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Monday, October 10, 2005
 
A VISION OF A FUTURE WORTH CREATING: REVIEWING BLUEPRINT FOR ACTION


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Blueprint For Action by Thomas P.M. Barnett. G.P. Putnam's Sons. Penguin Group. New York, New York . 2005


" Unite with your allies on intersecting ground"

- Sun Tzu, The Art of War


"One day you will come to a fork in the road. And you're going to have to make a decision about what direction you want to go. If you go that way you can be somebody. You will have to make compromises and you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club and you will get promoted and you will get good assignments. Or you can go that way and you can do something - something for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself. If you decide to do something, you may not get promoted and you may not get the good assignments and you certainly will not be a favorite of your superiors. But you won't have to compromise yourself. You will be true to your friends and to yourself. And your work might make a difference. To be somebody or to do something. In life there is often a roll call. That's when you will have to make a decision. To be or to do? Which way will you go?"

- Colonel John Boyd, The " To Be or to Do" speech.


" Harvard, as it happens, is the perfect finishing school when it comes to working for the government. Because in Washington the only way to stand out when you are surrounded by thousands of people just like you is to tear down their ideas. The problem is, in that vision-hostile environment it is almost impossible to come up with any stories with happy endings - as I like to call strategic visions. That's because no one in Washington is really interested in your happy ending; they all obsess about preventing what they are certain will be the disastrous outcome of your ill-conceived plan. So if you want to get ahead or get noticed, you learn to excel at this pack dog mentality, and you bury whatever dreams you had of proposing something different or better. This is why we do not have any real leaders in Washington anymore, just investigations."

- Thomas P.M. Barnett, The Pentagon's New Map


After the notable success and influence of The Pentagon's New Map and the discomfort caused inside the Department of Defense by his unconventional ideas regarding " war in the context of everything else", Tom Barnett was given the classic " to be or to do" choice. Barnett could shelve his ideas and return to designing strategic naval studies for " the Big War" that he did not believe was coming to justify weapons systems that might never be used and have a comfortable academic sinecure and prestigious advisory posts. Or he could walk away, taking a huge gamble in order to write the book with the strategy he believed would be best for America and the world.

Thomas Barnett chose a future worth creating in writing Blueprint for Action.

There is continuity and conceptual flow from the Pentagon's New Map in the pages of Blueprint for Action but the two books are unalike. In the first, Barnett spent a great deal of time explaining the world as it is; the second book is about the world as it could be - if we make the right choices. Unintentionally, Dr. Barnett has become something new - a grand strategist for the people who is selling his vision one reader, one soldier, one journalist, one voter at a time by book, brief and blog. The ideas are selling and the influence of BFA, I expect, will exceed that of The Pentagon's New Map because soldiers and senators alike want to see an endgame to our foreign policy, and because ultimately hope is more motivating than fear.

Prior to descrbing a broad overview of a complex book, I have to note something stylistic - blogging has changed Tom Barnett as a writer. Perhaps Esquire's Mark Warren was also an influence here but in BFA Tom's writing is more relaxed, conversational and targeted to the non-expert and I'm pretty sure the almost daily blogging during which time this book gestated had something to do with the shift. Blogging is part brainstorming, part-venting, part feedback loop and regular readers of Tom's blog will see things leap out at them from the pages amidst much that is new.

[ Full disclosure also requires me to note , as regular Zenpundit readers already know, that I have written previously for The Rule-Set Reset and about PNM theory at HNN. Dr. Barnett has also used a small section of my material in BFA ]

Blueprint for Action shies away from few subjects - Iraq, al Qaida, 4GW, network centric warfare, Rising China, rogue states, EU transnationalism, Islamist terrorism, Taiwan, Guantanamo, global pandemics, Iran, nuclear proliferation, preemption all can be found within - it is a tour de force demonstrating the interconnections of the strategic challenges facing the United States. It is analytical, bold and at the end, Blogging the Future", highly speculative. In BFA you will find references to other thinkers from Ralph Peters to Robert Wright to Robert Kaplan to van Creveld to John Boyd.

After, PNM was published Dr. Barnett was frequently accused by leftists of being an evil, imperialist "Neocon ". After BFA he may be attacked by some neoconservatives as a starry-eyed liberal transnationalist. Neither label is accurate. What Dr. Barnett is proposing is to align American strategy with the enormous geoeconomic forces of globalization in order to both prevent globalization's systemic breakdown and to make more probable the best-case scenario outcomes like " A Peacefully Rising China". Barnett is for integrating a nascent civilizational convergence, not sharpening conflict, but there's nothing dovish about a strategy contemplating regime change in Pyongyang by any means necessary.

Neoconservatives are simply not going to like Barnett's A-Z Rule-Set for processing politically bankrupted states that involves any kind of ICC-like structure. But longitudinally, the United States is simply going to have to secure " buy-in" from other great powers on robust rules for dealing with non-state actor terrorists, rogue state menaces and disintegrating Gap states, not just temporary acquiescence. The costs of not doing so in Barnett's view are self-evident:

" So ask yourself, which is better ? ' Trapping' the U.S. military power in a Core-wide rule set that determines when and under what conditions it can be effectively employed (don't forget we can always pursue pointless interventions on our own)? Or triggering a Core-wide arms race to see which great power can field the most frightening colonial corps ? In the former, America gets the privilege of owning the largest gun, so to speak, but in the latter we're looking at a number of rivals who are similarly armed "

Armed because they cannot allow chaos and warlords in the Gap to interdict the energy supplies that make the difference between stability and unrest in India and China. Which is why future American security policies will involve New Core states moreso than Old Core NATO and Japan. On Osama bin Laden's offer of " civilizational apartheid" which half-tempts the EU, Barnett discerns greater realism and a willingness to back up interests with force in India, China and Russia:

" Since the major New Core powers all border the Islamic world, there are few illusions about 'containing' this conflict once begun. The Gap is not some abstraction to these governments but a very intimate sort of operational reality...Like the United states, New Core powers are the most willing to wage war to protect the global economy because they have the most to lose by its collapse."

Dr. Barnett posits a convergence between China and America, New Core and Old Core because the nonzero sum momentum of globalization pulls in that direction, beacuse interconnectedness means that danger is defined by common interests and because the opportunity costs of disconnection in the Gap are increasingly global. The long-awaited shift from Atlanticism to a Pacific orientation for America will be sealed, in Barnett's view, by the founding of an "Asian NATO" to " secure the East" for the Core and rule sets will be increasingly determined in accordance with what New Core states logically require to function in a globalized economy. Rule sets that have spread and evolved along with globalization from America's original " source code" that united thirteen disparate colonies on an outlier continent into a whole and ignited fantatstic economic and civilizational growth, unprecedented prosperity and individual liberty.

A vision of a future worth fighting for.
 
Comments:
But could anything resembling the US or EU federalism really arise in the East Asian context, where one country is so vastly bigger than all of the others? Would such a system have to be massively anti-democratic -- even more so than the US constitution is -- to make small countries feel safe playing alongside China?

Or do you see China and India as the France and Germany of this new arrangement, the giant potential hostility that the whole thing would be designed to contain?
 
hi again,

Let me differentiate between myself and Dr. Barnett on China.

Tom sees China along with the U.S. and India as the security anchors of an Asian NATO; he also sees a more liberal, peaceful risen China, economically integrated with the rest of the Core as a pillar of a robust G-20 executive of states to help manage globalization's expansion into the Gap.

To get to this point, the United States would need to, in Tom's view, assure China's ( and India's) energy flows from the gulf and central Asia, precluding China's need to engage in military competition for these resources or for dominance of the Pacific region and a inevitable clash with Japan. Secondarily, the U.S. and China need to remove the flashpoints of North Korea and Taiwan from the Sino-American relationship allowing Chinese leaders to risk further integration such as yuan convertibility, easing restrictions on foreign investment etc. etc. Thus moving China toward being a fully normal and eventually democratic state.

For my part:

I agree that an Asian NATO is needed - mostly to clamp down on Sino-Japanese, ROK-Japanese, Sino-Indian, Indo-Pakistani and ROK-DPRK points of conflict.

Secondly, to provide a legitimate security exporter in case of massive disorder in Central asia or SEA. This will also make small countries safer than if China is untethered to any regional organization.

I would like to see China rise peacefully and think we should do what we can to encourage such developments. I'm not as optimistic as Dr. Barnett that the CCP leadership can manage both the regional economic disparities in economic growth within China AND liberalize politically. China's leadership is factionalized and it is opaque; the temptation for a weaker faction to play a xenophobic nationalist card in a power struggle is ever present.

While I would not be so crudely ruthless on Taiwan as Tom, Taipei cannot be allowed to have the power to unilaterally provoke a Sino-American War even as they are cutting their defense spending.

Locking China in to a security alliance is a way of preventing some really bad outcomes
 
I really don't get the idea of an asian NATO. It just doesn't make sense. At the core of NATO was the defense of western democracy, not just a bunch of countries with a common enemy. The idea of our working with China politically goes against everything we stand for. To those who think that they will become democratic, please explain. There is absolutely nothing stopping them. The are not threatened by anyone and their economy is very strong. The default path of political progression seems to be toward a nationalistic government; which is really what we have now.
As to the point on oil...we have a world wide market. You have the dollars, you get the oil. Nobody is threatening China's oil supplies and hence they have no need to increase their military.

Barnabus
 
Great review, this really makes the next 30 days of waiting for this book (Amazon is SLOOOOOOWWWW shipping to FPO AP addresses, especially while deployed) doubly painful.

An Asian NATO is a very feasible and attractive option, with or without China's membership. NATO and Russia cooperate to a point, why couldn't an Asian NATO do the same with China? Promoting peaceful dialogue and cooperation between India, US, Japan and SE Asian states with China and Russia would be wise and beneficial.
 
Hi Barnabus,

Well, an EU much less U.S. federalism in Asia is a bridge too far in my view. I don't think that's what Tom has in mind even at the most ambitious.

" Asian NATO" is more a concept for a preexisting international security structure in which to make crisis response decisions - as opposed to countries flying off the handle and playing nuclear brinksmanship over the 38th parallel, the Taiwan Straits or Kashmir. It wouldn't hurt for cases of earthquakes, tsunamis or governmental collapse either.

The reason for " Asian NATO" would be that an outbreak of war between regional powers or a regional power and the U.S. is not in American interests. Even if we kept out the economic effects of any war involving China would damage the global economy.

Not having some kind of structure doesn't mean we won't have to deal with the resultant mess.
 
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