2005-01-14

Barnett: the Gap and the Map

Thomas P. M. Barnett sets forth his theory of global connectedness in his March, 2003 article The Pentagon's New Map:
Show me where globalization is thick with network connectivity, financial transactions, liberal media flows, and collective security, and I will show you regions featuring stable governments, rising standards of living, and more deaths by suicide than murder.  These parts of the world I call the Functioning Core, or Core.  But show me where globalization is thinning or just plain absent, and I will show you regions 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.  These parts of the world I call the Non-Integrating Gap, or Gap. 

Barnett points out that the "rule set" which defines thriving, free societies today is something that Americans often take for granted - forgetting the long, bitter, and ongoing struggle within our own nation for the ideals of freedom, democracy, and equality. He also reminds us that the line between Core and Gap is always shifting, and that "the direction of change is more critical than the degree." Joining the Core will not guarantee immediate peace and prosperity, but it can be counted on to make things gradually improve over time. Leaving the Core, on the other hand, will swiftly and surely make things worse.

For many years, US strategy focused on the model of fighting a large national army (say, the USSR or Red China) and wrote off threats from smaller nations and nonnational entities as "lesser includeds", meaning if we could counter the greater Soviet threat, we could certainly handle the lesser ones. The shortcomings of this model were illustrated on a certain Tuesday morning a few years ago.

Another fallacy, which still holds sway among many on the Left, is a notion of "benign neglect": as Barnett puts it,
The knee-jerk reaction of many Americans to September 11 is to say, “Let’s get off our dependency on foreign oil, and then we won’t have to deal with those people.” The most na├»ve assumption underlying that dream is that reducing what little connectivity the Gap has with the Core will render it less dangerous to us over the long haul. Turning the Middle East into Central Africa will not build a better world for my kids. We cannot simply will those people away.

But why the Mideast? Barnett argues that "the Middle East is the perfect place to start" because "what is most wrong about the Middle East is the lack of personal freedom and how that translates into dead-end lives for most of the population—especially for the young." Furthermore, the Middle East has evolved into a kind of bully culture in which only an external power can act as the catalyst for reform.

Barnett's prescription is three-fold: '1) Increase the Core’s immune system capabilities for responding to September 11-like system perturbations; 2) Work the seam states to firewall the Core from the Gap’s worst exports, such as terror, drugs, and pandemics; and, most important, 3) Shrink the Gap.' He contends that "shrinking the Gap" means exporting security, in the form of "the attention paid by our military forces to any region’s potential for mass violence." It also means robust private-sector investment, particularly in the poorest areas such as Africa; but "it all has to begin with security, because free markets and democracy cannot flourish amid chronic conflict."

I think one very important feature of Barnett's analysis is the theme of empowerment. Empowerment for the peoples of the Middle East, because it rejects the assumption (common among pampered liberals in the West) that Mideasterners are unable or unwilling to govern themselves in a democratic society. Empowerment for Americans, because it affirms that we can use our enormous economic and strategic power for good rather than for evil. And empowerment for all the nations of the world, because it affirms that we live - we must live - in an increasingly global society, one in which it is in our own best interests to look out for one another. Nowadays this is called "neo-conservatism"; the old-fashioned term for it is "enlightened self-interest". No matter what you call it, the time has come to live up to our responsibility as citizens and as human beings. We are our brothers' and sisters' keepers.