Thomas P.M. Barnett – Part 4
HH: Thomas P.M. Barnett is a senior strategic researcher and professor at the United States Naval War College, he’s also the author of perhaps the most influential book in the Pentagon in the last decade, The Pentagon’s New Map: War And Peace In The 21st Century. He’s been my guest these past four weeks at this time. This is our fourth hour-long conversation, or fifth conversation overall, and Dr. Barnett, welcome back. A pleasure.
TB: Always good.
HH: We want to talk about the four flows and the ten truths, so let’s jump in. There’s a lot to cover this week. The first flow is the movement of people from the gap to the core. You say how I learned to stop worrying and learned to love the population bomb. Can you explain what this flow is?
TB: Well, the first thing is I probably should explain the title. You know, as a kid growing up, the big fears across the 60’s were that we were going to experience uncontrolled population growth across the planet. And a lot of predictions had us reaching a total of as much as 20 billion people on this crowded Earth as early as 2050. What’s happened, though, is that we’ve really seen a huge drop in fertility around the planet, thanks in no small measure to the efforts inside of India and China to control their populations. So we’re really looking this kind of unique moment in human history that’s going to hit somewhere in my retirement years. Around 2050, we’re going to basically top out as a species, and humanity will hit about 9 and a half billion, and then pretty much stabilize, and probably decrease after that point. So if you think of it in terms of resource scarcity issues, which is a big topic for a lot of people, we worry about running out of oil, we worry about global climate change, we worry about how much stress we’re putting on the planet, you know, the good news is that we’ve got about 30, 40 years to traverse here, and if we do it intelligently, things can work out, I think, quite well. But we are adding half as many more people than we currently have on the planet. We’ll go from roughly six billion to nine. So when you look at that, the key thing to recognize is that when I talk about my core, all the parts of the world that are more advanced, and coming together in globalization, they’re going to age, demographically, quite rapidly, okay? So Europe, for example, is going to shift down to a 2-1 potential support ratio. That means two workers for every retiree, and that’s quite a drop from what Europe had as recently as 2,000, more like about a 5-1. Globally, we’re going to see the planet go from about 9-1, so nine workers for every retiree on the planet down to about 5-1. But again, in the globalized parts of the world, that number’s going to be more like two or three or four to one. But in the gap, where you’re going to see most of the babies occurring over the next fifty years, the less developed countries, there, you’re going to see a support ratio more like 10-1. And if you look at that reality, you realize you’ve got to move some people from the gap to the core.
HH: And the reason for that is, you write that unless people get on the move in large numbers in coming decades, globalization’s workers and retirees will not be sufficiently co-located…
HH: …to prevent a devastating drop in the core’s PSR. I like to refer to this as who’s going to put me in the sun, and this is of course, the necessity of having worker bees for an aging community. Not just menial work, but all sorts of worker bees, and you’re a big fan, obviously, of directed, positive immigration.
TB: Yes, because I mean, that’s been the big saving grace of the United States. The U.N. says for us to keep a decent potential support ratio through 2050, we’ve got to let in about 500,000 immigrants a year. And the good news is we let in about 750,000 to a million a year legally, and possibly double that amount illegally. So in terms of accessing cheap labor, our economy’s always been blessed in that regard. We’re a target nation.
HH: But the good news is, as you point out, we have now the Latinos have replaced the Irish, and before them, other immigrant groups…
TB: The Germans and everybody else, right.
HH: The Germans, et cetera. But we have a nativist backlash underway right now…
HH: And Latinos are easily assimilated. They’re just about the easiest population group you could ever want to assimilate, and we’ve got to get better at that. But I want to get to the hard core of our debate here. Europe is not bringing in easily assimilated people. They’re bringing in, as Mark Steyn argues in America Alone, people who don’t want to assimilate. I know you have disagreements, Mark is a guest on this show every single week…
HH: Swing away.
TB: Well, Europe, by the U.N.’s estimate, brings in about 300,000 a year, and they would need to bring in more like 1.5 million a year to have, to not drop down below a support ratio of 2-1, which is about as low as you can go before it starts getting really hard for your economy, because you’re going to have to make people work much later in life, and you’re going to have to assume a heck of a lot of productivity in your economic growth. And Hugh, it just doesn’t portend that sort of future. So you know, who’s coming up to Europe is very similar to who’s coming up to America, American States. It’s co-located, most adjacent populations. For us, it’s Hispanics, they do our 3-D jobs, as we call them, dirty, dangerous and difficult. In Europe, the equivalent Hispanics are Muslims from North Africa, and from the Middle East. And we get a real different type of Muslim in the United States on average. You know, the kind of classic Muslim who emigrates to the United States is an Egyptian doctor, and his wife who’s a chemical researcher. And they’ve got 2.5 kids, and demographically, they fit in just fine, because they are used to a certain lifestyle, and they have certain expectations. It’s much harder for Europe. Islam as a culture is much more distinct than the Hispanic population is to our culture, because we have a lot of Catholics in America, for example, and most of the Hispanics who are coming are Catholic, and so they’re being integrated through their Churches, and through a lot of normal means. In Europe, you’re looking at a situation where you have really ghettoized populations, and they’re at the bottom of the socio-economic status, and they’re kind of resented. Everybody calls them Turks, whether they come from Turkey or not.
HH: And they’re angry.
TB: And you know, when you’re ghettoized, and you’re at the bottom of the heap, and you don’t seem to have much of a political voice, you tend to get angry. And we saw that in Paris a year and a half ago. So what I say for Europe is, you know, they’re not going to get past that demographic reality. So they’re going to have to figure out how to assimilate Muslims better. The key bellwether here is sort of their question of letting Turkey into the EU. I think what’s going to be the trigger besides violence, which will happen, because people will be mad, and express it on the streets like we saw in Paris, is I predict you’re going to see the rise of Islamist parties inside of Europe, and they’re going to perform the same function that Marxist parties did there during the Cold War. And just like Marxist parties were inconceivable to us in America, we looked across the pond and said how can you have a Marxist party in your political system, and we’re fighting the communists in a Cold War, we’re going to look at the rise of Islamist parties who are going to have the same function. They’re going to connect disconnected people, give them a political voice, and eventually mainstream them.
HH: Very benign, Thomas Barnett. It could go the other way, couldn’t it, to radical Mosques, and homegrown al Qaeda?
TB: Well, it’s going to do both. I mean, it’s going to do both, and it’s that kind of pain and anger management, requirement, that gets you political inclusion.
HH: What about finding different flows from different parts of the globe? You write…I was astonished to read about the global commute, and what the Philippines do. I’m pretty well read. I had no idea how the Philippines have organized a global commuting workforce to go forth and enrich themselves and their home families.
HH: Does Europe have that option?
TB: To bring people in on a global commute? You’re seeing a big movement from East-Central Europe into West Europe, which is alleviating some of this. But quite frankly, the West Europeans aren’t finding the East Europeans much to their liking, more to their liking than Muslims, but there’s always, when there’s an influx of population like that, it’s hard to assimilate them, and Europe has been pretty quiet, hasn’t taken people in, you know, was historically a great source for export. Can they do a global commute, where they bring people in for one or two year stints, and have temporary worker visas and that kind of stuff? Yeah, but I don’t think it’s going to fill their ranks, in the sense that where the Filipinos, and they have about a tenth of their population working abroad in one or two year stints, that looks an awful lot like the way we enable our military to serve.
TB: One or two years abroad, and I really think the Filipinos learned it from the U.S. Navy, probably…
TB: …over the course of the history shared there. A lot of those Filipinos will go to emerging markets. They’ll go where there are temporary labor shortages, and you’re seeing the Chinese do this, and the non-resident Indians, to cultures that are all over Africa.
TB: And it’s really the analogy to settling the American West, and you say who does frontier work? Who does that kind of early dig the ditches, get in there and build the infrastructure, and do that kind of work? It’s the people who got the most desperate labor in the market. And since we’re a globalized market right now, you’re going to see a lot of South Asians and East Asians.
HH: It’s fascinating. This book is necessary for just an understanding in non-polemical terms that you offer there. Let me ask you, though. Have you read America Alone by Steyn?
TB: Not yet.
HH: You’ve got to read that, Dr. Barnett. I’d love to hear your conversation for a future week.
HH: And very, very quickly, Japan’s in trouble.
TB: Japan’s in a lot of trouble, and because they’re so insular, and because they have such a strong sense of ethnic identity, that they’ve really restricted immigration to the point where the U.N., in its statistics, can’t even cite any numbers for immigration into Japan. I mean, there are people who’ve lived there for decades, and it’s much like moving to Rhode Island, I can tell you, lived there for decades, and still don’t feel like they’re part of the place, because either you’re born here, or you’re from somewhere else.
HH: And their birth rate’s dropping, too. They’re not going to have enough people to put people in the sun, either, relatively soon.
TB: They are the most post-modern society, and not surprisingly, they had the biggest birth drop, so they’ve already peaked in terms of their maximum worker population about, I think, ten years ago, and they’re looking at a really rapid decline. Now the Japanese, in a kind of whimsical fashion, in my mind, are hoping that they’re going to be able to roboticize as much as possible, elder care.
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HH: Dr. Barnett, the movement of energy from gap to core, and the movement of money from old core to new core. Explain these two concepts, and why they’re basic to understanding how the world is working.
TB: Well, you know, the old core, as I call it, or basically the West, we’ve used up our energy resources, by and large, so we’ve had to go into these gap country situations, Africa, the Middle East, and increasingly, Central Asia, and look at these places as our energy sources for the long haul. And so, it’s been kind of a dynamic by which we associate the imposition of military force abroad to protect our access to these resources, and that’s been a dominant sort of agenda item for us in the post-Cold War era. You know, blood for oil, and that whole concept. That’s going to be supplanted in a big way over the next twenty years, because for example, North America’s been number one in terms of an energy resource drawer from around the world. We import a lot of energy, we use a lot of energy. We’re going to be supplanted in twenty years by a rising Asia, which is right on our heels in terms of total energy usage. But as we go up about 30% over the next twenty years, Asia’s going to double. And that’s going to make Asia the center of global demand for energy. And I tell you, that’s a special thing to be, because the whole world kind of revolves around your needs. And we’ve gotten so used to that, and we’ve so associated our employment of military power with that, it’s going to be kind of weird to move into an era where it’s, you know, it may be our blood, but it won’t be our oil.
HH: I also like the fact that you very much spell out that oil is a good thing to have. You’re not being exploited if you’re exporting oil, and those who have poverty and terrible instability, that don’t have oil, get no notice at all.
TB: Right. I mean, I’m not one of those who says let’s just cut off our reliance on external oil, which I think is kind of a fantastic goal to begin with, to punish the Middle East, so we don’t have to have any connectivity with them whatsoever, because you know, the Middle East without oil could easily look like Central Africa. And there’s a place that doesn’t have energy resources we care about, where there have been basically a holocaust worth of death over the last ten years, and I’m not eager to push the Middle East down that pathway. I want to get them connected on something besides oil. I think their big problem with us is that we only care about the oil, because the oil’s the only connection the Middle East has with the outside world.
HH: Let me ask you as well about Muslim banking problems. This was a revelation to me, another reason to read The Pentagon’s New Map, is that they sit on piles of cash from their petrodollars, some of these states do, but find themselves in the last four hundred years of banking and inability to use their money, because of restrictions. Explain this.
TB: Well, it’s illegal, it’s immoral in the sense of the Koran, to charge for money. So it’s a careful thing to construct an Islamic mortgage, for example, in the United States. You reclassify the interest as rent. And they’ve made these kind of subtle word changes to create things like Islamic bonds in Malaysia, which is becoming a big pioneer of this. But it reflects the fact that even though the Middle East got a lot of money, say in the oil boom of the 1970’s, it didn’t really put down long term investments around the world. If you look at foreign direct investment, not the movement into stock markets, not commercial bank loans, not the money that flies around and stays liquid, but the money that a company, or a government invests in another country, and says I’m putting down roots here, I’m going to build a factory, and I’m staying for the long haul. If you look at those percentages around the planet, the Middle East accounts for like 1% of foreign direct investment flows out, and it only pulls in about 1% of the money that goes around the world. So there really, despite having this wealth, they haven’t created a connectedness in terms of finance, but that’s changing with this oil boom, and we’re seeing a rise. It’s pretty dramatic. This time, they’re not sending their cash to America. This time, they’re sending their cash to Asia, and it’s creating an East-East flow, as they call it, which is commensurate with that rising kind of co-dependency. The Middle East needs Asia to keep growing so they can sell them energy, and Asia needs the Middle East to be stable so they can keep buying their energy.
HH: But I do see things like the UAE and Bahrain, and some of the oil states doing things like buying John Lang Homes, and attempting to buy ports. Is this the diversification that you’ve long expected from these economies?
TB: Yes. I mean, they are plussing up their foreign direct investment. What’s been interesting, I mean, the outward flow, is they’ve also accepted a lot more foreign direct investment since we went into Iraq, which is kind of stunning. Everybody except Iraq has gotten foreign direct investment. We’ve seen a rough doubling. And it’s because I think you’re seeing kind of an increased awareness that the integration of the Middle East into the global economy is kind of preordained by this rising commodity demand in the East.
HH: And so, it’s all good?
TB: It’s good in the long terms, in the sense that what it’s going to do is, you know, the Middle East is going to be impacted by, I call them reformations from the outside. There’ll be a religious one in Islam, largely focused in North America, led by uppity Muslim women. There’ll be that rise of political Islamism that’s more acceptable in Europe, and that’ll create kind of a reformation blowback. But a key one will be kind of an economic model blowback from East Asia, where most…you know, there’s a lot of Muslims living in south and east Asia. The biggest population in the world is in India, and the biggest Muslim country in the world is Indonesia. And they’re showing you can have pluralism, you can have markets. So the more you see the interaction between the Middle East and East Asia over financial matters, I think you’re going to see an osmosis effect by which they begin to learn hey, we can make this work for ourselves, too. And you’re already seeing Dubai try to emulate Singapore. And you say well, Dubai is just a little country. Then you go back and you look at Singapore’s example, impact on Asia, and you realize this could be a very big thing.
HH: The third flow, the movement of money from old core to new core. Look, I understand how money knits together. This is where we separate every single week. But you’re arguing this explains why we won’t be going to war with China.
HH: How was it that Germany decided to push expansionist war, even though they had plenty of infusions of capital in the 30’s, Dr. Barnett?
TB: Well, because they were really fighting a zero sum competition with the Brits, in terms of their colonial empires around the world. I mean, you went out and you got yourself a colonial chunk of some part of the world, that was your chunk. You got to basically take as many resources as you wanted out of that in a relatively uncompetitive movement, and so you won. So there was a sense that if you conquer places, you could still win. Nobody’s engaged in that sort of game anymore, and what we’re really seeing is kind of a financial interdependency that’s profound between, for example, the United States and China. China holds a trillion dollars of U.S. currency reserves. Theoretically, if they wanted to sell that off one afternoon, they could decimate the U.S. economy. The problem is, they’d decimate the Chinese economy in the same afternoon. So that’s a level of interdependency that frankly Britain and Germany never had, World War I. They just weren’t overlapping, and there wasn’t the kind of global integrated production. And that’s what’s really kind of pulling the investment into Asia from the old core, as I call it, because if you look at what China’s trying to do, they’re upwards of a four to five trillion dollar infrastructure build out that’s going to occur inside of China over the next 25 years. To do that, it’s mostly about energy and resources. They’re going to have to be friends for the resources with the Russians, the Central Asians, the Middle East, Africa, even Latin America. To get the money to do all that infrastructure build out, they’re going to have to be friends with three big sources of money, control about 80% of the foreign direct investment, outward flow in the planet. That’s the United States, that’s Europe, and that’s Japan. You put those two things together, and there’s really nobody left for China to have a fight with.
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HH: Dr. Barnett, the fourth flow you write about in Chapter 4 of your book, the movement of security from us to the rest of the world. This takes many shapes. You want to run through a few of them?
TB: Well, it’s when we show up to deal with crisis in people’s countries. It’s when we show up to do peacekeeping, we show up to do humanitarian relief. It’s a lot of the cats and dogs that we don’t consider war, but it also includes war. It’s the stuff the military called the lesser includeds across the 1990’s, which became kind of the dominant mode of our activity to the outside world. You’ve got to remember, back in the Cold War, there was no such thing as a failed state, okay? If you were a troubled state, I guarantee you either the Soviets or the Americans showed up. I mean, each of them tried to turn you into their client state, and they both had a simple measure of effectiveness. For the Americans, it was if that leader does not show up on Lenin’s tomb on May 1st for the big parade. And for the Soviets, it was the opposite. It was that if that leader did show up on Lenin’s tomb in Red Square on May 1st for the big parade. The Soviets go away, okay, in 1990. If you look at the demand for our services, and I measure this in terms of billable hours, a simple concept, say I send the Marines, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force to country X, okay? So I’ve got four services, they all go together, they spend a hundred days in country X. I call that 4 X 100 equals 400 billable days, okay?
TB: Basic concept. So get away from the notion of counting operations, and say how much did we send, how many of our services, and how long did they stay, in the sense of the burden, okay? You add up what we did in the 1970’s, it’s about 10,000 days, okay, because we were only really covering half the gap, as I would call it. The Soviets, in effect, were covering the other half.
TB: It got worse in the 1980’s. We’re up to about 17,000, a 70% increase, okay? The Soviets go away in 1990, we jump about 360%, we do 66,000 days across the 1990’s. And if you estimate what we’re going to do across the 2000’s, most of us think it’s going to be north of about 250,000 days.
TB: And that’s an explosive market, but I think that’s the real market for dealing with instability in these parts of the world that I call the gap.
HH: And that’s what we do. That’s what we do best, the United States.
TB: We do it because we’re the only force in the world that frankly cares about other regions to that degree that we send our sons and daughters to try to bring stability and peace, because we worry about global stability, because we have a long history of doing this, because we’re the surviving superpower from the Cold War, and this is an important part of our character and our role in the world. And you know what? We sort of get paid for it by the rest of the world treating the dollar as a reserve currency, and then basically funding our force at like 0% interest.
HH: You illustrate this, Thomas Barnett, by recalling your trip to India when one single guided missile frigate arrives among a panoply of other ships, and it is by far the deadliest weapon in the bay.
TB: Yeah, there’s two quick stories off that. I go to the first ever fleet review for the Indian fleet. It was their coming out party, you know, 50th anniversary of the country, so they invited fleets from all around the world. I give a speech to about 75 chiefs of naval operation from around the world, big prestigious thing. What was amazing was the majority of these guys had all gone to the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.
TB: So they knew my neighborhood, and they knew America, and it’s that kind of bond that we had. That’s a form of exporting security. You know, the training of these peoples, and the fact that these leaders around the world, some of them turn out bad, vast majority you never hear about turn out really well. So that’s one form. The other form that’s kind of a stunning…because I got to tour around Mumbai Harbor with the chief of naval operations and the president of India on the back of his yacht, so to speak, and we’re going through about 80 ships, and we’re seeing all these ships from all the different navies of the world, and I look at them, and I think to myself, these are Coast Guard cutters painted grey. And then we come to the small American ship, just a guided cruiser, and this thing was so big, it just towered above everything else.
TB: And you realized you know, we’re the only ones who could build that kind of force. We’re the only ones who can give it legs, and give it sustainability around the planet.
HH: But again, I come back to something we’ve talked about in weeks past. You are a lover of the United States Navy. There’s a hint of Naval triumphalism here. I’ve been reading Evan Thomas’ new book about the Yamamoto, and how the battle Leyte Gulf just didn’t go the way it was supposed to, because the Japanese didn’t plan on aircraft carriers when they built their navy, and we’re not planning on surface to sea missiles that can destroy our ships from a thousand miles away.
TB: Well, I would leap ahead of that one on you, Hugh, and I would say think about the 19th Century as the century of chemistry, the 20th Century as the century of nuclear, and the 21st Century as the century of biology, okay? The people who are going to leap ahead on us aren’t going to do it with cruise missiles. They’re going to do it with biogenetic warfare.
HH: Yeah, but in the meantime, we’ve got a bunch of ships floating around out there, that we should not be betting on as the securers of our liberty, though a necessary, not sufficient condition, correct?
TB: Well, I would say the big punch we pack continues to be the fact that we can reach out and basically turn your country into a parking lot anytime we choose.
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HH: There’s a sequence in Chapter 4, Dr. Barnett, that begins with look for resources, and ye shall find them. I’d like you to walk through them, but let me read them first. “Look for resources, and ye shall find them. Number 2, no stability, no markets. Number 3, no growth, no stability. Number 4, no resources, no growth. Number 5, no infrastructure, no resources. Number 6, no money, no infrastructure. Number 7, no rules, no money. Number 8, no security, no rules. Number 9, no leviathan, no security. Number 10, no will, no leviathan. Explain that, and we’re going to come back to the no will, the most important of the ten rules.
TB: You want me to start at the bottom?
TB: Well, the notion is if you want real stability in a global system, you need somebody to step up and provide that security. It’s the old concept from Thomas Hobbes. And right now, in this world, we are the leviathan. We have the only force that can travel the planet, wage war, and basically decide when other countries wage war. But the key attribute we’ve got to maintain in order to be able to use that force the good of humanity, and to keep America safe and strong, is we have to have enough will in terms of American and popular imagination and morale to employ this force, and use it carefully. If we have a bad experience like a Vietnam, we crawl into our shell, there is no leviathan at that point. And when you have no leviathan, we’re on to number 9, you’ve got no security. There, you have a danger…
HH: Now can I pause for a moment?
HH: When you have no will…you mentioned Vietnam. The reason for losing a little after Vietnam is of course 50,000 plus Americans dead…
HH: …an indecisive struggle, a genocide afterwards, the absolute abuse of our military, the diminishment of their honor, the whole rejection of military culture. This time, we are losing our will when, as I believe the Commandant of the Marine Corps pointed out, we’ve lost 3,000 gallant American heroes, which is a very small number relative to any other engagement of this importance in the history of the country. How can this be happening?
TB: Well, you have two different historical trends. Inside the advanced part of the world, you’re seeing a much lower threshold for definitions of mass violence, and a sense of loss. So if we lose 50, 100 people, that’s a big disaster. It used to be you could lose five or ten thousand people, and it was no big deal. So we value life more, the more we develop as societies and economies. Now that’s a great thing. The problem is there’s this big chunk of the world called the gap where there’s a ton of killing going on, I mean, about two holocausts, I would argue, in the post-Cold War era, about 12 million dead. So I mean, we’re struggling with the notion that we’ve evolved to the point where we value life so much, that we’re very careful about using our sons and daughters and wives and husbands, and brothers and sisters to go do this kind of stuff, but we’re waging combat activities in parts of the world where life is very cheap, and people are dying in vast numbers. So it’s a real hard balancing act.
HH: Is it really that we value life, or that we really, really hate inconvenience, and we don’t like to be upset, and these pictures upset a lot of Americans?
TB: There’s some of that, but you’ve got to remember that we’ve sort of evolved to a policing function around the world, so the numbers we lose are closer to kind of policing numbers, you know, taking into account that we’re patrolling a lot of bad neighborhoods around the world, than they are full-out wars. So the military has achieved a certain level of professionalism in our society, that it doesn’t…it’s employment doesn’t evoke the sort of all-in national response, total war that we had in the past. I think that’s a good thing. I mean, I’ve been in the business of national security for 17 years, and I think our job is to make this kind of effort happen with the least amount of impact on society. I don’t want to bankrupt America to do this kind of function.
HH: Oh, I know that, but I also worry that if that continues to ratchet down, the ability to be the leviathan is going to be gone, and no leviathan, no security, no security, no rules, no rules, no money, no money, no infrastructure, no infrastructure, no resources, no resources, no growth, no growth, no stability, no stability, no markets, no resources, you’re back to the state of nature. It’s a domino game. You wrote it, Dr. Barnett. I didn’t.
TB: Right. But I’m going to put you down about number five, okay? No infrastructure, no resources, okay? Asia, to rise, needs a ton of infrastructure. We’re looking at in the trillions in terms of energy and water. For them to get that infrastructure, that’s going to require a lot of cooperation with the outside world. It’s also going to require them to have a lot of access to the sources of these raw materials, and that means a rising India, a rising China, has the same strategic interests around the world that America does. So if we’re in a frontier conquering mode, and we’re dealing with the parts of the world that aren’t integrated, you know, look who conquered the American West for this country. It was a lot of Irishmen, a lot of Chinese, a lot of freed American slaves. They were the desperate populations willing to take risks, go out into the wilderness and make things work. If you look at those populations on the planet today, the ones most incentivized by those ten rules I cite, you’re looking to Asia, and you’re not looking to your traditional partners. So when a Mark Steyn says you know, they’re going to be invaded by this invasive species called Muslims, and they’re going to die as a culture, and we can’t trust them to be allies, I say so what?