Thursday, October 27, 2005

Thomas Barnett's imperial global police force

Thomas Barnett discussed his new book, Blueprint for Action, at the October 26 Second Life Future Salon and, taken with the venue, blogged extensively about the event. Blueprint for Action is the implementation and expansion of ideas Barnett initially proposed in an earlier book, The Pentagon's New Map. Or, the rationale for the US to lead a global police force in its last gasp for power in the new, new world.

Barnett can be chiefly complimented for coalescing a few key ideas from the geopolitical conceptual milieu of the present and last several years. He can also be applauded for his long-term vision, critical thinking about how could and should the international political economy evolve over the next several decades, and his concrete action plan.

Barnett's construct of the world is that there are Core and Gap countries. The Core is the traditional West plus the new Core, China and India. Gap countries are the two billion people disconnected from the Internet and the global economy, the lesser developed economies with bankrupt political leadership. His astute analysis highlights the shift in the dynamics of war and peace; that step one is a rapid, high-tech military strike followed by step two, a much longer and costly nation-building phase. Different teams, skills and knowledge are required for the two phases. He rightly points out that the global merchant class (e.g.; MNCs) should be willing to pay for the global warrior class (e.g.; military, nation-builders) that defends them.

One of the main challenges to Barnett's plan is the US political, economic and cultural imperialism inherent in the plan, unpalatable to both Core and Gap countries, especially at a time when the US has low credibility and initiative support on the international stage. Barnett's response to imperialism charges is to focus on the connectivity (e.g.; connecting Gap countries to the Core), not social Darwinism but there are many more nuances in international affairs decisions than pure commercial gains, security concerns and military strategy.

The main audiences for Barnett's work are US and international military organizations, government agencies and other government representatives. His WashingtonSpeak does not go over well with the liberal tech crowd and they are unlikely to get heavily involved with his initiatives. Techies have long had disdain for the political process and many are planning for a very different kind of tomorrow with singularities and uploading as opposed to the antiquated power jousting of old world nationstates; technology trumps politics or at minimum politics lags technology.

Certainly the linear future, logical possibilities flowing from the current world, needs to be planned for and shaped and Barnett is a visionary with a concrete plan, if a bit imperial and control-oriented, he just should not be surprised if leftist tech audiences do not rise up in support.


namazu said...


How many of the techies you meet at conferences can guess the number of countries harboring a US military presence to within 5, 10, or even 20? That these countries don't appear in headlines with words like occupation and war shouldn't prevent you from taking money on some easy wagers.

The DOD gave us the Internet (not to mention the basic science behind a lot of our technology) and continues to be the edge of the wedge in globalization. And while our European friends may treat us unkindly at parties these days, our country's true influence has never been greater. China aside, our military ties to the most populous, wealthiest, and most strategically important countries of this century--Japan, India, Indonesia, as well as large chunks of the former Soviet Empire--have grown dramatically stronger in the last few years Our influence in the Persian Gulf will be at all-time highs if Iraq avoids civil war.

Many places where our military operates are unencumbered by the more obvious trappings of globalization like McDonald's or broadband. Ironically, much of the work there falls in the category of "soft power:" fixing infrastructure, building civic institutions, and training professional (i.e., non-political) armies. They operate in the gaps of the "gaps," while our diplomats hang back on safer ground. Their "hard power" creates the security that shrinks the gaps. This is the nature of our "empire:" as it is, as it was before the recent wars, and as it will be for many years. I suppose it could use a name, but why not one that Daniel Webster could live with?

Does politics then always trump technology? Not likely. But I hope to have made a strong argument against the converse. The most important test case I can imagine is whether the imperatives of the information age can drag China and her Communist masters into this century with us. I hope the liberal tecchies win this one!