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The Future of the U.S. Military: An Interview with Thomas P.M. Barnett

This Worldchanging Interview with Thomas P.M. Barnett was conducted by Alex Steffen in December of 2004. We're republishing it here as part of our month-long editorial retrospective.

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.

(continued...)

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.

Thomas P.M. Barnett: The Worldchanging Interview is a part of our month long retrospective leading up to our anniversary on Oct. 1. For the next four weeks, we'll celebrate five years of solutions-based, forward-thinking and innovative journalism by publishing the best of the Worldchanging archives.

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Comments

His model fails to take into account that a world superpower and its hegemonic client states have acted as the aggressor in many of these instances, or that the wars were started by parties who were once client states of the superpower who subsequently went rogue.

If we stop starting wars and promoting/arming dictators, that might stop wars too.

That, in brief, is the counter-argument he ought to be addressing... not some strawman about it not being "nice" or "it is disruptive for a little while."

Privatization of water in Bolivia was... quite a bit more than "inconvenient."


Posted by: B.Dewhirst on 4 Sep 08

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.


Posted by: Lisa on 9 Sep 08



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