Sunday, April 30, 2006

As regular readers know, I am a big fan of Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett's work as expressed in The Pentagon's New Map and Blueprint for Action and believe that he has produced a vision and a set of concepts with great potential for redefining American grand strategy. This is no small achievement. Much of the bipartisan foreign policy establishment spent the decade between the fall of the USSR and September 11, pretending that economic policy was a substitute for strategy and rationalizing the status quo. Many would-be "wise-men" continued to do so even after 9/11, having nothing else to cling to for support in the face of neoconservatives promoting the Bush Doctrine.

As a result much of the foreign policy establishment has rendered itself irrelevant in the eyes of the voting public. Bush's sinking poll numbers and have not created a rising tide to lift the boats of the Realists much less the dovish Liberal internationalists. The voters can see the limitations of Bush's policy and errors of execution in carrying it out, but the administration has a coherent policy and its critics do not. Criticism unfortunately is not a strategy nor is whistling through a graveyard and pretending that this is 1996 instead of 2006. Barnett's PNM/BFA grand strategy is the primary pro-active alternative to preemption and is a robust one because its orientation toward other great powers is nonzero sum and collaborative rather than adversarial.

As Tom has offered up answers, his books and ideas have received an unusual amount of attention inside the Pentagon, in the media and in the blogosphere. The reviews have been many including the tough, the fair, unfair, laudatory, irrelevant and the insane. There have also been some very praiseworthy attempts at reinterpretation of Dr. Barnett's PNM theory, some showing flashes of brilliance that Barnett himself said required a Corona to digest. One recurring question by readers and bloggers had to do with metrics, or the lack of them, in defining how states fell into the Core-Gap dichotomy ( or the more nuanced Core-New Core-Seam-Gap continuum) and have even gone so far as to offer new ways of mapping " the Pentagon's New Map". Some are doing formal, scholarly, research.

Another proposal for understanding Dr. Barnett's Core-Gap concept made recently that did not receive the attention or commentary that it deserved was the "The Wave Theory of Core and Gap by Dave Schuler of The Glittering Eye. What I liked about Dave's " Wave Theory" is not his Zen-like assertion that there is " no Core and no Gap" ( I disagree. I think the case can be easily made that as fuzzy and debatable that the exact border between Barnett's two zones might be, Burkina Faso is clearly inhabiting a very different world from Switzerland or Japan) but his nod toward modern physics:

"I believe that I have an answer to all of these questions. There is no Core. There is no Gap. And it’s not connectivity or globalization: Pakistan and Afghanistan are tremendously connected to each other and to other Islamic countries. It is Influence. Primarily Western influence.

I influence you. You influence me. Americans influence Frenchmen, Germans, Saudis and every other people on the face of the earth. Saudis influence Americans, Emiratis, and lots of other people. A Russian diplomat influences Iranian government officials. A Mexican migrant worker works a construction job in the United States and sends his earnings home to his parents in Mexico. A German company starts buying its products from a Chinese company which employs more Chinese workers who used to be farmers while throwing Guatemalan workers out of work.

Influence is not discrete like the lines or dots in some of the graphics above. It proceeds outwards from its broadcasting sources in waves. The waves are transmitted, repeated, interact with one another, and are blocked.

The waves of influence of different cultures can interfere with one another—like the squawk when you put your telephone receiver too close to your radio. When it’s severe enough these interfering waves of influence can lead to war.

The waves of the influence of Americans and American institutions are enormously powerful—so much so that they threaten to drown out even the other, less powerful but still compatible wave forms of the EU and its nations. Other countries and cultures are resisting that influence by erecting barriers to it and broadcasting influence of their own. The interaction of these conflicting influences creates instability."

There is a lot of value in this alinear conceptualization offered by Dave. First, it emphasizes the interactivity of competing, overlapping waves of influence emanating from centers of civilization and of decay. Secondly, the " Wave Theory" is very accomodating of Joseph Nye's " Soft Power" in terms of expressing a real but difficult to quantify set of variables ( Nye was himself an early intellectual influence on Dr. Barnett, at least to some degree). Thirdly, as we begin to understand the nature of complex systems we should give greater attention to analogies from physics that help explain develpments that emerge in human systems. Tom himself moved that ball forward by borrowing system perturbations from chaos theory and applying it to geopolitical strategy and Dave is following that same path.

Dave has promised follow-ups to this important post which I look forward to reading and reviewing here.


Chacago Boyz's Lexington Green's thoughtful essays on PNM - PART I. and PART II.


Chirol at Coming Anarchy has posted "Mapping the Gap IV: Canada, Germany, UK" and Curtis at Phatic Communion has an essay "Ideas Requiring Attention" responding to points raised here.
Let me shamelessly cite to my review-essay about PNM, part I here and part II here. My biggest concern was that we seem to have a "gap" in knowledge of how to actually get some locale out of the Gap. One way we know works is to let a country evolve in Western Europe for about 2,000 years. Barnett is looking for something a little more rapid. We do know that putting a Leviathan force in some wrecked country and asking the brave men and women in uniform to extemporize a nation-building program is crazy. The fact that our people are so good that they are making some progress anyway is a testament to their quality, but not the foresight or even sanity of the people who put them in that position. So, building up some kind of institutional home for people who are going to execute these tasks is a foundational necessity.

Thank you for the links I'll add them tomorrow.

The officer corps as an institution refuses to plan for nation-building despite ample historical examples of having done so from Reconstruction forward. Or even review its own previous experiences to learn from their mistakes.

So we see junior officers through bird colonel attempting to reinvent the wheel on the spot in Iraq as a previous generation once did in Vietnam as MACV advisers, CORDS and unconventional warfare teams. Their improvisation is heroic but they should have been properly supported from the start.

I agree, we need something new.
"The voters can see the limitations of Bush's policy and errors of execution in carrying it out, but the administration has a coherent policy and its critics do not. Criticism unfortunately is not a strategy nor is whistling through a graveyard and pretending that this is 1996 instead of 2006."

I think you're straying from the point of your excellent post - the Bush policy certainly isn't based on Barnett's theory of Gap-Core, but proponents of Bush's policy like Barnett because it gives them cover. And most certainly, this administration hasn't offered a coherent strategy for "what happens next" after Iraq. Do we "close the Gap" in Sudan? Burma? N. Korea? Iran? What's next? What's practical, considering the $300 billion or so that we've spent to date?

I would argue that there are certainly coherent arguments as to different strategies that ought to be used that do not exclude the Barnett theory (Frederick Kagan being one particularly good source). Reliance upon international allies and acknowledging the usefulness of diplomatic tools is not an incoherent policy.
Hi J.

You wrote:

"I think you're straying from the point of your excellent post"

I think I started the post with a slightly different intention than I ended with - the PNM material has become more voluminous than a year or two ago.

"- the Bush policy certainly isn't based on Barnett's theory of Gap-Core, but proponents of Bush's policy like Barnett because it gives them cover."

Some do - I think the career military and civilian DOD experts receive PNM warmly. Hard core neocon political appointees have expressed less enthusiasm.

"And most certainly, this administration hasn't offered a coherent strategy for "what happens next" after Iraq."

I disagree to an extent. The strategic objectives are pretty clear from this administration. I think they have a pretty coherent vision of what strategic threats need to be dealt with and a determination to tackle them. OTOH, the "how" of grand tactics has gotten lost and operationally they have screwed things up in Iraq. The Bush administration is missing the middle part between grand strategy/strategy and field tactics.

"Reliance upon international allies and acknowledging the usefulness of diplomatic tools is not an incoherent policy"

I agree.
The "insane" interpretation of PNM is hilarious. Are you sure it's not good satire? I can't believe that fellow could write as long as he did. Nevertheless, it's the best entertainment I've had all day.

I'm working on another Mapping the Gap post using allies deployments. I'll let you know and link here.
Your link to "modern Physics" is kind of bogus. I could only get past the first question, which they seemed to think I got right, when they said, "For example, a sound wave is a deformation in air pressure, and water waves a deformaiton of the water surface." This is a very inaccurate statement. Any deformation is caused by changing potential energy, which is a wave. In other words, changing potential energy is moving through water. It is the changing potential energy that is the "wave" not the destorted surface. I just couldn't read anymore after that but I still think the site is bogus.
Thee Joseph R. Stromberg is hilarious. Props to Chirol for pointing it out.

Mark, Mersheimer as a wise man? He's a Critical Realist - combining the selective scholarship of a Frankfurt-schol Marxist with the determinism of a Mackinder.
Heh. During other reading, I stumbled onto this from Ralph Waldo Emerson:

"Society is a wave. The wave moves onward, but the water of which it is composed does not. The same particle does not rise from the valley to the ridge. Its unity is only phenomenal. The persons who make up a nation to-day, next year die, and their experience with them."

(from his essay on "Self-Reliance")
Hey folks,

Didn't take the test myself - just wanted an explanation of waves and particles handy.

much thanks - that review possibly might have also been written under the influence of crystal meth.

" Wise man" was meant with sarcasm.

Live in the woods, write some poetry, don't pay your taxes - transcendentalism. j/k - good literary reference. Didn't know that one :o)
Shamlessly plugging another PNM post since this seems to be the thread for it. It looks at Canadian, UK and German deployments with regard to Tom's map.
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