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Blueprint for Action: A Future Worth Creating
By Thomas P.M. Barnett
G.P. Putnam's Sons
HC, 440 pgs. US$24.95
ISBN: 0-3991-5312-8

The optimistic warrior

By Steven Martinovich
web posted February 13, 2006

It is a measure of the times we live in that the cynic is often held to be right about the state of the world. A quick survey would show increasing strife in the Middle East, a Europe hostile to the U.S., a resurgent Russia edging closer to authoritarian plutocracy, a China which seems to be as menacing as it is economically promising and an entire continent -- Africa -- which is politically and economically devolving before our eyes. Wherever we look, all we can see is trouble. The 1990s, a decade which promised peace and security, seems a distant time.

The cynic, according to Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett, is usually wrong. A more optimistic survey of the world will show that wars between nations are ebbing, the number of poor is shrinking, democracy is slowly blooming in previously arid soil and globalization is connecting people and entire societies to each other. The optimist will admit that great problems continue to exist but it is within our power to refashion the world.

Barnett is that sort of optimist, either delusional or inspired depending on which side of the fence you sit on, and it's reflected in Blueprint for Action: A Future Worth Creating. A follow-up to his influential and widely hailed book The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-First Century, Blueprint for Action is a wildly ambitious effort which lays out a roadmap from today to a world where gross poverty is eradicated, all societies participate in the global economy and war and terrorism as we know it has all but disappeared.

As with his previous book, Blueprint for Action is Barnett's call for the First and Second Worlds -- the Old Core and New Core respectively, both of which make up the Functioning Core -- to bring the Third World, which he dubs the Non-Integrating Gap, into the modern area of globalization and democracy. The grand vision he enunciated in The Pentagon's New Map is now a strategic roadmap for the United States and the rest of the developed world. It is a roadmap that will doubtless have both American liberals and conservatives howling.

While he has plenty to criticize about the post-war problems in Iraq, Barnett believes that it could ultimately be a positive for the American military. Much as Vietnam forced changes in tactics, post-war Iraq should be a catalyst, argues Barnett, for the American military to begin building a force capable -- which he has dubbed the SysAdmin force -- and focused on post-war management and nation building. Part and parcel of that transformation, Barnett believes the Department of Homeland Security needs to be dismantled and a new cabinet level position created specifically to address global security.

America's foreign policy must also change, writes Barnett. Conditioned to look at nations like India and China as economic competitors, he argues that America needs to look think of them as partners in the global peace process (which includes ending the security agreement with Taiwan). So important will these nations be that Barnett considers these potential alliances more important than the existing ones with nations like Canada, Great Britain and Germany. Given their tremendous potential, the economic and political effects of which we are already feeling, it's hard to argue that hostile relationships are in anyone's best interests.

Controversially, Barnett believes that Iran's ambition to be a nuclear armed state may not be the catastrophe waiting to happen that most argue it is. The reality, he writes, is that the theocratic regime will possess nuclear weapons regardless of our actions. Iran is the key to Middle East security and it is from that basis that we should deal with it. Barnett argues that in exchange for permitting it to openly pursue nuclear arms, the Core should seek concessions which include recognition of Israel and renunciation of terrorism. Thanks to its influence, he believes, Iran could be the solution to many outstanding questions in the region.

Each one of these merits a book on its own but Blueprint for Action is an ambitious work and Barnett is far from finished. From the war on terrorism to the methodology of bringing nations and regions into the Core, Barnett addresses dozens of major issues he believes need to be resolved before global security can be achieved. It is important to note that although he believes the U.S. must led the way in this fight thanks to its power and influence, the benefits must be global and the other great powers need to be involved. Thanks to our interconnected and globalized world, no nation is an island and global security must be universal if America is to be safe.

A critic would be right to charge, however, that Barnett's strategic roadmap makes a lot of assumptions. History shows that the nations of the Functioning Core haven't been capable of sustained attention on this issue, a key ingredient of Barnett's plan. A common vision demands the Core work together but the temptation to play great power politics would be overwhelming, particularly if that vision isn't entirely universally held. One can also legitimately ask if democracy can be brought to nations whose political cultures do not have the societal institutions or experience necessary for sustaining it. Is it really realistic to believe that a benign occupation under a SysAdmin force in these broken nations would be any more successful than today's more conventional operations are?

Others will doubtless take issue with Barnett's devotion to globalization, privatization and capitalism as a cure-all for disconnectivity. Ongoing protests against Western-style capitalism would suggest that many, even those enjoying its benefits, are opposed to greater connectivity on philosophical and economic grounds. Capitalism and democracy, the later of which Barnett is prepared to wait for in favour of economic reform in broken nations, may have won the war against communism but it would appear that we have not reached Francis Fukuyama's "end of history."

These are legitimate questions, ones that Barnett responds to with varying degrees of success. While he can hardly be called a Pollyanna -- he is very cognizant of the difficulties that lie ahead and frequently points out the dangers that can derail the process -- given today's global climate one could argue that you would have to be wildly optimistic about the world and how it works for Barnett's vision to be realized.

Yet despite that, perhaps even because of that, Blueprint for Action is a remarkable work. Unlike many of his peers, Barnett has enunciated a course of action he believes will bring us a peaceful and prosperous world. Ultimately, Barnett's path to the future may not be the one we choose to achieve that goal but he has shown us that it is within our grasp and that it is not naive to believe it's possible. Blueprint for Action is an original and inspiring work whose every page is filled with penetrating insights. Whether you agree or disagree with Barnett, this book is valuable if only to learn about the high-level debates underway at the White House and Pentagon, not to mention dozens of other nations around the world.

Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.

Buy Blueprint for Action at Amazon.com for only $17.79 (34% off)

Other related stories

  • A vision for the future: Steve Martinovich found Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett's The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-First Century to be an engaging and remarkable call for a new grand vision for the United States
  • A future worth creating: An interview with Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett by Steven Martinovich (May 3, 2004)
    U.S. Naval War College professor Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett believes he has the key to creating a permanent peace around the world. It will take, he tells Steve Martinovich, is a decades long commitment to changing the world
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