- NBR - The National Bureau of Asian Research

Asia’s Security and the Contested Global Commons

Abraham M. Denmark


This chapter examines the importance of the global commons to the Asia-Pacific region and U.S. interests, and analyzes the implications of the emergence of new Asian powers in the global commons.

Main Argument:

Asia’s rise and America’s geopolitical preeminence have been dependent on the physical openness of the global commons—the seas, air, space, and cyberspace—which has been sustained by U.S. military dominance since the end of World War II. Yet the emergence of new Asian military powers is creating pivotal states—states with a significant degree of influence over the security of the commons. The emergence of these pivotal states is simultaneously driving both cooperation and competition throughout the Asia-Pacific region. Shared interest in the openness and stability of the global commons will compel like-minded states to cooperate in security operations and diplomatic initiatives. Yet uncertainty about China’s rise, combined with distrust over the region’s many simmering territorial disputes, will also drive the region’s new powers to compete militarily with one another.

Policy Implications:

  • Given the rise of pivotal Asian states, Washington’s ability to build a regional consensus on sustaining the openness and security of the global commons will largely determine if regional security is to be defined by cooperation or competition.
  • If Washington fails to respond to the fundamental challenges posed by adversarial capabilities within the global commons, U.S. access to the Asia-Pacific during times of conflict will be in doubt. The presence of the U.S. in the region, and regional confidence in its will and ability to act, will be central to the maintenance of peace and stability.