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Thomas P.M. Barnett on Chapter 2 of The Pentagon’s New Map.

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HH: Joined now by Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett, author of the Pentagon’s New Map, for the second of our eight conversations, one chapter at a time from that book, that very influential book. If you’re just tuning in for the first time, Dr. Barnet shook up the Pentagon after 9/11 with his understanding of the Pentagon’s New Map, and this is a New York Times bestseller that continues to become the source of many, many heated conversations, and much conversation here. Dr. Barnett, welcome back to the program.

TB: Thanks for having me again, Hugh.

HH: Let’s begin by recapping chapter 1, the theme. More rules means less war, and so expanding globalization’s rule set leads ultimately to less violence, a result in America’s favor. That’s how you phrased it in chapter 2. Do we need to expand on that at all?

TB: Well, just to counter the usual criticism of that argument, which is to say on the second coming of Norman Angel, the British philosopher who in 1911, wrote a book about the grand illusion, saying that the economic connectivity of that globalization’s era was going to prevent war between great powers. He said if they did go to war, they’d ruin each other. His thesis was declared wrong by World War I, by many people’s observations, and yet his ultimate prediction proved true. All of the empires that went into World War I came out fatally damaged, and lost their status as first-tier powers. So I say I’m the second coming of Norman Angel, but I’m Norman Angel with nukes.

HH: With nukes. (laughing)

TB: And nukes change everything.

HH: Let’s pick up there. By the way, do you watch 24, Dr. Barnett?

TB: I wish I had the time.

HH: Oh, they changed Magic Mountain last night. Let’s go to page 89. The Pentagon reacted badly, you describe, in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Can you expand on that?

TB: Well, they really had gotten so used to letting the Soviets size our forces, that we entertained the notion for a while that the Soviets were going to come back. That was the reconstitution pillar of the early 90’s. And then we really glommed onto China as basically the replacement in the ’95-’96 Taiwan Straits crisis. That works if China doesn’t join globalization so dramatically, and become so financially integrated to a degree I don’t think the average American understands with the U.S. economy to the point now where we look ahead to China, and our 18 demographics, and we realize all those savings in Asia are going to be what relieves our boomers of all their financial assets, and allows them to retire with wealth. So it’s a tough sell, the further we get into globalization, to make the argument that China’s going to be our logical sizing, force structure sizing element. And instead, we found ourselves engrossed in a series of all sorts of what they like to call inside the Pentagon lesser includeds. Now to explain that concept, I have to explain first the notion of the greater inclusive, which is the notion that we plan for the big war, okay? And we assume if we buy forces and we shape our forces for the big war, then they’re able to handle all the smaller contingencies that present themselves. So if I build a force, for example, that’s able to fight China in a massive force on force conflict, we make the assumption that that force can also do counterinsurgency in Iraq, and maybe nation building in Iraq, or crisis response or post-disaster humanitarian relief. And what we found across the 90’s is that that doesn’t work. If you buy one force, that big war force, and then operate another, a force that focuses on all, what they like to call inside the Pentagon military operations other than war, the acronym MOOTWA, it creates such strain within your personnel system, and within your existing force structure in terms of the losses of material and the requirements for repair and remanufacturing, that after a while, you’ll break that force, if you keep buying for the big war, but keep using that force consistently for the everything else, or what they call the lesser includeds.

HH: Now I want to come back to China in a few minutes, but first, I want to get the concept across to the audience of what you mean by the Red Army as the measuring stick for the Pentagon, how we sized our force. Can you explain a little bit more what that means to laymen?

TB: Well, it was a force on force, or a symmetrical war notion. We were going to fight a force that looked pretty much like ours. We had Marines, they had marines. We had a Navy, they had a navy. We had an Army with lots of tanks, they had an army with lots of tanks. We had an advanced Air Force, they had an advanced air force. And we were going to fight a classic set piece, stretched across Europe, focused on the Fulda Gap in Germany. And so we had that long term standoff that kind of solidified in our minds the notion of a rerun of the Second World War, but this time, with nukes. So it became pretty easy to say how many forces to we need, what kind of forces do we need, keep an eye on the Soviets, whatever they got, we want a little bit more, or we want a little bit better. And that’s how we kept our lead, you know, always giving them just enough pause between that conventional capability and our nuclear weapons to say you know what? War with the Americans is just too big a risk. That was the essential deterrence that kept Europe safe across the Cold War.

HH: And after they went away, you present a Pentagon almost stunned, or concussed, and unable to develop a doctrine by which to size its forces. Meanwhile, it’s enmeshed in Somalia, Haiti, Yugoslavia, Desert Storm, and that they didn’t like all these small forces. But it sounds like a period…were they self-aware of a decade of confusion, Thomas Barnett?

TB: Sure they were. I mean, I describe in the second chapter an effort to create the first naval white paper in about fifty years, to kind of figure out what the heck do we have a navy for, and where are we using that.

HH: Explain a white paper, would you? Tell people what a white paper is.

TB: A white paper, in this instance, I mean, white papers get created all the time, but this was a seminal white paper. It was later dubbed From The Sea, and it was an attempt to redefine, now that the Soviets were gone away, and the Red Navy was disappearing before our eyes, why we had a Navy, and what we were going to do with it. And the key distinction of that document, which I helped draft with a bunch of other officers, was instead of saying we’ll use our Navy primarily to control the seas, we made the following leap. We said from now on, we use our control of the seas to influence events ashore. And that was a huge shift for the Navy, understanding that basically for the first time in human history, we had the world’s only blue water navy, a position we retain now, and it gives us an amazing capacity to project power around the planet. What we’ve been struggling with ever since is what do we do with that amazing power?

HH: Now in that discussion, which I found fascinating, by the way, about the From The Sea white paper, the bullet point that got changed originally read fundamental purpose of Naval forces is to achieve command of the seas. It got changed to read fundamental purpose of Naval forces is to use command of the sea.

TB: Right.

HH: And from that changed flowed all the…explain to people how that one word mattered so much in a Pentagon of the 90’s.

TB: Well again, it was the Navy admitting that there wasn’t anybody out there who was going to stop us from controlling the seas. And if you think about the course of human history, and the empires of the past, to be a great power was to have a great navy. If you had a great navy, you could roam the world, you could wage war distant from your shores, you could control commerce, the essential connectivity until very recently in the global economy was control of the high seas, which is why our fundamental rule set with regard to our naval forces has been freedom of the seas, maintain that connectivity with the outside world. Well, what we were admitting by making that one word change, almost, was just to say from now on, we basically own the oceans, and the question is, what do we do with that power?

HH: And explain to people why that fundamentally threatened the submarine service.

TB: Well, the submarine service was the most symmetrically focused on the Soviet Union. Submarines aren’t great, really for anything other than destroying the other country’s ships or lines of communications, destroying their movement and material and what not, like U-boats did to our ships during the Second World War in the Atlantic crossings. And they fight each other. And what happened was when the Soviets went away, their submarine community disappeared. And if you don’t have submarines to threaten our force, you don’t have submarines to go after. And if you don’t have submarines to go after, you don’t have a reason for submarines.

HH: Now clearly, and we’ve got a minute to the break, this throws procurement into the hat. I mean, everything goes up for grabs once you begin to realize a fundamental miscalculation, or not miscalculation, but change in what you need.

TB: Well, but what we did, basically, with the Powell doctrine, we basically said you know what? Unless I’m going to go in, and go in very rapidly with very decisive force, and very limited objectives, which across the 1990’s typically amounted to we’re here for the bad guys, then we’re leaving…I mean, that was…the first iteration of that was Just Cause, with the Manuel Noriegan Panama. The basic deal that the Powell doctrine offered in terms of force structure was until we can get a clear sense of the future, we’re going to cut everything roughly equally. So we just miniaturized slowly our force over time. And that made it hard, because the thing we were using more and more were these forces, and these specialized units, and a lot of them in the reserve components, National Guard and the Reserves, for these military operations other than war. So we were overusing special operations, overusing military police and what not, and that came up…with Iraq.

– – – – – –

HH: Dr. Barnett, when we went to break, we were talking about one of the many efforts the Pentagon went through in the 90’s to cope with the fact that the Soviet Union was gone. It was the Navy’s reassessment. You divided the people that were a part of that into transitioners, bit sticks, and cold worriers. Can you explain the difference between those three?

TB: Well, it was all based on this really iconic view graph, or Power Point slide as we call them now, that was presented by the chief of Naval intelligence to the group that was putting together this white paper that was later dubbed From The Sea. And in this graph, if you can imagine a vertical axis that is about threat, and a horizontal axis stretching from left to right that’s about time, stretching into the future, he drew a huge curve, a big U-shaped curve on the slide. And what that line was describing was, as you went from left to right, the dissolution of the Soviet threat, and the perception that a great power threat would bottom out at some point across the 1990’s, and then sometime around 2005-2010, that threat line would begin to creep back up, and inevitably, we would face some balancing superpower threat. Either Russia coming back like Germany came back after the First World War, or the rise of something like China. And so I divided the arguments that I heard in this seminal debate between all these naval officers in which I participated, between where you looked on that curve for the potential focus of U.S. military activity. If you wanted to focus on the decline of the great power threat, which occurred across the 1990’s, I dubbed that group the transition years, because their focus was on helping the world transition from the great power, bipolar standoff of the Cold War, to whatever was going to come next. And their notion was if you managed that downward spiral of the great power threat from Russia, and made a better world in the future, maybe that curve would never curve back up again, and we’d never face a great power threat. That was mostly the surface community, for example, within the U.S. Navy and the Marines, who liked to go into countries and deal with the little stuff, because that’s been the Marines’ role throughout history, the small wars with small arms. The second group looked farther down that curve, and really focused on the trough, and said you know what? It’s not a focus on great powers anymore. Instead, we’ve got to focus on the regional rogues, okay? And our favorites then were two of our favorites now, Iran, North Korea, and then of course, back then, we had Iraq. And the notion was you carry a big stick like Teddy Roosevelt. You speak softly, but when these regional rogues kind of pop their heads out of the hole, it’s whack-a-mole time, and you smack them down as hard as possible. And if you’re aggressive, and focus on that, and not get mixed up in trying to manage every crisis situation or failed state in the world, which is the transitioner’s ambition, then you could keep that flat curve ad infinitum, and it would never rise back up again, because you’d managed the world well, plus you’d demonstrate your military power on the world in such a way that great powers would be scared off from challenging you in terms of rising up over time. The third argument said you know what? You can’t manage the world. The great power threat’s going to go away, it’ll bottom out. You can’t become obsessed with regional rogues, because you’re going to create a force that’s focused on that kind of warfare. You really need to keep your powder dry, pick your fights very selectively, and wait for the inevitability of that great power threat curve to rise again. Whether it’s China, whether it’s a Japan that turns on us, whether it’s Russia, it’s got to happen, because you can’t have a single superpower in the world without triggering a balancing response from the rest of the world’s great powers.

HH: Now between these three competing camps, there were obviously agendas of what you would buy, and what would matter a lot. And I think that’s an overlay before we come back to it. The military is not a static situation. It’s a budget that’s got to be divided up. How intense is the competition both within the services, and among the services.

TB: It’s very, very intense. And for example, using that breakdown in terms of the three camps, if you’re a transitioneer, the argument was hey, we’ve got a lot on our plate now. We can induce from current operations, here and now, what we need to keep. It’s the stuff that we’re using the most. And if we’re using that stuff the most, we should get more of that stuff. And in terms of the high technology that may not be so applicable, let’s just keep buying the stuff we know in smaller numbers, and we’ll accept a certain strategic risk, because we’ve got a lot on our plates now, okay? And you’re hearing that argument today from the Army and the Marines, who are saying hey, we’re fighting a long war, I need a lot of small stuff, I need more people, that costs money. And if you’re telling me we can’t buy a lot of fantastic weaponry for the future, well by God, I’m losing a thousand Marines and Army a year here. That’s more important, let’s get focused on what’s right in front of us. The alternative argument is to say, and it corresponds to those whose weapon systems and platforms, aircraft and tanks and stuff like that, don’t find the best applicability in the here and now, they’ll say, well, the here and now is not that important. We really have to look into the future, imagine the worse possible enemy we can think of, that’s usually China right now, and from that future, deduce what we need to be buying now to be sure we have what we need in place 20-25 years from now. And those arguments are under increasing attack right now, because as the operational experience accumulates in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I believe we’re going to find this activity, we’re going to get drawn into it in Africa over the next 20, 30 years to a great degree, the arguments of the here and now types, the Army and the Marines, give us the stuff we need today, is beginning to bite into the arguments about I need this fantastic weapon for the future, because that future looks more and more distant, and the here and now pain begins to add up.

HH: Well now, let’s turn to the China question, because where you lose me…I’ve been reading Sea Of Thunder, which is Evan Thomas’ fine book about the naval campaign of ’41-’45, and Thomas Barnett, as you know, no one saw carriers coming to the extent that they came, and became the dominant platform immediately. And so the war changed overnight, the way that naval forces were arrayed against. Is not the People’s Republic of China now building the asymmetrical capacity to attack our carrier platforms from far off, cruise missile style, and thus take that power of the sea that you say is now firmly in our control away in the blink of an eye?

TB: That focus of the Chinese military, I would argue, is not unlike the sort of myopic focus of the Indian military. The reason why the Indian Navy, for example, isn’t as big as it should be, given India’s rise, is that they’re so obsessed with the land power issues of the Kashmir question with Pakistan. With China, they suffer a similar myopic focus. They build a military just so overwhelmingly focused on their desire to be able to threaten Taiwan, and to prevent any movement of Taiwan towards independence. So I mean, I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the Soviet Navy across the career. I will argue the Soviets never had a true blue water navy in the Cold War, and I will tell you on that basis, what I see with China is an effort to create a force, very specifically, that threatens our ability to threaten their ability to threaten Taiwan’s ability to threaten independence. That force they’re building is definitely designed to be an asymmetrical combatant with the United States if we come in on the side of Taiwan. It is not a force with legs. It does not have strategic reach. They cannot go anywhere seriously and wage war with any sort of duration. It has no real blue water capabilities, and won’t, unless they build massively over a very long time. Now even if they did that, okay? Our worst estimates of their spending is about $70 billion dollars a year. Last year, we spent, including all operations, about $700 billion dollars. If I look ahead to that 20 years from now scenario, I give us about an extra $10 trillion dollars to deal with the Chinese threat.

HH: I’ll come right back…

TB: Can we hedge against that? I think we can.

– – – – – –

HH: Dr. Barnett, when we went to break, we were talking about China and the American Navy. We have these 10 Nimitz-class carriers out there, which are really our force projection power. If China develops the ability to attack from land via cruise missiles, could that not vanish overnight, though?

TB: Well, you know, frankly, my gut reaction is that, to that scenario, is to say the age of the carriers is really gone, because of cruise missiles, and because of other capabilities. I think we’ve held onto the myth that carriers are the sina qua non of our ability to project power, simply because nobody’s building them. And it seems like such an obvious advantage, and because we have control of the seas, park our airports right next door to something and fly at will. But with long range…the ability to refuel, and with the fact that we don’t seem to have any trouble finding bases around the world…we worry about a lot, but when we lose one, we get another. And it’s usually one closer to the fight we’re interested in. The truth is, we don’t need carriers in the way that the Navy will tell you that we do. And so the perceived threat of could the Chinese blow them up with cruise missiles? Sure, I think they could. But would it make a difference? No.

HH: Well, that’s consistent with what you wrote. That’s what I was getting at. So basically, we’re oversized with carriers and we’re oversized with submarines. Do we need…what do we need for a navy, Dr. Barnett?

TB: Well, I wouldn’t get rid of carriers, because they’re so cool, and because they’re so versatile, and they last for almost ever. I would have fewer submarines, I would keep an eye on the Chinese submarine development, but I could go…and it’s hard to go much less than we have now. What we need to get, though, is to understand that we need to, and you see the current chief of naval operations making this argument for a thousand ship navy, we need to think the many and the cheap, instead of the few and the absurdly expensive, and I would argue, the absurdly vulnerable.

HH: Okay, now that takes me to the lesser includeds…

TB: Right.

HH: And I want you to expand on, because this is what the heart of the chapter is, after the Soviets went away, and if you break through the myth of the rising China threat which we can come back to again in future weeks…

TB: Sure.

HH: We’re left with the lesser includeds. Who are they? What do they mean? What do you need to fight them?

TB: Well, think of the world as kind of three tiers. There’s the international system of states, there is the level of states themselves, and then there’s a level of individuals living within states, living within a system of states, okay? So a hierarchy of system, states, individuals. And if you think about the Cold War, the real threat was at the system level. We were going to fight World War III with nukes, and it was going to be the end of planet, system level war, okay? That goes away with the Soviets. Nobody really talks about that anymore, because it’s not really a threat. So we downshift in the post-Cold War era, the 90’s, to focus on the state level, okay? And we get focused now on regional rogues. So Iraq, Iran, North Korea, anybody who’s going to harm their neighbors, do that kind of stuff. Iraq invades Kuwait back in the beginning of the decade. We come in, kick Iraq out of Kuwait, make a real strong demonstration effect, Country A, if you want to attack Country B, by golly, the United States is coming, and we will kick you out, and we will simply not allow you to do that, making a Leviathon-like declaration. And it had a huge demonstration effect, because if you look across the 90’s, the state on state war disappears, okay? We don’t really have them anymore. Instead, what we have is a lot of violence and strife within countries. Now as long as it’s within countries and all you create is refugees for the next country over, and the United States has really nice neighbors, so to speak, we don’t have to care about that, and we’ll show up when it gets really bad, and the genocide becomes unstomachable. But short of that, we don’t have to go, okay? That changes when the failed states that exhibit all this endemic strife and conflict, become targets for takeover by transnational terrorists who begin to realize I can be a superempowered individuals, in the phrase of Tom Friedman, from The Lexus And The Olive Tree, I can wage war against states I consider evil, across the system, taking advantage of the connectivity of globalization. So the attack on 9/11 is a brilliant example. They used the sina qua non of global connectivity, jetliners, and they attack great symbols of America’s might. So for the first time, we all of a sudden have to realize despite ruling out the danger of system level war, and despite being able to scare anybody on the state level from waging classic state on state war, now we’re down to the nut of the system, the individuals and the dangers they represent.

HH: You write in the book, I mostly entertained but did not inform my military audiences. Is that prior to 9/11, Thomas Barnett?

TB: It was, because you know what I’d say to them? I’d come in and I’d say violence is shifting downward in the system, and competition is shifting upward, okay? Economic competition is between states and the system now, and that’s the real nature of our competition with China, which I think is very profound. I just don’t think it’s over Taiwan, and I don’t thing military weaponry and the classic scenarios are going to be how we fight or conflict or compete with China in the future. So violence goes down through those three tiers, economic competition rises to the system level. And what we did across the 90’s was we kept buying that big war force, but we kept operating the everything else force.

HH: And needing a different one.

— – – – – –

HH: Dr. Barnett, I want to get to the rub of this. We sized our forces wrong, we thought wrongly about their use throughout the 90’s, you don’t blame the Clinton administration, except for perhaps not doing anything to stop the Pentagon’s own mistreatment of themselves…

TB: Yes.

HH: But here we are, we’re finally woken up to it. It looks to me like I’m about to embark upon a book length case for expanding the Marine Corps. Am I wrong?

TB: Absolutely.

HH: Okay, tell me…

TB: I mean, there’s going to be a shift of resources from the air, which we dominate, to the ground, which we’ve got to get better at.

HH: And doesn’t that mean an expanded Marine Corps, and a much larger Special Forces arm of the Army?

TB: It’s a bigger Army, definitely. It’s a bigger Marine Corps. There’s specific arguments about how long it takes to raise a real SOF operator, Special Operations Force, but yes, more resources in that direction, and we’re going to have get smarter and more parsimonious in terms of the ships and the aircraft we buy.

HH: Now this may be in chapters 3-8, but is there any sense on your part that this Congress, the new Congress, and the left wing of the Democratic Party, is it all prepared to support any kind of military expansion or transformation of the sort that you note?

TB: Well, there’s always the reality of the demographic pressures in this country. We’re going to age. That’s going to mean more elder care costs, it’s going to mean more medical costs. So I’m not somebody who’s going to say raise the military at all cost. I think we can hedge against potential near-peer competitors like China with a certain amount of high-tech spending and big platform spending on aircraft and ships and what not. I think we could spend a lot more on our ground forces, and I think we need to do a lot more to ally ourselves with other big ground force countries in the world whose strategic interests increasingly overlap with our own. And there, I will make, if given the time, a very strong case for strategic alliance with China.

HH: We’ll talk about that in the weeks ahead. But now, let me ask you as well. We’re so vastly more wealthy than any other superpower has ever been, even in relative terms, even to Rome.

TB: Right.

HH: Why can’t we afford more than 4% GDP, and as a hedge, build the cold worriers’ war fighting machine at the same time as getting the transformers’ small stuff out there in quantity? Why can’t we have it all?

TB: Well, I mean, we’re spending roughly half the world’s defense spending dollars. I mean, we spend about $700 billion dollars, and the rest of the world spends about $700 billion dollars. And I guess I’m one of those who would make the argument that with that kind of spending habit, half the world’s money being spent on defense inside our own military, we ought to be able to make do with that.

HH: Yeah, but they make us do everything, don’t they? They make us…we’re doing Iraq, we have to do Haiti, God knows if Rwanda breaks out again, we’re going to have to do Rwanda. You know…

TB: No argument in the sense that if we don’t show up, nobody shows up.

HH: Right.

TB: But you know, back to your question from last week which sort of stunned me, because nobody’s ever asked me this question in five years, what is grand strategy, let me give you one simple rule from my grand strategy. And that would be in a long war, you need to maximize your definition of friends, and you need to minimize, meaning be very discreet and focused on your definition of enemies. And my main complaint with the Bush administration is they’ve added too many enemies, and not enough friends.

HH: All right, one more comment before we go to the phones, page 105. My claim, your claim, Thomas Barnett, that 9/11 elevated military operations other than war to grand strategy is something I know many national security strategists will vehemently deny. How could they? Why would they?

TB: Well, I mean, you’ve heard this argument out of the Robert Kaplans and others, who say hey, the Middle East is a blip. The real fight’s going to be with China in the future. I don’t think the Middle East is a blip. I think it’s going to be a long term effort, I think it’s going to be an integration effort on par with the Cold War effort to protect and integrate Europe. We’re going to have forces there for the next 20, 30, 40 years. I think our competition with China is in making more markets around the world, and I think we’re not looking at it along those lines, so that we’re really putting at risk our strategic health, and we’re not enlisting the help of countries with big militaries whose strategic interests overlap with our own. Why do we do this though? I would argue it’s a question of money. If you look at the $1.3 trillion dollars in money planned on defense spending across defense platform spending, buying stuff, acquisitions over the next 20, 30 years, of that $1.3 trillion, I would argue about a trillion of it doesn’t have a whole lot of applicability to a long war where you’re going to be doing counterinsurgency, and all sorts of nasty, dirty stuff in small wars and with small arms. So there’s an argument about protecting money here.

HH: Dr. Barnett, are you enjoying these conversations?

TB: I’m getting more psyched with each week.

HH: I know. It’s really…we’re starting to get used to each other.

TB: Right.

HH: Dr. Barnett, as always, thanks. The Pentagon’s New Map is the book. We’ll be on Chapter 3 next week. You can catch up, you should catch up, and you are not too far behind. Thank you, Dr. Barnett.


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