Friday, December 03, 2004

Brave New Functioning Core

The other day my colleague Geoffrey Parker gave me the latest issue of Historically Speaking, the bulletin of The Historical Society. He wanted me to see several think pieces concerning global history--defined as the history of globalization. We think of globalization as a present-day phenomenon. For most of us it's something we've noticed only in recent years (if at all). But as a process, globalization has been underway for centuries--certainly since at least the 16th century and arguably much longer.

By coincidence, that same day I was reading a book which made globalization the centerpiece of its analysis of the present-day threat environment: The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century (currently ranked 1,614 on; not too shabby). It's by Thomas P. M. Barnett, a political scientist who teaches at the Naval War College. Barnett sketched out its basic argument in an article for Esquire published on the eve of the Iraq War:

The problem with most discussion of globalization is that too many experts treat it as a binary outcome: Either it is great and sweeping the planet, or it is horrid and failing humanity everywhere. Neither view really works, because globalization as a historical process is simply too big and too complex for such summary judgments. Instead, this new world must be defined by where globalization has truly taken root and where it has not.

Show me where globalization is thick with network connectivity, financial transactions, liberal media flows, and collective security, and I will show you regions featuring stable governments, rising standards of living, and more deaths by suicide than murder. These parts of the world I call the Functioning Core, or Core. But show me where globalization is thinning or just plain absent, and I will show you regions plagued by politically repressive regimes, widespread poverty and disease, routine mass murder, and—most important—the chronic conflicts that incubate the next generation of global terrorists. These parts of the world I call the Non-Integrating Gap, or Gap.

The Gap is shown in dark green and deep blue on the globes below:

Two billion people live in the Gap. They're disconnected from the globalizing economy, pissed off, and a big human reservoir of Trouble for the Functioning Core. As Barnett says, the Gap is the region where you find the terrorists, the rogue states, the druglords and warlords. Their homelands may not be enmeshed in the webs of globalization--they may in fact loathe and reject everything globalization stands for--but globalization provides them with the tools to strike deep in the heart of the Functioning Core. Ease of travel, open borders, open societies, instantaneous communication and financial exchange: these hallmarks of globalization can be and have been exploited. To drive jet liners full of fuel into the World Trade Center. To explode bombs in Madrid during rush hour. It's not a question of whether these attacks will happen again. It's a question of when.

Barnett's proposed solution is to shrink the Gap. Arguably this could be done by what political scientist Joseph Nye has called "soft power"--openness, prosperity and similar values that persuade and attract rather than coerce others. But Barnett thinks that "hard power"--military and economic strength--is the key to success, with military force predominating. Soft power may sometimes work in parts of the Gap, but in others it will take the projection of military strength to stabilize a region enough so that economic investment makes sense and democratization stands a chance.

Barnett applauds the U.S. invasion of Iraq. "The reason I support going to war in Iraq," he wrote on the eve of that invasion, "is not simply that Saddam is a cutthroat Stalinist willing to kill anyone to stay in power, nor because that regime has clearly supported terrorist networks over the years. The real reason I support a war like this is that the resulting long-term military commitment will finally force America to deal with the entire Gap as a strategic threat environment."

Whether or not you buy hi thesis and prescriptions, Barnett is driving his argument for all it's worth--as he'll happily tell you on his extensive web site and blog. It's getting a lot of play. (I got the book in the first place because I asked a friend at the Pentagon what people there were reading and he pointed to The Pentagon's New Map.) Anyway, the point isn't whether you agree with Barnett. The point is that his ideas are interesting. They're worth thinking about, arguing with.

For instance, let's say Barnett's "new map" accurately reflects reality. How did the map get to be that way? Global history suggests that the process took not years or decades but centuries. If that's the case, it opens the possibility that buried in the past are analogs and antecedents that may help us to better evaluate Barnett's analysis and prescriptions. To give one example which may or may not withstand closer scrutiny: his idea of using military force to create an environment suficiently stable to inject one's own economic tendrils sounds a lot like the European and American adventures in China during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. If you've seen The Sand Pebbles, you've seen this kind of tactic in action, and the unintended consequences it can generate.

A couple of days ago I got an email from Stephen Morillo, a military historian at Wabash College and one of the panelists at the recent conference on The History of War in Global Perspective. Stephen had talked about the conference with Jerry Bentley, editor of the Journal of World History. "He's enthused," Stephen reported, "and would be happy to see a set of related papers that he could put together in a volume of the Journal of World History devoted to military history. We (broadly construed) should think about generating such a package."

I wrote back:
That sounds very good. Over the Christmas break I'll be writing up a grant for further funding to support the history of war in global perspective project. What would you think of my focusing the proposal on an authors' conference to coordinate just such a set of offerings for the JWH?

Stephen thought that was just fine. The issue then became one of coming up with a specific topic. The articles in Historically Speaking on global history have provided food for thought. So has The Pentagon's New Map. Why not explore earlier periods of globalization for insights that might illuminate the promise or pitfalls of Barnett's prescriptions? It's worth a shot--particularly since it meshes well with the mission statement of the Mershon Center, my prospective sugar daddy. Now to see if this idea strikes a responsive chord with other historians.


Lance Blyth said...

Excellent post, excellent idea. I think we need to make our historical understanding of globalization go back farther than 500 years to 50,000 ago, when the first anatomically modern humans left Africa, encountered other hominid populations in Europe and Asia, and ultimately displaced them. (See the McNeill's Human Web.)

PNM (as the trendy people call it) is up my alley since my historical interests, to quote the inumberable letters of application I have written, focus on "the conflict, exchange, and survival on the frontiers, borderlands, and borders created by European expansion in the Americas and across the globe where immigrant and local communities had to negotiate daily life with each other fairly free of state control prior to the late-nineteenth century, a situation that has returned with globalization in the twenty-first century." (I should note I stole some of these ideas from James Brooks.)

Two things from PNM have struck my historical interest. The first is the problem of societies having connectivity but wishing to control the bandwidth. Barnett gives the example of Barbie in Iran, a "doll on the run" from the mullahs. As I lean forward from the dissertation to the monograph, I am thinking about the ability of violence to structure relationships between "Core" and the "Gap" communities. Perhaps the ability to do violence is a way to maintain connectivity (which all Gap communities have historically wanted, see Barfield's work on China and nomads), while controlling the bandwidth.

The second idea from PNM is the current bifurcation of the US military into "Leviathan" (read war-fighting) and "Sys Admin" (nation-building) forces. The vast differences between European armies meant for European wars and the colonial forces, meant for colonial wars, have long given military historians fits. The historical experiences of these two types of forces may well be a valuable contribution. I gave a paper at the last SMH meeting on the problems Spanish and then Mexican commanders faced when dealing with the colonial forces on Mexico's far nothern frontier.

Glad to see two good ideas (SHAFT and PNM) coming together.

Cheers, Lance

Silent E said...

Have they read or discussed PNM at Mershon? (I'm an OSU alum familiar with it.)

I ask because I know Mershon is kinda interdisciplinary, and the Poli Sci folks there should see it. I've talked to people "in the real world" (not just on blogs) and they confirm that PNM is *the* book at the Pentagon, so at a minimum if you want to discuss foreign policy decision making today, you have to consider it. Barnett is clearly having an impact on policy and military transformation.

More interesting, however, is the I.R.-theoretical side of PNM, which Dr. Barnett discusses only in popularizing terms in the book and leaves largely unemphasized on his blog:

He reconciles the conflict between Kantian and Hobbesian views of the international system by pointing out that they are BOTH right: there exist simultaneously a Kantian international order AND a Hobbesian international order, and the most important dynamic of the last 400 years has been the steady expansion of the former at the expense of the latter.

I suspect there is VERY fertile ground for research and discussion here. At a minimum, I suspect that re-examining the realist-neoliberal political and economic arguments of the last two decades will show that both sides are simply arguing past each other, realists relying on Hobbesian cases and neoliberal 'trading state' theorists relying on Kantian cases, their theories each running aground on the shoals of the dividing line between the Core and Gap.