Thomas Barnett's analysis of the modern world, the future of globalism, the industrialized nations versus the non-industrialized disconnected ones, etc. is guaranteed to make you think about the world in a totally different way. He is a war strategist — formerly a professor at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island until his successful book forced him to change careers — who distills down the future of commerce and war into very comprehensible terms.
His book, The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-First Century, offers a new perspective on why the political and economic worlds looks the way they do.
Even if you don't have time for his book — these days, I don't, either — spend a little time reading the excerpts here, or listen to the video or audio of his presentations. Here are some excerpts that will give you the salient arguments, at least enough to impress people at cocktail parties. ( I'd say "core arguments" to impress people with a knowledge "gap" except that would be a bad pun given the subject matter, and I'd never stoop to such depths.) :
Q:The Pentagon's New Map basically divides the world into two groups: a Functioning Core and a Non-Integrating Gap. What are the main hallmarks of these two groups?
A:The Functioning Core consists of basically those states or regions that have already integrated themselves deeply into the global economy or are currently working to do so. By my way of thinking, that includes North America, Europe (both old and new), Russia under Putin's "dictatorship of the law" (yes, with some recent slippage), India, China, Japan, Australia/New Zealand, South Africa and the ABCs of South America (Argentina, Brazil, Chile). My Core therefore includes not just the West, but a host of emerging markets that have joined globalization over the past twenty years. That collection accounts for roughly two-thirds of the global population.
Contrasting the Functioning Core of globalization are those regions I categorize as falling into its Non-Integrating Gap. These regions include the Caribbean rim of Central and South America, virtually all of Africa, the Balkans, the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Middle East and Southwest Asia, and much of Southeast Asia. These regions constitute globalization's "ozone hole" or "bald spot," where connectivity - no matter how you measure it (trade, people movement, communications) - is relatively thin and, in many cases, getting thinner over time. These countries either reject globalization because of its content flows, or new ideas (think of the ruling Muslim clerics in Iran) or are losing out to its advance because they simply cannot attract the foreign direct investment that ultimately leads to economic integration.
What's crucial about this global breakdown is this: virtually all of the U.S. military crisis response activity (or overseas military interventions) since the end of the Cold War have occurred inside the Gap. So either we shrink the Gap and eliminate those endemic conflicts and diminished expectations that give rise to transnational terrorism or America had better be prepared to retreat from the world dramatically and let globalization possibly suffer the same fate it did in the Great Depression of the 1930s. Frankly, those are the historical stakes we face today. Either we make globalization truly global or we condemn one-third of humanity to long-term violence and suffering that will inevitably intrude upon our "good life" on a regular basis. This isn't about charity or any religious-inspired crusade. It all comes down logically to acting in our own best interest while making the world a better place over the long run.Interview With Thomas Barnett
Now consider this in the context of China and the terrorist attacks upon the West by Islamic fundamentalists:
Understanding that the line between the Core and Gap is constantly shifting, let me suggest that the direction of change is more critical than the degree. So, yes, Beijing is still ruled by a — Communist party — whose ideological formula is 30 percent Marxist-Leninist and 70 percent Sopranos, but China just signed on to the World Trade Organization, and over the long run, that is far more important in securing the country's permanent Core status. Why? Because it forces China to harmonize its internal rule set with that of globalization — banking, tariffs, copyright protection, environmental standards.
Think about it: Bin Laden and Al Qaeda are pure products of the Gap — in effect, its most violent feedback to the Core. They tell us how we are doing in exporting security to these lawless areas (not very well) and which states they would like to take "off line" from globalization and return to some seventh-century definition of the good life (any Gap state with a sizable Muslim population, especially Saudi Arabia).
If you take this message from Osama and combine it with our military-intervention record of the last decade, a simple security rule set emerges: A country's potential to warrant a U.S. military response is inversely related to its globalization connectivity. There is a good reason why Al Qaeda was based first in Sudan and then later in Afghanistan: These are two of the most disconnected countries in the world. Look at the other places U.S. Special Operations Forces have recently zeroed in on: northwestern Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen. We are talking about the ends of the earth as far as globalization is concerned.Article in Esquire
A short Q&A with Barnett is available on World Changing.
C-SPAN has a fascinating video of a 90 minute talk by Barnett. The video is available directly if you have a streamripper that can download it to your hard drive. (C-SPAN doesn't archive forever.) I listened to part of this and was very intrigued. (But my streamripper, alas, crashes before it gets more than 15% of the way done. Sigh.)
That ought to hold you for a while.