Review of The Pentagon’s New Map

Mackubin T. Owens

May 1, 2004

The Pentagon’s New Map by Thomas P.M. BarnettThe Pentagon’s New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-First Century
Thomas P.M. Barnett (New York: Putnam, 2004), 392 pp.

Since the end of the Cold War, policy makers have struggled to describe the security environment emerging from the collapse of the Soviet Union. Scholars and pundits have promulgated a number of candidates to replace the bipolar structure of the world arising from the struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union.

By far the most optimistic and ambitious alternative appeared in a watershed article by Francis Fukuyama for the summer 1989 issue of The National Interest. In “The End of History?” Fukuyama suggested that the end of the Cold War meant that liberalism had defeated its one remaining ideological competitor to become the dominant force in the world. Fascism had been destroyed with the allied victory in World War II. Now communism had joined it on the ash heap of history.

Fukuyama was answered almost immediately by Samuel Huntington who argued that the end of ideological war did not mean that major fault lines had disappeared in the world. In place of ideological conflict, he postulated a “clash of civilizations.” Robert Kaplan also joined the fray, arguing that in many parts of the war, “history” was very much still in evidence. As one wag said of the Balkans: “too much history; too little space.”

Fukuyama followed up his original article in The National Interest with a book in which he addressed his critics, acknowledging that, despite the progress of “a universal and directional history” leading to the end state of liberal democracy, there were many parts of the world in which liberal democracy had not yet triumphed. Nonetheless, he argued, there was an increasing acceptance of the idea that “liberal democracy in reality constitutes the best possible solution to the human problem.”

The corollary to the universal triumph of liberal democracy was “globalization,” the dynamic, world-wide process of capitalistic economic integration and the irresistible expansion of global capitalist markets. Advocates of globalization concluded that interdependence and cooperation had replaced competition in international affairs and that the result would be more or less spontaneous peace and prosperity. Political scientists and economists alike agreed that this was the most important characteristic of our epoch, against which other forces didn’t stand a chance. “Global interdependence” advanced the idea that the pursuit of power in its geographic setting had been supplanted by liberal economic cooperation. For many, the process of globalization was autonomous and self-regulating.

It is an understatement to observe that 9/11 called into question the assumption that globalization was an unambiguously beneficial phenomenon. We now began to discern what some commentators called the “dark underbelly” of globalization, represented by such enemies of Western liberalism as Osama bin Laden.

While a number of analysts tried to shoehorn 9/11 into previous paradigms, Thomas Barnett, a research professor at the Naval War College, offered an innovative explanation of the link between globalization and terrorism in a controversial article for the March 2003 issue of Esquire entitled “The Pentagon’s New Map.” According to Barnett, 9/11 revealed the emerging geopolitical reality that the world’s most important “fault line” was not between the rich and the poor, but between those who accept modernity and those who reject it. The former part of the globe Barnett called the “Functioning Core,” the latter, the “Non-Integrating Gap.”

The Core, where “globalization is thick with network connectivity, financial transactions, liberal media flows, and collective security,” is characterized by “stable governments, rising standards of living, and more deaths by suicide than murder.” The Gap, where “globalization is thinning or just plain absent” is “plagued by politically repressive regimes, widespread poverty and disease, routine mass murder, and—most important—the chronic conflicts that incubate the next generation of global terrorists.”

Barnett, like Fukuyama, Huntington, and Kaplan before him has now expanded his article into a book: The Pentagon’s New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-First Century. In many respects, the book is brilliant and innovative. It offers a persuasive analysis of the post-9/11 world as well as policy prescriptions flowing from that analysis. It supports the idea that the necessary (but not sufficient) cause of prosperity is security—in other words that the expansion of a liberal world order (globalization) is not automatic—it must be underwritten by a power or powers willing to provide the public good of security. Just as the theories of such geopolitical writers as Sir Halford Mackinder and Nicholas Spykman provided the intellectual underpinnings of US grand strategy during the Cold War, Barnett offers the outline of a geopolitics rationale for a grand strategy to counter the new terrorism.

But The Pentagon’s New Map is also disappointing. To begin with, it cannot decide whether it is analysis or memoir. Barnett devotes entirely too much space to his own experiences in the defense bureaucracy and elsewhere. While he is an entertaining writer and offers many interesting insights into the workings of the bureaucracy and the travails of those who would seek to transform its workings, he does not, like Fukuyama, Huntington, and Kaplan, take the opportunity to expand and flesh out the concept he developed in his original article for Esquire. For instance, he does not explain what makes the Gap the Gap (in my view, a combination of geography and culture) except to observe that it is where globalization doesn’t work. I believe this is called a tautology.

Barnett, like others before him, points out that globalization is not a completely new phenomenon. Globalization I, he contends, took off in the 1870s and ended with the outbreak of the Great War in 1914. After an interregnum that saw the outbreak of two world wars and a worldwide economic depression, Globalization II, based on the Bretton Woods rule set, was put into place in 1945 and continued until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989. Globalization III represents a continuation and expansion of Globalization II and describes the era in which we find ourselves today.

Barnett’s Core is composed of North America, Europe, and Japan (the “old” Core—the pillars of Globalization II); and Russia, India, China, Brazil, Chile, and Argentina (the “new” Core—the emerging pillars of Globalization III). The Gap includes South America (minus Brazil, Argentina, and Chile), most of Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. The latter contains most of the “failed states” that epitomize the perceived failures of globalization. Before 9/11, US policymakers acted in accordance with a “rule set” that focused on inter-state conflict within the Core and consigned security concerns within the Gap to the status of “lesser included cases.”

Policymakers in both the Clinton and Bush administrations failed to anticipate the events of 9/11 not primarily because of intelligence failures, important as they may have been, but because their attention was focused elsewhere. The former saw globalization as a panacea for the world’s ills and ignored its failures in the Gap. The latter were focused on preventing the emergence of a competing great power—e.g. China—in the Core. The dominant rule set during the 1990s was a continuation of the Cold War rule set, stressing arms control, deterrence, and the management of globalization. The dream was to create a Kantian world of “perpetual peace” among democratic states.

But this rule set left much of the Gap—the “disconnected” regions of the world—in a Hobbesian “state of nature,” wherein the life of man is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Led by educated elites such as Osama bin Laden who desired to keep their regions disconnected from the grasp of globalization and American “empire,” the Gap struck directly at the Core. In Barnett’s view, 9/11 was the revenge of the “lesser includeds.”

For Barnett, the key to future global security and prosperity is the requirement of the Core to “shrink” the Gap. Managing the Gap—a policy of containment—is not enough: such an approach further reduces what little connectivity the Gap has with the Core and renders it more dangerous to the Core over the long haul. The Core must export security into the Gap, providing the stability necessary for the regions within to achieve “connectivity” with the rest of the world and thereby position themselves to benefit from globalization. Otherwise, the Gap will continue to export terrorism to the Core, as it has been doing over the last decade.

Barnett argues that “bin Laden and Al Qaeda are pure products of the Gap—in effect, its most violent feedback to the Core. 9/11 represented an attempt by bin Laden to create a “systems perturbation” in the Core so that he would be able to take the Islamic world “off line” from globalization and return it to some seventh-century definition of the good life. For Barnett, the proper strategic response to 9/11 is to create a countervailing systems perturbation in the Gap—which is exactly what the Bush administration did by striking Afghanistan and Iraq.

That was the message that President Bush sought to convey to our friends and allies in his speech of September 7, 2003: that Iraq is the central front of the war against terrorism, the Gap’s main export to the West, and that if Europe, for instance, does not pitch in to help stabilize Iraq, the Gap may very well strike at Europe as it has at the United States. The recent terror attack in Spain seems to confirm this judgment.

From my standpoint, the most important contribution of The Pentagon’s New Map is its implications for future US military force structure. If the Gap truly constitutes the “expeditionary theater” of US foreign policy, are the military services focusing on the right issues and investing in the right things? Heretofore, the services have preferred to prepare for high-end, state-centric conflict. The Pentagon’s New Map suggests that they might want to rethink their priorities.

Barnett writes that he received a great deal of hate mail when his Esquire piece first appeared. Critics on the Left accused him of attempting to justify US aggression and “perpetual war.” Critics on the Right argued essentially that “peace is divisible:” what happens in the Gap may be terrible but it does not affect the United States. US Intervention in the Gap will lead to an American “empire” that will corrupt both our souls and our political system. Others simply asserted that the job is too big for the United States to accomplish and that the risk is not worth the cost.

Despite attempts to caricature Barnett as a warmonger because he endorsed the war in Iraq, the fact is that he is optimistic about the blessings of “connectivity” and globalization—indeed he is extremely close in outlook to Fukuyama. He believes that globalization can create prosperity anywhere only if it creates prosperity everywhere. To extend the blessings of globalization to the Gap is to work toward a “future worth creating.”

Indeed one of the weaknesses of the book is that it is too optimistic, discounting the likelihood of great power conflict in the future. Barnett repeatedly ridicules the pre-9/11 focus of the Bush administration on China. Sounding very much like a latter day Norman Angell, whose 1911 book, The Great Illusion, published to great acclaim, argued that war was unthinkable since economically interdependent states had so much to lose in the event of war, Barnett argues that China has nothing to gain and everything to lose from war with the United States. China, he contends, is too focused on increasing its connectivity to confront the United States.

We have heard this refrain before. In 1910, peace and prosperity reigned throughout most of the world. While conflict threatened some regions, e.g. the Balkans, a liberal order mostly prevailed. Presiding over this liberal world order was Great Britain, apparently at the pinnacle of its power. Yes, Germany seemed determined to achieve its “place in the sun.” Not satisfied with its dominant position on the European continent, Germany was building a battle fleet that had the potential to challenge British naval supremacy. But according to the logic of the time, the great powers would use diplomacy, not war, to solve their problems, as was the case with the Agadir crisis of 1911.

In his memoir The World Crisis, Winston Churchill described the sense of optimism that prevailed even during the Agadir crisis.

[War] is too foolish, too fantastic, to be thought of in the 20th Century…Civilization has climbed above such perils. The interdependence of nations in trade and traffic, the sense of public law, the Hague Convention, liberal principles, the Labour Party, high finance, Christian charity, common sense have rendered such nightmares impossible. Are you quite sure? It would be a pity to be wrong.

The optimists were wrong and the Great War came in 1914. By 1919, Europe lay in ruins. Even the victors were exhausted.

So while Barnett is correct to observe that the United States did not pay enough attention to the Gap, it would be a mistake to now reverse the error and focus exclusively on the Gap to the exclusion of the Core. As Barnett himself points out, there are looming fissures within the Core that could lead to problems down the road. We must not commit the “likelihood fallacy.”

To Barnett’s credit, The Pentagon’s New Map recognizes that a liberal world and the prosperity resulting there from does not just occur through the actions of a global “invisible hand.” Instead, as “hegemonic stability” theory suggest, such an order depends on the willingness and capability of a “hegemonic power” to provide the collective goods of security. In other words, the liberal world order that so many people take for granted does not just arise spontaneously; the conditions for peace and prosperity must be created and maintained by the United States or some other hegemonic power.

As Donald Kagan has observed, history seems to indicate:

that good will, unilateral disarmament, the avoidance of alliances, teaching and preaching the evils of war by those states who…seek to preserve peace, are to no avail.

What seems to work best…is the possession by those states who wish to preserve peace of the preponderant power and of the will to accept the burdens of and responsibilities required to achieve that power.

In the context of hegemonic stability, different rule sets are required for the Core and the Gap. In the former, the old rule set continues to prevail, but in the Gap, a new rule set based on preemption and maintaining constant pressure on terrorist sanctuaries is required. “Either the world develops new rule sets to meet the challenges of the age or the rule set misalignment that emerged in the 1990s” will persist—and the terrorists will keep coming at us.

Mackubin Thomas Owens, an Adjunct Fellow of the Ashbrook Center, is an associate dean of academics and professor of strategy and force planning at the Naval War College in Newport, RI. He led a Marine infantry platoon in Vietnam in 1968-1969.