Remapping Thomas Barnett's Discourse

|| Academic Paper |

Thomas Barnett's conception of the contemporary world as an ecosystem of states that belong to either one of two groups - the Core and the Gap - and his proposed military solutions in the context of this ecosystem are insightful and may partially constitute a working model for strategic planning but are unfortunately flawed in some fundamental aspects.

Let's review some of the professor's assertions in the lecture.

First, he defined the two clearly demarcated groups of states in terms of how much these states embrace the globalization of commerce and culture. The Core includes nations in North America, Western Europe, Northeast Asia, Russia, India, China, and other industrially advanced states that have become active players in the dynamics of globalization. According to Barnett, nations that belong to the Core developed mutual dependence among themselves and are, consequently, interconnected.

Meantime, the Gap is the fulcrum where "the new security paradigm shift" emerges. Comprised by states or pseudo-states that have willfully prevented or are unable to adapt to the inflow of globalization within their borders, Gap countries include Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia. It is the "disconnectedness" of these states that lies at the core of Professor Barnett's proposition: disconnectedness defines danger.

To Barnett, a disconnect poses a real danger to the Core and, if the threat is imminent, should be acted upon with a strong, long-term military campaign, where the guiding purpose is not only to neutralize the disconnect but to ultimately "shrink the Gap." As a result, countries in the Gap - at least in Barnett's cosmology - become the new theaters where conflicts are resolved almost always by armed forces.

This is what occurred in Iraq, as Professor Barnett stated in the first part of the lecture. The Iraqi invasion, he contended, is just not about disarming Saddam Hussein's repressive regime but a jump point from which the United States can assume the leading role in providing global security in the new paradigm. As it turned out, this is what actually happened - at least in some areas. Years of bitter conflict prodded on even after Saddam Hussein has already been uprooted and executed and Iraq became a forward base of operations for American anti-terrorist campaigns elsewhere.

Certainly, the bitterness was felt on both sides of the Gap. And here lie some of the flaws in Barnett's premise. There are two "disconnects" in the narrative. The disconnect which Barnett used to describe the daunting challenge of assimilating peoples long influenced by conditions in the Gap into the rule sets imposed by the Core; and the clear disconnect between the official justifications for the invasion and the what appears to be the unanimous Iraqi, US, and global public opinion against it.

Barnett's position that the United States should assume the mantle of the world's super policeman is also in question, and likely to be assailed not only by states in the Gap but also and most assuredly even by nations in the Core. Recall the series of troop withdrawal among the different nations that fielded the Coalition forces late in the war effort until only the US and its staunchest ally, the United Kingdom are the only countries that maintained substantial contingents to man the gates. In all likelihood, there will also be clear expressions of doubt, both in terms of American material resources and its moral right to wage a unilateral crusade against perceived targets [re: terrorists, rogue states, drug cartels, etc]. In fact, even at the zenith of its strength, the American war chest is already hard-pressed financing its current campaigns in the Middle East and Central Asia and will certainly groan uncomfortably when it is called to fund another major campaign.

Core countries with much longer-established interests in specific locales in the Gap also constitute a real challenge when the United States do decide to impose the Core's rule sets in these areas. North Korea, for example, has long been the diplomatic regime of the Chinese Communist Party and the US unilaterally engaging the impoverished but nuclear-capable rogue state is dangerously unpalatable to China. Similarly, Gap countries in North Central Asia may not be "assimilated" without Russia's consent and active involvement.

In summary, I admire Thomas Barnett's distillation of the contemporary world into the Core, the Gap, and Connectivity. However, the simplifications that make this mapping valuable as a strategic tool also makes it vulnerable to reproach: how do we classify states like Costa Rica for example, which doesn't fit both the molds of Barnett's Core and Gap countries? And do we really force non-belligerent nations into the folds of globalization even if they really prefer not to join? Lastly, the notion that the rest of the world need American military muscle to feel secure is constructed on tenuous ground.