David Ignatius on "The Pentagon's New Map": Winning a War For the Disconnected

I missed this Ignatius column from last December, but today came across a reference to the op-ed while reading Tom Barnett’s new “Blueprint for Action : A Future Worth Creating”. Regular readers already know that I think “The Pentagon’s New Map” made a very important contribution to geopolitical strategy. More on Blueprint for Action after I finish the book. Ignatius wrote:

It hasn’t been reviewed by the New York Times or The Post, and it’s little known outside the military. But the red-hot book among the nation’s admirals and generals this holiday season is a work of strategy by Thomas P.M. Barnett called “The Pentagon’s New Map.”

Imagine a combination of Tom Friedman on globalization and Karl von Clausewitz on war and you begin to get an idea of where Barnett is coming from. His book tries to rethink strategy for a post-Cold War, post-Sept. 11 world caught between order and anarchy, self-satisfaction and rage, prosperity and ruin.

Barnett’s central thesis is that today’s world is divided into two categories: the “Functioning Core” of nations connected to the global economy and prospering as never before, and the “Non-Integrating Gap” of nations disconnected from the matrix of wealth and progress and therefore spinning toward chaos. Most of America’s military interventions in recent years have been in the Gap, notes Barnett, but we have failed to understand that we face a common enemy there. . .

Barnett doesn’t see America’s role as a neo-imperialist global centurion. Instead, he argues, the U.S. goal must be to promote “rule sets” that are shared by Core and Gap alike. “All we can offer is choice, the connectivity to escape isolation, and the safety within which freedom finds practical expression,” he writes. “None of this can be imposed, only offered. Globalization does not come with a ruler, but with rules.”

Barnett has been tinkering with these ideas since the late 1990s, but they came into focus, not surprisingly, after Sept. 11, 2001. Three months later, he was giving the first versions of a briefing that has now been heard by hundreds of senior military officers. His concepts have spread so fast among the military brass that when I was in Bahrain two weeks ago, I heard a Barnett-style briefing from the commander of U.S. naval forces in the Persian Gulf, Vice Adm. David Nichols. He outlined a strategy of encouraging countries in the Middle East to move toward “connected” economies, orderly “rule sets” and democratic political reform.

A continuing puzzle (to me) is why Barnett’s work is so often discussed in the context of military strategy. The applications there are clear, but the strategy is in no way purely a “military strategy”. My take is the genesis of the Core/Gap concept was Barnett’s role in the Cantor Fitzgerald Economic Security Exercises. Very sadly, the Cantor Fitzgerald principals who initiated that study-series perished in the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. Otherwise we might be hearing more commentary from the Wall Street community.

That Barnett’s thesis is compelling derives from a sound understanding of the economics that drive globalization – and the simple desires of families to improve their lives.

Barnett’s website and blog are a remarkable resource.