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12:33AM

Mr. Ignatius, I called it the "Department for Everything Else"

Nice piece by David Ignatius at WAPO about the "power gap" in the US foreign policy establishment.  He describes it as basically the missing link for all the complex security situations out there where the traditional "big war" US force isn't appropriate:

Here lies one of the biggest unresolved problem for U.S. national-security planners today: How can America shape events in an unstable world without putting “boots on the ground” or drones in the air? Does this stabilizing mission belong to the experts at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)? Or to the State Department’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, which was created in 2011 to deal with such problems? Or to the facilitators and analysts at the U.S. Institute of Peace, which was created in 1984 to help resolve conflicts peacefully? Or maybe to the covert-action planners at the CIA, who work secretly to advance U.S. interests in key countries?

The answer is that all of the above would have some role in shaping the U.S. response to a potential crisis. But in practice, the overlapping roles mean that none of them would have ultimate responsibility. Thus, in our imaginary NSC meeting, no one takes charge.

Actually, I called it the System Administrator force at first, and I said it would ultimately be more civilian than uniform, more USG than DoD, and more private-sector funded than fueled by foreign aid.  

That was in The Pentagon's New Map, which Ignatius praised so much in a December 2004 WAPO column that he got me fired from the Naval War College a few days later (so yes, I have known what it was like to have your government career axed by a flattering MSM piece).  

I haven't had a full-time job since - and never will again (by choice).  As the old Roman proverb goes, A slave with many masters is a free man.

Then, in Blueprint for Action, I argued that my Sys Admin force needed a bureaucratic center of gravity in the USG for all the reasons Ignatius cites in this recent column, and I called the Department of Everything Else.  And yeah, it was all about the "power gap" he describes there: 

I’ve talked recently with officials from all these agencies, and what I hear is discouraging. They’re each heading in their own direction, working on their own particular piece of the puzzle. The pieces get assembled in well-managed U.S. embassies overseas, where the ambassador makes the country team work together. But similar coordination happens too rarely in Washington.

The U.S. Institute of Peace, headed by Jim Marshall, prides itself on being a small, nimble organization with a cadre of specialists who can travel to crisis zones and meet with different sects, tribes and parties. But the organization likes its independence and doesn’t want to be an arm of the State Department or any other bureaucracy. It’s a boutique, but that means its efforts are hard to multiply. And its presence can create confusion about who’s doing what.

State’s new Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations has the right mission statement. But it’s only 165 people and shrinking, and it doesn’t even have the heft to lead the State Department’s activities, let alone the full government’s. The bureau’s chief, Rick Barton, wants State to designate a “center of gravity” for each budding crisis, so that there’s at least an address for mobilizing resources. It’s a good idea but just a start.

USAID has been America’s lead development agency for decades. But it’s also a perennial area of bureaucratic dispute, and many analysts argue that the nation gets less bang for its development buck than it should. It’s hard to imagine USAID being the strategic answer. The same goes for the CIA, which under John Brennan wants to refocus on its core intelligence-collection mission, rather than covert action.

It’s a cliche these days to talk about how America needs more emphasis on “soft power” and its better-educated cousin, “smart power.” Meanwhile, for all the talk, the problems fester and the power gap grows.

What I was told by many government types back then was that I was right, but that it could not happen until an entirely new way of thinking emerged on the subject - USG-wide.  

Well, I spent the next decade trying to spread that thought both here in the US and in about four dozen other countries.  I gave that talk about a thousand times (literally) to about half a million people - live and in person.

And I still try to spread that vision.

What I've said to people all along is that we simply need to suffer enough failure to finally realize that the old packages don't work.  We can go in and blow everything up (Powell Doctrine, Bush in practice), or we can pretend a mafia-style decapitation/assassination campaign will work (Israel for decades, US under Obama).  

But the real solution still hangs out there, waiting for us to get serious about finally addressing it - instead of chasing this "pivot" fantasy against the Chinese.

So no, the problem isn't going anywhere, and neither is the solution - sad to say.

But eventually it happens, because eventually we'll fear the change less than the repeated failures.

Hat tip to Jeffrey Itell for alerting me on the Ignatius column.

1:23PM

WSJ: "Terror Fight Shifts to Africa" (I told you so . . . in 2005)

Front-page story on the 7th of December, with subtitle "U.S. Considers Seeking Permission for Military Operations Against Extremists."

This is what I wrote in the early part of 2005, published in October of that year in Blueprint for Action: A Future Worth Creating:

CENTCOM’s AOR encompasses the Persian Gulf area extending from Israel all the way to Pakistan, the Central Asian republics formerly associated with the Soviet Union, and the horn of Africa (from Egypt down to Somalia). This is clearly the center of the universe as far as the global war on terrorism is concerned, and yet viewing that war solely in the context of that region alone is a big mistake, one that could easily foul up America’s larger grand strategic goals of defeating terrorism worldwide and making globalization truly global. Here’s why: CENTCOM’s area of responsibility features three key seams, or boundaries, between that collection of regions and the world outside. Each seam speaks to both opportunities and dangers that lie ahead, as well as to how crucial it is that Central Command’s version of the war on terrorism stays in sync with the rest of the U.S. foreign policy establishment.

The first seam lies to the south, or sub-Saharan Africa. This is the tactical seam, meaning that in day-to-day terms, there’s an awful lot of connectivity between that region and CENTCOM’s AOR. That connectivity comes in the form of transnational terrorist networks that extend from the Middle East increasingly into sub-Saharan Africa, making that region sort of the strategic retreat of al Qaeda and its subsidiaries. As Central Command progressively squeezes those networks within its area of responsibility, the Middle East’s terrorists increasingly establish interior lines of communication between themselves and other cells in Africa, as Africa becomes the place where supplies, funds (especially in terms of gold), and people are stashed for future use. Africa risks becoming Cambodia to the Middle East’s Vietnam, a place where the enemy finds respite when it gets too hot inside the main theater of combat. Central Asia presents the same basic possibility, but that’s something that CENTCOM can access more readily because it lies within its area of responsibility, while sub-Saharan Africa does not. Instead, distant European Command owns that territory in our Unified Command Plan, a system constructed in another era for another enemy. Those vertical, north-south slices of geographic commands were lines to be held in an East-West struggle, but today our enemies tend to roam horizontally across the global map, turning the original logic of that command plan on its head.

Central Command’s challenge, then, is to figure out how to connect these two regions in such a way as to avoid having Africa become the off-grid hideout for al Qaeda and others committed to destabilizing the Middle East. By definition, such a goal is beyond CENTCOM’s pay grade, or rank, because it’s a high-level political decision to engage sub-Saharan Africa on this issue—in effect, widening the war. And yet solving this boundary condition is essential to winning the struggle in the Middle East. What the Core-Gap model provides Central Command is a way of describing the problem by noting that transnational terrorism’s resistance to globalization’s creeping embrace of the Middle East won’t simply end with our successful transformation of the region. No, that struggle will inevitably retreat deeper inside the Gap, or to sub-Saharan Africa.

Why is this observation important? It’s important because it alerts the military to the reality that success in this war won’t be defined by less terrorism but by a shifting of its operational center of gravity southward, from the Middle East to Africa. That’s the key measure of effectiveness. Achieving this geographic shift will mark our success in the Middle East, but it will also buy us the follow-on effort in Africa. You want America to care more about security in Africa? Then push for a stronger counterterrorism strategy in the Middle East, because that’s the shortest route between those two points.

Ultimately, you’re faced with the larger, inescapable requirement of having to connect Africa to the Core to run this problem to ground, otherwise today’s problem for CENTCOM simply becomes tomorrow’s distant problem for EUCOM. When you make that leap of logic, the next decision gets a whole lot easier: America needs to stand up an African Command. Now, I know that sounds like a huge expansion of our strategic “requirements,” but when you consider the boundary conditions in this way, the discussion shifts from if to when.

The WSJ says the Obama Administration is thinking about asking Congress for expanded hunting authority to likely include Mali, Nigeria, Libia and others.  The focus is naturally al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb's (AQIM) expanded geographic reach.

AFRICOM was authorized a little over a year after my book came out. I'm not drawing a line of causality- just pointing out I got it right.

What I got wrong about Africa back then was the speed: I saw this fight shifting over a much longer time and I saw globalization's successful embrace of Africa taking much longer.  In short, my combined optimism/pessimism was simply too slow.

10:18AM

For the Record: Excerpt from "Lone Wolf Terror and the Rise of the Leaderless Resistance"

Book is by George Michael of Air War College.  I wrote the following blurb for the backcover:

As globalization continues to process a lot of populist anger over injustices - both perceived and real - stemming from its rapid expansion into traditional cultures, the world is going to suffer a lot more of the 'leaderless' terrorism that Michael explores in this wonderfully evenhanded book.  Those hunting for solutions - in addition to the 'bad guys' - would do well to add this to their reading list.

--Thomas P.M. Barnett, Chief Analyst, Wikistrat

In the conclusion, after a section on PLA Colonels Qiao Lian's and Wang Xiangsui's book, Unrestricted Warfare, Michael offers a summary of my thinking:

Global Integration

In a sense, Qiao and Wang's advocacy of unrestricted warfare on multiple dimensions is similar to Thomas P.M. Barnett's notion of "war within the context of everything else." A former Pentagon defense analyst, Barnett argues that in the contemporary world security must encompass several different dimensions, including economics, politics, trade, international law, and, most important, connectivity. His major study, The Pentagon's New Map, advanced a grand strategy for the United States. In Barnett's scheme, the world is divided into two broad regions.  Countries in the "Functioning Core" are integrated into a world system and operate under "rule sets." They arbitrate their differences through international bodies, such as the United Nations and the World Trade Organization, and are less likely to go to war against other countries in the core.[PNM] In contrast, countries in the "Non-Integrating Gap" do not follow these rule sets and are the setting for most of the problems that bedevil the world today.

The real enemy, according to Barnett, is disconnectedness, the separation of people - especially globally. Life in the Gap is, to paraphrase Thomas Hobbes, poor, nasty, short, and brutal, he says.[PNM] An unabashed economic determinist, he believes that people integrated into the global economy are far less likely to succumb to radicalism. As he puts it, the only viable exit strategy for the US military in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan is to leave those countries with more jobs than when the operations began.[GP & Zakaria's Post-American World]  With no resevoir of discontent, extremist and terrorist groups will find few recruits and pose no existential challenge to the system. Although Muslim rage may be fueled by issues such as the status of the Palestinians and US foreign policy, Barnett argues that it really stems from the Middle East being one of the most disconnected parts of the world. In short, Barnett's long-term strategic goal is the integration of all into the global economy, to drain the resevoir for international terrorism. Multilateral efforts could eliminate the Gap altogether, making globalization truly global.[PNM] Barnett sees globalization as inevitable, because it is the ultimate "non-zero-sum game" - meaning that all sides win.  The entire world will benefit from greater connectedness, he believes, through economic growth and higher standards of living.[BFA]

Lending credence to Barnett's thesis, researchers at the Center for International Development and Conflict Management at the University of Maryland have discovered that countries that are more tightly integrated into the global economy experience less instability.[Ted Gurr edited volume Peace and Conflict 2008]  Nearly 80 percent of all international crises in the post-Cold War era have involved at least one unstable or failing state.[Peace and Conflict 2008] The physical security of the United States is now threatned not so much by the strenth of other states, but by their weakness, since weak and failed states often serve as sanctuaries for transnational terrorist groups.[PNM & Takeyh/Gvosdev cite]  Despite current global problems, Barnett is optimistic about the future and believes that the terrorist threat can be managed effectively:

I don't see the Salafist threat as particularly profound. It has not done well, particularly in the last several years by my calculations . . . I see them more as a friction. I expect to see more of its as globalization more extensively penetrates the Middle East ast a much faster pace. The Salafists are a response to globalization, a reflection . . .

If we pursue the strategy [of expanding "the core" and shrinking "the Gap"], I don't see how it could fail. If we pursue the strategy, then we can participate in it more and we can shape the process and shape the regimes and the global pillars that arise from the process [May 2008 interview by Michael]

According to Barnett, economics got ahead of politics during the 1990s, and technology got ahead of security, causing the world to become too connected too quickly.[PNM] New technology had led to the emergence of "superempowered individuals," who Barnett believes have the potential to wreak unprecedented damage or "system perturbation."[Friedman's Lexus & Olive Tree, GP] Although the United States cannot be defeated at the nation-state level, Barnett points out that it can still be humbled and even defeated at a system level if the US government is induced to disengage from the Middle East, through acts of terrorism in the style of 9/11.[PNM] Another terrorist attack on that scale could further destabilize financial markets and have a negative ripple effect throughout the economy. Nevertheless, he believes that modern societies have advanced precisely because they have mastered network complexity, usually in response to disasters and scandals that have periodically perturbed their systems and exposed vulnerabilities.[GP]

The encroaching process of globalization, Barnett avers, will undoubtedly engender opposition from those who feel threatened with a loss of identity and culture. The goal of such actors is a "civilizational apartheid" - removal of their areas from the process of globalization. In some ways, though, greater connectivity could increase the number of terrorists. For instance, inasmuch as the "virtual umma" is built on the Internet, increasing access to the medium would increase the potential to radicalize a large number of disaffected Muslims.[irregular warfare book cite]

Despite disruptions along the way, Barnett believes that globalization, if managed effectivey, is a force for good that improves the life conditions of many people. In order for his grand strategy to become a reality, the United States must take a leading role, with other "great powers" pitching in.[GP] Some observers, through, presage an end to US hegemony. What is more, some fear that centrifugal forces could actually tear the United States apart.[pages 158-60]

Michael follows that segue with a section on Sam Huntington, Pat Buchanan, William Lind, Martin van Creveld and Robert Kaplan entitled "Fragmentation."

The next section is called "The Viability of Leaderless Resistance," and here's the last bit referencing my stuff:

Societal fragmentation could increase the frequency of small-scale violence and the prevalence of lone wolf terrorism. But some observers believe the threat of leaderless resistance is overstated. Thomas Barnett finds the discussion about fourth-generation and fifth-generation warfare to be overwrought, depicting, as they sometimes do, a future in which Mad Max-like warriors roam a wasteland. Far from seeing al Qaeda as winning, Barnett sees a movement in retreat, as time and time again it has shifted its center of graveity from one locale to another in response to evictions and military reprisals. Likewise, he see little future for terrorism in "the core." As he points out, terrorism in core countries tends to be sporadic and unsupported by the populace. Perpetrators are often disaffected loners, such as Timothy McVeigh and Ted Kaczynski, who "we see shuffling in orange jump suits and chains . . .  on their way to a court appearance." Rather than representing a "political storm," they become a social nuisance. This is in contrast to terrorists in the Gap who often thrive in a "wild frontier" environment.[BFA] [pages 165-66]

A pretty fair capture of what I wrote, although I always get this thing where my writings on connectivity leading to peace are countered with the notion (cited from others) that initial connectivity can actually lead to a rise in instability, which is, of course, a point I made ad naseum in my three books. After all, I called it The Pentagon's New Map, indicating that I argued globalization's spread would map out where conflict is going to occur.

Michael did a fair job of laying out my grand strategic vision while making clear that globalization's spread is inevitable all on its own at this point ["unabashed economic determinist . . . Barnett sees globalization as inevitable ..."], whether or not the US leads.  Too often my emphasis on what the US should do gets translated as "defeat the US and defeat globalization," which, as I note often in my writings, I don't believe is possible at this point in history, in large part because it's Asia that now leads in globalization's expansion. Where I argue the US role is crucial comes in how that inevitable globalization of globalization unfolds - i.e., how much violence is attached to that process and what are the pol-mil outcomes.

Naturally, opponents to President Obama's "strategic pivot" to East Asia are going to complain that the US is "abandoning" the Middle East, thus securing the radical Islamist "win" on some level (per my description above), but, as I have written time and again, I don't buy that one bit.  I see the "pivot" as an ass-covering drill by the Democrat Obama intent on closing down Bush's wars (along with a certain indulgence of US populism that blames a lot of America's current woes on "dastardly" China's rise), as well as a budget-floor-locating drill by the Pentagon eager to cut back on the Green (Army, Marines) and favor the big-war Blue (Air Force, Navy) that was "unfairly" penalized by the Long War and Bush's far-too-delayed embrace of COIN. True to form, globalization keeps pulling America's attention back to the Middle East in the form of the Arab Spring.

In short, our attention is pulled to wherever globalization's continued expansion hits traditional cultures not quite ready for it. East Asia gets a certain amount of our attention due to the deficit of regional integration schemes there, but these are not issues to be settled by great-power war - as much as plenty inside the Pentagon dream of such nasty business there.  But growing pains are growing pains, so East Asia gives us enough "crisis" to attract our attention even as other developing parts of the world are where the sub- and transnational action are at.

Having said all that, I did mean what I said in the blurb: I do think globalization's continued expansion gets you more leaderless terrorist activity, not so much because they're superempowered (because we all are), but because that's all that's left as globalization penetrates and absorbs the remaining traditional cultures (on view right now with the Arab Spring and in Africa's widespread economic boom and the socio-economic churn created by that). 

Of course, so long as the US offers the mentally ill easy access to military-grade automatic weaponry and ammunition, we'll have things like the Aurora shooting, which is plenty scary. The ease of doing that in our society eventually has to attract the attention of more organized foreign terror groups along the lines of the Mumbai incident.  I expect that to happen at some point, forcing the US and the West in general down some of the same domestic security paths that Israel long ago adopted (as did the UK in response to the IRA). This adjustment will be uncomfortable, but not life changing.  And it will have no impact whatsoever on globalization's continued advance. It will simply be the price of America's grand strategic success in spreading globalization these past seven decades - along with a sad reflection of our societal love of guns and violence.

10:13AM

Time's Battleland: Drones + biometrics: Weapons that conquer globalization's frontiers

Cool NYT story on the US military's use of biometrics (eye scans, etc.) to create unforgeable identification records of roughly one-in-five fighting-age Iraqi and Afghani males, creating databases that can be perused in seconds by a handheld device at a border crossing. Naturally, there is much interest and some desire to use the same technology here in the States, along with the usual fears of loss of privacy.  Trust me, along with drones, these frontier-settling technologies will most definitely infiltrate our society in coming years, just like the military's Internet and GPS did before.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.

I first wrote about this concept in Blueprint for Action in the final chapter called "blogging the future."

10:56AM

Blast from my Past: The Brief at JHUAPL (2005)

A nice archive of a "Blueprint for Action" era version of the brief, delivered in Alexandria Va as part of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory's "Rethinking the Future International Security Environment" series of speakers 2005-2006.  A lot of great talks from great thinkers found on the page here.

Video of my talk found here.

Audio only here.

Download notes version.

Download copy of unanimated slides.

12:02AM

Brief Reminder: Triangulating "The Pentagon's New Map"

This was my set-up slide in the old “Blueprint”-era brief.  In it, I provided a triangulating argument to orient the audience to other, more famous books.  I’d start with Friedman’s book, saying it was economic determinism, then I’d draw a line over to Huntington’s “Clash,” dubbing it social Darwinism.  Then I’d add the triangle and say I sought to add the third, pol-mil leg to that implied stool by splitting the difference between them:  yes, I believed in Friedman’s determinism, but yes, I also believed that globalization’s spread would trigger conflict along the “border”—so to speak, or along the Seam between Core and Gap.  My book’s “conceit,” I would say, was that it predicted where conflict would occur in the world on the basis of globalization’s expansion—hence it was the “Pentagon’s” new map and not Google’s or Goldman Sachs’ map (even though, in truth, their maps aren’t all that different looking).

12:09AM

Got my Chinese-edition copies of "Blueprint for Action"

Twenty copies in the mail, right on the heels of getting 4 copies of the Turkish edition of the same.

In sum, I now have The Pentagon's New Map in Turkish, Chinese and Japanese, and Blueprint for Action in Turkish and Chinese.

Great Powers already sold to the Turks, and I have high hopes a Chinese edition will follow with its usual deliberate speed.

Shots of the Chinese edition of Blueprint:

I showed Vonne Mei a copy last night and she hugged it until she fell asleep with it in her arms.

I will take that as a thumbs-up!