Notes on the Atrocities
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Thursday, July 15, 2004  

Out of the Gap

Yesterday I began discussing Thomas Barnett's The Pentagon's New Map, wherein he described a model for interpreting global security threat. In the post-9/11 world, as people cast around for theories about what the threats are, where they're coming from, and what to do about them, Barnett is the first person to come up with a credible suggestion to the first two questions.

He believes that the world can be divided between a "functioning core" and a "non-integrated gap" (Gap and Core). What characterizes the Core is implicit agreement about the free flow of goods and information, even though these will challenge cultural, religious, and economic norms. The Gap, by contrast, does not accept this rule set. Instead, volatile leadership enforces a rigid cultural rule set, cutting off the free flow of information and goods, plunging the country into poverty, violence, and disease. It matters little if the rule set is defined by the ruthless secular beliefs of Kim Jong-il or the theocratic dictates of Iranian Ayatollahs. It's not the dogma that distinguishes the Gap, but the disconnection.

As far as diagnoses go, I think Barnett's is the most useful I've encountered. But even if we accept it on the face, then the third question of foreign policy becomes paramount: what do we do about the threats? And here a successful diagnosis of the problem isn't sufficient. In his book, Barnett praised the Iraqi invasion, arguing that it would successfully bring Iraq out of the darkness of Hussein and into the Core. Oops.

In order to begin to bring the Gap into the functioning core, we need to look at things on three levels: broad policy toward the Gap; political institutions to confront states and terrorists in the Gap; and political strategies for specific conflicts within the Gap.

Broad Policy
If the larger issue is not country-specific but a disconnection from the functioning core, the remedy is integration into the world community--using Barnett's language, slowly shifting the rule sets of countries within the Gap. The current approach is a patchwork of NGOs and the UN, operating under the old rule sets of Gap countries as they try to provide basic services to the masses. While this may alleviate suffering individually, it's not going to bring countries out of the Gap. Instead, we need a more radical solution.

What Barnett essentially describes with his "functioning core" rule set is a crude democracy. In democracies, we agree to give up some control to secure other control. We agree to allow non-malicious behavior, no matter whether we agree with it or not, in order to 1) secure the freedom to conduct our own activities, and 2) make larger flows of goods and ideas available. The notion of the UN was a good first effort, but there's neither carrot nor stick there. A more interesting way of providing a stick is an EU-style body. In order to join, you must agree to certain rule sets--and actually, the EU is a great example. But once you join, there are many benefits--the carrot. Such a body could create funds that member nations could access for education, infrastructure, start-up money and so on. The US would spend far less in the long run and accomplish far, far more with these funds than it would building up a massive invasion force.

Political Institutions
Of course, it wouldn't address the North Koreas of the world. The Core, in whatever configuration it chooses, must have a multilateral approach to the most incorrigible states. As we've seen, the UN is an ineffective way of managing these problems. But if the UN is too broad to be useful, US unilateralism is too narrow. To use the language of Barnett, neither one has the credibility to enforce rule sets. The US has no credibility because it appears to be acting in an effort to benefit itself, or at least acting arbitrarily. (Never mind what the intentions of the US actually are--they could be perfectly guileless, but most of the world thinks otherwise. Rule sets depend on agreement.) The UN also lacks credibility because it supports no rule sets--witness the selection of Sierra Leone and the Sudan to the Human Rights Commission. Instead, a credible coalition from the Core must form that can handle the worst abusers. NATO was once a comparable organization, but it's function as a counter to the Soviets and the Warsaw Pact makes it nearly obsolete in the al Qaida age. It's time for a new institution.

Political Strategies for Specific Conflicts
I'm constantly amazed that when a Rwanda or a Sudan disaster unfolds, the world has no plan to address it. Nations seem insensitive to the danger such disasters represent to their own well-being, never mind the moral imperatives. In bi-or multi-state conflicts like Iraq generally a single country drives the process for its own purposes, not in the interest of the larger Core. The Afghani invasion is a case in point. While the US put together a respectable coalition for the invasion, it was essentially a US project. There was no thought of integration into a larger community, and the larger community abandoned Afghanistan after the invasion as a US reconstruction. Now it has fallen mostly back to the warlords and its danger as a threat to the Core has spiked back up again.

While I would suggest strategies for particular conflicts, the work of creating these strategies needs to be multilateral from the start. Is there any person alive who doesn't comprehend the danger the Israeli-Palestinian conflict represents to the Core? This kind of instability is a global problem as much as it is a national problem. It is clear that the Israelis and Palestinians are incapable of resolving the problem. The US shouldn't be the only country to try to arbitrate--mainly because we've already lost our credibility there. Our intervention isn't designed to enforce a rule set, but the result of confused national politics going back a century.

A new NATO of Core counties needs to develop specific strategies for how it will handle emergent hot spots. In the case of Iraq and Afghanistan, it may make more sense to establish interim Core governments to conduct Germany and Japan-style reconstructions. (I don't want to get to focused on the details--the point here is that rule sets should be the foundation of predictable interventions by such a body.)


Current US foreign policy is a confused stew of competing agendas. If Bush is re-elected, that confusion will deepen, as neocons and cold war dead-enders battle it out--neither one able to see that the enemies aren't arrayed against us because "they hate our freedom." John Kerry's election may be a step in the right direction. He appears to understand that the global security situation does not hinge on ideology (an "axis of evil"), but arises from instability. He's had the courage to suggest that "America to engage diplomatically in creating alliances that enhance collective security." Working with the Core is a great start. Building supports for long-term projects to integrate countries in the Gap is the next step.


Thomas Barnett's web page and blog.

posted by Jeff | 11:11 AM |
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