The Pentagon’s New Map
A recent book by Thomas Barnett, “The Pentagon’s New Map,” is evidently receiving much attention as an authoritative guide for military planning. Although there is much truth in the ideas and themes contained in this work, some of its conclusive statements are the essence of naiveté and, worse, dangerous if they are taken as truth.
To start with the kernel of truth evident in the first one hundred or so pages, Mr. Barnett correctly assesses the essence of the forces driving the current security dilemma. The world is indeed encountering a clash between those who cling to an ever vanishing world of tradition and stability, the symbol of which Thomas Friedman so eloquently portrayed as the olive tree, and those embracing as well as trying to keep pace with the ever accelerating forces of globalization, alternately portrayed as the “Lexus.” He is also correct in assessing that central to this clash is a radical contest between the rule sets which govern what is commonly viewed as acceptable behavior. The rules are indeed changing, both for war as well as for commerce and a host of additional endeavors. Mr. Barnett goes one giant step forward, however, in his assertion that “state-on-state wars have effectively gone the way of the dinosaur…,” as well as in his assertion that war between states possessed of nuclear weapons is an impossibility – “Nukes effectively ended great-power war…”
To accept these assertions as fact is dangerous indeed. Mr. Barnett far too easily discounts the potential which remains for state v state war. In fact, he discounts its possibility. Although a real dilemma exists with how to be prepared both for conventional state v state war as well as the host of additional challenges which we currently face, it is a most dangerous proposition, if followed, that the former are, if possible at all, only very remotely so. Whether we wish it to or not, the dilemma persists. We must be prepared for both although we cannot sustain a commitment to both without risking overstretch.
The real challenge, then, is not only determining how best to manage as well as shape the transition to a new rule set, but also how to survive the transition without ending up in both an economically and geopolitically much weakened position. Such an achievement, given current realities, cannot be accomplished by relying solely, or even predominantly, on US power and capabilities alone. We must, if only in our self interest, work multilaterally to prevent the numerous flash points of unrest from fanning into ever greater flames of regional instability which will, as they have, affect us all. We must also be prepared to protect our national interests against the continued presence of conventional threats which, although conventional, will not rely solely on conventional means but rather, by combining conventional power with asymmetric capabilities, will seek to achieve their aims.
Although Mr. Barnett presents some compelling social trends in his analysis, it would be folly to assume that society progresses along such deterministic paths. The rule set reset is indeed still occurring. It is still not clear what new set will evolve. In the interim, presupposing the outcome, as well as the extinction of state v state war even within what he describes as the core, is both an oversimplification as well as a dangerous proposition on which to base defense planning. As well, his dismissal of military requirements to support national policy in regards to defense agreements as limitless national interest puts the straw on the wrong camel’s back. Regardless of their advisability in regards to national interest, there are defensive requirements which our military is tasked to be prepared to fulfill. Regardless of its presumptive title, I hope Mr. Barnett’s book is being read with several grains of salt by our military planners.