Posted by Michael Hiteshew on December 23rd, 2004 (All posts by Michael Hiteshew)
Tom Barnettís famous Powerpoint presentation can now be viewed online, courtesy of C-SPAN. The briefing takes 90 minutes and is followed by 1 hour of Q&A.
Having read The Pentagonís New Map several months back and having some time now to digest and consider his ideas, I was oddly curious and strangely compelled to see the famous Pentagon briefing that started it all. Having watched it, I have to say Iím struck by one overwhelming feeling: his sense of optimism. I might even say heís an idealist.
Tom envisions a world where a super-empowered UN, with a much expanded Security Council serving as an Executive (he recommends the G-20), decides where and when the US intervenes to enable the Core to take a bite out of the Gap.
I have to say Iím deeply torn by this idea. The Realist in me laughs. But the Idealist in me is intrigued:
The Realist speaks: Tom is deeply deluded, Iím sorry to say. For all his good intentions (the road to Hell is paved with good intentions: just look at the current UN) nation states simply do not act that way. They never have. And they never will. They are not going to want a world in which the US wields that level of authority and power, whether they have a say in its use or not. Weíll simply been seen as too dangerous.
In addition, theyíll resent it. With that level of uncontested military power will come an enormous amount of hard diplomatic power, weíll be the hyper-puissance of French nightmares. Nation states will not be interested in enabling that power, only in undermining it. Possibly in defeating it outright. Power among nations is a zero-sum game. Your gain is my loss. Your loss is my gain. Thatís reality.
The Idealist speaks: Tom is on to something. The G-20 represents 2/3 of the worldís population and 90% of its GNP. That level of representation brings with it a degree of moral and political authority that just canít be matched. Like it or not, numbers speak.
It also solves a major political problem: how to use American military power in a way that coincides with what the Core views as its best interests and yet doesnít frighten them into believing that maybe, just maybe, that power might be turned on them. It gives them a say in how the world is run. That is at the heart of much of what passes for anti-Americanism in the world. The simple idea that the US is going to do whatever it feels is in its best interest regardless of what the rest of the world thinks. And itís not just that the US will try to advance its interests, they can do it and will do it. And being the strongest economic and military power, no one seems to be able to stop them. That simple and startling fact scares the piss out of an awful lot of people. Understandably so. It also breeds tremendous resentment and a need to assert oneís own power even if the result is counterproductive for the world as a whole. On the other hand, people can accept lots of heretofore unacceptable things as long as they have a say beforehand.
The Realist speaks: Who are we kidding? Ourselves? With only 5 members on the UNSC, itís virtually impossible to get them to agree on a common course of action. How bad do you think itís going be when there are 20 members?! Youíll be lucky to get them to agree the sky is blue. Think of the competing interests among the states: commercial ties, military contracts, competition for resources, ethnic minorities applying pressure, not to mention bribes and corruption, double-dealing, hidden agendas, all the qualities that have plagued nations and peoples since the dawn of time. None of that is going to change. A committee of 20 acting as an executive is simply a formula gridlock. I guarantee it.
I have to admit, the Realist won that argument. Iím extremely skeptical of the idea. Some part of me wants to believe those 20 members can and would act together to further the interests of the world. However, in my lifetime Iíve watched the UN drop the ball over and over and over again. I just find it impossible to believe that expanding the UNSC to 20 competing voices is the answer. On the other hand, I donít have a better idea.
That being my major criticism, the rest of the presentation is brilliant. The concepts of the Core and Gap, and their relation to war, poverty and terrorism are key insights. I also believe heís hit on a primary solution to our dismal record on Ďwinning the peaceí with his Leviathan and SysAdmin plan. On those, Barnett has shown himself to be a strategic thinker of the highest quality. For that reason, find 90 minutes in your schedule to watch his brief. You wonít regret it.