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« Time's Battleland: Future grand strategists: Russia will someday be forced to outsource its security | Main | Time's Battleland: Future grand strategists speak: Why US withdrawal from Afghanistan would stabilize Pakistan »

Grand Strategic Competition Update (Week 2)

As head judge of Wikistrat’s International Grand Strategy Competition, I wanted to update everybody on what’s emerged across the second week of the contest.  As you may already know, the competition brings together approximately 30 teams comprised of PhD and masters students from elite international schools and world-renowned think tanks.  Those teams, evenly distributed over a dozen or so countries (so as to encourage intra-country as well as inter-country competition), were challenged in Week 2 to come up with national and regional trajectories in relation to their country-team assignments (Brazil, China, EU, India, Iran, Israel, Japan, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, South Africa, Turkey & US).

As head judge, I assign points to teams based on their activity throughout the week.  In this second week, each team generated those two trajectories to the tune of about 10,000 words each, or close to 300,000 words across all the teams.  Naturally, a ton of interesting nuggets emerged, so here’s my hit list of provocative ideas.

1) US turns back toward Western Hemisphere as part of reduced global footprint, need to deal with drug/crime nexus, and desire to balance growing Chinese influence across region (BRAZIL1/Institute of World Politics 2)

Every new US president hits the ground running with the promise to pay more attention to the Western Hemisphere – and then promptly forgets the entire idea.  So far, Barack Obama has held to form, and yet the dynamics cited here make for a compelling argument.  A US that pulls back from the world and gets it own house in order must certainly look southward for some of its solutions – particularly on the disastrous drug war.  Brazil, as the IWP2 team points out, is the key dynamo of the region, so either the US recognizes that and accommodates Brazil’s ambitions, or it may find itself the odd man out throughout South America.

2) The European Union’s primary contribution going forward could be to show the advanced/advancing world how to live within its resource means (EUROPEAN UNION1/NATO’s Atlantic Treaty Association)

The EU1 team established as its primary “national” trajectory goal Europe’s energy independence by 2030.  While we can argue about the feasibility, there’s no question that the EU can and should be a leader on the subject.  All projections show the region experiencing basically flat energy consumption growth in coming decades, while improving its public transportation infrastructure in a big way.  Uncomfortable with relying on energy flows from restive North Africa, the tense Persian Gulf, and bullying Russia – and now freaked out about nuclear power thanks to Japan, the world should see a lot of ambitious brainpower put to this useful task.

3) The EU encouraging immigration from fellow Roman Catholic states/regions (EUROPEAN UNION2/Oxford)

This one elicited a “wow!” from me simply because I’ve never heard the option stated so boldly.  If you worry about the Islamic influx and the diminution of Christianity, why not get yourself some truly old-school Catholics from New Core and Gap regions, where the religious flame still burns hot?  Afraid of too much religion?  Then add a whole lot more.  Team Oxford is full of provocative notions like that, which is why they’re in second place after Week 2.

4) The future is all about who’s got the most global cities (EU2/Oxford)

I’m a big believer in this, because if you add up the coastal megacities of the world, you’ve got half the planet’s population and the vast majority of its connectivity and traffic.  Get the coastal megacities wired up right, and globalization can’t fail.  Team Oxford brought this out in their critique of Europe’s lack of global cities, saying that, besides London, none of the capitals really qualify on the scale of such behemoths as New York, Los Angeles, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Mumbai, Istanbul, etc.  EU2’s point:  make the investment if you want to stay relevant in the rule setting.

5) India changes when the last generation of “ruled Indians” leaves the political scene (INDIA1/Indian Institute of Technology)

I love passing-of-generations arguments, especially with the supermajors like China and the US, and this is the best one I’ve ever heard on emerging supermajor India.  It makes perfect sense:  India’s not much more than half-a-century old, so it’s long been ruled by people who remember the before time of British rule.  So long as they’re setting agendas, it’s a departure from the past versus a deep embrace of the future.  Bottom line:  expect a lot more diplomatic innovation out of India, and a much more proactive role in shaping the world and setting rules.

6) India’s sell is “German quality at Chinese prices!” (INDIA2/Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies)

Of course, most everybody cites the democracy thing as India’s differentiating model, and it most certainly is in the political realm, but globalization is driven by economic models – or competing “consensuses,” if you will.  Washington had its in the 1990s and China’s captured a lot of imagination in the 2000s, but India is well-poised to capture that ideological flag in the 2010s – the decade of the emergence of the global middle class.  That middle class, like any that emerged before on national scales, cares about quality for its money spent.  China seeks to meet that expectation, but lacks the political system – for now – to regulate it well.  Can India do better?  We’re all better off if it does and ups the competition globally.  And no, it’s not a fantastic goal.  Remember:  China loses labor over the next several decades, while India adds a fantastic sum (300 million or so).

7) Iran pins its hopes on China, but China will ultimate choose Saudi Arabia (PAKISTAN1/Claremont Graduate University)

Lots of chatter among the Iranian teams on future economic alliance with China, but Claremont’s Pakistan team made a compelling argument for China picking Saudi Arabia:

In the coming years, Pakistan foresees China making a decision as to whether or not to source its energy from the Saudis or the Iranians.  China will side with the Saudi bloc for three reasons.  First, given Iran's commitment to its nuclear program, the Iranian-Saudi rivalry favors Pakistan due to Pakistan's nuclear expertise and its close links with the Saudis.  China, therefore, will not risk alienating both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to appease Iran and India.  Second, the Saudis have larger reserves than the Iranians.  As the global leader in proven reserves, the Saudis are able to remain the chief energy provider into the next 80 years, making them a better long-term bet for the Chinese (the Chinese have also transferred strategic missiles to the Saudis – a level of cooperation not seen with the Saudis and Indians).  Third, geographical considerations come into play in that Afghanistan's continuing instability closes off its options to act as a reliable pipeline from Iran to China.  In that sense, the Saudis offer a more natural supply source to the Chinese in terms of volume and the security of transported oil.  If push comes to shove, the Saudis will eschew their energy exports to India if it means obtaining a nuclear deterrent to answer Iran; China also is in a better position to offer more favorable terms owing to its more advanced level of development than India.  The redundancy is that their petrol will still have a stable and sizeable market in China.  India will initially be reticent to harm its security relationship with Israel, but will do so in the longer term if it has to placate Iran and gain access to its energy.  Geographically Pakistan offers a conduit between Saudi energy from the Arabian Peninsula through the Indian Ocean to China. 

That is some beautifully argued logic; that PPT slide writes itself.

8) Pakistan goes from globalization “separator” to connector (PAKISTAN2/Yale)

Matching Claremont’s visionary national projection, Yale takes this point even farther in emphasizing how Pakistan must be the global connectivity “answer” before Afghanistan can be stabilized.    Both teams emphasized how connecting China to the Persian Gulf will help break Pakistan of its current north-south security paradigm. Yale took the point a bit further to emphasize how stabilizing the security relationship with India could set Pakistan up as the ultimate all-direction energy conduit for South Asia – just like Turkey positions itself in Southwest Asia.  The Claremont-Yale duel on this subject pushed me to pen a Time Battleland blog post on the subject.  It’s my highest compliment:  this stuff is good enough to steal!

9) By sticking with the dream of playing external Leviathan, Russia continues to eschew the much-needed internal System Administrator force, and with its borders so indefensible – and “expanding” with climate change, Moscow is looking at a future of outsourcing its boundary security (RUSSIA2/New York University)

I don’t want to steal my own thunder here.  Check out my Time Battleland blog post Thursday morning.

10)  Russia as the future waterpower of Eurasia (RUSSIA2/NYU)

This is a staple of my current brief:  I show you who’s got more water than people (global percentage share) and then show you who’s able to export grain (water turned into human energy).  Naturally, Russia and the other Black Sea powers (Kazakhstan, Ukraine) are big players in this regard.  Factor in climate change and the northward movement of agriculture, and Russia becomes a major waterpower of the 21st century.  I’m talking Canada BIG!

11) For Turkey to create a regional bandwagoning effect as part of its pursuit of regional leadership, it must pick one of three rivals (Egypt, Iran or Saudi Arabia) and its immediate partner (TURKEY3/Institute of World Politics 1)

It’s so obvious when you’re presented with the logic, and yet to date I haven’t heard anybody put it so well until I came across IWP1 entry this week.  All sorts of pundits are wailing about Turkey’s alleged strategic alliance with Iran, as if it means Istanbul has gone crazy Islamist when it has really gone crazy like a fox.  I spot a clever Turkey working all three possibilities with substantial vigor, actually providing a far superior US foreign policy than Washington is today. 

12) A realistic US plays System Administrator locally (Western Hemisphere) while satisfying itself as Leviathan balancer around the world (UNITED STATES2/Georgetown)

A nicely stated point that wraps up sensibly back around to Brazil1’s opening bid.

In sum, good stuff all around and a totally engaging week for myself as Head Judge.  My thanks to all the teams for their fine efforts and best of luck in the final week!

Reader Comments (3)

Religion as a qualifier for immigration? Sounds medieval. Although we can see that the Catholic churches here in the Southwest are filled with the loyal faithful from Mexico, the Philippines and other South and Central American countries. The Catholic Church in America would be in serious decline without the influx of immigrants (legal and illegal) from the old Spanish colonies.

The Oxford gang sounds like an interesting bunch. Like to have a few beers with them.

June 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTed O'Connor


You added the word "qualifier." Oxford said encourage.

June 22, 2011 | Registered CommenterThomas P.M. Barnett

When you think about religion and politics you usually think about Islam. There is a huge blind spot in the Western foreign policy / academic space - the role of Christianity in international politics. The role is not as clearly defined as Islam, but it is there and growing in importance in Latin America, the Caribbean and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa have sizable diaspora communities in Europe and these communities are increasingly attracting the attention of politicians. For example, David Cameron visited "Jesus House", one of the largest Afro-Caribbean Pentecostal gatherings in the run up to the elections.

Philip Jenkins book "The Next Christendom" is quite helpful in understanding the impact on Non-Western Christianity on World politics.

On the India claim of "German quality at Chinese prices", the Indians are already doing that in Africa. Indian made Tata automobiles are of higher quality and equivalent price to Chinese made Geelys and Lifans. Indian-made Bajaj motorcycles are selling like hot cakes in Nigeria because they are perceived to be of higher quality than Chinese-made Jincheng motorcycles. These are early days and I don't think the Chinese will stand idly and allow the Indians to grab their market share.

June 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterC. Chike

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