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Friday, October 13

More on Thomas P. M. Barnett's ideas

This update follows on my post earlier today; it's to acknowledge Jim Ellsworth's opinion that Thomas Barnett would greatly disagree with my outline of his position as he put forth in Blueprint for Action, and to add a few comments to my observations today about Barnett's ideas.

It is hard to critique Barnett's ideas simply because there are so many of them. His book ranges from a sketch of his Core-Gap-Seam model of states and call for a larger 'SysAdmin' force to accompany the traditional warfare force, to foreign policy discussions, his debunking of American exceptionalism and defense of China, a foray into crystal ball gazing, and on and on.

But in brief Barnett's thesis envisions that traditional war is headed for history's dustbin. So he examines the kind of armed conflicts arising outside the traditional model of war and asks how the Pentagon can best plan for dealing such conflicts.

Some of his suggestions are good; e.g., "We need to stand an African command" (along the model of CENTCOM). And when he confines his discussion to the Pentagon, he is illuminating: "Contrary to popular imagination, the Pentagon is primarily in the business of preparing for war, not waging it [...] It may seem counterintuitive but the defense budget accounts only for future wars, not today's."

But Barnett skirts the central problem with his thesis that the Core states should be chiefly concerned with integrating the Gap states into the Core. The Core-Gap-Seam model is actually based on trade; specifically, the World Trade Organization. So when the model is applied to defense, one must ask whether oppressive regimes should be part of a global 'System Administration' force.

A deeper question is whether the United States wants to trade in the Cold War Nato model of defense for one that simply substitutes 'world peace' for 'fighting the commies.'

Barnett is very clear on arguing that strengthening the Core via closer integration of Seam states and Gap ones should take top priority in foreign relations:

"America needs to commit itself to the concept that getting countries from the Gap to the Core is not only a national security imperative, it's our overarching foreign policy." (page 30)

This idea leads straight to Barnett's argument for the obvious conclusion: if America is to be the world's supercop, "the US can't go it alone in peacekeeping." Thus, by many twists and turns, we find ourselves plopped in a desk at the Chirac School of foreign policy.

During the Cold War days, we couldn't do too much to rile our Nato allies, or our defense model would fall apart. Barnett wants US foreign policy to commit to refraining from doing too much to rile the WTO members; this so US military planning does not run into problems in those countries where America has joint operations.

In other words, if we set up joint military operations with every country on earth -- well, at least every Core-Seam country -- we will de-Gap the world. The catch is that we have to mesh our foreign policy with that of the Core-Seam countries.

Thomas Barnett has used the war on terror to argue that long-term safety for the US in the post-9/11 era calls for unprecedented cooperation with countries that fit his Core-Seam criteria.

I would argue that long-term safety lies in getting very clear on how to translate American democratic values into our foreign relations. That means, at root, being explicit on where we can compromise and where we can't, and building our post-9/11 defense policy on that foundation.
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