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Book Reviews

The Pentagon’s new map: War and peace in the twenty-first century

by Thomas P.M. Barnett
New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2004
448 pages, $US 26.95

Reviewed by Major Ian P. Rutherford

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We should all be concerned about the future, because we will have to spend the rest of our lives there.

– Charles Franklin Kettering: Seed for Thought.


Book cover

What does the future hold? According to Thomas Barnett, it includes a bifurcation of the current United States Defense Department into a lethal Leviathan force capable of rapidly defeating any opponent, and a police-like System Administrator force that stays behind to provide governance structures. It includes a U.S. government (of either political stripe) that encourages the continual evolution of globalization and the interconnectedness across the globe that this implies. Finally, it includes a recognition that the US is the only country capable of exporting the common good of system-wide (i.e. global) security in the age of the lone (and lonely) superpower, and that the failure to articulate a vision of the future worth creating is hindering US efforts to convince friends and foes alike that this future is in the best interests of all humanity. It is a sweeping vision, to be sure. It is also somewhat vain. Most importantly, it is an attempt at articulating a coherent US foreign policy for the unsettled times of the post-9/11 world akin to that achieved by the late George Kennan in his famous “X” article in Foreign Affairs, circa 1947, that first explained and argued for the policy of containment that became the overarching western strategy of the entire Cold War era.

Dr. Barnett, a professor at the US Naval War College, divides the world into two broad categories: the functioning Core, and the non-integrating Gap. The Core represents the globalized world – most of Europe, all of North America and most of South America, Australia, Japan and South Africa. It also includes new players in globalization and world trade: Russia, China and India. In all, approximately four billion people reside in the Core, where minimalist rule sets (detailing what you must not do, but never dictating what you must do) and the rule of law allow for trade, investment and economic growth. Due to all this interconnectedness, war in the traditional sense (war in the context of war – great power versus great power) has become dysfunctional. The Pentagon’s quest for the rise of a ‘near-peer’ competitor from within the Core (think China) has been misguided, for as China seeks to align its internal rule sets with those of the World Trade Organization, war becomes economic suicide. The Core enjoys Kantian peace and stable (if not always or currently free) government.

In contrast, the Gap represents the “ozone hole” of globalization, where trade, investment, and economic growth – that is, interconnectedness – are absent. Disconnectedness defines danger, and the essentially lawless gap encompasses the two billion people trapped in the world’s worst zones of instability and poverty: the Balkans, the Middle East, central and southeast Asia, most of Africa, and the lawless zones in the Americas such as Haiti, Columbia and Guyana. War in the Gap is often asymmetrical or nontraditional, especially when the Americans intervene. It is war against the backdrop of failed states and humanitarian crises – war in the context of everything else. It is also the breeding ground of al-Qaeda. Governments in the Gap tend to be unstable or hereditary, with a small elite benefiting from what little wealth is to be had, be it oil or precious metals. Education is limited, and women are often marginalized and disenfranchised. The Gap is a Hobbesian world devoid of rule sets and stability.

Although it might be tempting for the Core to develop a “firewall” strategy for the Gap, Dr. Barnett argues that this would be shortsighted, and would merely lead to the rise of the “Bin Laden after next.” The Gap and Core are connected by four flows: the movement of people from the Gap to the Core; the movement of energy from the Gap to the Core; the movement of money from the old Core to the new Core; and the exporting of security by the US to the Gap. These flows must be balanced if globalization is to continue apace, and, as a by-product, will result in increased connectivity between the Gap and the Core. Barnett’ s central thesis is that shrinking the Gap and connecting it to the Core can only improve Core security.

Barnett argues that as the last superpower, the United States alone has the wherewithal to accomplish this goal. To do so, it must nurture security relationships across the Core by expanding and maintaining alliances; it must work multilaterally where able or bilaterally if necessary with “seam states” between the Core and Gap to protect the Core from the worst of the Gap’ s exports (drugs, pandemic diseases, and, especially, terrorism) and it must shrink the Gap by exporting security to the most egregious of its trouble spots. Barnett supports US intervention in both Afghanistan and Iraq as first steps towards accomplishing this last goal. However, Barnett argues that the problems being experienced by the US in Iraq are symptomatic of the military the US bought over the last decade preparing for war against a near-peer competitor when, in fact, the danger was disconnectivity in the Gap. Here, he suggests a new strategy for the United States.

To accomplish its goal of shrinking the Gap, the US requires two militaries: one to rapidly and decisively defeat any opponent, and one to stay behind over the long-term to provide stability and governance functions until the indigenous government and population can accomplish these tasks for themselves. The first force is the Leviathan force: young, male and single. In police terms, it is the S.W.A.T. team able to respond quickly and lethally to emerging threats and security challenges. The second force is the System Administrator (Sys-Admin) force: older, gender-balanced, married with children. In police terms, it is the cop on the beat that helps ensure rule sets are followed and rule breakers are punished.

Although Barnett provides a compelling argument, there are some problem areas. Like many Canadians, this reviewer remains amazed at an American exceptionalism that sees it willing to provide exports of security, health and education to the Gap that it is unwilling to provide for its own citizens, especially in its inner cities. To be fair, Barnett is not discussing American domestic policy. But surely he must see that this contradiction is what makes many observers of the US leery of accepting offers of ‘help’ from the Leviathan. Further, he assumes that only the US is able to deal with the Gap, and that what it has to offer – politically, culturally and economically – will be automatically accepted by citizens of the Gap. An additional problem area is exemplified by the ongoing political unrest in Northern Ireland, which Barnett discounts as being a statistical outsider or isolated difference and thus not taken into consideration. Discounting this conflict is convenient for Barnett, but his refusal to explain how this very interconnected portion of the world with an indigenous “Sys-Admin” force can continue to experience repeated terrorist acts weakens his argument. Finally, Barnett never approaches the issue of education for the members of the Sys-Admin force. As historian Niall Ferguson points out in Colossus, in the age of the British Empire, education at Oxford was often followed by service overseas in colonial administration. In contrast, Yale University in 1998-99 had but one undergraduate majoring in Near Eastern languages and civilization, compared to seventeen majoring in film studies. Simply put, unless the US dramatically increases training in Arabic and Islamic studies, it will be ill equipped to conduct the Sys-Admin role as anything other than conquerors.

Some military readers may find Barnett’s autobiographical style, pop culture references to Star Trek and The Planet of the Apes, and his discussion of PowerPoint culture within the Pentagon overdone at times. However, it serves his purpose of presenting a traditional security discussion in an unconventional way. In no way should it detract from what Barnett has to say about the future of warfare. If the US does pursue transformation into a Leviathan and Sys-Admin force, the implications for the Canadian Forces could be significant. Will the CF cease trying to keep up with the expensive Leviathan force, and instead integrate with the Sys-Admin force? While it might appear attractive to politicians looking for defence ‘on the cheap’ and to a public enamoured of Canada’s supposed propensity to ‘peacekeep,’ it could well involve Canada and the CF in a 21st Century version of Kipling’s “savage wars of peace” within the Gap. Whether you agree with Barnett’s ideas, The Pentagon’s New Map should be on every warrior’s ‘to read’ list.

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Major Rutherford, a planner at the Canadian Forces Joint Operations Group, is a doctoral candidate in War Studies at the Royal Military College of Canada.