As I said in my first post on this blog, my interest in the writings of Thomas P.M. Barnett is one of the subjects that I intend to explore in my postings. Barnett is about to release a new book, Great Powers: America and The World After Bush, which should hit bookstores in February 2009. I am looking forward to reading his latest book, and I thought that this might be a good opportunity to post in more detail some of my ideas about Barnett's work.
The following is an essay I wrote in 2007. I have edited it a bit to remove stuff that might seem embarrassingly wrong, but for the most part, it still reflects much of my thinking about Barnett's writings. I haven't tried to update the essay to include anything about the current economic crisis. While some pundits believe that this crisis signals the demise of global capitalism, that is certainly not my view. Taking the long view, Barnett's vision of the ramifications of globalization remain sound, and if anything, the current economic crisis makes it even more important to put recent events into perspective and to look at the broader sweep of the history of capitalist evolution.
I suspect that Barnett would take strong objection to much of my analysis of the Iraq War, pointing out that conditions in Iraq have improved markedly since I originally wrote this essay. Even if one accepts the conclusion that conditions have improved in Iraq and that this improvement is not likely to deteriorate, there is still a big question as to whether this outcome would justify the horrendous costs of the war. In my view, the jury is still out as far as the ultimate outcome in Iraq is concerned, and I am highly skeptical that any long-term improvement of conditions in Iraq will take place unless the U.S. embarks on major diplomatic initiatives, particularly by engaging Iran. Fortunately, that may well be the direction in which the Obama Administration intends to steer American foreign policy. At the end of the day, the Iraq War could only be a success if it is truly internationalized, so that it is clearly a war of globalization, and not a war of American neo-colonialism, which is the basic point of my essay.
Another motivation for my posting of this essay at this time is the fact that I am currently reading the Counterinsurgency Field Manual of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps, published by the University of Chicago Press in 2007. The Field Manual is a remarkable and impressive piece of work. However, I find that my qualms about the Field Manual parallel some of my uncertainties about Barnett's writings, at least his writings so far. Specifically, these concerns can be summed up by the Manual's definition of an "insurgency":
"an organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted
government through the use of subversion and armed conflict."
The key question therefore is, what is a "constituted government" and who has the authority to make that decision? Apply these definitions, for example, to the Vietnam War - were America's opponents in Vietnam really "insurgents"? After all, "South Vietnam" was nothing more than a "fake state", created and maintained by the military might of the United States. Moreover, South Vietnam existed only because the United States subverted the conduct of elections that had previously been agreed upon following the defeat of the French, since the elections inevitably would have resulted in widespread manifestation of popular support for a unified Vietnam under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh. Weren't the United States and its South Vietnamese allies really the "insurgents", and not the supporters of Ho Chi Minh who overwhelmingly reflected the popular will of the Vietnamese people? These problems arise even more glaringly in the case of the Iraq War. The U.S. invaded Iraq and overthrew a "constituted" government, albeit a brutal and corrupt government. Why should the Iraqi forces who resisted the American invaders be deemed "insurgents" under the Manual's definition?
By raising these questions, I do not mean to suggest that I support an isolationist foreign policy in which America must invariably refrain from invading other countries and displacing established governments. On the contrary, I believe that globalization may well mandate such actions by the U.S. on numerous occasions in the years ahead. However, what is needed is a new global political and legal architecture to provide guidance as to when such interventions may legitimately be conducted. Most importantly, American unilateralism in the conduct of future military adventures must be firmly rejected.
My impression is that these are some of the questions Barnett will be addressing in his new book, particularly as applicable to his critique of the Bush Administration's foreign policy. Anyway, the following is what I thought about some of these things back in 2007.
Globalization and Colonialism In The Post Cold War Era (Part I)
I have become very interested in the writings of Thomas P.M. Barnett. Barnett is a defense theorist who writes about the future of the American military in the post-Cold War world of economic globalization. Until recently, he worked as a Professor at the Naval War College, and he now operates a consulting business called Enterra Solutions. He is the author of two books, The Pentagon’s New Map and Blueprint For Action, and writes a newspaper column that originates in the Knoxville Sentinel. He also maintains a website, http://www.thomaspmbarnett.com/ , on which he posts a blog discussing various matters ranging from his personal comings and goings to his views on numerous current issues.
At the outset, I should say that my views on Barnett’s writings are generally quite positive. This is somewhat surprising, even to me, because Barnett is an unlikely soulmate for someone of my ideological persuasions. I consider myself a person of the Left, whose views on international issues have in the past often found compatibility with the writings of Noam Chomsky. By contrast, Barnett is someone who is often described as a "neo-conservative" whose writings are often grouped together with those of Francis Fukuyama and Thomas Friedman. While I believe that the designation of Barnett as a neo-conservative is in error (and I understand that Barnett thinks so too), the fact remains that Barnett was an original supporter of the Iraq War; I, on the other hand, proudly point to the fact that I marched in at least three protest marches against the Iraq War, dragging my son along with me. So, how can I possibly find anything positive to say about Barnett?
It might help to say something about how I first became exposed to Barnett’s ideas. One evening, I was nicely ensconced in the living room sofa, as I usually am, wielding the remote control to explore the evening’s televised fare. I happened to land on CSpan, as I often do, and started watching a lecture being delivered to what appeared to be a room full of Generals and Admirals by a man with a rather bizarre manner of speaking. At the time, I do not believe I even knew the name of the speaker, although he frequently made reference to something that he called "the Pentagon’s new map"; I subsequently googled this reference and learned that this was the name of a book written by Barnett. Barnett’s lecture was amusing and it featured a sophisticated PowerPoint presentation complete with sound effects, notably including strategic placement of the "dunh dunh" familiar to viewers of the "Law and Order" television series.
My initial reaction to Barnett was that he was just a glib neo-con with a clever PowerPoint show. However, the more I listened, the more I realized that Barnett was saying many things that echoed my own views on international affairs. What particularly struck me was the fact that the focus of Barnett’s analysis was relentlessly economic; here was someone who truly grasped the centrality of global capitalism in shaping world events. This type of analysis is almost never heard these days, particularly in the U.S., and hardly ever coming from any source other than the far left. Unlike left-wing analysts, however, Barnett expressed a view of the nature and effects of Twenty-First Century global capitalism that was far more balanced and mature. Again, Barnett set forth much of the same analysis that has been rolling around in my own head for several years.
My own analysis is something that I call "neo-Marxism", or as I sometimes like to call it, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, "bourgeois Marxism", in order to distinguish it from much of the claptrap that comes out of the left these days. This theory is not original with me; it is primarily derived from the teachings of my college mentor, Professor Lee Benson of the University of Pennsylvania. My thinking has also been heavily influenced by the writings of economist Joseph Schumpeter. I hope to be able to write a good deal more about neo-Marxism in the near future, but the following is a thumbnail sketch of the idea.
Neo-Marxism starts off with the premise that Marx was the most important social scientist who has ever lived, primarily because he established a scientific approach to the study of history. However, Marx should be treated just that way – as a scientist – and his writings should be subjected to experimentation, analysis, criticism, and verification, and should not be treated as holy writ. Thus, a scientific historian could claim the label of "neo-Marxist" much the same way that a modern biologist might be referred to as a "neo-Darwinian" or a physicist could claim to be a "neo-Newtonian."
Using that scientific approach, neo-Marxism posits the thesis that Marx, and the underrated Engels, were correct that the "mode of production" is the driving force in all human history; Marx’s development of this method for studying all human societies is his most important contribution to the scientific study of history. Marx’s mode of production consists of both the "means of production", i.e., the technology through which any human community produces the necessities of life, and the "relations of production", i.e., the legal, cultural, and religious framework that defines the relationships among the members of the community (somewhat analogous to what Barnett calls "rule sets"). Modes of production – both in terms of the means of production and the relations of production – are not static; conflicting elements exist within any mode of production, and the resolution of these conflicts leads to change, and this process of change is what we call "history." These historical processes led to the evolution of the capitalist mode of production in Europe at roughly the time of the Renaissance, replacing the feudal mode of production. Most of Marx’s writings, particularly his magnum opus, Capital, are devoted to an analysis of how the capitalist mode of production works, as well as offering prescriptions as to how to replace it and what it should be replaced with..
Benson’s concept of neo-Marxism asserts that where Marx and Engels went wrong in promulgating a scientific theory of history, was in their analysis of "class struggles", and specifically, the impact of the evolution of capitalism upon class conflict. Marx and Engel theorized that conflicts between members of economic classes are what bring about changes in the mode of production. Marx and Engels further theorized that the evolution of capitalism would inevitably cause society to become polarized between two classes, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, and the conflicts between these classes would inevitably lead to revolution. The resolution of this class conflict would bring about the end of the capitalist mode of production and usher in the beginning of the socialist mode of production, in which society would be rid of economic classes and all members of society would be free to realize their full potential by enjoying the fruits of their labors.
While Marx’s theory of class conflict may or may not work as applied to pre-capitalist modes of production, in which members of different economic classes have differing legal and political status, Benson concluded that the theory breaks down completely when applied to capitalism, in which legal distinctions based upon membership in differing economic classes are almost entirely eliminated. Benson reached this conclusion through his studies of American political and social history, exemplified by his ground-breaking work, The Concept of Jacksonian Democracy: New York As A Test Case. Benson applied a meticulous social science methodology to the analysis of voting patterns in New York State during the so-called "Jacksonian Era", roughly 1820-1850. Benson concluded that "Jacksonian Democracy", i.e., the notion that the Democratic Party of Andrew Jackson represented the "little guy" against wealthy capitalists, was a myth; to simplify things, Benson found that wealthy voters were as likely to be Democrats as Whigs, and lower-class voters were as likely to be Whigs as Democrats. Benson found that party affiliations correlated most closely with factors such as ethno-religious identification, regionalism, and ideology, as opposed to economic class.
In later writings such as Toward The Scientific Study of History, Benson attempted to extend his findings about American political history to a broader application, namely, to an understanding of the nature of group conflict and cohesion in capitalist society, and the implications of his findings about American history for traditional Marxist theory. Benson suggested that what was happening in America was really a microcosm of capitalism in general. The elimination of all legal distinctions based on economic class – something that was pursued very aggressively by virtually all U.S. political parties during the so-called "Jacksonian Era" – was endemic to capitalism; Marx himself had emphasized this point in identifying the pertinent factors that necessarily had to be accomplished in order to enable the bourgeoisie to supplant the landed gentry that had dominated society in feudal times. Moreover, America in the early 19th Century was characterized by extraordinary physical and social mobility, combined with unprecedented levels of mass immigration, resulting in the mixing of diverse ethnic and religious groups within a single country. As discussed below, such mobility is also something that is inherent in the evolution of capitalism. These forces seemed logically to produce the sorts of non-class based group conflict and cohesion that Benson had detected in American history through his studies of voting patterns. These same forces, however, derived directly from the nature of the capitalist mode of production. Thus, Benson suggested that while empirical evidence contradicted Marx’s theory that capitalism engendered group conflict and cohesion based upon economic class, empirical evidence nevertheless supported Marx’s more general theory that it is the mode of production that is the central factor in shaping social and political phenomena such as group conflict and cohesion, and ultimately, the processes of human history.
This, then, is the central tenet of neo-Marxism. In a nutshell, Marx’s theory of class conflict as applied to capitalism is ultimately contradicted by Marx’s own theory that it is the mode of production that determines historical change. Capitalism is the most dynamic of all historical modes of production, as Marx correctly concluded, but as a consequence, capitalism cannot be analyzed in a static condition, as Marx attempted to do. Political economists up to Ricardo, who was the principal influence upon Marx’s analysis of capitalism, could not analyze economics in any way other than as a closed system operating within a single political unit, such as a single country. However, that is not how the capitalist mode of production works in the real world; capitalism is inexorably driven to expand and it will not be confined to a single community or even a single nation-state. As a result, capitalism leads directly to foreign investment, which in its initial phases was manifested in the global system of imperialism and colonialism (my definitions of these terms are discussed in more detail below), and which ultimately leads to globalization, namely, the globalized capitalist economic system that has been taking shape since World War II, and which has developed exponentially since the end of the Cold War (and which is the central focus of Barnett’s writings).
At the beginning of the Twentieth Century both democratic socialists (J.A. Hobson and the Webbs) and authoritarian socialists (Lenin) recognized the connection between capitalism and imperialism. What these socialist theoreticians failed to recognize, however, was the relationship between capitalist globalization and class consciousness and class conflict. As capitalism "goes global", group conflicts tend more often to be based upon ethno-cultural, religious, national, and regional differences between members of different communities, since globalized capitalism inevitably increases the interactions among different communities, and as a result, group conflicts are less likely to be based upon conflicts between members of economic classes within a single community. Thus, contrary to what Marx and his followers thought, the evolution of the capitalist mode of production actually leads to decreasing levels of class consciousness and class conflict. As a result, the class-based revolution that Marx believed would bring about the end of capitalism and usher in the era of the socialist mode of production has not in fact occurred; the reality that it will never occur is becoming more obvious every day.
Because Twentieth Century socialists did not appreciate the full significance of the relationship between capitalism and globalization, and the decreasing significance of class conflict due to the evolution of global capitalism, the experiments that Twentieth Century socialists pursued in imposing some version of "socialism" upon capitalist societies, either in a democratic form (Fabianism) or in an authoritarian form (Leninism), were doomed to failure. Capitalism will continue to grow and prosper until the process of globalization is complete – namely, when the entire world is linked in a functioning capitalist economy in which all of the world’s peoples are able to participate on a relatively equal footing. Only when global capitalism has then run its course will humanity be ready for an evolution into the next mode of production. I have no idea what the post-capitalist mode of production will look like (actually, I do have some theories on the subject but I’m not going to get into that now), but I am reasonably confident that it will not have much resemblance to Twentieth Century versions of "socialism". Nevertheless, I do believe that the post-capitalist mode of production – since it will be truly global and truly universal – will more closely embody the values that Marx and other socialists have always purported to espouse, namely, universal opportunity for individual creativity and general freedom from organized violence, than do either Twentieth Century socialism or Twentieth Century capitalism. Professor Benson used to posit that the "good society" would be one in which people are "kind and creative"; I think that capitalist globalization is a process that is moving us all in that direction.
Now back to Barnett. Barnett’s central thesis is that in the post-Cold War era, the nations of the world can be divided into two groups: the "Core" and the "Gap." The Core, or what Barnett calls the "functioning core of globalization", refers to those nations that are linked to and participants in the global capitalist economic system. The Core, in turn, is divided into two sub-groups, the "Old Core" and the "New Core." The Old Core refers to the nations that have relatively mature capitalist systems that have been in place for many years (or even many centuries): Western and Southern Europe, the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. The New Core consists of the nations that have more recently joined the global capitalist economy, generally having done so in the post-Cold War era: China, India, Russia and the rest of Eastern Europe (except the former Yugoslavia, but including Slovenia), South Korea, South Africa, and the growing free market economies of South America, namely Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay.
The rest of the world falls into Barnett’s "Gap" or "non-integrating gap" – the nations that do not yet have functioning capitalist economies linked to and capable of participating in the global economy. Barnett does identify a few "seam states", i.e., nations that border the Core but do not yet have fully functional capitalist economies (Mexico, Turkey, Malaysia, Singapore) or that have developed capitalist economies but are prevented from full participation in globalization because of entanglement in local conflicts (Israel, Cyprus, Croatia). For the most part, however, Barnett’s Core/Gap dichotomy is fairly Manichean – a nation is either one or the other.
Some commentators on Barnett’s writings say that the Core and the Gap are the equivalent of the "haves" and the "have nots." This is a serious misunderstanding of what Barnett is talking about. Wealth alone is not determinative of membership in the Core. Several nations in the Core, such as China and India, continue to have high levels of poverty and are on a per capita basis far less wealthy than other nations, notably Saudi Arabia and the other Persian Gulf states, which Barnett nevertheless includes in the Gap. For Barnett, what determines Core membership is the extent to which a nation is connected to the global economy. I would add that a Core nation must not only be connected to the global economy, it must also be capable of participating in the global economy as a capitalist "player", even if not necessarily as a player of equal stature with the Old Core nations. (I think that Barnett sometimes fails to pay sufficient attention to this point, which relates to some of my disagreements with Barnett, as I will discuss in more detail below). Thus, China, India, and Brazil, notwithstanding their high poverty levels, all compete with the U.S. and Western Europe in the global economy. Saudi Arabia, despite its wealth, is merely a source of a valuable natural resource and is not a competitor in the global economy. Barnett’s recognition of this distinction is one of the most important, and insightful, aspects of his analysis.
Of course, Barnett would argue, correctly in my view, that membership in the Core does ultimately lead to substantial increases in national wealth and improvements in overall living standards. For all we may decry the existence of Chinese sweatshops – and I do not make light of them – there still can be little doubt that the economic benefits to the Chinese people that have come from participation in the global capitalist economy are enormous; Chinese economic growth over the past decade has been off the charts, and while the business cycle will inevitably bring about peaks and valleys in the performance of the Chinese economy, there can be little doubt that the overall upward trend will continue into the foreseeable future. Indeed, all of the New Core nations have in recent years benefitted from what may well be the most successful anti-poverty program in history, namely, the economic improvements attendant to participation in the global economy. Moreover, as President Lula da Silva of Brazil has demonstrated, an openness to globalization and free markets combined with enlightened social programs can result in truly extraordinary accomplishments in the eradication of poverty. I generally share the views of economists such as Joseph Stiglitz and Jeffrey Sachs that although globalization may have its "discontents", and attention needs to be paid to issues such as global warming and other environmental concerns, it is also a system that holds out the promise of the universal eradication of poverty and evolution towards a future in which all persons can lead lives free from want and free to make the most of their lives.
As a defense theoretician, Barnett is primarily concerned with the security ramifications of the Core/Gap world view – hence the name of Barnett’s first book, The Pentagon’s New Map. In Barnett’s view, once a nation joins the Core, i.e., once it becomes connected to and a participant in the global capitalist economy, it becomes extremely unlikely that such a nation will go to war with another member of the Core. The benefits derived from participation in the global economy are so great that no nation enjoying those benefits would be willing to put them at risk by making war against another nation that is also enjoying those benefits. Moreover, the nations of the Core all either have nuclear weapons or could readily obtain them if they chose to do so (Japan, Germany, Brazil), meaning that a full-scale war between Core nations would be devastating. Accordingly, a very simple cost/benefit analysis precludes any possibility of warfare between the nations of the Core.
Barnett argues that membership in the Core carries with it acceptance of the "rule sets" of the Core, and the most important of all of these rules is the rule that disputes between nations of the Core are not resolved through military force but are instead resolved by other means, such as diplomacy, trade agreements, and international law. Indeed, Barnett would say that one of the defining characteristics of a Core nation is its willingness to accept these "rule sets", which, not coincidentally, also happen to be the "rule sets" on which the global capitalist economy is based.
As Barnett says, the world of economic globalization is based on the authority of rules, not rulers.
The fact that warfare among Core nations is precluded has important significance for Barnett’s views on U.S. military planning. There is no need to plan for a "big war" with a nation of roughly equal military strength and, as such, there is no need for many of the expensive weapons systems developed during the Cold War, such as nuclear submarines and what Barnett rightly castigates as the most unnecessary boondoggle of them all, the "Star Wars" anti-missile system.
Barnett argues, however, that it is a grave mistake to think that the U.S. can get out of the military business altogether just because Core vs. Core warfare is no longer a danger. This point was driven home by the events of September 11, 2001, which Barnett describes as a "system perturbation", i.e., a dramatic event that caused all participants in the global system to re-evaluate the nature of the system. The U.S. continues to have a need to be engaged militarily with the rest of the world, but those engagements now must focus upon the Gap, not the Core. Barnett points out that he originally hit upon his concept of "the Pentagon’s new map" by charting the locations of all major U.S. military engagements since World War II. The location of those conflicts is almost entirely coterminous with the Core/Gap distinction that is at the heart of Barnett’s analysis.
Since the nations of the Gap are not connected to and, as I continually emphasize, are not participants in the global capitalist economy, the nations of the Gap do not accept the "rule sets" of the globalized economy, which are also the rule sets that define the relationships among the nations of the Core. So, the corollary to the conclusion that warfare among Core nations is no longer a possibility is the conclusion that warfare among Gap nations or between Gap nations and Core nations is very much a possibility. The watchwords that Barnett uses are "disconnectedness defines danger"; in other words, so long as a nation remains disconnected from the global economy, it is a source of danger not only to its neighbors, but ultimately, to the entire world.
Indeed, Barnett argues that the processes of globalization make such conflicts inescapable; it is here that Barnett’s analysis intersects very directly with much of the neo-Marxist analysis. Globalization leads to more interactions among different national, ethnic, and religious groups, and in that process, certain groups will inevitably feel their status to be threatened by the processes of globalization. For example, one of the most significant consequences of globalization is the empowerment of women, as women are inevitably drawn into the workplace in the globalized economy. However, maintaining gender roles is one of the key aspects of virtually every traditional religious group. Thus, one can readily see how globalization inevitably engenders antagonism within such traditionalist groups, increasing the danger that such groups will come into conflict with other groups that are promoting globalization. Radical Islamic fundamentalists present a paradigmatic example of such a group that feels that its value system, and therefore its status in society, is threatened by globalization, and the manifestation of such religious fundamentalists in a terrorist organization such as al Qaeda is a demonstration of the danger that they can pose to the rest of the world, including the U.S. and the other nations of the Core.
Because most of these traditionalist groups that are threatened by globalization are to be found in the Gap, Barnett argues that this is therefore the location in which U.S. military activities will inevitably be focused in the post-Cold War era. Indeed, Barnett argues that the U.S., as the leading nation of the Core, should take a proactive role in attempting to "shrink the gap" by using its military force to bring about change in the nations of the Gap, with the ultimate goal of enabling the nations of the Gap to become connected to the global economy. In other words, the U.S. should use its military strength not only for defensive purposes to fight terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda, but also to attack and ultimately replace dysfunctional governments within the Gap that are an impediment to globalization and that thereby give direct or indirect support to terrorist organizations.
In order to carry out these Gap-oriented conflicts, Barnett suggests a re-configuration of the U.S. military. First, he proposes a "Leviathan" force. This is, in most respects, the military that the U.S. already has. It is a lean and mean fighting machine, capable of striking quickly and decisively. It consists of stealth bombers, smart bombs, attack helicopters, and mobile, mechanized land forces capable of covering great distances with extraordinary speed and breathtaking lethality. It was the U.S. Leviathan force that was very much on display in the two Gulf wars. The Leviathan force would be used to accomplish regime change by rapidly and decisively defeating the armies of harmful Gap governments that are threatening the progress of globalization.
The second component of Barnett’s new military is something he calls the "SysAdmin" force. The U.S. military has only begun to build a "SysAdmin" force, in large part in response to the sobering experiences of the disastrous Iraq War. (As discussed more below, although Barnett has supported the Iraq War, he acknowledges that the Bush Administration’s conduct of the war has been grossly mismanaged). The SysAdmin force would be larger and more labor-intensive than the Leviathan force. The SysAdmin force would be responsible for carrying out the various functions that Presidential candidate George W. Bush derided as "nation-building" during the 2000 campaign; Barnett labels these functions "military operations other than war." Following a regime change brought about by the Leviathan force, the SysAdmin force would be responsible for maintaining law and order and implementing civilian functions such as providing electricity, water, sanitation, food distribution, etc., in order to enable an occupied state to recuperate and install a new regime hospitable to the forces of globalization. In difficult cases, the SysAdmin force would also be called upon to carry out counter-insurgency fighting, although, if the SysAdmin force does its job well enough, it should be able to get a nation into a functioning condition on a fairly speedy basis so that insurgencies will not arise.
Barnett does not see the SysAdmin force as being comprised exclusively or even predominantly of U.S. military personnel. Indeed, Barnett acknowledges that the U.S. military alone is not large enough to field both a Leviathan force and a meaningful SysAdmin force. Accordingly, Barnett recognizes that it is highly unlikely that the U.S. can carry out successful military operations in the Gap unilaterally, because it does not have sufficient troops to field an effective SysAdmin force, and such additional forces will therefore have to be drawn from other sources. The armies of the European Union are already eminently suited to performing SysAdmin functions. However, a key component of Barnett’s strategy is that the U.S. must think beyond its traditional alliances (NATO and Japan), and build new alliances based on the common interest in promoting globalization that unites all of the members of the Core. Thus, Barnett also sees the armies of the "New Core" nations, principally India, China, and Brazil, as excellent sources of personnel for the SysAdmin force. Barnett is skeptical that the U.N. is institutionally capable of directing such operations, since the U.N. as currently structured lacks the equivalent of an "executive branch" of government. Instead, Barnett proposes the creation of an expanded version of the current G-8 – expanded to something like the "G-20" to include the nations of the New Core – that will provide the political and diplomatic leadership for the coordination of future Gap-oriented military operations. Barnett’s second book, Blueprint For Action, is just that, a description of an ambitious program of action whereby the U.S. can act in conjunction with the other nations of the Core – and Barnett places particular emphasis on the potential benefits to be derived from U.S. alliances with the nations of the New Core, especially China – to pursue military ventures that will bring about political change within the Gap. For example, Barnett sees the Kim Jong Il regime in North Korea as a prime example of an oppressive, dysfunctional government that is impeding North Korea’s integration into the Core and that should be targeted for regime change. Using the Leviathan force to eliminate such malignant regimes in the nations of the Gap, and the SysAdmin force to rebuild these nations following the elimination of these regimes, Barnett sets forth a program to "shrink the Gap" by re-building these nations in a way that will permit them to be "plugged into" the globalized economy. Barnett would not have the U.S. do all of this unilaterally. Again taking the case of North Korea, Barnett emphasizes the common interest of the various Core states in the region – China, Japan, and South Korea – in working together with the U.S. to eliminate the disruptive North Korean regime, much as the U.S. worked together with the nations of Western Europe to bring about regime change in the former Yugoslavia (the example of the intervention in the Balkans is discussed in more detail below as a case study of how Barnett’s program might work).
Barnett describes the end result of the pursuit of this strategy of "shrinking the Gap" as the achievement of "a future worth creating." At the end of the day, Barnett’s vision of the post-Cold War world is extraordinarily positive and optimistic. Barnett sees the forces of globalization as not only fundamentally benign, but as practically unstoppable. Barnett also believes that one way or the other, the nations of the Core will arrive at security arrangements that will make the shrinking of the Gap a reality, with the attendant elimination of most global poverty and with it, most significant military conflict.
Some of Barnett’s detractors take issue with his extreme optimism, accusing him of having Pollyanna-ish tendencies. I do not think that this criticism is warranted. Because Barnett’s analysis is so firmly grounded in economics, I believe that his views cannot be described as anything other than realistic. For Barnett, the drive to shrink the Gap does not just come from altruism, it comes principally from the profit motive. The nations of the Core will be driven to shrink the Gap not just because it is moral and right to do so, but because it is good for business. As a neo-Marxist, I heartily concur in that analysis. The march to economic globalism comes from the unstoppable force of the universal desire of all persons to improve the material conditions of their lives. I share Barnett’s optimism that this road will lead a world of unprecedented peace and prosperity – a future worth creating.
There are numerous parallels between neo-Marxism and Barnett’s ideas:
• Both view the capitalist mode of production as the driving force shaping political events.
• Both reject the idea that capitalist evolution leads to class consciousness and class-based revolution.
• Both conclude that the globalization of capitalism leads to conflicts based on factors such as ethno-religious identification, rather than membership in economic classes.
• Both share a predominantly optimistic historical outlook, viewing capitalist globalization as fundamentally a positive force leading to improvement in the quality of life for the world’s peoples, and a general reduction of organized violence.
So, if Barnett is so smart, and if I agree with him so much, then why does Barnett do something so stupid as supporting the Iraq War, a war that I consider to be not just the ultimate in stupidity but a war that is so malignant as to be truly worthy of prosecution as an international war crime? I have wrestled with that problem at length, and have tried to analyze exactly where my views diverge from those of Barnett. In that analytical process, it has occurred to me that the aspect of Barnett’s writings with which I have the most visceral difficulty is in his prescription for future American military actions. When I first thought of this, it reminded me a bit of Marge Simpson’s comment that she really likes Woody Allen movies except for that annoying little guy with glasses who always appears in them. After all, Barnett is first and foremost a military theorist. Saying that you like everything about Barnett except for his military theories does seem quite a lot like Marge’s views on Woody Allen’s movies.
Nevertheless, the more I teased out the ramifications of this idea, the more it seemed to me that I was getting close to the root of our disagreement. The problem that I was having with Barnett’s ideas was that I had difficulty seeing exactly how his proposed U.S. military adventures in the Gap would play out in the real world, and more particularly, what would prevent those adventures from becoming excuses for American imperialism. Recall that I said at the outset of this essay that I am someone who has often found much common ground with the writings of Noam Chomsky, and I do have a strong visceral suspicion of proposals to have the U.S. throw its military weight around the world.
The problem that I have with Barnett’s prescription for future U.S. military actions is enhanced when one considers the issue from the perspective of the people in the nation that is subject to one of Barnett’s proposed attacks. In such a military action, the U.S. strikes a relatively weak and impoverished nation that is not a direct military threat to the U.S. with the full power of the Leviathan force, inevitably causing great loss of life and damage to property. Yet, the U.S. would have the nation under attack believe that it is being subjected to attack not because the U.S. has any ulterior motives, or has anything directly to gain from the attack, but simply because the U.S. wants to relieve the attacked nation of a bad government and thereby enable the nation to join the globalized economy. How likely is it that the attacked nation will accept such an altruistic explanation as the truth? More importantly, how likely is it that such an altruistic explanation would be the truth?
Yet, I am not a pacifist and unlike Chomsky, I do not believe that the U.S. is always wrong or that the use of American military force is never appropriate. Part of me very definitely believes that Barnett is on to something.
I think that the best way of sharpening the analysis and breaking this intellectual log-jam is to look at empirical examples of the use of American military force in the post-Cold War period, and analyze the questions of whether the use of military force has proven beneficial, and if so, why, and if not, why not. In order to do this analysis, I have considered two of the most significant uses of American military force in the post-Cold War era: (1) the military intervention in the former Yugoslavia; and (2) the war in Iraq. I opposed both of these military ventures; Barnett supported both of them. I would submit that I was wrong about Yugoslavia and right about Iraq, and that Barnett was right about Yugoslavia and wrong about Iraq. (We both have a .500 batting average, which isn’t so bad). Let’s take a closer look at these two case studies in the use of American military force, and try to understand exactly where Barnett and I went wrong; in doing so, I believe that I can identify with more precision my likes and dislikes about Barnett’s writings, and in the process, suggest some refinements to Barnett’s proposals that might ultimately make them more effective in achieving the goals that I do share with Barnett.
Let’s first consider the war in the former Yugoslavia. I opposed American military intervention in the Balkans for two reasons. First, I did not believe that the U.S. had any national interests that were affected by the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, and that it therefore did not make sense for the U.S. to expend lives and treasure in a military intervention in the region. Second, I did not accept the official justification for the war, namely, that the war was being fought for humanitarian reasons in order to put an end to violent "ethnic cleansing" involving Serbs, Croats, Bosnians, and Albanian Kosovars; I was very skeptical of the notion that the U.S. (or any other nation for that matter) would be willing to fight a war for purely humanitarian reasons. Rather, I believed that the war was being driven by the economic interests of the nations of the European Union, especially Germany, that had extensive economic investments in the Balkans, especially in Slovenia and Croatia, and that the nations of Western Europe wanted to use American military force to stabilize the region in order to protect those investments and open up the entirety of the region to further investments. What was the legitimacy of my concerns?
As to my first concern – the lack of any direct American interest in the Balkans – I now believe that my concerns were short-sighted because I took too narrow a view of what constitutes the "national interest" of the U.S. I now agree whole-heartedly with Barnett that in the Twenty-First Century, it is unavoidable that the U.S. must be concerned with the global ramifications of what may appear to be regional or even local conflicts. I also agree with Barnett that this point was driven home by the events of September 11, 2001, which dramatically demonstrated the connections between U.S. security and conflicts springing up in far away places. Imagine if the conflicts in the Balkans had not been addressed and were ongoing to this day – the Muslim populations of Kosovo and Bosnia would provide fertile recruiting grounds for fundamentalist organizations such as al Qaeda, and if those areas had remained in the chaotic state that reigned prior to American intervention, they would have been prime launch pads for terrorist attacks against Europe and the U.S.
Turning to my second concern, I still believe that I was fundamentally correct that economic interests and not humanitarian considerations drove the nations of the European Union to implore the U.S. to intervene militarily. However, my response to that point now would be, so what? The economic interest that the European Union was pursuing in the former Yugoslavia concerned trade and investment; the nations of the European Union were not seeking to exploit any natural resources in the region because there are virtually none of any importance. Promoting free trade and investment is, after all, what Barnett’s "shrink the Gap" strategy is all about, so the fact that the European Union enlisted U.S. military assistance in effecting regime change in the former Yugoslavia in order to make the region safe for trade and investment, simply makes the U.S. military intervention in the Balkans all the more justifiable.
In hindsight, it is clear that the American military intervention in the former Yugoslavia was well worthwhile and highly successful. Indeed, the entire operation is virtually a showcase that Barnett can hold up as an example of what is supposed to happen in such a military venture (and he does so in Blueprint For Action). The American Leviathan force quickly put an end to aggressive actions by the Serbs in both Bosnia and Kosovo, and toppled the dangerous Milosevic regime. Thereafter, a large NATO-based SysAdmin force occupied the region and rapidly brought stability. Since the intervention, violence in the region has dropped dramatically, virtually to the point of disappearance. It is likely that several of the nations of the former Yugoslavia will be admitted to the European Union in the next few years; Slovenia is already in, Croatia and Macedonia have applied for membership, and probably the rest of the former Yugoslavia will join within a decade. Just recently, elections were held in Serbia and while the Serbian Nationalists continue to be the largest single party, their percentage of the overall vote was under 30%, with the overwhelming majority of public support going to parties highly sympathetic to the idea of European integration. Barring unforeseen circumstances, it will soon be appropriate to move all of the former Yugoslavia out of the Gap and into the Core – one small step towards the realization of Barnett’s future worth creating.
Now let’s consider the Iraq War. I opposed the Iraq War because I did not believe that any of the Bush Administration’s proffered justifications for the war – the alleged presence of weapons of mass destruction, the alleged connections between the Iraqi government and al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations, and the alleged desire of the Bush Administration to "democratize" the region – was true. Rather, I believed that the true reason why the Bush Administration wanted to pursue the war was to establish a substantial American military presence in the Middle East for the purpose of protecting the interests of American and British oil companies. Such interests are located not only in Iraq itself – itself a major source of high-quality crude oil highly coveted by many U.S. oil companies – but even more importantly, in neighboring Saudi Arabia. U.S. oil companies share a highly lucrative relationship with the corrupt and dictatorial Saudi royal family (I discuss the U.S./Saudi relationship and its relationship to the Iraq War in more detail below). In exchange for giving open oil spigots to American companies, the corrupt House of Saud seeks, and obtains, both personal enrichment and the military protection of the U.S. However, because of religious sensitivities, the Saudi royals prefer not to have American troops stationed in Saudi Arabia itself. Thus, a large American army in neighboring Iraq suits the security needs of the Saudis very well. These oil-related considerations, I believe, are the true motivations underlying the Iraq War, and nothing has happened in the almost four years since the Bush Administration started the Iraq War that would change my analysis.
[END PART I]