Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Understanding The Age of Terror - A Review of "The Pentagon's New Map" by Thomas P.M. Barnett, Ph.D.

I few weeks ago, I was up in New Hampshire visiting with my friends, Christine and Mike Mikkelsen. Mike is an avid reader, and we often discuss books we have read in common. As our conversation progressed, Mike handed me a book and said: “In light of your interest in the military and all the friends you have who are serving and who have served, this book is a ‘must read’ for you.” With that introduction, Mike lent me his copy of Thomas P. M. Barnett’s landmark work, “The Pentagon’s New Map – War And Peace In The Twenty-First Century.”

Barnett and his controversial analyses and prognostications have been the talk of the Pentagon for several years. He serves as a strategic researcher and professor at the Naval War College in Newport, RI. Barnett earned a Ph.D. in political science from Harvard, and has held a number of research positions within the Department of Defense.

As is often the case with profound insights, on the surface they appear so simple as to be almost laughable. So it is with Barnett’s revolutionary ideas of how the world works in the post-9/11 Age of Terror. Simply put, Barnett posits a theory that the world can be divided and mapped quite neatly into two primary categories: The Functioning Core on the one hand, and the Non-Integrating Gap on the other hand. The measuring rod for deciding where a nation fits within this binary rubric is the degree of “connectedness” the citizens of that nation enjoy with the rest of the world.

“Yet a pattern did emerge with each American crisis response in the 1990s. These deployments turned out to be overwhelmingly concentrated in the regions on the world that were effectively excluded from globalization’s Functioning Core – namely, the Caribbean Rim, Africa, the Balkans, the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Middle East and Southwest Asia, and much of Southeast Asia. These regions constitute globalization’s ‘ozone hole,’ or what I call its Non-Integrating Gap, where connectivity remains thin or absent. Simply put, if a country was losing out to globalization or rejecting much of its cultural content flows, there was a far greater chance that the United States would end up sending troops there at some point in the 1990s.” (Page 4)

As I read Barnett’s explanations with rapt attention, they made a lot of sense to me. But, being neither a veteran of military service nor a veteran of the Pentagon's labyrinthine decision-making processes, I doubted my ability to make informed judgments about Barnett’s ideas and assertions. So, it was a welcome event when an e-mail arrived this morning from my friend, Stan Genega, a retired U.S. Army Major General. Over breakfast, I had recommended Barnett’s book to Stan, and he was reporting back to me on his reactions: “Last night, I finished Tom Barnett’s book 'The Pentagon's New Map'- great read! His descriptions of how the Pentagon and the services work are spot on. Would love to discuss sometime.”

With that affirmation in hand from someone who knows the ins and outs of the arcane world of defense policy-making, I feel more confident in sharing my thoughts on Barnett’s ideas.

While Barnett comes from a very different world than that of Frans Johansson, author of “The Medici Effect,” I find that they both espouse and champion the notion of “horizontal thinking.” Here are Barnett’s comments about this approach to viewing the world:

“During my eight years in Washington, Hank Gaffney and I did a lot of research together and coauthored a number of significant reports, and most of the big ideas I have hatched over my career either began in or were intimately shaped by my time with him. But what Hank really taught me was how to think horizontally. By that I mean thinking broadly across subject matters versus drilling down deep into a particular subject, which I call vertical thinking. In both the Pentagon and Washington in general, the system awards points almost exclusively to those who think vertically, because intense subject-matter expertise allows you to poke holes in everyone else’s thinking. Inside the Beltway, vertical thinkers are expert at telling why something will never succeed, and little else. Horizontal thinkers tend to be the exact opposite. They often argue by analogy and are quick to borrow concepts from other fields. They are usually synergists, meaning they combine disparate concepts in new and unusual combinations. For example, in my Ph.D. dissertation I borrowed from the field of interpersonal psychology to explain how the relative ‘weakling’ Romania stood up to Soviet bullying tactics within the Warsaw Treaty Organization, ultimately achieving a certain degree of foreign policy independence.” (Page 112)

Barnett goes on to explain that “connected” nations are those that have learned and agreed to abide by the commonly accepted rule sets of the Functioning Core.

“Admittedly, I am an economic determinist, but I’m darned proud to be one. My credentials are nearly impeccable: I once taught Marxism at Harvard. From those nefarious beginnings though, I found rehabilitation at the hands of my Wall Street mentors, Bud Flanagan and his longtime collaborator Philip Ginsberg, a true Renaissance man who probably would have had a brilliant teaching career if he hadn’t been so focused on the practical applications of his degrees in economics. What these guys taught me over the years and through the several workshops we codesigned and conducted was that security and economics were two sides of the same coin, both built around the principles of connectivity and rule sets. With security, you deal mostly with the disconnected and the rule breakers, but conquering that challenge is what yields the economic opportunities associated with growing connectivity and adherence to rule sets.

To Bud and Phil, it was all about knowing what the rules were and either playing by them or accepting the consequences of non-adherence. Phil once explained to me why Cantor [Fitzgerald] didn’t dive into Russia in the early 1990s, when plenty of firms were rushing in with their investments.
‘Those guys simply weren’t playing by the rules we believe are essential to making markets work . . . If they don’t want to play nicely, we simply stay home. No rules, no money.’” (Pages 198-199)

After laying out what he calls his Decalogue – a Ten Commandments for Globalization (Pages 199-205), Barnett neatly summarizes the historical context we now find ourselves facing. He also wraps up one of his main arguments – that in the 21st Century, our military leaders need to learn to think about warfare “in the context of everything else.”

“Understanding globalization’s most crucial strands of connectivity (the flows of people, energy, money, security) helps us understand the nature of the grand historical struggle we now face. It puts this war on terrorism within the context of everything else. It helps us understand why our loved ones won’t be coming home anytime soon. It helps us realize the balance of life all around us and why America’s continued role as security Leviathan across the Gap is necessary not only for keeping the violence over there, but for making sure that globalization makes it over there.

If you want a happy ending to this story, you will find it here. These flows speak of how we make globalization truly global. They form the outline of the future worth creating."
(Page 205)

Barnett envisions a future American military that will be bifurcated into two very different structures and will play two very different roles – a strike force for dealing quickly and violently with the world’s rule breakers, and a “system administrator” cadre for long-term nation-building and winning-the-peace responsibilities.

“America’s task is not perpetual war, nor the extension of the empire. It is merely to serve as globalization’s bodyguard wherever and whenever needed throughout the Gap. This is a boundable problem with a foreseeable finish line. Moreover, if properly reconfigured, our military currently possesses all the skill sets needed to play both Leviathan across the Gap and ‘system administrator’ to the Core’s ever-deepening security community. It is not a question of ‘paying any price’ but rather being far more explicit – both with ourselves and our allies – about what America seeks to achieve through application of military force in this global war on terrorism. In short, we need to make it clear to all – but especially to ourselves – that the American way of war serves a purpose far higher than merely assuring the country’s security or imposing its justice upon others. To achieve this lofty aim requires nothing less than recasting the very structure of the U.S. military.” (Page 298)

I will finish my excerpting from Barnett with his insightful revelation about what makes our military so special – and indeed, unique:

“You want to know what makes our military so scary to the rest of the world? Our noncommissioned officers wield more decision-making power on the battlefield than basically every other nation’s admirals and generals. When you fight Americans, you face the worst of all enemies: disciplined creativity.” (Page 332)

This is precisely the point that Nate Fick, author of “One Bullet Away,” makes when he describes to U.S. Marine Corps’ concept of the “strategic corporal.”

This is a significant book that treats an issue of vital national interest. You may not agree with all that Barnett has to say in this book, but I can guarantee that you will find it insightful, informative, challenging and a good investment of your time and synapses!


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