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How important is 'command of the commons' to U.S. defense strategy going forward?

Question submitted by Jason Thomas, April 9, 2013

Answered by: Colonel Julian Dale Alford, USMC, Military Fellow, U.S. Marine Corps


The diplomatic strength and economic power of the United States depend upon a functioning global order and a system of international trade based on uncontested access to the global commons—the world's shared land, sea , air, and space—for all. Command of the global commons is what makes the United States a super power.

There are only two means of moving commerce around the world: by sea or by air. The latter is far more expensive and much less efficient; therefore command of the seas is what really makes the United States a super power. The United States has over one hundred years of experience using the sea to its advantage when calculating defense strategy, and the U.S. Navy owns the ships and equipment needed to continue to do so. U.S. Naval forces can be projected forward without commitment, almost indefinitely, as instruments of peace, presence, deterrence, and force if need be.

The amphibious expeditionary forces of the Navy Marine Corps team in particular can engage across the spectrum of interest, activity, and conflict, ranging from building political trust and support, to humanitarian operations, to stability and support operations, to partnering with host nation forces, to kinetic strikes, to combat operations ashore.

With the world's largest economy, the United States is, and always has been, a maritime nation, with economic and security interests linked to the rest of the world by oceans. These operational capabilities are vital to the United States' strategic interests, making command of the global commons the centerpiece of U.S. defense strategy.