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Monday, May 1st, 2006


As regular readers know, I am a big fan of Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett’s work as expressed in The Pentagon’s New Map and Blueprint for Action and believe that he has produced a vision and a set of concepts with great potential for redefining American grand strategy. This is no small achievement. Much of the bipartisan foreign policy establishment spent the decade between the fall of the USSR and September 11, pretending that economic policy was a substitute for strategy and rationalizing the status quo. Many would-be “wise-men” continued to do so even after 9/11, having nothing else to cling to for support in the face of neoconservatives promoting the Bush Doctrine.

As a result much of the foreign policy establishment has rendered itself irrelevant in the eyes of the voting public. Bush’s sinking poll numbers and have not created a rising tide to lift the boats of the Realists much less the dovish Liberal internationalists. The voters can see the limitations of Bush’s policy and errors of execution in carrying it out, but the administration has a coherent policy and its critics do not. Criticism unfortunately is not a strategy nor is whistling through a graveyard and pretending that this is 1996 instead of 2006. Barnett’s PNM/BFA grand strategy is the primary pro-active alternative to preemption and is a robust one because its orientation toward other great powers is nonzero sum and collaborative rather than adversarial.

As Tom has offered up answers, his books and ideas have received an unusual amount of attention inside the Pentagon, in the media and in the blogosphere. The reviews have been many including the tough, the fair, unfair, laudatory, irrelevant and the insane. There have also been some very praiseworthy attempts at reinterpretation of Dr. Barnett’s PNM theory, some showing flashes of brilliance that Barnett himself said required a Corona to digest. One recurring question by readers and bloggers had to do with metrics, or the lack of them, in defining how states fell into the Core-Gap dichotomy ( or the more nuanced Core-New Core-Seam-Gap continuum) and have even gone so far as to offer new ways of mapping ” the Pentagon’s New Map”. Some are doing formal, scholarly, research.

Another proposal for understanding Dr. Barnett’s Core-Gap concept made recently that did not receive the attention or commentary that it deserved was the “The Wave Theory of Core and Gap by Dave Schuler of The Glittering Eye. What I liked about Dave’s ” Wave Theory” is not his Zen-like assertion that there is ” no Core and no Gap” ( I disagree. I think the case can be easily made that as fuzzy and debatable that the exact border between Barnett’s two zones might be, Burkina Faso is clearly inhabiting a very different world from Switzerland or Japan) but his nod toward modern physics:

“I believe that I have an answer to all of these questions. There is no Core. There is no Gap. And it’s not connectivity or globalization: Pakistan and Afghanistan are tremendously connected to each other and to other Islamic countries. It is Influence. Primarily Western influence.

I influence you. You influence me. Americans influence Frenchmen, Germans, Saudis and every other people on the face of the earth. Saudis influence Americans, Emiratis, and lots of other people. A Russian diplomat influences Iranian government officials. A Mexican migrant worker works a construction job in the United States and sends his earnings home to his parents in Mexico. A German company starts buying its products from a Chinese company which employs more Chinese workers who used to be farmers while throwing Guatemalan workers out of work.

Influence is not discrete like the lines or dots in some of the graphics above. It proceeds outwards from its broadcasting sources in waves. The waves are transmitted, repeated, interact with one another, and are blocked.

The waves of influence of different cultures can interfere with one another—like the squawk when you put your telephone receiver too close to your radio. When it’s severe enough these interfering waves of influence can lead to war.

The waves of the influence of Americans and American institutions are enormously powerful—so much so that they threaten to drown out even the other, less powerful but still compatible wave forms of the EU and its nations. Other countries and cultures are resisting that influence by erecting barriers to it and broadcasting influence of their own. The interaction of these conflicting influences creates instability.”

There is a lot of value in this alinear conceptualization offered by Dave. First, it emphasizes the interactivity of competing, overlapping waves of influence emanating from centers of civilization and of decay. Secondly, the ” Wave Theory” is very accomodating of Joseph Nye’sSoft Power” in terms of expressing a real but difficult to quantify set of variables ( Nye was himself an early intellectual influence on Dr. Barnett, at least to some degree). Thirdly, as we begin to understand the nature of complex systems we should give greater attention to analogies from physics that help explain develpments that emerge in human systems. Tom himself moved that ball forward by borrowing system perturbations from chaos theory and applying it to geopolitical strategy and Dave is following that same path.

Dave has promised follow-ups to this important post which I look forward to reading and reviewing here.


Chacago Boyz’s Lexington Green’s thoughtful essays on PNM – PART I. and PART II.


Chirol at Coming Anarchy has posted “Mapping the Gap IV: Canada, Germany, UK” and Curtis at Phatic Communion has an essay “Ideas Requiring Attention” responding to points raised here.

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