Monday, 8 September 2008

Heart of Darkness, the Core and the Gap - 2

Continued from here.

Part three here. Part four here. Part five here.

Maps, jargon, and economics before all else

Thomas PM Barnett’s series of books on his Core and Gap strategic theory begin with The Pentagon’s New Map. Declaration of ignorance: I haven’t read it. I’m going instead by the large amount of information on his sprawling website. First, here is the map:

Or at least a detail of the map - click on it to see the whole world divided into Core and Gap, or download a PDF version here. As to what these divisions mean, TPM Barnett provides a glossary:
FUNCTIONING CORE: Those parts of the world that are actively integrating their national economies into a global economy and that adhere to globalization’s emerging security rule set.

NON-INTEGRATING GAP: Regions of the world that are largely disconnected from the global economy and the rule sets that define its stability. [...] These regions constitute globalization’s ‘ozone hole,’ where connectivity remains thin or absent in far too many cases. Of course, each region contains some countries that are very Core-like in their attributes (just as there are Gap-like pockets throughout the Core defined primarily by poverty), but these are like mansions in an otherwise seedy neighborhood, and as such are trapped by these larger Gap-defining circumstances.
So this division is defined by economic infrastructure. It’s not defined by political systems, not by levels of industrialisation or wealth, and not by military might - he believes these are secondary characteristics that flow from globalisation.

TPM Barnett argues that all serious strategic threats come from the Gap, and so to ensure future security the Core must work to close the Gap by expanding globalisation, by use of force where necessary. A repeat of the Cold War strategy of containing the enemy is insufficient, because the Gap is already defined by failure, and it is from failure that the danger comes. Afghanistan and Iraq are key examples for him, both of how threats come from the gap, and of how military force will in the future be used in the Gap rather than between countries of the Core.

And this is where I came in, because TPM Barnett places China and Russia in the Core, and conflict with China and Russia is at best a distraction from the main task according to his theory. But I don’t want to get onto that yet. First Heart of Darkness, and the steamer landing soldiers and customs officers all down the coast of Africa. The resonance with the New Map proposal is obvious. And TPM Barnett’s history of globalisation includes the colonial period. From the glossary:
The history of globalization can divided into three parts, each governed by its own rule set.
Globalization I from 1870 to 1914, was ended by the start of World War I.
Globalization II from 1945 to 1980, was initiated by the United States at the end of World War II, and continued until the effective end of the Cold War.
Globalization III (1980 -2001) has been an era of relative peace and enormous economic growth around the world that has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, but whose rule sets have now been challenged by rogue states and international terrorists, as exemplified by 9/11.
Here is someone who sees globalisation as the global strategic priority, and yet seems to confirm the far left view of globalisation as a continuation of Western imperialism. But while he sees a continuity he also wants to differentiate ‘Globalisation III’ from what went before. From the book proposal for The Pentagon’s New Map:
Does that sound like America running a global empire? It shouldn’t. We’re interested in enforcing minimum rule sets, not the maximal rule sets associated with imperialism. We want a level playing field not just in global trade, but in global security as well. We want to administer the global security system, not rule it. Like those ‘system administrators’ that keep the Internet up and running, America needs to play system administrator to the global security network. We need to keep globalization up and running - to be, in effect, its bodyguard.
Having not read the book nor its sequel, I don’t know whether this aspect survives intact therein. Four years later, he seems to be less sure that America is to be the sole systems administrator for globalisation, and instead is talking about competing rules being advanced by other Core nations as they move into the Gap. They don’t need to be America’s rules, just rules that America can live with. From TPM Barnett’s blog, August 21 2008:
I want a confident, demanding Russia. I need it to run some parts of the world and help shrink some parts of the Gap I won’t pretend anybody else is stepping up to handle. But I need a rule set for how that’s done that I can live with, along with the rest of the Core. By not integrating Russia better into Core institutions (like NATO, which should have been killed a while ago and reborn immediately as something from Vancouver to Vladivostock - remember that one from Jim Baker?), we’ve done a half-assed job, giving Russia just enough connectivity [...] to get rich but not enough larger [political-military] context to truly make itself happy and secure inside the Core.
That snippet comes from a follow-up to his post on Russia’s invasion of Georgia that got me started on reading all this. Here’s a big piece of that, where he explains his opposition to returning to a Cold War view of Russia:
Russia’s too much in the club (or Core, as I call it) to make such a divorce anything but highly disruptive to too many economic and investment and network interests, and therein lies my basic position on Russia belonging to the Core. Until it transgresses enough to resurrect itself as a credible direct-threat scenario (meaning we have a reasonable anticipation of possible direct war with Russia), we - along with the rest of the Core - are going to finesse this situation.

Being in the Core doesn’t mean never going to war, especially against Gap nations. Indeed, my whole point in making the original delineation was to point out that while intra-Core war becomes an increasingly distant possibility, wars inside the Gap by Core nations will be anything but. Just look at our record since the end of the Cold War.

The notion of the Core doesn’t presuppose that only America will have permission to do this sort of thing unilaterally. In fact, in both my books, I cited the danger of other Core powers starting to replicate our example if we weren’t careful about embedding our own interventions within an acceptable A-to-Z rule set that the Core as a whole could sign up for, meaning we’d eventually see other Core great powers launching their own efforts inside the Gap - according to their own rules and agendas. To some extent, Russia’s kinetic version is as challenging as China’s non-kinetic version - say - in Africa.

But make no mistake: the longer the U.S. gives off the vibe that it’s a ‘dangerous chaotic world’ where Core great powers do what they must to protect their interests, the more we will see this sort of behavior. If I’m Russia, and I’ve been watching imperious Washington this past two decades, I feel wholly within my rights in my own neighborhood, because those Americans certainly show themselves to take advantage or do what they feel they must in places all over the world but especially in their own backyard.

Again, this is where the strategic vision ‘thing’ or the lack thereof really hurts. We go off on a strategic bender after 9/11 and start remaking the Middle East as we see fit and we can’t expect every other Core great power to simply stand by and see what happens. We set the example, we model the behavior, and we eschew the larger schemes of cooperation as ‘naive’ or ‘too compromising’ or ‘too distasteful’ because ‘those regimes’ aren’t democracies like we are, and we’re going to find ourselves battling alternative great-power rule sets, which - in effect - Russia is proposing right now regarding the Caucasus.
He expresses the argument in more measured tones in this column dated September 7th.
Think about what made America the world’s most stable and prosperous democracy for almost a century and a half: the middle class ideology that emerged when we knit together our sectional economies into a continental juggernaut following the Civil War. That class consciousness wasn’t born when the victorious North imposed itself on the prostrate South but when the ambitious East integrated the frontier West.

Today’s globalization echoes American experience as West networks East and East integrates South, reducing global poverty at speeds never before seen in human history. This international liberal trade order, modeled on our ‘uniting states,’ is America’s greatest gift to the world.


The problem is the time required, as people must be enriched before they can be empowered - Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Such strategic patience is difficult for an America that idealizes its own tumultuous political history.


Now America faces the great temptation to swap out the frustrating ‘war on terror’ for the more familiar dynamics of cold war with Russia. What disturbs me most about that choice? The war on terror accurately targets extremist opponents of globalization’s advance, while strategic brinkmanship with Moscow's oligarchs does not.

Pursued with our usual demonizing tendencies, a ‘league of democracies’ combating rising great power autocracies will result in globalization being fenced off into a cluster of armed regional camps, replete with destructive trade protectionism.

Russia’s economic ambitions are as understandable as its penchant for brute force is unacceptable, but Moscow doesn’t seek to overthrow our international liberal trade order nor does it dream of civilizational apartheid like radical Islam. The same is true of autocratic China.
While I see much of worth in what TPM Barnett writes, my opposition to his conclusions on Russia has clarified to a great degree, and led me to also find fault elsewhere in his proposals. Now that I’ve sounded the depths I’ll aim to navigate my own passage through these murky waters in the coming days.

Continued here.

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