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August 2007

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The Pentagon's New Map

Thomas P.M. Barnett, The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-First Century, New York: G.F. Putnam's Sons, 2004

Reviewed by Captain Timothy E. Wolfe, US Army

In The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-First Century, Thomas P.M. Barnett, a Senior Strategic Researcher at the U.S. Naval War College, proposes an interesting model of his interpretation of the post-9/11 world. In this model (see fig 1), Barnett divides the world into two primary regions; the “Functioning Core” and the “Non-Integrating Gap.” The Core is comprised of those prosperous sovereign states which have become integrated into a globalized economy. These countries typically feature a recognized government capable of enforcing the rule of law. The remaining countries of the world constitute the Gap. The nations in the Gap are typically either in a state of anarchy while factions struggle for control or under an oppressive government practicing strict cultural and economic isolationism. It is at the intersection of these two geographical regions, says Barnett, where one should expect to see future conflicts.

The lesson to be taken away by U.S. policymakers is that the military interventions throughout the Gap since the end of the Cold War have been unsuccessful in shrinking it because American politicians and analysts have failed to identify why their enemies have violently rejected integration into the Core. These enemies of the Core, whether tyrannical despots or religious zealots, are those willing to use any means necessary to prevent the process of globalization from reaching the billions of people who live within the Gap. In the case of totalitarian dictators, the primary motivation to resist integration into the Core is the fear of the loss of authoritarian power and, hence, control of the populace that will ensue following modernization. This is generally understood by most U.S. policymakers; however, the author postulates that a significant misunderstanding exists regarding reasons for the resistance seen in many theocracies such as those in the Muslim world.

In spite of the attacks of September 11 and the subsequent wars they provoked, Barnett cautions readers not to view the situation in the Middle East or even Islamic fundamentalism in general as the cause of the collective chagrin of the 'civilized' world. Instead, he explains that the lashing out of extremists is just a symptom of the difficulty some cultures and countries will have during the integration into modernity that the entire world must eventually undergo during the essential journey to complete planetary globalization.

Barnett points out that most of the people living in the Gap are grossly behind those living in the Core with respect to technology and standard of living. They look with great trepidation at the tools, beliefs, and lifestyles of those from Core nations not only because of fear of the unknown, but also due to the threat they see to the religious identities and social traditions they have treasured for generations. Barnett explains that ethno-religious terrorism is just a violent reaction arising from a fear of modernity.

As a solution to the Gap's resistance to integration, Barnett recommends a significant restructuring of the U.S. military in order to tailor the force to the mission it will face going into the new age. His vision for the armed forces features two distinct branches; one for taking down non-integrationist leaders in Gap countries and one for rebuilding these liberated countries in the aftermath of conflict. Barnett's take-down force would consist of a relatively small but highly-lethal Special Operations-type unit capable of striking with precision and overwhelming efficiency and supported by all the necessary aerial, satellite, and intelligence assets. This unit would be sent in to quickly eliminate the organized threat to integration.

Barnett's rebuilding element would, by contrast, be exponentially larger and consist of troops with job specialties essential to civil infrastructure: police, engineers, medical specialists, electricians, and so forth. This element would not have a combat focus as its primary mission but would be capable of limited combat operations. The rebuilding force would, however, be self-sustaining and consist of military and civilian personnel in order to attract the most effective team of nation-builders.

It is important to caveat the summary of Barnett's military solution to the problem of non-integration with the understanding that he also recommends economic reforms to the countries within the Gap. Barnett is certainly not pro-conflict. In fact, his grand vision suggests that one byproduct of the elimination of the Gap will be the end of all conflict.

Finally, Barnett warns that the Core will never be safe until the Gap is eliminated. As neighbors in an ever-shrinking global community, people within the Core simply cannot expect to be able to continue enjoying prosperity while ignoring the massive populations living impoverished in the Gap. All boats truly will rise together in a global sea, but none will rise to their potential until someone seals the leaks in the Gap.

Thomas P.M. Barnett's doctorate in political science from Harvard is certainly impressive, but a greater level of credibility as an expert on globalization is due him in recognition of the positions he held after graduating. As an employee of Cameron Fitzgerald, he was assigned to a joint project with the Pentagon to research the very area his book focuses on. Following 9/11, Dr. Barnett was employed by the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Both positions gave him vast exposure to people, policies, and research opportunities which he put to good use to generate a fascinating book.

One criticism of Dr. Barnett's hypothesis is that he seems to underestimate the power of Islamic extremism. After reading The Pentagon's New Map, one might wonder how it was that the Core was even still fighting. After all, it sounded so easy to remove the catalysts of depravity and rebuild a brave new world with two hybrid cars in every driveway, an iPod in every ear, and an organically-raised chicken in every pot.

Then this reviewer remembered the tens of books that I have read on Islam and its effects on societies and civilizations. I also remembered countless conversations with Muslims of every sort; from American interpreters to Afghani officers to Iraqi Kurdish businessmen to captured insurgents. These people came from different ideological, cultural, and educational backgrounds, and although their attitudes about nearly everything else varied, there was one common theme that they all shared: Every one of them was unwaveringly committed to allegiance to Islam above anything else. Dedication like that is an extremist's dream and a globalist's nightmare. Islam is not just a religion; it is a way of life that dictates the shape of society and government as well. From reading his book, I am not convinced that Barnett understands this, and I think that he has dangerously underestimated the extent to which it will be used as an obstacle to integration.

I am particularly intrigued by Barnett's ideas about the restructuring of the United States military into two separate forces with distinct missions. Although the author makes some compelling points in his argument for military realignment that are often lent credence by events transpiring in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon is unlikely to initiate an overhaul of such proportions without orders from the civilian leadership of the country. As someone who has spent twelve of the past twenty-four months rotating through both Iraq and Afghanistan, I can say with confidence that the U.S. military in its current configuration is not only incredibly flexible with regard to task-organizing units to best fulfill missions, but it is also supported in large part by myriad civilian contractors. Bearing this in mind, perhaps the changes Dr. Barnett believes need to be made as a means are not necessarily essential to accomplish his intended end.

One aspect of The Pentagon's New Map which I found unappealing was the author's frequent tendency to remind the readers of just how established he really is. I would expect any writer intent on being taken seriously when offering controversial new ideas regarding issues of such high importance as Dr. Barnett's to list his credentials. Yet I found myself, on more than one occasion, unimpressed as the author persisted with his lengthy diatribes of self-aggrandizement. I read the book to learn about his philosophies regarding the future implications of globalization on the U.S. military, not to hear him groan about the inefficiencies in the State Department and brag about how much of a heroic fighter he is for championing through them regardless.

The author is well-educated and his specialized experience and perspective demonstrates that his ideas, if nothing else, should at least be acknowledged as those of a subject matter expert. The author does provide helpful insights into mission-specific force structure, Core versus Gap realities, and the dispelling of several current political science myths, to include the myth of global chaos, the myth of America as global cop, and the myth of American empire. If one can get beyond the bouts of self-aggrandizement, the book, like its title implies, provides interesting and useful information on how to wage war and achieve peace in the twenty-first century. Diplomats and military people alike, while perhaps not agreeing with his recommendations, will certainly gain an appreciation of the asymmetry Dr. Barnett presents for the practice of statecraft in an ever shrinking and globalized world.One aspect of The Pentagon's New Map which I found unappealing was the author's frequent tendency to remind the readers of just how established he really was. I would expect any writer intent on being taken seriously when offering controversial new ideas regarding issues of such high importance as Dr. Barnett's to list his credentials. Yet I found myself, on more than one occasion, unimpressed as the author persisted with his lengthy diatribes of self-aggrandizement. I read the book to learn about his philosophies regarding the future implications of globalization on the U.S. military, not to hear him groan about the inefficiencies in the State Department and brag about how much of a heroic fighter he is for championing through them regardless. The author is well-educated and his specialized experience and perspective demonstrates that his ideas, if nothing else, should at least be acknowledged as those of a subject matter expert. The author does provide helpful insights into mission-specific force structure, Core versus Gap realities, and the dispelling of several current political science myths, to include the myth of global chaos, the myth of America as global cop, and the myth of American empire. If one can get beyond the bouts of self-aggrandizement, the book, like its title implies, provides interesting and useful information on how to wage war and achieve peace in the 21st century. Diplomats and militarists alike, while perhaps not agreeing with his recommendations, will certainly gain an appreciation of the asymmetry Dr. Barnett presents for the practice of statecraft in an ever shrinking and globalized world.


Following various military enlisted and officer assignments, Captain Wolfe served in the U.S. Army Special Forces and commanded an SF detachment for two years, with combat tours in both Afghanistan and Iraq. He later served for a year as a doctrine writer and analyst for the Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg, NC, during which time he completed the course work for a master's degree in International Relations from Webster University. He is currently preparing to enter a second master's program in Public Policy at George Mason University.

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