Black and White Program

The Global Positioning System and Foreign Policy

April 25th, 2008 by John Eastman

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The Global Positioning System is a U.S. space-based global navigation satellite system that provides, amongst other benefits, dead certain positioning, time and speed information, and navigation services to users. The GPS consists of three parts: earth-orbiting satellites, control and monitoring devices located on the ground, and GPS receivers held by users. These components communicate via precise microwave signals emitted from the 20 or more satellites that have been launched into space. The use of GPS satellites from within the U.S. is often free, with the exception of the cost of the GPS unit itself. Russia, China, Europe, and India have similar systems in varying stages of development and availability. Applications include transportation services, maritime operations, disaster relief, banking, and mobile phone operations.

Essentially, the end user is enabled a view of one’s self as viewed and determined by other devices. This view is established within seconds and remains accurate until the end user repositions; then the view is reestablished. Of course, each system satellite in each country will provide a consistent and precise coordinate of one’s position on Earth, a worldview if you will, of your position, by several sources.

There are thousands, perhaps millions, of GPS locator devices utilized on Earth. While augmentation devices in some instances do provide a better signal, in general the GPS satellites do not place a higher importance on one ground-based locator device than the other– they just receive its signals and calculate the end results accordingly. All serve as useful information and merit, with an equal validity and place on Earth. One GPS receiver does not interfere with another.

Back here on Earth, much has been written and discussed about the positioning of the U.S. in the world; where and how military, economic, political, and democratic power could or should be used. There are ongoing dialogues about the rise and new positioning in the 21st century of other countries and regions, including China, India, the Middle East, and a re-emerging Russia, and how this affects the position of the U.S. in terms of leadership, respect, and engagement in each others’ lives. It has been said that the U.S. does not enjoy the leadership position and respect that it once held as recently as 10 years ago; that the 21st century leadership of the world is currently up for grabs.

So what does the GPS have to do with foreign policy?

A country’s foreign policy is defined by many factors. A novel idea may be to consider the design and function of a GPS when thinking about that definition. The location and view of the definition of one’s presence is arrived at in a multilateral manner, from both afar and internally. A bigger GPS receiver does not equate with a more important presence. Your position in the world as viewed by all indicates who and where you are, not your own definition thereof. In order for the entire system to provide precise information, all three components of the GPS need to be in working order, and they all need to communicate flawlessly; thus, accurate and frequent communication is key, and an understandable message is critical.

As the United States works to define its presence and position in the world in the 21st century, and government leaders define 21st century foreign policy, the working components and relationships of the GPS may be useful in viewing and analyzing one’s position as determined by various sources, both internal and external, and reflected throughout the world’s other valid and credible presences.

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