September 15, 2004

New World, New Map, New Strategy

Thomas Barnett's The Pentagon's New Map was the first serious attempt to redefine the world after 9/11, in much the way that "containment" redefined the world in the 1950's. I'm currently about 1/3 of the way through the book form, which is an expanded treatment of the original brief. In summary, Barnett posits that the Cold War rule sets of containment, collective security and mutually assured destruction (particularly once extended to the former USSR and China) ended the threat of great power war, leaving the world divided into two areas: the Core and the Gap. The difference between them is that the Core countries are globalizing, growing and interconnecting and ruled by a Kantian rule set, while the Gap countries are isolated, disconnected and failing.

The implications of this in terms of which rules apply in which places, and how to bring the world together so that everyone is in the core, in the hope of essentially ending poverty and war, are both deep and broad. And this mindset is taking over within the Pentagon, replacing the Cold War mindset. While I quibble somewhat with the PNM framework, it's really not on fundamental points: the PNM framework provides the necessary basis for policy formation in the Core states. (I'll have more on this after I finish PNM.)

It seems to me that the Pentagon has accepted the new world, but the State Department has not yet. In many ways the State Department is still acting like it's 9/10. Part of this has been institutional, and part of it has been a leadership problem from both Secretary Powell and President Bush. I don't know where Powell stands, but Bush by his actions seems to understand the new world that we are in. It remains, though, both to communicate this vision and to bring about consensus. I suspect that the largest block to developing a consensus will not be international, but domestic. At least until after the election, the Democrats are not willing to be serious about these issues.

If we can find a domestic consensus on how the world is working, and how we should approach it, I believe we can sell it abroad. Most of the resistance to the US policies since 9/11 within the Core nations seem to be based on a fear that the actions the US is taking within the Gap may not be limited to the Gap, and on a feeling that the other Core nations will lose access to resources and commercial contracts with Gap nations. Both of these concerns can be addressed, and I hope to see the President doing so soon.

Posted by Jeff at September 15, 2004 11:25 PM | Link Cosmos

The State Department is behaving as though it's 1980. It's not surprising. It's a universal human temptation to overvalue one's assets. The State Department is highly invested in the contacts and approaches they've created over the years and are reluctant to acknowledge either that their current contacts and approaches are less valuable than they used to be or that new contacts and approaches are easier to produce than they used to be and are being created without them.

Like all administrations the Bush Administration has difficulty walking and chewing gum at the same time. Neither "Core" nor "Gap" are permanent immutable conditions. Should we be working harder to ensure that states remain in the Core or moved from Gap to Core. There's a real danger that Russia will move from Core to Gap (or more accurately that Russia will partition and significant areas enter the Gap).

Posted by: Dave Schuler on September 16, 2004 09:03 AM

No doubt. One of my big problems with the PNM theory so far is that it's not broad enough: it doesn't address the fact that Core and Gap are not purely national. For example, the a significant portion of the European and American Left have a Gap mentality. How do you address that within nations, while you address nations and their characteristics?

I don't want to go into too much detail yet, because in part what I'm going to do is produce a critical review of PNM, and I want to finish it first. It's possible that there are mitigants later in the book to the issues I currently have with it.

Posted by: Jeff on September 16, 2004 09:10 AM

This touches upon a subject I've reflected on for many years. Over human history the species has pursued many economies and methods of social organization and although some economies and methods of social organization are more efficient than others and, consequently, tend to displace the less efficient some people are better suited for the old ways. Or just prefer them. Not everybody has the talents or interest to be "post-industrial". When we were separated by days, months, or years of travel it was one thing. But now we're all jumbled together by modern communications and quite a bit of friction occurring.

Posted by: Dave Schuler on September 16, 2004 10:13 AM

I rather feel that the "Gap mentality" you refer to is a rather romantic notion. Something like the observed fact that everyone who believes in reincarnation seems to have been someone famous in a past life ;-)

Posted by: Dave Schuler on September 16, 2004 10:15 AM

Well, yeah, there's a lot of the bastard Rousseau in all of this, a kind of idyllic fantasy that unites the worst elements in the jihadis with the worst elements among the Western Left. But I think it really comes down to the ability to accept and adapt to change, as you noted.

In particular, I think that if you look at the flows that Barnett postulates, and think of their implications, the key feature of all of these flows is that control is impossible and change is not only inevitable, but inevitably will increase in rate. For the neo-Luddites and neo-Malthusians of the Left, this is anathema. It's also anathema to tribalists. In both cases, you must accept individual liberty (including that of women) over group identity, and that is frightening to many people.

I'm getting ahead of myself, since I want to tie this up with some other observations, but in general I think that you can categorize every person, institution and State based on how it handles change: is it adaptive, handling high rates of change easily; tolerant, accepting change where it sees a benefit and attempting to control the types and rates of change; or resistive, demanding stagnation in some place of perfection?

This ties together a lot of threads, such as why Pat Buchanan and Ralph Nader have more in common with each other than with Bush and Kerry respectively. Or why France is more dangerous than Italy, and Iran more dangerous than Morocco. The case has to be made that constructive change at a macro level, and even random changes at a micro level, are good, and that leads to some approaches to solving the Terror Wars and also the schism in the soul of the West.

More anon.

Posted by: Jeff on September 16, 2004 11:18 AM

Maybe this would be a good time to post on one of the subjects from my operations research days: adaptivization. That's the principle whereby you build processes that facilitate change into a system.

Posted by: Dave Schuler on September 16, 2004 08:08 PM
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