The new world

pnmlargeAbout a dozen years ago a well known strategic scholar named Thomas P. M. Barnett wrote a very interesting book called “The Pentagon’s New Map.” The premise was that we could divide the world into two parts:

  1. The Functioning Core; and
  2. The Non-Integrating Gap.

Graphically, it (Dr. Barnett’s theory) looked like this:

pnm (1)

You can, and I would, quibble about the exact boundary of the “gap” but I think the principle is sound. I, for example, would find some way to include, at least, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam in the “core” and I think that Argentina, Belarus, Brazil, Moldova, Ukraine and possible even Mexico would be in the “gap,” but those are, as I said, just quibbles.

Dr Barnett was one of those ~ one of the very many ~ who believed that the United States could “export” security. In that he has proven, I think, to be remarkably wrong. It appears to me that the United States’ attempts to promote democracy and development have only created short term chaos, but that’s another topic.

The notion of a “functioning core” that is, generally, inclined to keep trade agreements ~ there is not too much more upon which the “core” nations can agree but trading, reasonably fairly, is probably enough to keep the peace ~ and a huge “gap” in between Thomas_Barnettthem, in the centre, that cannot, even if the nations wanted to, join in the global economy due to some combinations of abject poverty, constant wars, corruption or ineptitude, is different from the old First World (democratic-capitalist ‘West’)/Second World (socialist, Russian dominated ‘East’)/Third World (poor, often dark skinned ‘South’) which led to e.g. Pierre Trudeau’s foreign policy guru Ivan Head’s idea of the need for a “North-South” dialogue. Dr Barnett is much closer to reality than was Dr Head, but it also reflects something of the difference in “world view” been “realist” America (and Asia) and “ideologically” driven Canada (and Europe).

Ivan Head Past President

The ideologically driven Ivan Head (who more or less completely overwhelmed whatever “realist” ideas might have been current in the Department of External Affairs in the mid 1970s) believed, I think, that “sharing and caring” could and would solve the problems of Third World or “Gap” governance. But those problems are, in many cases, rooted in incomprehensible borders created, at the strokes of a few 19th century pens, by Belgian, British, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish diplomats which totally ignored the physical and social realities of the “countries” (colonies) being created. The American “realists,” who are just as ideologically driven as the Canadian and Europeans, failed to appreciate that only the locals can figure out how to solve the “root causes” and some (probably many) of those solutions are going to be bloody because changing borders is not an inherently peaceful business.

So, the realist, Thomas PM Barnett, has done a better job of describing the world as we see it in the 21st century than did the Euro-Canadian idealistic ideologues.

What he has not done is to offer a workable solution.

His model is a two tiered “force” in the “Core:”

  • An American Leviathan that goes around bashing whoever it feels might need it because it has overwhelming military power; and
  • A “system administrator” force, provided by other, lesser, countries that does “peacekeeping” and “nation building” and all those things at which the Pentagon consistently fails.

The model presumes, of course, that American strategic judgment is sound ~ a notion which I believe the last 50+ years of history has demonstrated, conclusively, is not true. It also seems to presume that Australia and Canada and Europe all have some special “soft power” skills (or, perhaps, just an inability to use “hard power” well enough) that makes them better suited to peacekeeping and nation building ~ also, I think, arrant nonsense.

The American Leviathan did exist, from, say, 1985 (when the collapse of the USSR was evident) to about 2005 (when the rise of China was equally evident). What did not exist, and is unlikely to come into being anytime soon, is some American strategic vision which would have enabled it to use its “hyper-power” in an efficient and effective manner.

Dr Barnett’s map is (still) new and imaginative and it is a better explanation of what we see than is provided by the 1950s notion of First, Second and Third Worlds. What remains old and tired and even dangerous is American strategy. It’s a new world and it needs an all new strategic vision, too.

2 thoughts on “The new world”

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