Thomas P.M. Barnett Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley
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The next question is unfair to somebody who is known throughout Washington, and I guess the world, as having this masterful PowerPoint presentation. But since we do not have the time, what is the short version, the very short version, of the way you came to view the world?
It all started with a simple mapping of U.S. military crisis responses since the end of the Cold War. Once you mapped it on the world, you noticed that there were geographic concentrations. Being a kind of simplistic guy, and maybe it was my soft-scientist, political science background, I said, "What if I just drew a line around 95 percent of them? What have I go for a shape, first, and what does that shape tell me? What are the unifying characteristics of these regions?"
What you end up drawing is a shape that stretches from the Caribbean rim, the Andean portion of South America, virtually all of Africa, the Balkans, the Caucuses, Central Asia, the Middle East, and much of Southeast Asia. The argument that I came to was one of those things where you have to make a leap of logic if you're going to start the conversation -- if you wait for the perfect answer you're never going to get it, so you throw out an overarching concept and let the data come to you. Let people say, "You know what? You're right, and I've got this [fact] that proves that, or I've got this database that backs that up."
What I threw out on the table was the notion that these regions collectively are the least connected to the global economy, that what we were looking at was the limits of the spread of globalization. That's the shape we were looking at. If you bundled up the almost 150 crisis responses, including some wars that we fought since the end of the Cold War, that was the organizing principle. It's where globalization hadn't extended itself, where the connectivity of the global economy hadn't generated stability, and development, and growth, and peace, and clear rule sets, and democracies. This is where the disconnected people are, and on that basis -- no surprise -- that's where the terrorists come from. That's where the vision starts.
What is new and revolutionary here is not that globalization hadn't been discussed in other intellectual discourses, but rather that this gave you and us, the United States, a new definition of what the threat is: disconnectedness.
Yes. You know, you can parody that and say, "This is the first war fought against an adjective!" But what it really is getting at is that globalization is not a binary outcome. Despite its name, it's not everywhere. If you look back over history, the spread of the global economy has been an ongoing affair for decades and decades, and all along the way it has met resistance in terms of fascism, in terms of socialism and communism, and now in terms of religious totalitarianism represented by the global Salafi jihadist movement.
So you start to see an arc of history and you start to say, "This is just the latest version." In that way, you connect the military back up to the market, to global economics, because in the Cold War [the military] had become so distant from our definitions of how the world worked. It was just this tremendous leviathan force that prevented global nuclear Armageddon. What was it good for? It was good for preventing global nuclear Armageddon. How did that connect to the rest of the world? It didn't. And we were grateful for that.
But now that that's all gone and you find yourself using military power at unprecedented rates across the nineties, you need a theory to come along and say, "This is how I connect you to the outside world." This is why military force needs to be contextualized within a larger understanding of how the world works. The reception I got from the military was one of great excitement and gratitude, because it set it back in the frame of knowing what [the military] career is about. The biggest acceptance has been within the military, to my surprise.
You're taking our ability to export security and tying it to the broader context of the flow of people, the flow of money, and the flow of energy resources.
Right. It's a rather reductionist model that I offer in the book, but what I say is that if globalization's going to continue to expand, certain resources need to flow from areas of surplus to areas or regions of deficit. Obviously, most of the energy now in the system is in that non-integrating gap, and most of the energy used is inside the core, so that flow has to occur. The core as a whole is aging demographically. The gap as a whole is fertile.
The core is the great powers, the traditional great powers, the developed societies.
Yes, it's the West, plus the East, in fact, and some key pillars rising from what used to be called the Third World, like Argentina, Brazil, Chile, South Africa, some of these countries.
And the gap is the area that globalization has not reached.
Or has reached in a very narrow fashion. If all you do is export oil and have very little interaction with the outside world, that's not connection.
Not only does energy have to come out of that gap to the core, people have to come out of that gap to the core, because of the aging demographics throughout the core. Those two flows have to happen. For that to occur, a certain amount of security has to be exported or given from the core to the gap -- these regions that still suffer all the wars, and the civil wars, and the genocide, and the ethnic cleansings since the end of the Cold War. We have to make that effort if we want those flows to occur and be stable.
We also have to see a continuing flow of foreign direct investment, because that's what extends globalization. It's not aid, although remittances from people going to advanced economies and sending their earnings back to poor economies is huge. The real development comes when the major investors of the major economies decide to come into a country and create industry. That's what really moves things along. That's what's developed Asia in the last twenty years.
An argument I offer in the book and in the brief says, "Here are these four flows, and they have to be kept in balance: not too much security, not too little; not too much energy, not too little; not too much movement of people, not too little; and there's always got to be enough flow of money."
Not everybody in the Pentagon likes your briefing because implicit in what you're saying is that the old way of viewing threats is no longer [valid.] During the Cold War, Kissinger and company were concerned about the rising power of the Soviet Union and the threat it posed. But what you're saying is, "No, [great power conflict] is not the problem now. Let's not worry about China." Explain that.
The argument I make is that nuclear weapons, in coming into being and in their capacity to destroy the entire planet, basically end war among great powers. It's taken us a long time to understand this; it defied our sense of understanding across the Cold War. There has been no war between two great powers since the Second World War and the invention of nukes. It took us a long time to even come to that understanding vis-á-vis the Soviets and the concept of "mutual assured destruction," that nukes were for having, not for using.
If you add that [understanding] to arguments that have been around for a long time, stretching all the way back to the earliest forms and periods of globalization around the beginning of the twentieth century, then you're talking about, "Yes, there is such a growing economic connectivity between these great economies that if you add nukes on top of that, it rules out the concept of zero-sum war, meaning I can attack you and I can benefit from that, and you will lose."
Once you get that understanding, and you get past the competition and the bipolar stand-off with the Soviets, then you start looking around the world and you start saying, "Hey, if you're developing, if you're synchronizing progressively your internal rule sets, your political, economic, legal, social, with the emerging global rule sets that define the global economy and its spread, then you should be naturally an ally and not naturally an opponent." So it puts China on one side of the ledger as opposed to the other.
The historical argument is that China's rise at the beginning of the twenty-first century [is] very much like America's rise at the beginning of the twentieth century -- or is it like Germany's rise at the beginning of the twentieth century? We're sort of the U.K. or the Britain or our era, and so the real choice for America is, do we look at China as a rising United States, somebody we can bring into the larger community, and mentor, and integrate with militarily over time? Or are they a threat that we're ultimately going to have to deal with?
My argument is that it all depends on how much China increases the connectivity between its public and the outside world. To the extent that it does so, it's going to create naturally a pluralistic momentum in their political system. I see that connectivity expanding hugely, across the last five years especially. All signs are it's going to increase in the future, so much so that I argue that you can hedge against the possibility of China becoming a threat with a modicum of your force, and on that basis free up the rest of the resources to deal with the real security issues of our age, which are going to be global terrorism, failed states, and shrinking this gap that I described.
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