PART VII – THE CONCLUSION OF THE SYSTEM PERURBATION REVIEW
This post will conclude my review of Dr. Barnett’s Deleted Scene on System Perturbations from The Pentagon’s New Map. Since I have been long delayed in finishing this series here is Part VI and all pervious posts on this topic can be found here. As always Dr. Barnett’s writing is in bold text, mine in regular font.
Rule #15: Transitional states are forced to choose during System Perturbations, and their choices reveal which direction they are truly heading.
By this I mean that the world is full of states trapped somewhere between truly vertical and horizontal system status — China, Russia, Iran, to name a few. For these states, a System Perturbation represents a real moment of truth: to which “side” do they move? This is what Thomas Friedman describes as the choice between the “Lexus world” and the “olive tree world,” and it is what I call the choice between the Core and the Gap, or — most fundamentally — a choice between connectedness and disconnectedness.
I think we learned plenty about Russia, China, India, and several other New Core members following 9/11. In the case of those three countries, despite the fact that the Pentagon had more than a few nasty things to say about each prior to 9/11, all came down firmly on the U.S. side following this huge loss in our security. They chose. How did Iran choose? Saudi Arabia? Here I fear we are talking about states moving in the wrong direction, although there are better signs from Riyadh following the fall of Saddam Hussein. With SARS, China clearly had a choice to make, and it did so clearly, again reinforcing the perception that the nation is moving deeper into the Core. With our Big Bang in Iraq, America has forced a lot of countries to choose all over again, and we will know the outcomes according to the uniforms that ultimately appear in any UN-sponsored peacekeeping force for Iraq.
This last rule of Dr. Barnett’s is the Acme of Realism. It is also, analytically speaking, the most difficult to do from a psychological perspective because it involves a consistent focus on actions as opposed to words. While this is a simple enough practice there is an enormous resistance and denial among the American elite for whom words carry tremendous intellectual, cultural and legal freight.
This emphasis upon symbolic literalism is not the case in terms of other cultures – notably in Asia and the Mideast – that lack our Anglo-American precepts of individualism and contractual obligations. Words mean less in some cultures than relationship ties and relationship ties often revolve around power – who has it and who does not. “Our” power vs. the power of ” the Other ” – however that may be defined. The old adage – ” Me against my brother; my brother and I against my cousin…” still applies in much of the world.
When Iran dickers over the terms of its compliance with IAEA inspections and regulations with IAEA officials and EU envoys it is most likely buying time, not ratifying a contractual obligation on an agreement the Mullah’s have announced they will circumvent in any event. When Russia condemns American foreign policy and then agrees as Iraq’s foremost creditor, to waive debt obligations it is demonstrating where they stand and where Russia intends to go.
Conclusion on System Perturbations:
System Perturbations is in my view, Dr. Barnett’s most important concept of the many that emerged from The Pentagon’s New Map and one worthy of a book in it’s own right ( perhaps it will be Book III after Dr. Barnett finishes his upcoming sequel, A Future Worth Creating).
In terms of developing defensive measures against or to minimize the effect of 9/11 attacks on the United States, System Perturbations shows great promise.
I can easily envision borrowing what we have learned from econometric analysis techniques, Global Warming computer models, Bayesian Probability analysis, Complexity and Chaos theory and the like to create System Perturbation software programs to identify the likely effects if say, terrorists launched a cyber attack on America’s financial record system or power grids. It doesn’t need to be perfect, simply a rough guide in order to make decentralizing systemic changes that minimize our vulnerability. Likewise, such programs could allow us to maximize and focus the effects of our own attacks to reduce ” blowback ” problems.
System Perturbations forces people to think Horizontally and Vertically in terms of probable outcomes and strategic connections. If nothing else, if Dr. Barnett suceeds getting a fair number of Pentagon and State Department people to begin conceiving of policy in those terms – and they in turn change the culture of their institutions- he would be rendering a signal service to the Republic.