveillance outside their own borders, the use of drone strikes/targeted assassinations etc etc., although all of these could easily have found a place in a genuinely objective discussion of the issues raised here.

June 10, 2013 at 15:35

Nonsense!  Generation X is not on board with your commons theory.  America is returning to Isolationism.  We will be better off for it.  2 generation tried policing the world.  It has made a few Americans rich and filled the rest of America with shame, sorrow and misery.  It has also left us broke.  If you want to fool around in international affairs, grab a rifle and have at it.  Expect no help and buy your own bullets.

The Global Commons theory belongs in the same trash can as Manifest Destiny.  The sooner the better.

June 10, 2013 at 14:11

"China is continuing to acquire sophisticated weapons systems from Russia in an effort to gain dominance in the commons."

China only has one aircraft carrier and has no overseas military bases, how to dominant the "commons". This is ludicrous talk. China's weapons systems are mainly defensive in nature like the DF anti ship missile, designed to ward off hostile threats and enemy encirlement. 

Leonard R.
June 10, 2013 at 13:20

The article is a good restatement of facts. But it does not answer one basic question. Is there any evidence Beijing respects or even recognizes the idea of the commons? 

I see no such evidence. Everything I see tells me Beijing rejects the idea, just as it rejects western notions of intellectual property rights. If I'm correct, that raises an obvious question. What will it take to insure freedom of the seas, skies and cyber realms?

There is a cemetery in Manila with twenty-eight Congressional Medal of Honor winners and seventeen-thousand other dead American soldiers, sailors and Marines buried with them.  

Maybe that is what it will take again. 

Share your thoughts

Your Name
Your Email
required, but not published
Your Comment

Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief