Barnett, The Pentagon’s New Map

For some time now I have had a stack of books I’ve been going to blog about. The top of the stack is Thomas Barnett’s book The Pentagon’s New Map. First, the book is good, it is worth reading, and you should do so. Barnett is engaging and smart and is seriously trying to think through important questions. This is demonstrated not only by the book, but also by Barnett’s website. Barnett’s book has been reviewed far and wide, and on his website he publishes the reviews and responds to them. In fact, his website is almost the ideal of what a web-minded author can do. He engages in a dialogue with reviewers and responds to criticisms. Others, hopefully, will adopt his approach. May they also have the stamina to sustain it.

I read the book a few months ago and I hope I can make sense of my notes. I’ll focus on points that relate to issues which interest me. There is much in the book which I simply won’t touch on here. There are plenty of summaries on his site, if mine is too cryptic. But everybody reading this blog has heard about it and has some idea what it is about — The Core and The Gap, to get it down to five syllables. These terms, as well as many others, are part of Barnett’s idiosyncratic nomenclature.

Barnett asserts throughout that globalization means increasing “connectivity” to “content flows”, and that “disconnectedness is itself the ultimate enemy.” The Core is that part of the world in which is “functioning within globalization” because it “accepts the connectivity and can handle the content flows associated with integrating one’s national economy to the global economy.” How countries handle the “content flow” turns on their internal “legal rule sets”. Traditional-minded (or just oppressive) countries try to limit the content, e.g. Internet pornography or criticism of the government. Core countries also succeed in “harmonizing their internal rule sets” to the “emerging global rule of democracy, rule of law, and free markets.” Success at synchronizing with the global rule set, itself an evolving set of norms, means investment and other “connectedness” increasingly links a country to the functioning Core. The pace at which countries make these transitions, and which parts of the global rule set they adopt first, vary. A good index of “connectedness”, as Barnett notes, is the way a society treats its women, a point Ralph Peters has also made.

Barnett addresses at length the more strictly military side. He correctly notes that the United States has been spending more and more “billable hours” in the last 20 years, starting before the Cold War even ended, sending its military into the disorderly and violent regions of the Gap (Haiti, the Balkans, the Middle East). It has done so on an ad hoc basis as crises boil over, with no over-arching rationale to these various ventures. This is in part because the military has resisted acquiring the capability, equipment and knowledge needed to intervene with long-term success in these places. Each intervention has been treated by the Pentagon as a distraction from some forthcoming major war, which looks less and less likely to occur any time soon. The military, according to Barnett, still clings to a planning and training and acquisition mindset focused on one Big One akin to WWII or the Cold War, with China nominated to sit in the Bad Guy chair. Barnett sees this fear of China as overblown, if not unfounded. The military needs to learn that the Gap is not a distraction from its job. Its job is the Gap and there is no exit strategy.

Barnett says we need to recognize that the security goal of the United States is to eliminate the sources of disorder and terrorism at their roots, in the Gap. We need to learn and accept that connectedness has raised the cost of fighting within Core way too high for sensible people to contemplate. And most compellingly, nuclear weapons are always in the background as a deterrant if anyone were foolish enough to start an intra-Core war. So, the Core states have too much to lose by fighting among themselves and they know it. Hence we are happily surprised to find something like a firm basis for perpetual peace in the nicer parts of the world.

According to Barnett, a big part of why people worldwide have “freaked” about Bush’s assertion of preemption and apparent unilateralism is they don’t realize, because the Bush team has failed to clearly articulate it, that the “rule set” for the Core (Mutual Assured Destruction, deterrence, collective security) is still in place. We we only mean to operate in the rougher, more Hobbesian fashion in the Hobbesian badlands of the Gap.

So much for the descriptive part. Barnett goes on to advocate making it an express goal of United States policy to “shrink the Gap.” One way to do this is to encourage trade and particularly technology transfer to the Gap. He believes it is futile to try to prevent dangerous technology from reaching rogues in the Gap by restricting trade. Barnett advocates a robust system of threats and preemption instead.

… if you have a bad actor, whether he is a superempowered terrorist like Osama bin Laden or a rogue leader like Kim Jong Il, who has a long list of boxes that says he is not to be trusted or that the world would be a better place without him, then I say you move on to preemption. There is no negotiation at this point in the process, because you have given them plenty of warnings and requests to cease and desist. In the case of a regime, you simply keep ratcheting up your demands for compliance, and when the regime cannot comply and cannot be provoked into a precipitating action by your constantly growing military pressure, you preempt. In the case of a terrorist group, you skip even these preliminaries and preempt the moment you have any of them in your crosshairs.

Barnett notes “that may sound pretty harsh”, and rightly so, though I like the sound of it. I think those who don’t like Bush’s “unilateralism” will also ‘freak” if we do things way, especially if we announce we are going to. Barnett asks rhetorically, what “gives America the right to make such decisions”? He answers that “‘might makes right’ when we are talking about America playing Gap Leviathan.” And when the French get in a snit, what then? “[I]f the other Core powers want a greater say in how we exercise that power, they simply need to dedicate enough defense spending to develop similar capabilities.” In the meantime, “America will need to act unilaterally inside the Gap on a regular basis … because … quite frankly — no other military power on the planet even comes close to matching our capabilities. [H]ave no delusions: the United States owns the only ‘fist’ in the business.” Again, this sounds pretty realistic.

However, Barnett says the problem is that the United States cannot do Part 2 of a war all by itself. We can conquer anybody, but getting the conquered territory up and running requires lots of help. We need to get the rest of the Core to assist us in these ventures, not just “the Brits and Aussies” (i.e. the Anglosphere, a word Barnett does not use). How, do we get other Core powers to join us in the “follow-through effort”? Mostly, “we need to be more explicit with [our] allies about the better world we want to create whenever we undertake these necessarily difficult tasks.” Bush et al failed to articulate this vision, hence isolating us unnecessarily.

I’m not exactly sure why we need the other guys to help us do Part 2, assuming we were to acquire the skills needed, but let’s just take it that Barnett is right that we do need help. Barnett goes on to ask what happens if others do not buy our vision of a “happy ending”, what then? Uncharacteristically, he does not provide a plausible seeming answer to this.

This points up one of my biggest problems with the book. The Core is an amalgam of countries with interests and beliefs which conflict. Yes, intra-Core warfare is highly unlikely, especially in the “Old Core”. But explaining ourselves more carefully before we invade somewhere in the Gap is not ever going to make the Russians or the French or the Chinese support us. These countres have learned over the centuries to survive in a harsh, zero-sum world in which their own unique and prized identities were always in constant, mortal danger. All of these ancient countries resent American power. All of them want more freedom of action in the World. All perceive the United States as in some degree hostile to their interests. None of these countries wants to blow up a trading partner, or get in a war with another powerful country. But any of them could very well want to see the United States suffer some spectacular failure in the Gap because they may well believe that such an outcome would enhance their own status and opportunities. The Core is still a realm of zero-sum competition for some of the players. Shrinking the Gap is not a project they are going to want to invest a nickel in if the USA will do the heavy lifting anyway. And there is always the chance the USA will suffer some exploitable setback while policing the Gap. Many countries would, sensibly enough from their perspective, rather stand on the sidelines and see what opportunities emerge from the smoke when the USA ventures into the Gap. Barnett is aware of this dynamic, but I think it is more important than he apparently does.

This leads me to another related point, which is something which Barnett hints at, but is not explicit about. As I read the book, I repeatedly thought, “the Core of the Core is the Anglosphere.” The Core “rule sets” which Barnett refers are classically those of Anglo-American liberalism — representative democracy, apolitical militaries, strong sovereigns with delimited powers, flexible common law, free trade, free markets, openness to immigrants, economic dynamism and openness to change. These values and institutions were spread around the world by the maritime trading powers, Britain, then America. I think Barnett is therefore mistaken when he says that the United States is “globalizations godfather, its source code, its original model”, “its first great multinational state and economic union”. He acknowledges that the USA restarted a previously derailed globalization in 1945. However, I would attribute more than he does to this older globalization of the 19th Century and earlier. (See Kevin H. O’Rourke, Jeffrey G. Williamson,Globalization and History: The Evolution of a Nineteenth-Century Atlantic Economy). So, contra Barnett, the true “first great multinational state and economic union” was the British Empire, which we were once part of. It was this first globalization, which was ruined in 1914, which laid much of the foundation of the globalizing order the USA picked up in 1945. The “source code” Barnett is looking for is therefore not the architecture of the early Cold War Wise Men. They put upper stories on a structure that stared much earlier, whose foundations go back to the middle ages in England. This very ancient civilization originated in England, and is the source of the liberal order established in its colonies, and which is the source of the “rule set” which is now spreading around the world.

Why does this remote ancestry matter, since Barnett is addressing what the United States should be doing now? Because to “shrink the Gap” we need to understand how the Core became the Core in the first place — a process which began in a particular place and time, i.e. England in the Middle Ages. (See Alan MacFarlane’s wonderful books The Riddle of the Modern World, and its sequel The Making of the Modern World: Visions from the West and East.) (And while you are at it, pre-order Jim Bennett’s forthcoming book on the Anglosphere.) We need to accurately understand the foundations of our political and economic success — our “rule sets” in Barnett’s parlance — if we wish to understand what it will take to “shrink the Gap”, i.e. to build states and to spread the benefits of our values and institutions around the world.

The fact that the dominant “rule sets” we hope to spread into the gap are Anglo-American is yet another source of intra-Core tension. These Anglo-American values and institutions enjoy at best mixed popularity in Old Europe. France in particular does not like “Anglo-Saxon” liberalism. (See this earlier post, citing Walter Russell Mead’s review essay of recent French books.)

On the military side, Barnett repeatedly and accurately points out that Britain, Australia and the United States are reliable allies who are increasingly intermeshed and interoperable. This is the Anglosphere in arms. While Uncle Sam is the Leviathan, these junior powers continue to make disproportionate contributions. (The United States and Canada are joined at the hip economically, though Canada has long remained in our shadow militarily. Even so, we have a long-standing defensive alliance (NORAD) with Canada.) So, nothing in Barnett contradicts the notion that the Anglosphere is the core of the Core in terms of institutions and values, strength of alliances with the USA, or military capabilities. He just does not focus on it, or the ongoing intra-Core tensions this fact will continue to provoke.

Barnett mentions astutely notes that of the “New Core” countries, “China is the most worrisome” and India is the most promising.” I think he gets this almost exactly right.

China faces the biggest challenge to changing its “rule set” — moving away from one party rule. The Party is maintaining itself in the saddle by playing up nationalism and by bribing the People’s Liberation Army with rhetoric and funding which keep the PLA dreaming and planning its big showdown with the USA over Taiwan. Barnett notes that the “rule set fallout from a United States-China conflict” would “effectively bar[] Beijing from stable Core membership for the foreseeable future.” That is correct in my view. Let us hope the hard-faced men in Beijing manage to ride the tiger and not get into a war with the USA. Even if they “win” it will be a disaster for all parties. China can make the world a monumentally better place, or do horrendous damage, and it is all a matter of luck how the Party oligarchs handle the next few decades. I wish there was a way to put more certainty into the equation, but I don’t see it. Offer a decade of the rosary daily for things to go well in China. (Yes I am literally suggesting you pray for this. I do.)

And India. One of Barnett’s most unusual insights is his awareness of the critical importance of India. This is a point I have long believed and few others seem to focus on it. Barnett intriguingly mentions India as a “former colony” of Britain in the same breath with Australia, and even refers to India as “a crucial military partner” of the United States. Barnett sees India moving more and more toward the Core Anglophone states, both economically and militarily, a point made several times on this blog. He quotes approvingly a comment that India is “the most important country for the future of the world” because “if globalization succeeds in a democratic society where half the population is impoverished and one-quarter is Muslim, then it can succeed anywhere”. I don’t exactly agree. India will succeed relatively early and briskly precisely because it is a former British colony, which has a large population with a facility with English, a large and relatively wealthy diaspora population which wants to return and invest in India, a functioning democracy and a fairly well-functioning court system a relatively competent and law-abiding military all of which it inherited from Britain. India is not a long shot to succeed at globalizing, once it abandons the socialism it also inherited from Britain, it is an odds-on favorite to do very well indeed. (See the much-discussed essay Can India Overtake China?.)

Barnett offers a nice rebuttal to the claim often made by British scholars (e.g. Niall Ferguson, Paul Kennedy, Paul Johnson) that we are in fact (or ought to be) an “Empire”. This is a pet peeve of mine, and Barnett pithily points out in his own unique consultant-speak that Empires are about “maximal rule sets” where the globalized world order America is establishing is about “minimal rule sets”. (At some point I’ll finish a partially written post in lawyer-speak about why the United States is not an empire, but Barnett’s riposte will have to hold you for now.)

Barnett makes a two-pronged argument for America exerting itself to shrink the Gap. On the negative side, he points out that Gap is the source of disorder, criminality, terrorism and other Bad Things in the world, and this is only going to get worse unless conditions there improve. So, we need to do it to protect ourselves. On the affirmative side he makes an impassioned and evidently sincere argument that the United States, to be true to its own patriotism and its own destiny must help to spread the blessings it enjoys to the rest of the world, to end “disconnectedness” and bring everyone into the globalized Core. He addresses many of the obvious counter-arguments, which discussion I won’t summarize here. He forthrightly says that American lives will be lost in the process and that it is a cause which is worth that price. I’m not sure that he is right because I’m not sure that “connectivity” is a cause which can inspire the Jacksonian core of America to go to war, or that they will perceive need to bring order to the Congo to protect America in the long run. They have tended to want to stay home and only venture abroad to destroy specific threats. In Walter Russell Mead’s parlance, Barnett is offering a modernized Wilsonianism, an approach which has never enjoyed strong majority support. Also, I found myself asking whether this venture is this really something which is demanded by our founding principles and our very identity? Barnett has not fully convinced me it is. But he’ll keep writing and I’m still listening.

The practicality aspect in particular concerns me. I’m also not sure we really can pull off the kind of rock-bottom nation-building which would be necessary in the worst parts of the Gap. Does this mean millions of people are condemned to tyranny or poverty or both? Maybe. Not by me. By history, by fate, maybe. I wish it were otherwise. Maybe it is. Maybe very great improvements can be made for the lives of vast masses of people, even if the United States has to conquer the places to bring it about. Barnett has not yet convinced me it is possible. (Francis Fukuyama’s book on state-building, which I read and hope to write about on the blog, takes up this question.) And if it is a long-shot, I don’t want our soldiers dying in the mud for it. But I am open to hearing and seeing more arguments on this point from Barnett and others, because he may be right about the scope of what is possible. Iraq is a test case, even though it is not the test he would have preferred.

Another facet of the book seems mistaken to me. Barnett’s Gap is all one color. Core, Gap. Two zones. Now, such a bipartite division is a useful simplifying tool as far as it goes. But just as I think there is a Core-of-the-Core (the Anglosphere, potentially eventually including India), I think there is a heart of darkness in the Gap — the Arab Middle East. Barnett hates this idea. In Pentagon-speak, this represents a focus on the so-called “Arc of Instability”, and is code language for keeping a lid on the oil-producing regions of the world. That issue aside, and even accepting Barnett’s framework generally, the most threatening part of the Gap is this region — Islam famously has “bloody borders”. We have a huge population surge there, with many young men who have no opportunities in horribly stunted economies, oil revenue which has allowed exposure to the Core and access to its products and weapons without having to adopt its values and institutions, a popular and violent ideological mutation of Islam which presents a particularly serious menace, a strong aversion to much of the Core’s liberal values based upon even a more benign interpretation of Islam, and the problem that we are reliant on the material located under the surface of these places. Whether spreading “connectivity” into this area is going to lead to pacifying it is a very open question. It is just as likely to provoke a violent response. And we cannot choose to ignore what happens there, as we can and do about places like Burundi. We have to take an interest in these places. Barnett has not convinced me that a program for dealing with the Gap generally (1) will work in the Arab Middle East, or (2) will not be a distraction from the most urgent menaces we face, which do originate there. We need to focus on the primary danger first, and if we eventually get to Colombia and Zaire and Burma, good. But the recruiting grounds for a future Mohammad Atta and his colleagues has to be dealt with first. If the Gap is to be shrunk, if it can be shrunk, we should start there for our own good.

Barnett has many interesting things to say about the changes which will be necessary in the military and other arms of government to carry out the tasks he is proposing. His proposal that the military be divided into a Leviathan force, to fight wars, and a SysAdmin force to manage the peace, seems like a wise course. The great fear the military has is that it will become diluted if it gets into too many ancillary roles. If we do it his way, one part of the military can retain a total focus on shattering America’s foes without too much distraction. It could stay focused on high- and medium-intensity operations. As Steven Biddle put it in his brilliant recent book, our enemies only resort to unconventional warfare because we have such an overwhelming edge in conventional warfare. We should make absolutely sure we maintain that. The way to square the circle is to create an arm of the military which has the specific job of supervising the post-war phase. This force, as Barnett notes, would be composed of older personnel, would have more of a police function, would have a range of reconstruction skills, would have a high level of interagency cooperation, and would otherwise possess distinct capabilities which did not overlap with Leviathan. (Incidentally, Leviathan is a darn cool name. We need to come up with something better for SysAdmin.) Building the SysAdmin force makes sense to me whether or not we make transforming the Gap our primary focus.

This relates to a point I have thought about a lot. Our Army is always, always, always surprised when it has to do occupation, nation-building and constabulary work. They never learn. They don’t want to learn. They refuse to prepare or to commit resources or people to the task. They want to spend money on fancy weapons, train for and fight “proper” wars, and come home. But it rarely works out that way. This persistent, culpable negligence is something the military really needs to deal with. (See this essay, and this one for good books on lessons learned the hard way and then ignored.) We cannot afford to relearn for the umpteenth time these same hard lessons.

There are a lot of reasons why this has repeatedly happened. (1) The military is properly focused on the biggest dangers, and defeating those. Insurgencies are not perceived as existential threats the way the Wehrmacht or the Red Army were. You can lose Vietnam and survive. If you fail to defeat the blitzkreig coming down both sides of the autobahn into the Fulda Gap, you have lost everything. (2) The military is driven by budgets, and counterinsurgencies don’t have many big-ticket purchases associated with them. (3) The military is driven by career-enhancing postings, and counterinsurgency operations have few glamorous, resume-building opportunities. A victory is when nothing happens. And they offer many, many opportunities for career-destroying mistakes. So, the expertise always evaporates. No one wants to go near this stuff. With good reason. That is why political leadership is necessary to make the soldiers think about, equip for, train for, and do well the distasteful but necessary things they don’t want to do. Barnett’s proposed SysAdmin force would be an institutional home for these capabilities and this knowleged, and it would be composed of a group of people who would lobby for their organization and its budgets.

(The military is already thinking somewhat along these lines. See this fascinating article, which proposes something akin to Barnett’s SysAdmin force. The author proposes an interagency government task force to be attached to each Marine expeditionary unit and Army brigade, particularly in urban combat, so that the reconstruction process can start in the immediate aftermath of the fighting, even during the fighting.)

This post is insanely long and it could be a lot longer. Go read Barnett’s book.

(It got longer. The sequel is here.)

15 thoughts on “Barnett, The Pentagon’s New Map”

  1. Excellent post, Lex. I have a stack of unread/half-read books myself, so maybe I can cheat by asking you something: How does the author deal with Latin America? Their aggregate chart over the last 30 years, while it has a saw-tooth line, has trended upwards toward democracy and open markets. Some stay close to or above the line and prosper (Chile, Costa Rica), while some slide back into their old ways and punish themselves (Argentina, Venezuela). If Brazil could get its act together, it could be a major player.

  2. Ahoy! … Barnett’s webmaster here…

    > The source code is therefore not so much the architecture of the early Cold War Wise Men. They put upper stories on a structure that stared much earlier, whose foundations go back to the middle ages in England. This is the source of the liberal order established in its colonies, and which led to the rule set which is now spreading around the world.

    Before the security, rule sets and investment were in place that would allowe architects and enginners to build out an infrastructure connecting world resources, the territory had to be surveyed.

    In 1421, the largest fleet the world had ever seen sailed from China on a 15th century “Look for resources, and ye shall find.”

    Gotta love those map makers, you know?

  3. Mitch, Barnett’s map has some of Latin America as “New Core” and some of it (Andean region) still in the Gap. Consistent with your obervations.

    Jay, your post’s point about the difficulties of “project closeout” are closely akin to the problems of war termination and reconstruction which Barnett and others have been addressing. You are the only person I have seen make the analogy to a more generic issue of satisfactory project termination. I’d like to read something further from you on this. Our former enemies’ security is very much our problem, or any successful military power’s problem, most of the time. Trying to defeat an adversary is so engrossing and difficult, postwar planning seems to barely happen, in most historical cases, or be done on the fly and hence done badly. Having the SysAdmin force in place means there is someone around whose Full Time Job is to do the planning and execution of this phase, and to preserving lessons learned. There is no downside to building this capability.

    Critt, while it is true that mapmakers were needed first, it also true that we could go back to into the paleolithicum to the first guy who build a raft as the ancestor of the sailing ships. My point of disagreement with Barnett was not mere antiquarianism, since all current events have roots reaching back to the big bang. My point is that Barnett’s forward-looking project would be better-founded if it were based on what I take to be a more correct reading of the meaning and basis of the current round of globalization. Barnett appears to take the post-1945 world as starting largely anew, with the earlier stage basically over and done with. I assert that the post-1945 phase is largely a resumption and continuation of the earlier British and Anglo-American colonizing and commercial project which culminated in the pre-1914 globalization. This is relevant because it means that we can get a better understanding of the values and institutions we are trying to spread to the Gap if we go back an additional couple of centuries before 1945. The Chinese fleet is interesting but it did not lead to a Sinic Pacific Ocean empire with colonies all over the Western Hemisphere — so it has historical interest but it does not help us much to understand where the current world order came from, or where it might be expected to go, or what it will do when it gets there.

  4. The issue of the Chinese exploration fleet illustrate’s Lex’s point exactly. Go into Macfarlane’s Riddle of the Modern World that Lex referenced, especially his chapter on Ernst Gellner and the “Conditions of the Exit” — the exit, specifically, from the cycle of rise and fall of pre-industrial civilizations. A number of times in history, pre-industrial civilizations approached “Smithian optimality” –i.e., they had developed market economies based on reasonably efficient agriculture and had competent administrative states that could maintain civil order,protect international trade, and alleviate famine and natural disaster. The Baghdad Caliphate, Ming China,the Byzantine Empire, and a number of others. had probably achieved Smithian optimality (a term connoting the sort of pre-industrial market efficiency described by Adam Smith). But none of these made it over the hump to industrialization. The big issue is not that they came close — more than one or two did — but that they all failed, while the Anglosphere succeeded. Understanding why (and there surely are many factors, but the survival of Common Law was probably the critical one — see the last chapter of Macfarlane’s Origins of English Individualism)) allows one to understand why and how societies take the Cap to core transition easily, with difficulty, or not at all. This is the riddle of the modern world. Read the whole thing, as they say. After all, even Continental European nations found the Gap to Core transition difficult — France didn’t make it for certain until 1962 (Core nations are not seriously threatened by military coups), Spain till 1976.

  5. Lex, I haven’t read Barnett’s book and am merely parachuting into this thread, but current events and history indeed suggest that systematic planning for post-war situations is a governmental function that is worth exploring and, probably, expanding. It seems clear, for example, that while our recent military planning in Iraq was first-rate, we have sent our second string to manage the occupation and they have been largely winging it. How else can you explain our meta-decision not to consider letting Iraq split into separate countries, and our decision not to privatize Iraqi oil? You can defend these decisions on their merits (I don’t), but the point is that at least the oil decision, and maybe the other one too, seem to have been made by tacitly accepting conventional wisdom, without serious consideration of radically different alternatives, and perhaps without involvement in the decision process by people with contrary views.

    However, even if we want to invest more effort into planning for post-wars, it may be difficult actually to do so effectively. Using the term “sysadmin” as a metaphor for what we want to do may even be a bad idea, because it suggests central planning. What we should perhaps consider systematically is how to boost the social and political infrastructures in conquered countries in ways that will encourage political competition, self-sufficiency and civil society. This is a very difficult task, needless to say, but at least as a concept it incorporates some prudent humility about our (or anyone’s) capacities as nation builders.

    Remember that Germany didn’t take off economically after WW2 until Ludwig Erhard — on a Sunday, because that was the only time he had a chance of getting away with it — repealed economic regulations imposed by the occupying powers that were stifling the German economy. I don’t know if Iraq has any incipient Erhards, but I think the first thing we have to consider is how to avoid doing more harm than good. As I said, this is a difficult task.

    BTW, just so it’s clear, I should mention that I think that even with the post-war mistakes we’ve made, we’ve still gotten many things right, and Iraq today is enormously better off than it would have been if we hadn’t deposed Hussein.

  6. Juxtaposing your “core of the core” concept with the references to Fukuyama and Ginny’s post below, i think Fukuyama’s notion of cross family trust may be as important as the Anglosphere in defining a “core of the core”.

    Fukuyama points out that Japan and the Netherlands are more like the US and Britain than France, South Korea and, to a lesser extent, Germany are. Why? Because the samurai underpinning of the Japanese economic classes and the Dutch fight to wrest a nation from the tides fostered the a similar kind of trust. He calls this kind of trust “spontaneous sociability”, the ease at which people form ties and agreements across family boundaries.

    One way to look for it is in the structure of large corporations. Are they non-family affairs? Do you need the state to step in to consolidate across family lines? Japanese and Dutch companies are more similar to US and British companies by being cross family alliances, while French, Chinese and, to a lesser extent, German companies tend to be more family affairs. Large French and Chinese companies tended to be nurtured by the state. And, yes, Japan and The Netherlands are more willing to work closely with us in Afghanistan and Iraq than France, Germany or China.

    Which brings us to India. Being Anglophone certainly helps their globalization. But what about Fukuyama’s social capital and “spontaneous socialability”? The structure of the large IT outsourcing companies would argue they have “spontaneous sociability”, while the government sponsorship that consolidated the energy and transport sectors would argue against. If they have it, did the British experience bring this to India? The tensions between the Mughal Empire and the Hindi population? I don’t know enough of the culture and history of India to have a feel for it.

    India has private property and a legal system that is not just the whim of the nomenklatura. Their globalization should be easier and more complete than China’s despite the poverty in India.

    But for “core of the core” i would like to include Japan and The Netherlands. India might make it, which would argue for your Anglosphere leaning. My hunch is that the level of trust across family boundaries may be a better guide to India’s future success.

    Thanks for the commentary. Barnett’s book is in my Amazon shopping cart, and will probably move out of the “save for later” category as a result of your post.

    Matya no baka

  7. Lex, first I want to thank you for the time and effort you put into this outstanding book review. I’ve been eargerly awaiting it since it was promised a month or so back. You came through brilliantly.

    Now a few comments:

    Overall, like you, I’m impressed with his two basic concepts:
    1. That there exists an interconnected, technologically and socially advanced Core and a Gap which is much less so. And the Gap correlates directly to the likelyhood of our needing to intervene there militarily.
    2. That our military (and possibly our State Dept.) need to adopt post conflict management and reconstruction, i.e. nation building, into its basic mission.

    I did notice you seem to be highly conflicted on the issue of bringing others into the post-conflict rebuilding phase. On the one hand you state, “I’m not sure why we need the other guys to help us do Part 2 if we were to acquire the skills needed…” and then later complain, “I’m also not sure we really can pull off the kind of rock-bottom nation-building which would be necessary in the worst parts of the Gap.” I have the same internal conflict.

    In a sense, this goes right to the heart of international debate we’re having over Iraq. What to do, when to do it, who’s going to do what, who’s responsible, who gets what degree of say, who pays for it. I’m in the group who thinks the US should do the things we believe are absolutely necessary, alone if need be. I also believe we’ll be far, far better off if we can ‘internationalize’ these issues to the maximun extent possible.

    We truly need a new paradigm for international order. The UN is most certainly not it, at least insofar as it’s currently configured. I also believe that for the foreseeable future the Europeans are going to remain completely and myopically focussed on building a new political order for themselves, the EU. Russia and China are in similar boats. Each is preoccupied with defining themselves and where they’re going. As long as the world doesn’t go completely to hell, they could almost care less. I wonder if a summit would help?

    Another facet of the book seems mistaken to me. Barnett’s Gap is all one color. Core, Gap. Two zones.

    This reminds me of the old joke, “There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who think the world can be divided into two kinds of people, and those who don’t.” Clearly, you’re in the second group.

    In a way, Barnett is applying set theory. Just because he says we can divide the world ‘thus’ doesn’t mean that’s the only way to divide the world, or that you can’t then subdivide those initial groups, or by applying a different set of parameters get sets with a completely different distribution. It’s just a way organizing. Nothing more. And it can be useful for seeing relationships.

  8. Fukuyama’s work on Trust (radius of trust and spontaneous sociability) which actually is based on Banfield (The Moral Basis of a Backward Society) is relevant. Every nation with a broad radius of trust has made it into the core. However it is only one of several factors. Another important one is the ability to export your high-trust template; i.e., to take immigrants and others from outside your circles and integrate them into the high-trust society. English-speaking culture has generated many such societies. Japan’s big adventure in colonization was Korea; the Netherlands’ was South Africa. Not so successful. (It is worth thinking about that almost every successful new economy in East Asia was colonized by either the Japanese or the British at some point — this includes China’s industrial infrastructure, the core of which began in Japanese-colonized Manchuria in the 1920s and 1930s.

    All the high-trust societies — Japan, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia — should be important Core players. Provided, of course, they don’t find themselves being dragged down by centralized bureaucratic structures controlled by lower-trust societies, like the European Union. If Barnett believes that “dividing the Core” is bad he should address the problem of nations which seek to profit by “pimping the core” — selling technology and influence they have by virtue of their position in the Core to anti-Core Gap actors.

    Barnett’s failure to examine closely hat is going on with the EU is the other main failing in his (generally good) book.

  9. Jonathan: “Using the term “sysadmin” as a metaphor for what we want to do may even be a bad idea, because it suggests central planning.” Jonathan, dont’ worry. Barnett is all about enabling not prefabricating. The term is not his best neologism. “It seems clear, for example, that while our recent military planning in Iraq was first-rate, we have sent our second string to manage the occupation and they have been largely winging it.” Exactly. We did this badly because we have not got a good structure in place to do it well. Barnett wants to build that structure. I agree absolutely that there is a need, since we keep getting involved in these projects, and I am in strong agreement with his basic approach to how to do it.

    MNB: Whether low trust societies can get out of the Gap is an open question. “But for “core of the core” i would like to include Japan and The Netherlands.” I’d say no because they do not make a significant contribution to the military power of the Core, and I was speaking of the Core in its role of spreading globalization into the less developed areas. Poland and Norway have developed “niche competencies”, as Barnett calls them, which make them more important actors as allies of the USA. Also, it is Anglo-American institutions which are spreading around the world much more so than Dutch or Japanese ones. Still, you are correct that Japan and Holland are major investors and have had a historic role as former colonizers.

    Michael: “That our military (and possibly our State Dept.) need to adopt post conflict management and reconstruction, i.e. nation building, into its basic mission.” Barnett talks about the SysAdmin being a military force, but having strong inter-agency ties. So, he is talking about having State involved, but also any other agency which can make a contribution, for example Treasury or Justice or even HHS. I’m not “conflicted” about other countries participating. I think he asserts but does not demonstrate that we will necessarily need foreign help to pull of the Phase 2 part. If we develop this capability, we should be able to go it alone if necessary, and take advantage of foreign country help if it is offered and wanted. I think what Barnett is getting at but either didn’t articulate (or I missed it or forgot it — I read this book a long time ago) is that we want to seem legitimate to foreign counries and we want our state-building to be seen as a service we are doing which benefits everybody. So we will want very much to have others involved. However, coming at it from the other side, imagine we see an imperative need to conquer some place because it is harboring dangerous terrorists, and the rest of the world is opposed to us going in, but we do anyway. Now, we’d rather not devote our efforts to rebuilding the place, but we broke it so we bought it (Colin Powell’s Pottery Barn Doctrine). In that case we’d have to do state-building on our own. This seems to me to be a pretty likely turn of events. “Barnett is applying set theory.” This is exactly right, and I an not criticizing Barnett for dividing the world in half. We have to make simplifying assumptions to make sense of the world or each fleeting perception is unique and we are lost in the details. But once you look at his two groups and try to work with them I saw some immediately some facts which forced me to add a little “granularity” to keep the basic division useful — i.e. the Core of the Core is the USA and certain close allies for a lot of reasons, and in the Gap there is one place which seems to me the most dire problem which should be dealt with first for a lot of reasons. Even he has a distinction between “New Core” and “Old Core”. I think his basic two-part division has utility. But once you start to make specific policy proposals you have to start getting into the finer grain.

    Jim: I am in full agreement with your historical points. Barnett does not get heavily involved in the EU and what it is or is not doing. But I think he does so indirectly when he says that if the other Core countries want to have a say in what we do in the Gap then they will have to pay the coin to develop the capabilities to get involved. One course is to develop interoperable niche capabilities. I suspect that he perceives even pretty bitter intra-Core animosities like France v. USA as minor or even trivial compared to the challenges we jointly face in expanding globalization — and to the extent they don’t like what we do, they are in no position to stop us. But I don’t recall any detail on this and consulting the index reveals one entry for “France” and four for “European Union”, none of which shed much light. Bottom line, relations between the EU and the USA are moving the deck chairs around, but the liner will sail on.

  10. Great post, Lex. But I’m not so sure I think “Leviathan” is a darn cool name.

    Hobbes was a creepy dude. His vision of absolute authoritarian utopia is part of what inspired last century’s autocrats, and it is part of what inspires the transnationalists today.

  11. Barnett doesn’t say very much about the European Union, but he seems to buy into the idea that the Old Core will be organized around regional blocs, US-Europe-East Asia. At one point he believes that East Asia will create a common currency on the model of the euro, which a0 I think is unlikely, and b) assumes that the Euro itself will last, which I think is certainly not assured. He usually uses the term “European Union” when he really wants to be saying “the European states”. You are right about his theory requiring more granularity: although the big divide is between the Core and the Gap (and I’d certainly rather live in France or Belgium than Colombia or Indonesia) the divides within the Old Core are significant and how they are handled may make the difference between success and failure in everything else.

  12. Dodger, I confess that I got through the U of C without reading Hobbes. I’ll get to him. The point here is that Leviathan is meant to suggest not a political but a VAST, INVINCIBLE BEAST. So, I like it.

    Jim, I agree that the intra-Core issues between the USA and the EU are major. But for Barnett’s purpose, the two-fold division of the world will work OK, since he is trying to get the Pentagon to adopt his map. They won’t be conquering Belgium or France any time soon. (I addressed the very issue of bashing Belgium long ago.)

    To address the problems presented by the EU and Old Europe generally, it is the State Department which needs a new map. And boy do they ever.

  13. One well picked Gap state takedown (Iraq) and we have all sorts of progress across the Middle East. Saudi Arabia will be holding local elections. Libya gives up its nuke programs (as well as large chunks of its partners’ nuke programs). The changes are there for anybody to see.

    The SysAdmin force is not going to have to go rebuild the dozens of Gap nations out there. The neocommunists of E. Europe have shown the way out, a quiet retirement for the old guard, lots of advantages and legs up for their children, and a long process of letting in the societal have nots into the halls of power is going to be the outcome for an awful lot of the Gap.

Comments are closed.