SWJ: My Interview with Tom Barnett

The Small Wars Journal has published an interview I conducted with Dr. Thomas Barnett regarding his new book Great Powers: America and the World After Bush.

Ten Questions with Thomas P.M. Barnett

…. 4. In Great Powers, you delve deeply into American history. What lessons did you find in our nation’s past that the diplomat overseas, the Army colonel in Afghanistan or the U.S. Aid worker in Africa should know to navigate their mission today?

This is all about frontier integration. Globalization is like America’s rapid and aggressive push Westward across the 19th century: a lot of the same bad actors and a lot of the same tools applied. So don’t be surprised when the Pinkertons show up, or when the covered wagons are attacked, or when the Injuns head to the Badlands for sanctuary. Thus, the goals of our frontline players are fairly straightforward: create the baseline security to allow the connectivity to grow. Focus on social trust and institutions as much as possible, but co-opt existing structures whenever and wherever you can. It doesn’t have to be perfect and it sure as hell doesn’t have to measure up to America’s mature standards. This is a frontier setting within globalization-treat it as such. The good news is, the settlers are already there, with more uncredentialed wealth than we realize (see Hernando DeSoto), if you respect their existing rule-sets and realize they will change only when the locals see the need themselves, so no instant rule-set packages applied by outsiders, please. Finally, acknowledge that with growing connectivity with the outside world, you will see more nationalism, more ethnic tensions, and more religious identity. These are all natural reactions, and not signs of your failure, so patience is the key.

Read the whole thing here.

Special thanks to Dave Dilegge for providing the forum and to Sean Meade and Lexington Green with editorial assistance and astute advice.

2 thoughts on “SWJ: My Interview with Tom Barnett”

  1. My favorite quote from Tom:

    Finally, as for nuclear disarmament, that’s just nonsense. Nukes are good. They killed great-power war. Going to zero is plain stupid. It’d make the first idiot dictator with a bomb the equivalent of the one-eyed man in the land of the blind. I see no reason whatsoever to go down that naïve and utopian path. That stuff is just peddled by old men who feel guilty about the past. Let them pass on in peace, but please, don’t endanger this world and its future by placating such foolishness.

    Interesting contrast with a very different view:

    This is the moment when we must renew the goal of a world without nuclear weapons. The two superpowers that faced each other across the wall of this city came too close too often to destroying all we have built and all that we love. With that wall gone, we need not stand idly by and watch the further spread of the deadly atom. It is time to secure all loose nuclear materials; to stop the spread of nuclear weapons; and to reduce the arsenals from another era. This is the moment to begin the work of seeking the peace of a world without nuclear weapons.

    Barack Obama, Berlin, July 24, 2008.

    That’s pretty far from “nukes are good”. Let’s hope this is one of the many occasions where Obama was saying something he did not really mean, for political reasons.

    Because Tom is absolutely right: Nukes are good.

  2. Agreed. However there is not a snowball’s chance in all Hell that Putin and Medvedev will agree to deep cuts in the nuclear stockpile that makes Russia geopolitically different from Mexico or Nigeria.

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