Monday, 7 November 2011

Book review: The Pentagon's New Map

Slightly late to the party, but I finally read Thomas Barnett's The Pentagon's New Map. I've been a fan of Barnett since watching his TED talk on the basis of a recommendation from a friend, but beyond his blog haven't until now read any of his books.

New Map is (in my mind at least) a book about the need to rediscover a more clearly stated purpose for American power. Barnett's thesis is that this should be to protect, foster and guide globalisation, by bringing more countries into the realm of well connected and co-operating nations (The Core), and out of the largely dictatorial, undeveloped and conflict ridden areas which exist elsewhere (The Gap).

The part of New Map I personally like the most is that it seeks to create a framework for a grand strategy, not only for the USA but also for other countries like the UK which exist in the Core. Barnett proposes re purposing the US military (any many other elements of the US Government) in particular in order to develop a set of tools more suited for the messy and unpleasant business of dealing with all the conflict and chaos that exists in the world.

The core elements of this are a "Leviathan" force and a sys-admin force. The Leviathan force is essentially already there, the US military can knock over pretty much any country in the world without breaking a sweat. The only countries it couldn't easily roll over are countries which exist in co-operation (broadly) with globalisation and the US.

What doesnt exist, and in truth hasnt shown a great deal of evidence of emerging since the book was written, is the sys-admin force. This force would be one set up for dealing with the mess which comes when shutting down a conflict. It would be a type of peacekeeping force (and I diminish a great deal with Barnett's analysis when I call it that) with teeth.

If anything, the sys-admin force has been replaced by the increased use of unmanned drones to monitor and with greater frequency attacks on militants and suspected militants. These tools are cheap, disposable and pretty much divorce the user from any form of risk and responsibility. The problem is that these tools do nothing in terms of actually shutting down a conflict, but instead provide an impetus for elongating conflicts.

I'm actually surprised by the fact that when discussing a sys-admin force Barnett doesnt discuss in more detail how other countries could become involved in this. One of America's strengths, traditionally, has been the forging of multilateral alliances, either independently, or through existing international institutions. This strength has diminished in recent years however, both as a result of a seeming indifference to achieving these sorts of ends, and due to the emergence of other powerful international actors.

Ultimately, what Barnett's book is, is a challenge particularly to America, but also to other Core nations, to rethink their approach to the world, abandoning national self interest in favour of the more important trend of Globalisation. Its a deeply idealistic text, which is rare when discussing grand strategy.

Well worth reading for its scope, concept and the depth which the core issues are explored.

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