Thomas P.M. Barnett Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

The Pentagon's New Map: Conversation with Thomas P.M. Barnett, Military Strategist; March 8, 2005, by Harry Kreisler

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Synergy of Ideas and Opportunity

I want to ask about creativity of this field, and relate it to your own account of how you came to your "new map" for the Pentagon. And it's partly about doing empirical work, looking at a map, drawing a map of where we were intervening and how we were intervening in the nineties, on the one hand; but on the other hand, being positioned to respond to the events of 9/11. That was a burst of creativity, those things coming together. Talk a little about that.

There were three big preparatory periods leading up to 9/11. The first one was a three-year effort I put in at the U.S. Agency for International Development where I was looking at the Third World, I was looking at development economics, and I was trying to reconceptualize what it meant to economically develop a country that wasn't succeeding. That was one piece of how the world works or doesn't work. I'd already had the military and the security background. I was intrigued by that notion and trying to figure out the mixing of the military and the market, to figure out why the employment of U.S. military power around the world had either beneficial or negative consequences in terms of economic development of countries, but I had to broaden the research base that I was pursuing.

About that time, I had the opportunity to leave where I was working, a think tank in Washington, the Center for Naval Analysis, where I worked primarily for the Navy (so I had a certain reputation with the Navy), and go to the Naval War College. The big draw there was that they had an ongoing research partnership with a broker dealer of great renown in the field but not well known at that point to the wider public, Cantor Fitzgerald, which is the largest broker of sovereign debt in the world. They do about $70 trillion worth of business a year, which is twice the global GDP, so we're talking huge sums of money. They had come to the War College in the mid-1990s and said, "We'd like to run economic-oriented war games with you, where we bring together Wall Street people and national security people and talk about how the world works in terms of economics and security."

They had done some of these in the mid-1990s, the process had lapsed by the time I'd gotten there, and one of the first things I was asked to do, the first project I was asked to pursue at the Naval War College, was to look at the Year 2000 problem and to treat that as an opportunity to understand how the rise of the global economy and the information age was mixing economics and security in ways that we weren't understanding well. It was a perfect opportunity for me, because it allowed me to branch out into a range of subject matters that were very non-traditional for a naval analyst.

Cantor Fitzgerald joined that research effort. After we did all the work on Y2k, that became a project that they had always dreamed of doing as a high-end war gaming series where we would look at the future of globalization and ask in effect what would be threatening to globalization as an historical process. That became what we called the New Rule Sets project, which became later in my private sector endeavors the name of the consultancy I pursued, because I still so like that moniker and the notion of focusing on what are the new rules.

What we did in that workshop series is, we brought together Wall Street CEOs, subject matter experts from academia and think tanks, and national security heavyweights from the White House and from the Pentagon, and we looked at what it meant to integrate developing Asia in this ever-expanding global economy and how that would impact our definitions of the future of the world. We were having conversations about rising China and rising India about five years before anybody else was talking these subjects. Why? It wasn't because the military was talking about them. It was because Wall Street was talking about them, could see them happening.

So, between the USAID experience, Agency for International Development and those kinds of things with the Third World; the sense of understanding of the global economy through the Y2k project; and then this look at the future of globalization with Cantor Fitzgerald, I'd put together, on top of my previous training in national security and my ongoing work in it, a unique package and perspective that was almost completely useless in terms of an audience!

It's one of the things you learn in this kind of business: You can have an answer, you can have a very good answer, but if you don't have a client who wants that answer inside the U.S. government, and needs that answer, and can act on that answer (and that answer has to be actionable), you really don't have anything other than a neat idea. But if you have that package, then you can tilt some policy, perhaps even tilt some history, if you're the right person with the right idea and the right connectivity at the right time.

So, 9/11 occurs, the research project with Cantor Fitzgerald which we had pursued in these workshops atop the World Trade Center disappears instantly, and Cantor loses 658 individuals on that day, although thankfully the two great mentors from the firm whom I interacted with were both, for accidental reasons, out of the building in that instant. But I was without a project, without any sense of where to go. I had this feeling that what we were looking at in this project was important but I didn't know where to go with the answers or even the questions that were popping into my head after 9/11.

Well, the president of the War College was a very famous vice admiral named Art Cebrowski, very much associated with the concept of military transformation. He was asked by Secretary Rumsfeld to be his director of this new Office of Force Transformation almost immediately after 9/11. He calls me about three weeks after the event and says, "Come work for me." I say, "What're you looking for?" He says, "I'm looking for a national grand strategy for the United States. Everybody here is busy fighting this global war on terrorism. I need to hire you to come in and just think about this, because as I transform this force and advocate certain policies in terms of future acquisitions and reform of the military, I have to have an operating theory about how the world works and what the employment of military power is going to be all about."

So, it was an amazing opportunity falling in my lap. I was going to be able to define this thing very freely on my own, with interactions with others, on the basis of this tremendous trajectory which up until that point and [until] this opportunity made little sense and provided little actionable ideas. I was going to be able to do it for a guy who was going to deliver that message directly to the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint of Chiefs and the White House. So that was just an amazing stroke of luck.

After 9/11, the White House and the Pentagon were asking the question and needed the action plan which you potentially and probably [largely] had the answer to.

Well, that's a little too generous in terms of 20/20 hindsight, because there was a huge scramble to adjust to what had just happened with 9/11. All of sudden we're in Afghanistan, and then the build-up towards Iraq.

They weren't asking the question. They had promulgated an answer called the "global war on terrorism," but this was such a narrow definition that inside the military, inside the national security establishment, inside the U.S. electorate, I would argue, and with our allies all over the world, [it raised] the question, not "do you know where you're going?" but, "Where are you going? Can you describe it for us? Can you tell us how we can help, how it's good for us, how it's good for the world, how this all comes together? What's the finishing line? How do you measure progress?"

Those answers weren't put out by the Bush administration. In defense of their brutal schedule at that point, they were scrambling to deal with a lot of things.

The discussions revolved around those questions, and the package I put together in terms of this brief became quite famous in the Pentagon. I delivered it several hundred times and then started delivering it to the private sector and to foreign governments. People would say, "You know what? This one guy working in this one office seems to have an answer that sort of puts it all together, and they like it in the Secretary's office. They use him to brief new officials, they use him to brief foreign governments. Is it official? No, but it does answer a lot of your questions."

So, it filled a void. Were they asking for it? Not exactly. Did they like it when they were presented this package? Yes. Because everything they were doing fit within it, and it gave them a vernacular, and a lexicon, and a way of explaining everything else.

Next page: Describing the Pentagon's New Map

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