Monday, February 4, 2013

The Pentagon’s New Map: Misinterpreting Disconnectedness is Dangerous – A Guest Post by Andrew Rohrer

I have the unique opportunity to share a really interesting essay by Andrew Rohrer. He has taken a thoughtful and critical look at Thomas Barnett's "The Pentagon's New Map," which was quite influential to military planners and strategist after its publication in 2005. Andrew provides a thoughtful analysis of a few of Barnett's central themes, namely the need for the U.S. to pursue an aggressive foreign policy strategy to maintain U.S. primacy in global security through the use of military force. Arguably, Barnett's views influenced the strategic and operational thinking of senior military leaders to include Bush administration officials prior to a critical re-consideration of U.S. geo-strategic and military aims in Iraq, and Afghanistan in particular, and the war on terror in general. We have since seen an adjustment from a hard power pursuit of shaping a global liberal democratic environment to a more balanced one of "smart power." Andrew is a U.S. Army officer involved in the development of Army strategy and a graduate of the Basic Strategic Art Program at the U.S. Army War College. These insightful thoughts are his and do not represent the broader views of either the U.S. Army or the Department of Defense.

The Pentagon’s New Map: Misinterpreting Disconnectedness is Dangerous by Andrew Rohrer

During the Cold War the United States faced a well-defined competitor, the Soviet Union, inside of a well-defined world order. With nearly every nation of the world organized into two spheres of influence, the United States led one sphere in a strategy of containing the ideological and existential threat posed by the Soviets. Utilizing diplomacy to “formulate and put forward for other nations a much more positive and constructive picture of the sort of world we would like to see,” the United States led an alliance of interested nations to contain the Communist states led by the Soviet Union.[1] Though the Cold War was prone to spasms of conflict on its periphery, both sides pursued the use of non-violent political discourse as opposed to open warfare that could tip an unstable regime of deterrence into complete nuclear ruin.

With the end of the Cold War, a significant discussion both academic and political, focused on not only how to restructure the American foreign policy apparatus, but also what to restructure it address. The al-Qaeda attacks of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent wars and stabilization operations in Afghanistan and Iraq added urgency to the discussion. The international order was now understood to be quite different from the one of the Cold War­—there no longer existed neatly ordered competitive spheres, and concern about violent non-state actors began to rise. In this milieu, Thomas P.M. Barnett, a political scientist and Soviet expert, wrote a short article in 2003 to propose a theory for how the United States should address the new international order—“disconnectedness equals danger.”[2] In other words, the places in the world to which globalization does not reach become the incubators of movements and groups that threaten the globalizing states. He posited that the international order had shifted from the two spheres of influence, marked by ideology, into two categories of states–the Core and the Non-Integrating Gap, or simply the Gap.[3] Respectively, the states placed in each category were those that were connected to the growing globalized economy and those that were not.

He theorized that a state’s categorization as functioning or failed, especially with regard to security concerns, was closely tied to their categorization as a Core state or Gap state. For instance, Barnett held that “[Osama] bin Laden and al-Qaeda are pure products of the Gap,” growing in security vacuums and telegraphing to the Core the necessity of extending security to these regions and places.[4] He posited that disconnectedness, rooted in the lack of security implicating a stagnant or non-functioning economy, is the hallmark of a state in the Gap. In summary, he asserted that security challenges springing from the Gap in the form of non-integrating states and violent non-state actors defined the new order. This the basis of his argument holds that the US Military is the critical, primary actor that will secure America, through maintaining security in the Core, and extending security to the Gap so that globalization can take hold.

Barnett’s analysis of the international order is reasonable, however, his simplistic, nearly one-dimensional, solution for decreasing disconnectedness is dangerous. It dismisses the use of diplomacy to contain threats and coerce outcomes. It ignores, and diminishes, the significant value of soft power to persuade and convince.[5] Instead, it depends on military action, by a military restructured to extend security in the Gap and preserve peace and maintain the status quo in the Core.[6] Furthermore, his proposals suggest a “go-it-alone” attitude, never mentioning multi-lateral cooperation or coalitions if wars must be waged. The international environment, marked with significant uncertainty–the challenges of globalism and rising violent non-state actors as well as continuing intransigent states–requires the United States to utilize a responsible foreign policy and engagement strategy that defends against the dangers while it simultaneously continues to expand and spread our values as a bulwark against those dangers.

Clausewitz stated that “war is not merely an act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse carried on by other means.”[7] The order of means as listed by Clausewitz is vital in understanding this basic maxim of how western states, the United States being no exception, see war–as a continuation of political discourse, or diplomacy. It is often argued that the greatest threat facing the United States today is Islamic extremism, and this was certainly considered by Barnett when he wrote the original article that became a book. Statements made by various extremist leaders would indicate that they do not see any way to peacefully coexist with the United States, or other non-Muslim states, and they see themselves locked in a mortal fight to counter apostate political and economic systems. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union was assessed to possess similar views, yet the strategy of the United States was containment of the Communist ideology, founded upon robust diplomatic engagement and bolstered by a significant deterrent force.[8] Though the environment has been reordered, a foreign policy founded on diplomacy ensures a vigorous political discourse with other nations, and in some cases non-state actors, is maintained with the option to employ force if it is required.

Directly related to diplomacy, is American soft power, a truly non-threatening means of countering anti-American sentiment. The discussion of soft power is best served if framed by a short study of a recent example. Its value–while devilishly difficult to precisely measure–is unmistakable when looking back on the costs of reconstructing Iraq. Because of President Bush’s failure to build a coalition, and gain international consensus for the 2003 invasion, many nations refused to participate in a US-led reconstruction before and after the invasion, virtually ensuring the United States would bear most of the costs of rebuilding Iraq.[9] Numerous foreign leaders clearly articulated that their refusal to give assent or participate in the Iraq mission was the result of an American reticence to exhaust diplomatic effort in the decision. In addition, in the months after the invasion of Iraq, despite significant misgivings about the European Union among Europeans populations, there was a clear preference to tack clear of the United States, and chart a new course independent of the US.[10] This popular attitude threatened to weaken the political ties of common interests that the United States had worked so hard during the Cold War to cultivate. Soft power has value; actions undertaken that cause a decrement in the soft power of the United States should be avoided due to their magnifying effect on unproductive behavior.

However, Barnett’s theory and proposal is rooted in the Neoconservative thinking of the early 2000s—embracing an ideal that only through action can non-integrated states join the integrated Core, and if other nations cannot see this or refuse to undertake bold action, then the United States must “go-it-alone.” To do this, he suggested a complete reorganization of the US national security structure, into a bifurcated force–one part, the Leviathan, maintaining security in the Core and the other, the System Administrators (SysAdmin), extending security to the Gap. His proposal to massively restructure the Department of Defense (DOD) into a two separate forces was so radical that it is essentially not possible without a new National Security Act in the vein of the Act passed in 1947. The Leviathan force would not be required to be large, as he saw other nations participating in this out of self-interest, but the SysAdmin force would likely be quite large, and mostly American in composition.[11] At this point his suggestion becomes untenable because a force as he describes would be engaged in significant stabilization activities, which are quite expensive, and it would require large numbers of Special Operations Forces (SOF). If the cost of doing this work mostly alone were not prohibitive–as seen in Iraq and Afghanistan–the significant requirement of SOF should be. The third of the Four Truths of SOF is that “[it] cannot be mass-produced,” yet it would have to be to fulfill the requirements of the SysAdmin force, based on the proposed purpose of that force.[12]

Lastly, as Barnett writes at great length about the Core, the Gap, and a reorganized DOD, he obliquely acknowledges the critical role played by the State Department, and virtually ignores the near requirement in the modern international order to build multi-lateral coalitions and consensus for wars. Instead, he spends a significant amount of time both in the article, and later book, justifying why going to Iraq is proof of his theory–in retrospect, a premature assessment, considering how Iraq ended up in relationship to the expectations when he originally proposed his theory. A fair analysis of the war in Iraq seems to indicate that if the war was absolutely necessary, eschewing diplomacy to gain consensus was foolish. There is no reason to believe that repeating that mistake will generate a different result. Diplomacy remains the critical foundation of American foreign policy, and ignoring its value is truly dangerous.

Barnett’s structural definition of the post-Cold War international environment based on economic integration is not careless, and it bears study. But, Barnett’s nearly one-dimensional proposal for addressing the issue of disconnected states in the integrated global economy with force is dangerous, and would likely lead to more disruption than productive organization. By utilizing diplomacy we can give our soft power the greatest opportunity to persuade the disconnected states to undertake the reforms and systematic restructuring required to integrate to the global economy. This, of course, does not mean the United States should relinquish its right of self-defense. If our foreign policy is lead by diplomacy, when faced with a requirement to defend American interests, we will be justified in our actions, and will have a much easier time building coalitions and consensus around the shared interests that other states have in common with us. Diplomacy must always be our default action when dealing with other states and perpetuating our interests. 


[1] George Kennan, The Long Telegram (Cable from US Embassy, Moscow, to US Department of State), 22 February 1946,, (accessed 28 November 2012).

[2] Thomas P.M. Barnett, “The Pentagon’s New Map: It explains why we’re going to war and why we’ll keep going to war,” Esquire, 1 March 2003,, (accessed 28 November 2012).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Soft Power: The means to success in world politics (New York: Public Affairs, 2005), 5.

[6] Thomas P.M. Barnett, The Pentagon’s New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century (New York: G.P. Putnam and Sons, 2005), 299-303.

[7] Carl Von Clausewitz, On War, trans. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976), 99.

[8] Kennan.

[9] Nye, 125.

[10] Pew Research Center, American Character Gets Mixed Reviews: U.S. Image up Slightly, but Still Negative (Pew Research Center, 2005), (accessed November 29, 2012).

[11] Barentt, The Pentagon’s New Map, 304-307.

[12] “US Special Operations Command - Home,” (accessed December 1, 2012).