May 23, 2012

Engaging Rising Powers in the Maritime, Space, and Cyber Domains

The following is an excerpt from a GMF policy brief 'What Next for NATO' which was released on May 23, 2012.

Nowhere is NATO more susceptible to caricature as a relic of the 20th century than in its outreach to non-NATO partners in securing the global commons. As the world’s most potent military alliance — despite recent budget cuts, its member states still account for some two-thirds of global military spending — NATO’s willingness to collaborate with rising powers on three particular security challenges of truly global import — space, cyber, and maritime security — has not always been readily apparent.

Defending the commons — a concept very much in line with the values of the Atlantic Charter — is, at its essence, as much an exercise in defense diplomacy as it is about defense preparedness. Coordination and dialogue with the likes of China, India, Brazil, South Africa, or Mexico in the space, cyber, and maritime domains ought to be considered integral. Although NATO has engaged the former Soviet Union, several Middle Eastern and North African countries, and traditional U.S. allies Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand through various partnerships and forums, the absence of systematic engagement with these key emerging powers on globally relevant security challenges is telling.

The cyber component has probably received the greatest attention following the 2007 attacks on Estonia and the establishment in Tallinn of a cyber defense center, although international participation has been found wanting. NATO leaders did, however, make explicit commitments to cyber security cooperation at both the Lisbon and Chicago summits, which included engagements with “relevant partner nations on a case-by-case basis.” The maritime domain also represents one potential success story, with NATO actively participating in anti-piracy operations in the western Indian Ocean. Its decision to extend its operation Ocean Shield off the Horn of Africa until 2014 is certainly a welcome step. But NATO is also operating in an increasingly crowded space featuring United States, European Union, China, India, and Russia. Coordination has occurred out of necessity — which has been useful in slowly and organically advancing habits of cooperation — but efforts against piracy remain piecemeal rather than truly collaborative.

Space, being the least regulated of the three collective security challenges, ought to be the realm with the greatest potential for NATO leadership. Unlike the high seas and cyberspace, space is at present only accessible to a handful of primary and second-tier space powers, many of whom are also NATO members (including the United States, France, Canada, and most members of the European Space Agency). But efforts at monitoring space are led by Russia and U.S. Strategic Command, while codifying the use of space has fallen to the European Union, whose efforts have not been well-received by Asia’s space-faring powers. The wide-range of military and civilian applications of space — which include (but are not limited to) maritime domain awareness, navigation systems, communication networks, and intelligence gathering — also lend themselves to a natural leadership role for NATO.

NATO’s leaders, along with those of its member states, have often expressed contradictory views over the past two decades on the alliance’s priorities. Should NATO be content ensuring the peace and stability of the EuroAtlantic region? Or should it define itself in terms of universal values and shared threats? The global commons lie at the overlap of both worldviews. In fact, these challenges illustrate exactly why threats to the security and well-being of Europe and North America cannot be viewed through a narrow regional lens. Identifying the defense of the global commons as a priority, and engaging key rising powers in attempting to secure them, may consequently be the only way for NATO to remain a credible player in international security in the 21 st century.