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Books & Reviews

Review of Thomas P.M. Barnett’s The Pentagon’s New Map

Review of Thomas P.M. Barnett’s The Pentagon’s New Map

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Columbia Pictures

Columbia Pictures

While in graduate school, I had the opportunity to study the theories and strategies involved in post-conflict reconstruction and security stabilization efforts throughout the world. As in all international relations courses, we delved into case studies and analyzed the successes and inadequacies found in the individual scenarios, and, as a student at a military college, the ones centering on America’s response to situations overseas elicited many fascinating, in-depth discussions on the Pentagon’s role in reconstruction efforts. With topics focusing primarily on how to develop and implement security frameworks to not only end conflicts but also insure they do not arise, again, in the near-term, it seemed to me that the conversations focused primarily on short-term objectives, rather than the long-term dynamics important when implementing post-conflict stabilization efforts.

We were not discussing how the US military could become more effectively involved in interagency and intergovernmental operations on the ground that would afford it the ability to assist in producing a viable infrastructure for national renewal. I agreed with the strategies underpinning the US military’s security initiatives but felt the short-sighted policies failed to seize the opportunity to formally rebuild and, thus, integrate the war-torn nation into the global system. Why does the international community seem unwilling to acknowledge that short-term policies create nothing more than a revolving door for future foreign interventions? What needs to occur within the US military to formulate a new strategy that would assist in reinforcing modernization efforts in failing states, which would eventually lead to a more cohesive world community?

During the discussions, it seemed the Pentagon was interested in creating enough security to stop the bloodshed, as much as possible, while everything else was someone else’s responsibility. Even though the paradigm of conflicts had changed, the US military remained resolute in the policies that had served the nation’s interests for decades, even though the strategies seemed woefully inadequate in combating the challenges in the contemporary international system.

In a room filled with long-serving military professionals, my questions were met with slight disdain and mild bemusement as they inquired whether I believed it was the US military’s responsibility to rebuild entire societies, knowing full well that the country’s efforts, no matter how successful, would eventually lead to outcries over Western imperialism. Moreover, shifting the Pentagon’s focus has the potential to create a more convoluted internal structure within the US military and shift the institution away from its central values and objectives.

Though feeling my point had been missed and ill-prepared for such a discussion with seasoned professionals, I kept my head down for the remainder of the class and prayed future topics would not refocus the spotlight on my inquiries. Believing, as Dr. Thomas Barnett does in The Pentagon’s New Map, that “America needs to stand for so much more than simply abiding by the status quo around the world,” I was searching for an understanding as to why the United States seemed hesitant to transform its military strategies, even when the existing paradigm’s weakening viability was becoming increasingly apparent. The institutions were spending so much time and energy preparing for the next major inter-state war that they failed to properly prepare for the violence unfolding throughout the Global South.

In 2004, while numerous institutional analysts struggled to integrate global terrorism into the US military’s existing rule-sets, Dr. Barnett published a controversial and innovative book – The Pentagon’s New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-First Century – which posited a connection between globalization’s expansion and the rise in international terrorism. Moving beyond the haves and have nots, The Pentagon’s New Map identifies the “fault lines” in the contemporary geo-political environment as “neither religion (Islam) nor a place (the Middle East), but a condition – disconnectedness.” What separates developed and lesser-developed states, what Dr. Barnett refers to as “the Core” and “the Non-Integrated Gap,” is the willingness of nation’s to accept modernity.

Countries where globalization has taken root thrive on “network connectivity, financial transactions, liberal media flows…collective security…stable governments, [and] rising standards of living.” Globalization and modernization has led to prosperity for many in the Core – though some Core states remain skeptical – but a divergence in the world community has manifested as many states have refused to acknowledge the progress that can be achieved through connectedness. The Non-Integrated Gap is rife with states where “globalization is thinning or just plain absent”; where countries suffer from “chronic conflicts that incubate the next generation of global terrorists.”

The Core-Gap thesis was developed as a means to develop “new rule sets for war and peace…in the years ahead,” which can only be constructed through an “understanding” on “where we are in history, what the main security tasks of the era truly are, and how we forge a comprehensive strategy for not only protecting America but likewise making the world a better place for the long haul.” In order to insure its own national security, the United States must dedicate its influence and resources on creating a new international framework for the decades ahead. To succeed in this endeavor the US military must fully understand not only the barriers to globalization’s expansion, but also how to overcome these obstacles and “shrink the Gap.”

Unlike many authors who merely illustrate how they perceive international issues, Dr. Barnett’s thorough analysis of the contemporary security environment is supplemented by recommendations on how to achieve the integration of lesser-developed countries. He reinforces the concept that prosperity stems from security and that this can only be achieved by the Core’s willingness to “extend the new rule set to the entire planet.” Once this mindset has been accepted, a new foundation can be constructed, and these initiatives will transform the way in which the Pentagon operates on a global scale.

Under the existing military paradigm, the Pentagon’s strategies in the Gap have always been “reactive” – focused on “quick fixes and big bangs” – which diminishes the nation’s ability to accurately define not only the enemy, but the means necessary to implement a preventive framework deterring future threats. For Dr. Barnett, this would mean the US military would need to shift its prevailing view from “war in the context of war” to “war in the context of everything else,” which can be achieved by restructuring the Pentagon into two institutions: one that wages war and another that wages peace.

In order to achieve strong security throughout the world, globalization needs to be expanded into the Gap – the Core will only move forward and not stall or reverse its process of connectivity. In order to achieve this, the Core must become more willing to design and implement long-term strategies that supports national and regional development and have the potential connect the disconnected. The author details a future Pentagon structure as being “bifurcated” into a “Leviathan force” – providing “the capacity for deterrence and preemption” – and a “System Administrator force” – providing a “postwar system-generation capacity.”

The need for a different approach to warfare is illustrated in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, for “the System Administrator force will demonstrate our willingness to follow through on the interventions started by the Leviathan force.” In refocusing the military’s objectives in post-conflict settings, the Core has a better opportunity to insure a revolving door of interventions does not occur in the future. Moreover, it would move the Pentagon’s strategies away from short-term stabilization efforts and bridge the gap between the military’s goals and the work being completed by interagency and intergovernmental organizations. What the System Administrator force will insure is “our victories” will never be “hollow” or “repeated time and time again”: “Desert Storm was a hollow victory because all it did was beget Operation Iraqi Freedom, and that victory will likewise ring hollow until Iraq…is integrated into the global economy and…safely netted into the Core’s collective security.”

Where The Pentagon’s New Map succeeded in constructing its Core-Gap thesis and devising a new way forward for the US military it failed in fully conceptualizing the complexity of the international environment. It is stated repeatedly that the Gap is defined by its disconnectedness and it is integral for the Pentagon to fully appreciate where globalization begins and ends in order to develop a new strategy, but Dr. Barnett never broached the subject as to what makes the Gap disconnected, in the first place. Is it geography (the Middle East)? Is it culture (Islam)?

Most of the questions that arose while reading this work did not stem from the thesis or the way forward for constructing the System Administrator force; it stemmed primarily from the work’s optimism. When reading futurist works, an optimistic viewpoint is refreshing from the doom and gloom most tend to focus on in their writings, so Dr. Barnett’s publication is greatly appreciated in illustrating that the future is not as dire as many authors would have one believe. However, some statements would have been better served with more examination.

The Iraq invasion was used throughout the work as a means to place many concepts into a contemporary context. Dr. Barnett states that “[t]aking down Saddam forced the United States to take responsibility for the security environment in the Gap, and that’s why I supported the war.” He goes on to say the Bush Administration had “effectively abandoned their previous effort to recast the Core’s security order and now have largely embraced the goal of reducing the Gap’s security disorder.”

By splitting the US military into two theaters and pulling finances and resources away from Afghanistan, how is this America taking “responsibility for the security environment in the Gap”? By mobilizing into Iraq before Afghanistan was secure, it seems the US was continuing the revolving door for future interventions in South Asia. (Other questions did arise when reading the excerpts regarding the Iraq War; however, since I am afforded 8 years of hindsight – the book was published in 2004 – I will refocus attention on to another topic.)

The Core’s responsibility to implement a security framework is dependent upon bringing the Non-Integrated Gap into a more connected environment, which makes it important to “limit…enemy casualties (military and civilian)…because we know that later integration…is greatly facilitated when excessive force is avoided.” I could not agree with this statement more, but what is the Core’s responsibility when excessive force occurs; when times for rapid decision-making and “go-fast events” lead to accidental deaths?

The United States’ current policy is to justify, hide, or ignore in the name of national interest or security. Under the System Administrator, will on-the-ground situations become more transparent or will the institutions continue to traverse the international landscape with an ‘ends justify the means’ mindset? If the latter is perpetuated, the Core will never be able to build the necessary trust with the Gap to see globalization’s expansion to fruition.

Furthermore, trust building, in thus security building, initiatives are undermined by the Core government’s expectations when it comes to the rule of law. The author posits: “It’s not that America wants one rule-set for itself and another for the rest of the world, just that America needs special consideration for the security roles it takes inside the Gap.” I would argue the complete opposite is true: the Core uses its role in international security in order to establish a rule-set different from the rest of the world.

Why else would the US government condemn other countries for human rights abuses, while preparing defense teams in cases brought against them from Khaled al-Masri and Maher Arar? Why else would Washington condemn the Kremlin for invading South Ossetia – Russian rationale was to protect its citizens from discriminatory practices – but justifies invading Iraq as a means to protect the people from an abusive government? The United States has defended its positions on disregarding international law in a ‘we cannot afford to tie our hands’ argument, and it is this context that breeds distrust and perpetuates a divide between the Core and Gap, for the Gap will never see itself as equals if the Core establishes its own rules. If the Pentagon devises a new rule-set, how will this look against existing paradigm?

The criticisms levied do not detract from the over-arching thesis found in the The Pentagon’s New Map, but further illustrates the problems the Core will face when attempting to build security in the Non-Integrated Gap. The policies and strategies implemented in the existing system need to be revamped, across the board, to insure the proper plans are being developed throughout the world. Complexities will cause many planners to implement quick-fix solutions, though they will not necessarily point the country in the correct direction.

In all, Dr. Barnett’s work is successful in drawing up a new game plan for an institution and system that is in dire need of something different. The manner in which he is able to convey his ideas has the potential to reach a broad audience in that, unlike other authors’ writings about the international system, an in depth working knowledge of military planning and international theories is not needed to conceptualize his core themes. He is able to build his message in a clear and concise manner, building ideas on top of one another, which assists him in conveying the message and building a broader understanding of where we must go from here.

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