- The Washington Times - Monday, August 2, 2004



Thomas P.M. Barnett

Putnam, $26.95, 435 pages

Thomas Barnett’s “The Pentagon’s New Map” is a must read for people who are paid to be or are learning to be strategists, because it is packed with new and usually sound ideas. Its thrust is solid, if not all of its branches, and there is plenty of food for thought herein to drive constructive discussions in the Pentagon, at U.S. war colleges and in defense-oriented think tanks.

Thomas Barnett’s concept is that the United States and the remainder of what he calls “the core” — most of Europe, Northeast Asia and the Antipodes — will know no peace and will ultimately lose the war on terrorism unless it shrinks what the author calls “the gap” — the rest of the world including nearly all of Africa, most of South America, Central Asia, the Middle East (excepting Israel), and most of Southeast and Southwest Asia.

The core is “connected” — that is, it is globalized — and it follows the rules acceptable to the market-oriented world, which induces a smooth flow of capital, people, energy and security.

The gap, on the other hand, has not been globalized, because it does not follow the rules, and this denies it the foreign direct investment that would lift it economically and psychologically.

The disconnected gap has become a base for smuggling of drugs and people, crime, money laundering and, most importantly, terrorists. The role of the United States is to lead the core in “shrinking the gap” by globalizing it. The author adopts a benign phrase for America’s proper role: “System Administrator.”

For America to become this, Mr. Barnett calls for a more enlightened foreign policy, an improved and reformed State Department, and a quite different military.

He also calls for an end to the Pentagon’s obsession with a rising peer competitor (China) and its insistence on force-structuring for a war he believes we will never fight. He demands a vastly increased focus on military forces that can be useful in connecting the disconnected.

The author recognizes the necessity of maintaining a war-fighting force, albeit reduced, to deter any prospective adversary that might consider challenging the United States militarily. He then describes the rest of the military as a force trained and equipped to engage in peace operations.

Moreover, he recognizes that the Defense Department, though it has the potential to be infinitely useful in globalizing missions, must be much more closely integrated in interagency policies and activities, because improving the lot of the states and people in the gap is a prodigious task.

“The Pentagon’s New Map” has shortcomings, however. The author has an astonishingly unrealistic view of both international and domestic political realities. He seems to have no idea of how much negative baggage any U.S. president in the year 2004 carries as he tries to make the United States the “System Administrator.”

These do not detract from the key thrusts of the book, but many of his proposed actions are idealistic and impractical as this country “shrinks the gap.”

To begin with, the United States may be, as he argues, the greatest force for good in the world, but too many in the world do not see America that way and would too often see its “System Administrator” actions as self-serving and not done to benefit “the gap.”

Has he missed the way most of the world views our war in Iraq? Were he to take his ideas overseas, he would find great skepticism and suspicion about the United States. Mr. Barnett would hear distrust and cynicism, not only from current and previous challengers like Iran and North Korea, but also from allies like France and Germany.

He understands that shrinking the gap means that America must buy what is produced in the gap, for example agricultural products and textiles, but he ignores the power of agricultural and dairy lobbies in the United States. Taking an example that will stand for dozens: In the most recent free-trade agreement discussions with Australia — America’s most loyal ally in the Asia-Pacific region — the United States deliberately excluded sugar from the agreement, a commodity produced in great abundance Down Under.

Mr. Barnett also advocates the removal “of Kim Jong Il from power [f]ollowing the disposal of Saddam Hussein,” without a word of explanation on how the People’s Republic would view this.

These departures from reality, however, do not bar this reviewer’s strong recommendation to strategic thinkers to read “The Pentagon’s New Map.”

Alan L. Gropman is the distinguished professor of national security policy at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, National Defense University. His views are his own.

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