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Thomas P.M. Barnett: The Worldchanging Interview
Alex Steffen, 21 Dec 04

Prof. Thomas P.M. Barnett, Senior Strategic Researcher at the U.S. Naval War College, is maybe the hottest military thinker in the world right now. His work, which focuses on the connections between development and security, and in particular his book, Pentagon's New Map, has become deeply influential with forward-thinking members of the military. Whether or not Worldchanging readers agree with what he has to say, Prof. Barnett's vision for the future of the U.S. military is worth knowing about.

Alex Steffen: What do you mean when you talk about "the Gap" and "the Core?"

Thomas P.M. Barnett: Let me back up and explain how I got here.

A few years ago, I was doing some simple mapping of where we sent US military forces since the end of the Cold War. We sent soldiers into conflicts almost 150 times, seemingly around the planet, but when you actually plot it out, you realize it's clustered, rather significantly, in a series of regions.

When I drew a line around those regions on the globe, I realized there were certain things about those regions that were similar, and in a burst of bold data-free research I realized there was a pattern: when you look at the area where we've committed our forces, you're seeing the parts of the world that are least connected to the global economy. And I realized the shape I was staring at I'd seen in many, many forms: biodiversity loss, poor soil quality, where the most fundamentalist versions of religions are, where there're no fiber optic cable, where there are no doctors.

And I wanted to describe this split without using a term -- like North and South, say -- which resurrects a whole bunch of old arguments. So I just tried to describe it plainly, calling the connected parts of the world the Functioning Core of Globalization (or the Core)

Across that Core I see integrating economies, the regular and peaceful rotation of leadership, and no real mass violence. All the countries that the Pentagon's been planning for a big war with are all in the Core, but oddly enough, these are all the countries that come to our aid after 9-11, and the countries that find commonality in a struggle against global terrorism.

Meanwhile, when I look at the other areas, what I call the Non-Integrating Gap (or the Gap), I see almost all the negative situations we've faced since the end of the Cold War. Virtually all of Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean Rim and Andean portion of South America, the Caucauses, Balkans, Central Asia and much of Southeast Asia: in that Gap I found virtually all the wars, civil wars, ethnic cleansings, genocide, use of mass rape as a tool of terror, children forced or lured into combat activities,virtually all the drug exports, all the UN peacekeeping missions and almost 100% of the terrorist groups we're fighting.

It's a simplistic map, of course, but the match-up is profound: show me where globalization and connectivity are thick and I'll show you people living in peace. Show me where globalization hasn't spread, and I'll show you violence and chaos.


Steffen: So, if you're right and globalization brings peace, why are we experiencing so much blow-back?

Barnett: Because globalization can be a wrenching process. When globalization rolls into traditional societies -- and those are the only societies left outside the Core -- it has certain profound effects. Globalization is Borg-like in its integration abilities: it remakes you more than you can ever remake it. When it comes into traditional societies, which are pretty much defined by male control over females, it suddenly alters the character of some of our most important relationships and decisions: marriage, sex, births, family economics, the whole shebang. And globalization has proven itself time and time again to empower women disproportionately over men. That is a direct threat to the nature of traditional societies.


Steffen: The top third of humanity has unquestionably gotten much richer in the last decade, but there's also a billion people on the bottom who seem to be going backwards. And those people -- the part of the developing world that's no longer developing -- seems to map pretty exactly to your Gap.

Barnett: The Gap is the bottom third. One of my main points is that the middle third has joined the Core. The lives of the middle third have improved. There's been a reduction of about 400 million in the number of people in absolute poverty over the last 20 years. The number of people living on a dollar a day went from 40% of the world's population to about 20%.

There is still, though, about a third at the bottom who are shut out of the benefits of globalization. About half of them are kind of getting by in a subsistence way, but the other half, about one billion, are not only not getting by, they're falling off the edge of the planet.

Now, I should note that it doesn't mean that terrorism comes from one or the other, because terrorism seems to be related less to poverty than to a sense of diminished expectations. It tends to be people who know there's a better life, know they could get a better life because they have the skills and drive, but are prevented from having that better life. Terrorists tend to be middle-class, fairly educated, fairly smart people. Just because people are poor doesn't mean that they'll become terrorists.

Steffen: Yet you do say that shrinking the Gap is a pretty strong priority for our own national security.

Barnett: There is absolutely a security imperitive involved. If you're serious about ending transnational terrorism you've got to end disconnectedness. You're got to grow the global economy in a fair and a just manner. And we've got to find ways of bringing in that one third of humanity who still have their noses pressed to the glass (some of whom are pissed off about it).

To grow connectedness, though, you are going to necessarily involve yourself in the tumult, the resistance, and the violence, frankly, that comes about as that global economy expands and overruns traditional societies.

Bin Laden is part of the resistance to the global economy. He's saying in effect, your system is corrupt, it changes our traditional way of life, it asks too much in terms of lost identity and cultural distinctiveness and we're going to fight it and do our best to keep a firewall between us and you.

We need to understand this and we haven't. There was this sense in the 90s when the global economy was growing so well and so fast, that you didn't need to care about the consequences of having a Gap, because -- and this was essentially the argument Tom Friedman made in the Lexus and the Olive Tree -- globalization itself would just sort of spread all over the planet, and erase poverty, and integrate everybody, and by doing so it'll handle any problem you can dream up.

When we got 9-11, we realized that wasn't the whole picture, that those who feel shut out of the global economy are going to be unhappy about it, and in their unhappiness, they're going to send us their pain, and that pain can take profound proportions. 9-11 proved that the global economy can't police itself.

Now we know that there's no way to ignore the fact that a good third of humanity feel shut out of the global economy. That doesn't make them all threats. What it does mean is that if you're going to be serious about this trans-national terrorism issue, you're going to have to confront the reality of that one third. If you want to attack terrorists by shrinking their area of operations, in a classic military way, to reduce their ability to move around and squeeze them out of existence, then you have to integrate the rest of the world that remains left out.

Steffen: Now, you're not arguing that globalization is perfect, though, that the specific rule set under which we're operating globalization now is the only rule set, but rather just that there must be a rule set that applies to everyone? You give the Group of 20+ and their criticisms some credibility, right?

Barnett: Absolutely. There is always going to more argument about what's fair and what works. The concept of globalization is under constant revision.

As India and China become such big players in the global economy, the old charge that globalization equals Americanization is disappearing. In ten years people are going to see an economy that is as dominated by China, India and Brazil as it is by the EU or US. There are a variety of different rule sets competing here, and the globalization we have today will not be what we have in a decade. But the conflict isn't fought by massed armies on the battlefield, it's fought in huge bureaucratic conferences like the World Trade Organization. That's a positive process.

When I talk about globalization growing, I'm not talking about the enforcement of US interests on the rest of the world. I'm talking about places with rules replacing chaotic places. Globalization comes with rules, not a ruler.


Steffen: One of the things I've heard you say is that in the global economy we have all sorts of institutions and organizations to handle countries with failed or bankrupt economies -- from the IMF on down -- but that we don't have any institutions which are set up to handle failed states.

Barnett: People would assume that the United Nations was set up to handle failed states, but the reality is different. The UN was created -- largely by the United States -- in the aftermath of World War Two, having seen the horrors of state-on-state war, invasions and occupations and the like, and so the rules they put in place at the UN said state sovereignty is everything. The UN is set up to help stop states from invading and conquering each other.

The UN rules, in retrospect, look odd. To pretend that a Sudan, for instance, which is doing what it's doing within its borders should have its sovereignty treated with the same respect as a France or Japan is ludicrous.

So while in the popular imagination, the UN is the forum for addressing international crises, the reality is that the UN is largely impotent, except for its internal technical rule-making, which functions quite nicely, frankly. The UN has become primarily a bitch-session, where the developing countries can complain about their lot and the direction of the advanced world. I think that's fine in many ways; it's good that the Gap has a venue and forum to complain in the direction of the Core. In fact, increasingly what you see is one position held by what I call the "old Core" -- the U.S., the E.U., Japan -- another position held by the Gap, and what I call the "new Core" -- the Brazil, India, China and South Africa -- acting as a sort of go-between. This is an arrangement which serves us well in terms of trade and economic and technical arguments.

But in terms of security, in the realm of violent situations, it's not realistic to pretend that 1) all countries are equal -- 'cause they're not: we have huge military capabilities and almost nobody else really does -- or 2) that every state has good intentions or treats its own people well. There are terrible things happening in certain parts of the world, and I think it's unrealistic to pretend that the U.N. is going to be able to stop these things.

So what I argue for in the book, and what I'm arguing for even more extensively in the next book, is that we need to come up with a transparent and fairly agreed-upon "A to Z" ruleset, as I call it, for dealing with politically bankrupt states. Again, as you said, we have a system for dealing with economically bankrupt states. Why? That's a fairly non-controversial subject compared to genocide or states trading in weapons of mass destruction. It's pretty basic to say, it would be nice if you paid back your creditors. But how do you deal with states that are either run by bad guys or in melt-down?

The traditional model has been imminent threat. You threaten me and I'll deal with you. But in a world of international norms and a stronger sense of community, haphazard responses just don't measure up.

Steffen: "He was reachin' for his gun" sounds pretty shabby in comparison to our economic and diplomatic decision-making processes?

Barnett: Well, what you want is not some sort of frontier justice, but a police force: something that represents the law, that points out when some guy transgresses the law, and takes him down when we catch him.

Steffen: Would that be an international institution?

Barnett: It'd be a series of institutions.

Steffen: What might those look like?

Barnett: The U.N. has a certain role. It would be the Grand Jury, aggregating information, organizing complaints, hearing grievances, and then when there's a preponderance of evidence against a particular actor in the system -- people are complaining about what the government of Sudan is doing in Darfur, and the evidence suggests a serious wrong is being committed, then it rises up to the U.N. Security Council which blesses the argument that someone has crossed the line by issuing resolutions and taking the limited punitive actions it can.

That's the first step. What would need to come afterwards is some sort of functioning executive, which would take the will expressed in the UN and make some decisions about when the collective international community's military firepower will be brought to bear against this bad actor.

That's a complex set of decisions, because that military power is, in essense, the US military, because we're the only ones who can project power anywhere on the planet, it is a struggle for the international community to come up with an agreed-upon system for saying, "Here's when we turn the Americans loose on you."

It's hard to turn the Americans loose on somebody without it seeming like it's the Americans, and only the Americans, engaging in an act of war. And because we're a democracy, in order for us to build the will to engage in these acts, we traditionally have to turn it into an argument about how this guy's not only evil, but he's a threat to us, and he's not only a threat to us, but he's a threat to us right now and we'd better do something about it this minute, when in reality we haven't fought a war against a truly imminent threat in over 50 years. We wage war on a nearly constant basis, but not because of true threats -- there have been bad people, doing bad things, typically far from our shores, but we've come to the conclusion that stopping those things is worth doing, and so we make these arguments about how we're under imminent threat in order to fight the people doing them.

That was the core of Containment in the Cold War. That's the core of the Global War on Terrorism. Various people, including myself, have trouble with that phrase, but it's an improvement, I suppose, over saying something like we're fighting a war against chaos and uncertainty.

But anyway, right now, any conflict we get involved in needs to be couched in terms of global terrorism: "I think this guy is aiding terrorists." That won't work. What we need, in the real world, is a clear rule set that says certain behavior is just unacceptable. Uprooting a million people from their lives and homes and then engaging in mass-rape and mass-murder against them: whether or not terrorism or narcotics or weapons of mass destruction are involved, we can't tolerate that and it must be stopped.

So we need some functioning executive to decide when we're going to step in and stop it. I think that's going to be a sort of Star Chamber that can say this is wrong, it's bad for business, and we're going to stop it now.

The neo-cons have a very small definition of the membership of that Star Chamber. It's called the United States. Our allies would like to think it's the United States plus our allies, something like the G8 framework. I think it needs to be something like the G20 [not to be confused with the G20+ -- ed], a coalition of the world's 20 or so biggest, richest and most powerful countries. I like that idea, because it basically gets you most of the functioning Core in one room. If you can get that group to agree on how to wield power together, then I think you've got the closest thing you can get to a global consensus.

And if you can get that consensus, then you can use the Leviathan force, the US military, to do, frankly, regime change, against bad guys who need to be taken out, in a way that won't make everyone angry and scared and uncertain. No one else can do these missions, but the US can't do them alone.


Steffen: But what do we do once we've toppled the bad guys? Are you saying we need to do nation-building?

Barnett: Well, we need to get better at it. As demonstrated by the failures in the Iraq occupation, we need a Core-wide, and a Core-wide-funded peacekeeping force. I think the US military has a key role to play in that force, in terms of command and control, organization and logistics, but the overwhelming the bodies for that force have to come from all around the Core, and, in certain key circumstances, the Gap countries themselves.

After the Leviathan force has done the hard stuff -- the killing and removing of the bad people -- this force comes in and engages in a very broadband, dedicated, capital- and labor-intensive effort like the US engaged in Germany and Japan following the end of the Second World War, with Japan being the more direct model: with Germany, we were just reconstructing industry -- you had property rights and a moden history of democracy there; with Japan, we had to build all sorts of social and political institutions.

We need to rethink the connections between security and developmental economics. We need to stop having an antagonistic relationship between military people and the development community, because the fact is, we're not succeeding at all in these failed states. Insecure places are desperately poor places. Desperate poverty breeds insecurity. We need a new approach, a more comprehensive and integrated approach that sees these problems as two sides of the same coin and thinks differently about how to solve them.

Steffen: What would that approach look like on the ground, do you think, compared to what we're able to do now?

Barnett: Well, it would be what I call the System Administrator Force. It would be a people-intensive, UN-peacekeeping-plus approach that could defend itself -- could do counter-insurgency, could fight and not be some ineffective, pussy UN force where you shoot at them and half of them run away. It would be a tough force. You shoot at these guys, or start committing atrocities in their presence, and they would stop you, and if necessary, kill you. It could not only keep the peace, but enforce it.

It would also have a highly-trained civilian component. You'd have international, inter-agency teams. It'd look like the Casbah bar scene in Star Wars -- you'd want to see loads of uniforms from all sorts of countries, and you'd want to see civilians from all sorts of NGOs and aid agencies: you'd want the whole package, acting in a Great Depression, FDR sort of mode, where the first order of business (after enforcing the peace) would be to get everybody busy. The government that would be there would be some sort of transitional organization, an international reconstruction fund, with the goal of getting things stabilized, an economy working and laws written.

The United States military is going to continue to be critical to the whole process, though, for a long time, Other countries won't show up for peacekeeping unless the Americans will be there, and be there in numbers. And the NGO crowd can't really show up unless there's a stabilizing military presence there. So if you don't have the Americans, you don't have big enough coalitions to make it work, and if you don't have those coalitions, you don't have the NGOs who can turn things around, except for the bravest, most foolhardy ones who will go into the most dangerous situations, people like Doctors Without Borders.

But it's not going to be the United States alone, policing the whole world. It can't be. The only way that you can shrink the Gap and deal with these failed states and the humanitarian crises you're seeing is to bring together the assets and the energies and ideas from the Core as a whole: not just what the Americans can dream up, not even just what the Europeans can dream up, but the best innovations from an India, a China.

The military component would be predominant at first, then, over time, ramp down. These would be trained, experienced peacekeepers, and at first they would be everywhere, because our experience with peacekeeping is, the more peacekeepers you have, the fewer of them die.

We need to design an overwhelming presence, like that we've had on the warfighting side, for the peacekeeping side. Our warfighting force can actually be a small, elite, small footprint, highly maneuverable, lethal, mostly raining death-and-terror-from-the-skies crowd--

Steffen: You're talking about a continued process of having the best Navy, the best Air Force, and really great special operations units, forming a small tight fighting force that can do pretty much whatever it wants, right, and --

Barnett: And then this other force, which will be much more ground-intensive. And it'll look different, too: it'll be an older crowd, it'll tend to be more gender-balanced, more educated. It'll seem to our current eyes more like a uniformed, muscular peace corps. The warfighting guys come in and get the killing done in five weeks, but these are the people who may stay for five years. That's the force that the Pentagon needs to start building now.

Steffen: So, if I understand you, the goal would be to bring to bear pretty massive resources and personnel, to build the country's capacities as rapidly as possible, to move it from being a failed state to a country where we can leave and be confident that we're handing off power and authority to a responsible government?

Barnett: Yes, but look, we need to rethink every step of that process.

The developmental model needs to be smaller, simpler, more rapidly-achievable. We've gone in with giant infrastructure projects, vastly expensive, so complex that they require imported expertise to run, and so large that they take years to unfold. I think those are terrible models for any developing community. I think they're an absolute disaster when you're talking about a failed state.

Failed states are situations where people have been brutalized. And when you've gone in and fought a war there, however much it was necessary, you've just brutalized the people there some more. What you have is a situation where people need some rapid recovery. People there are going to ask for help.

The answer can't be, "Well, the good news is, we got the bad guy. The bad news is, if you can just hang on for about six to eight years --"

Steffen: We'll get your water working again.

Barnett: [laughs] Exactly. What we need really looks like what FDR did for this country: get people working. I don't care what they do, get them involved in building something out of their lives again. We don't want to make them dependent on foreign aid, but we do want to get people doing something.

Steffen: But at the same time, the sense I get is that the gap between the best practices for development and the current methods is so large that we could potentially take those best practices and tools, customize them for the situation on the ground, and create some pretty worldchanging progress. I mean, what if we could say, here's nationbuilding-in-a-box; everyone get to work? What if we could quickly spread models for microcredit programs, literacy programs, better transitional housing, better medical care, small-scale industry, communications networks, solar energy and lighting, y'know, the whole works?

Barnett: Well, like as Tolstoy said at the beginning of Anna Karenina, all happy families are alike, but unhappy families are all unique.

Steffen: So all failed states are unique?

Barnett: Yes, they tend to be screwed up in incredibly unique ways. I mean, I agree with everything you say there. I think we can now do many things better than we could in the past. We could do it all a lot better. We can turn countries around. But every situation will be unique.

And we don't need to change every country. The Gap is about 100 countries, about two billion people. Historically, since the end of the Cold War, there's about three dozen at any one time having levels of mass violence. Usually, there are about seven or eight that rise to the level of an international moral issue, where we all start to say, Jeez we should do something about this.

Steffen: Those are also the countries which tend to destabilize their neighbors, spreading conflict, uprooting refugees, creating the conditions for famines and epidemics.

Barnett: Right, so fixing those countries is important, and so we're not talking about invading 100 countries at once. We're talking about stopping genocides and civil wars in seven or eight, and frankly, the US military's already been doing that for fifty years, but most people here don't realize it. I could point out several countries in Africa where we've gone in eight or nine times over the last dozen years. It's like we're doing ER medicine, when what they need is rehabilitation--

Steffen: Or at least some preventive care.

Barnett: Yeah, get 'em some health insurance or something.

Steffen: I wonder if one of the difficulties is that we don't really have a heroic image of a peacekeeper. We have plenty of heroic warriors, but how many heroic peacekeepers do we have?

Barnett: Of course we have a heroic image of a peacekeeper: it's called a cop.

Steffen: But we don't usually think of sending our cops to other countries.

Barnett: No, we don't. And that's where we have to dis-aggregate war and peace a little better, and we have to dial down some of our old military rhetoric a little. War now is not about state-on-state combat. It's about cop-like behavior. But because it involves, by necessity, the instrumentality of the US military, and because it involves at least the possibility of people getting killed in large clusters, we describe what we're doing in the language of war. That's a real problem. It leads to real errors.

For us to shrink the Gap, we need to find a new lexicon to describe what we're doing. We've tried terms like "police action," but we need new language that doesn't make the victims into enemies, and that lets us more easily divide the conflict side, the soldier mode, from the peacekeeping side, the cop mode.

Look at what's happening with the International Criminal Court. It blurs the line between military law and civilian law. The international community wants us to go in and engage in serious violence in these places, to engage in acts of war against bad actors, and then apply a police model with these civilian legal norms after the fact. Of course, the US military is concerned that they're going to do something legitimate by military standards that'll be called a war crime later under a different standard.

My argument is that you will never get the war-fighting portion of the US military under the purview of the International Criminal Court. But there is that other part of the mission, the peacekeeping force, which should be under international legal authority. In effect, we have to stop calling that second force "soldiers."

Steffen: At the same time, "peacekeeper" isn't quite the right word, because you're talking about something more vigorous. You're talking about "peacemakers," really, y'know?

Barnett: Well, and that's a really good word, actually. That's how they described that one handgun that settled the West.

Y'know, I get criticized for this on my blog. I say that shrinking the Gap is like settling the West, and the first response I get from people is "Barnett advocates genocide throughout the Gap."

That's the fear. That's a reasonable expression of the fear that when globalization comes in, it's like an invasive species. The fear that you're being invaded by a hostile army and it will mean your death, the death of your family and your culture. And in the New World, early globalization meant real genocide, both intentional and accidental.

That's not what I'm talking about when I talk about settling the West. I'm talking about the time when you had things settling down--

Steffen: When the sheriff and the schoolmarm showed up.

Barnett: Yeah, and what's the Coalition of the Willing? It's posse. We're looking, at the Pentagon, for metaphors like this, to explain what we're trying to do.

Steffen: Of course, these are precisely the kinds of images and metaphors which don't reassure the rest of the world. They may make sense to us, but I wonder if others aren't saying, wait a minute, if you're the cowboys, who're the Indians?

Barnettt: Well, but we're also a nation with a frontier history, and we understand that rough, tough law men were part of how our country came to be a stable, integrated nation. This was how we set up rules and got people to respect them.

The Gap needs rules, needs laws, needs institutions that can enforce them. That's Hernando de Soto's point about how so much of the Gap's economic activity is informal, and therefore not recognized, not legalized.

Steffen: Which makes it really hard to do business, much less use that property as collateral for credit to expand your farm or --

Barnett: Basic structures for doing that don't exist through much of the Gap. I mean, look at the conflicts you have in the Sudan and Nigeria -- it's the farmer and the cowboy can't be friends. It's right out of our own past. And so often, when you look at these conflicts, they may break down along tribal or religious lines, but they start over who has rights to the land. Who gets to use the resources? The rule sets are weak. There's no way of adjudicating these disputes, other than picking up guns and getting medieval on each other.

Steffen: Well, and that example raises not only the points you make about the need for laws in the Gap, but also, another set of questions around environmental issues. In much of the Gap, all the problems we've talked about are being made worse by climate change, by water shortages, by erosion and the spread of deserts, even, increasingly, by massive pollution, as these nations scramble to catch up. Degrading environments create real instabilities--

Barnett: Right, environmental refugees, for instance.

Steffen: Exactly. If you go back to Rwanda, for instance, there have been studies that show that the strength of the pre-genocide local relationships between the groups had almost no impact on the outcome, but rather, that the places where the famine was the worst, were the places where the killing was the worst, period. What do examples like this teach the Core about how to think about security and sustainability?

Barnett: I think what it shows is that if you want a country to protect its environment, help it develop, and visa versa. The answer can't be to turn the Gap into a giant game preserve, and prevent development. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't care about their environments, but throughout the Gap, wherever I see failed states, bad governments, loose rule sets and lack of development, I see people cannibalize their environment out of sheer desperation. Until you create a certain critical mass of development, people won't protect their environments.

Steffen: My point is though that protecting the environment is also a way of creating the kind of stability it takes to shrink the Gap. Climate change, for instance, is hitting the developing world much harder than it's hitting us --

Barnett: Look. I put protecting the environment where I put democracy: everybody wants them, and it's clear that they are both goals we're ultimately aiming for here. But first you need development and stability and some basic rules. First things first.


Steffen: So, let's say you were asked to serve as Secretary of Defense. What are the first three differences we'd see in your Pentagon?

Barnett: One. I would advocate a massive redistribution of resources towards that System Administrator function. I'd accelerate that dramatically. In terms of acquisitions for my war-fighting force, I'd keep buying high technology, but I'd buy in much smaller numbers, and take the freed-up resources and plunge them into building the new force.

You would see, very quickly, a four-star military police general in my Pentagon. You would see position and authority accrue to people that had been considered lesser includeds: I would have four-star military medical generals and four-star military supply generals, not just the war-fighting guys running everything.

Two. I would redesign the unified command plan, which was really built for another era. Having European Command have its Area of Responsibility extend all the way down to Sub-Saharan Africa is really kind of a mis-match. I would create an African Command, and an East Asian Command and a West Asian Command. In East Asia, once we get rid of Kim Jung Il, I'm looking at a relatively peaceful region, and I'm building a NATO there. That's a place we can draw resources from.

I'd put those resources into Africa. I think Africa needs a lot of dedicated attention. To the extent that we drive that fight against terrorism out of the Middle East it's going to head south, especially to the Horn of Africa. People ask me "How do we know we've won in the Middle East?" And I say, "When all our troops are on peacekeeping missions in Central Africa."

Three. I'd abolish service identities once you reach flag rank, meaning once you became an admiral or a general (and I suppose you'd have to come up with a single term, which will really piss of the Navy, because I'm sure you'd end up with general), you'd serve the Pentagon as a whole. That'd solve one of the biggest problems, because now, once you become a one-star general, the way to become a two-star general is to protect you service's force structure in budgetary battles, to make sure that no matter what else happens, you've got twelve carriers or three armored divisions or whatever. These idiotic budgetary battles go one forever and ever and lead to all sorts of overlaps and inefficiencies and acquisition scandals.

If instead, the incentives for becoming a two- or three- or four-star would be how gloriously "purple" you were -- which is the color they associate with "jointness" -- how seamlessly you could cooperate. That would also, I think help people to be more interagency, more international, to adapt to unexpected situations.

I threw that out as sort of a lark in the book. You'd be amazed how many people take it seriously, inside the Pentagon.

Steffen: Are you finding a willing audience for your reforms?

Barnett: When they invite you in to address the entire class of a war college, that's a good sign. The other thing I do is I'm now coming in and briefing all the new one-star generals and admirals, and that's a big sign of acceptance.

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Thanks for the interview. I had not known of a blog for Mr. Barnett, I will look that up. I only saw a part of the C-SPAN broadcast, ditto.

As I have posted elsewhere, I like to read or hear Mr. Barnett's interviews. He stays on message. In his book he dwells on his career path and his presentation slides.

A small point: Others are working on a subset of nationbuilding-in-a-box, maybe call it refugee-camp-in-a-box. I am thinking of the retired military at Rocky Mountain Institute who are applying efficient off-the-grid technology to the needs of refugees.

Posted by: Lloyd on 22 Dec 04

We're having a most interesting conversation at BOPnews about Barnett. One of the commenters pointed us here. This interview adds even more dimension. Thanks!

Posted by: Ellen Dana Nagler on 22 Dec 04

I'm not sure you guys necessarily connected on the last bit about sustainability. To take one example, I would think that the Pentagon would want to have a handle on things like Egypt's burgeoning salinization problem, which could lead to unrest and violence down the road. Or the next Aral Sea. What I wonder is whether that is the kind of thing that military planners are looking for and developing scenarios and prevention strategies around. When it comes to Africa and Central Asia, they very much should be. Ditto for the Middle East.

Posted by: praktike on 22 Dec 04

Fascinating interview, cheers. Quite complex to take brief issue with.

However, I wonder how much would change if his model of conflict intervention was applied. It seems likely there would be disagreement over when to intervene. America is extremely unlikely to turn its decision making power over to any international boddy, Core or not. It has repeatedly asserted its right to use military force where and whenever it sees fit, and historically this is entirely self-serving, expressed as "national security considerations". Conversely, his model would provide for the rest of the world to be obligated to clean up the mess - what has proved to be a more difficult, ongoing and much more expensive process than dropping bombs - and create a ready made body to do that. So I think in practice this system would see America doing what it wants, maybe occasionally engaging in an actual humanitarian intervention without an ulterior motive, and the rest of the world cleaning up.

Another thing: do we understand the Gap? Do we understand the traditional cultures we seem so blithely willing to remake into our value system? Barnett seems very sure it is right to intervene, but *anything* imposed on people that they do not understand or desire will be resisted. But entire ways of life, senses of time and reality, which are workable and satisfying and utterly foreign to the Core/West exist... for example, check out Malidoma Some talking about the West African Dagara.

But definitely some signs of hope, of actual thought entering military life in America.

Posted by: billy on 22 Dec 04

Mea culpa. Here's a clickable link to the NRSP website:

New Rule Sets Project.

[Editor's note: link removed; site changed hands.]

Posted by: New Rule Sets Project LLC on 23 Dec 04

Man, that's the stuff, that is. That's like
the New Common Wisdom.

It sounds even better over here in Belgrade,
the World Capital of Gap.

Posted by: Bruce Sterling on 24 Dec 04

I agree with his analysis regarding the source of the world problems - the core/gap thing. But are his solutions practicable or even possible?

First off: How willing are the U.S. citizens to allowing it's military to become the police of the world EXPLICITLY when it's their children who will die enforcing such? Not Chinese, Brazilian or Indian 18-25 year olds, but their own children alone. Even if we are already the defacto world police, we only permit our involvement to the extent that there is a "threat" to us. He's right in that we use the language of imminent threat to mobilize ourselves, but we do so for a reason. You can argue U.S. citizens are being fooled with false "imminent threat" language, but without it would we act? What happens when the internal politics of the nation compel the U.S. government not to send it's own childen in?

Second: While he forsees a future "G20" that will make the decision on when to act according to a rule set (the indictment of the UN security council accoring to him), the problem is, it's still the U.S. military, not the G20 military. What happens when G19 says to U.S. 'go get 'em", but the U.S. say 'No thanks". Will the G-19 have some sort of magical veto to force the U.S. military to into action despite the U.S.'s wishes? Really? How will this work? The system we have now - where the U.S. makes the decision when to go in or not and, as a nicety, asks the G19 to go along with the idea to give the impression of a "global consensus" and it's attendant "legitimacy" - exists because it's the only workable possiblity given the realities of the world.

Ultimately, if he wants a military police force under the power of a G20, it cannot be the miliatary of any one constituant nation. The only workable global police force will have to be something mirroring the U.N. force with all it's attendant crippling self contradictions, i.e. - every nation will want to pull out it's contribution of citizens when it doesn't agree with the other G-states.

To do what he would like would involve a global entity with an actual veto power of sovereign states - essentially a sovereign global government with it's own military not subject to the will of of it's individual constituant states. Not likely.

Posted by: Ray Midge on 25 Dec 04

Barnett has some interesting ideas; I especially like his comment that the neo-cons have too narrow a view of all this (one nation acting unilaterally rather than concerted international action).

Howevever, I'm not sure he's right that environmental issues can be relegated to secondary importance after development. The Economist reports on a scheme being worked out by Richard Wilcox at the World Food Fund to float famine insurance on behalf of inhabitants of famine-prone regions. Basically, it's probably cheaper to pay for insurance that will pay off to the inhabitants when rains fail, so that they won't sell their tools and burn all the vegetation for firewood.
Cheaper than dealing with refugees, wars, broken economies, and failed states. Instead of having a Band-Aid after people start dying, insure them before the problem starts and keep them alive and the environment and economy intact.

Barnett seems too focused on governments. Japan after WWII was indeed a fine example of nation building. But Sudan isn't Japan; its main problem isn't losing an expansionist war.

The Economist article notes that bad government may in many senses be responsible for famine, ``But bad government is hard to measure, and therefore hard to insure against. Rainfall, by contrast, is easy to measure.''

WFP seems serious about this scheme, and says it could be up and running by 2007. No invasions or nationbuilding required.

See ``Famine insurance, Hedging against the horsemen,'' Dec 9th 2004, From The Economist print edition.


Posted by: John S. Quarterman on 25 Dec 04

Worldchanging Readers,

IF Barnett is anywhere close to accurate in his analogy of the USA "exporting security", we really do have a piss poor "security" product that will need huge cultural revision for its raw product (soldiers to be recruited), as well as the military structural revision he outlines in "The Pentagon's New Map".

This history teacher has only seen Barnett's PowerPoint seminar, but does think he's very accurate. To ALL OTHERS WHO AGREE, let's organize to orient the body politic toward the heroism of military service (rather than the public whining to "bring our boys/girls/moms/dads back home").

The USA has the power to do this planet incredible good, the same way the Romans brought PAX Romana to their world.

Let's do it.


Posted by: Jon Duringer on 28 Dec 04

Worldchanging Readers,

IF Barnett is anywhere close to accurate in his analogy of the USA "exporting security", we really do have a piss poor "security" product that will need huge cultural revision for its raw product (soldiers to be recruited), as well as the military structural revision he outlines in "The Pentagon's New Map".

This history teacher has only seen Barnett's PowerPoint seminar, but does think he's very accurate. To ALL OTHERS WHO AGREE, let's organize to orient the body politic toward the heroism of military service (rather than the public whining to "bring our boys/girls/moms/dads back home").

The USA has the power to do this planet incredible good, the same way the Romans brought PAX Romana to their world.

Let's do it.


Posted by: Jon Duringer on 28 Dec 04

"First off: How willing are the U.S. citizens to allowing it's military to become the police of the world EXPLICITLY when it's their children who will die enforcing such? Not Chinese, Brazilian or Indian 18-25 year olds, but their own children alone."

But that's not what Barnett is saying at all. The US alone will field the Leviathan force that is designed for massive, conventional warfare. But we will only be part of the SysAdmin, which will be the much larger peacekeeping, policing, and rebuilding force. Other nations, such as China, India, Russia, etc., will provide most of the people for this force.

It's not 'their own children alone.' It's everyone's children, together.

Posted by: Bolo on 28 Dec 04

I like the Core/Gap evaluation, though I don't believe the proposals will work as made. I think the argument for national rule-building has a fundamental flaw, in that it ignores the naked (and legislatively mandated) self-interest of corporate capitalism. Since growth in corporate income is the only real requirement, it is not in the interests of corporations to have any rule of law that would potentially reduce income, and this especially includes any rules in developing economies (i.e. prospective growth areas and sources of cheap labor). It is simply not in the corporate interests for any local government - at any level - to have enough sovereignty to challenge them.

We see corporations spending massive amounts of money on advertising, lobbyists and political campaigns that lead to things like both major candidates in the 2004 US presidential election echoing the same pro-corporation party line on trade and business regulation. Given that, I don't foresee the US government (nor most any other government in the G8, at least) any time soon supporting a vision that would include Gap countries having local sovereignty.

If anything, we could expect the opposite to be true, and Exhibit A in this argument is the Iraqi Coalition Provisional Authority's 100 orders, my favorite of which is #12, "Trade Liberalization", which makes importation of foreign products tax- and tariff-free. Other orders allow for majority foreign ownership of businesses and suchlike. Given the pre-existing conditions on the ground and adding these rules to the mix, it will be exceedingly difficult for Iraqis to organize and compete with the multinational corporations that start out with massive advantages like already-existing supply chains, production lines, and ready access to capital for expansion. Never mind that many Iraqis object to the rules in the first place. FYI, a source for this is "Adventure Capitalism - The Hidden 2001 Plan to Carve-up Iraq" by Greg Palast, at

The Core countries aren't even immune to losing sovereignty to corporate profit-making - for example, NAFTA has rules that supersede local governments' rights to make locally-appropriate environmental laws should they harm corporate revenues. The state of California was successfully sued by a Canadian corporation under this rule for having outlawed the use of the gasoline additive MTBE and the judgment was in the hundreds of millions of dollars, to be paid for by California taxpayers.

I don't see any reason for the trend of increased corporate power vis-a-vis local sovereignty to change unless citizens reassert control. One potential solution to this is to change the corporate Code of Conduct laws to make corporations responsible for more than shareholder returns. Another is to limit corporate funding of elections, or even to go to public financing of elections that would then limit the ability of corporations to influence the agenda in their favor. Without some measures like this, I fear the economic, social and environmental inequalities that support corporate interests and fuel despair and rage in the Gap will continue long into the future.


Posted by: jonathan drummey on 29 Dec 04

I agree with the analysis of the Core/Gap disparity, but much of everything else is simply wishful thinking and not realistic politically.

The Rwanda, Cambodian, Sudan, and Bosnian genocides all happened because there was a confluence of local leaders and outside interests who had political reasons to prevent any meaningful action to stop the killing. Take Rwanda. The French government actively assisted the Hutu hate radio, the Hutu militias, etc. Not because they were in love with killing but because they were promised mining concessions by the Hutu Interamhamwe folks. See: China, Russia, France in Sudan.

NO meaningful political action will be taken to stop the killing in failed/failing/fragile states as long as actors in these states have allies. This is why Saddam, the Assad dynasties for example lasted so long. They have International protectors.

Sys Admin vs. War-fighting? That's just DUMB. Insurrectional activities can happen in failed states in the hope of inflicting enough casualties to make the foreigners go away and leave the bandits to continue their reign of terror. See: Somalia, Iraq, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Congo, and many other places. Only a strong, conventional military able to use real war-fighting capabilities to well, KILL PEOPLE who are fighting the intervening force will result in a solution.

That "Sys Admin" force sure worked good in West Africa or Somalia, didn't it?

Lastly, the US will continue to operate out of it's national interest, just like every other country in the world. We'll intervene if we see strategic interests at stake, or principles, or dangerous opponents who need confronting, and won't where we perceive no national interest. Starry eyed idealistic schemes where the US acts for others interests is just not in the cards.

Posted by: Jim Rockford on 29 Dec 04

How shocking to see this website's audience appreciate that stupid stigmatism of have-nots!!


Why follow the path of the nation that has been installing terror regimes for a century, including iran, iraq, afghanistan, chile, colombia, etc?

Why follow the path of the nation that has brought a century of terror on Latin America through an instituion training in paranoia and torture: "SOA educates the public and Congress about atrocities committed by graduates of the School of the Americas (SOA), located at Ft. Benning, GA. Renamed the "Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation" (WHISC), the school trains hundreds of soldiers each year–supported by millions of US tax payer dollars. Many of these soldiers have been responsible for some of the worst human rights violations and the most brutal terrorist attacks on civilian communities in our hemisphere, including: the massacre of more than 900 people at El Mozote; the Trujillo" chainsaw massacre of over 100 civilians; the execution of six Jesuit priests; the assassination of Archbishop Romero and Bishop Juan Gerardi, and the brutal rape and murder of 4 US churchwomen.

Did you notice that the very much globalisation CORE USA have more people in jail in california than entire western europe?

Did you notice that the city of Albuquerque, USA (300,000 inhabitants) had 200 murders by November 1996, whereas the city of Hannover, Germany had only 15?

What kind of argument is it that the Core was a great society model because more people get killed by suicide than murder? Looking at the murder numbers in the USA, this is even worse! You can bring murder down by economic ok state, but suicide tells you that SOCIETY IS REALLY FUCKED UP.

Globalisation brings WOMEN in power? Why are there in the USA the heaviest anti-abortion rules of the western world? Why is the cover song of "Your Revolution" is not going to be televised / is not going to happen between my thighs by poet Sarah Jones ( is banned in the USA despite that it contains NO sexually explicit lyrics, whereas every second MTV clip is full of suck my dick and waving arses?

Hey, are you awake?

Posted by: eric schneider on 30 Dec 04

Many years ago I did a term paper on having the service redo poor countries and why and how they could do it. My Prof. thought I was a real dreamer. I still think it could work.

Posted by: Jo on 29 Oct 05



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