I recently had a long talk with Thomas P.M. Barnett, one of the most interesting defense and foreign policy thinkers in the United States. For years Tom served in the Center for Naval Analysis and was part of the Pentagon’s brain squad—big think guys whose job it is to mull the strategic future for the United States. He routinely briefing the brass at the highest levels, with a straightforward mission: challenge them to think outside their comfort zones. Tom’s book, The Pentagon’s New Map, published in 2004, caused quite a stir; coming as it did as the US had plunged headfirst into the war on terror (Afghanistan,, Iraq, the horn of Africa, southeast asia, etc.). His central thesis about “core countries” and “gap” countries (poor, often broken states) described the world we were looking at; his essential admonition, is that the US, more than anyone, has to `mind the gap. (I won’t go into detail here about what that means, because this is a China blog, but the book really is worth reading, and it DOESN’T mean invading every terrorist harboring basket case country on earth, though he doesn’t rule out using the pointy edge of the spear when necessary.)
He is a self described Democrat (in US political terms) and has already briefed presidential campaigns on both sides of the aisle in this campaign cycle. He’s a free thinker, however, and breaks crockery in a bi partisan fashion. For example, he’s one of the few people left in the United States who says that he would STILL go into Iraq if you could turn the clock back to 2003. (And if you’re going to disagree with him, you better bring you’re `A game’ to the debate: he makes mince meat of the standard Democratic National Committee/Mainstream Media taking points on this subject)
Ok, this being the “China blog,” what’s the point? In his second book, Tom gave some of his former Pentagon superiors heartburn by arguing that the US and China should become allies—not just trading partners—and that should include a military alliance, in his view. I spoke to him at length about this notion (and others related to US China relations) in the course of our discussion.
I was going to make this part of the periodic “five questions” series on this blog, but The Lords of the Blogosphere have informed us that you blog readers don’t like long posts—too much grey, apparently. You like graphics and charts and photos. So given that, I’m going to spread the conversation with Tom over several days, posting a short snippet a day. (Occasionally I will in parentheses provide a little translation of what I call Barnett –speak. When he’s talking to people who ve read his books he tends to lapse a bit into the jargon he uses to amplify his arguments)
TIME: In your last book, you call for a US-China military alliance. How do you think that goes over in Tokyo?
Barnett: (chuckles a bit): “They’d (the Japanese) have a hard time with it, I understand that. But from our perspective it would be putting China’s rise to use, helping integrate them into the global system not just economically, but in a security sense too. We’d be playing the same role that Britain did at the end of the 19th century and in the 20th, during a previous era of globalization. It’s actually an easy choice for us, if we think strategically. But yes, it would mean a diminution of [Japan’s] status vis a vis us. Look, they are wedded to their choices, and in most of the post war period they’ve been unwilling to be what I call a frontier integrating power [a country willing to actively try to bring countries outside the core into the club of rich nations that play by an established set of fairly transparent rules). They haven’t had the ambition or the purpose to do that. And it’s understandable. This is not a criticism. Their experience in the middle of the 20th century was so negative that it shaped their present in profound ways; they became a more passive power, for understandable reasons.
But back to the US-China argument, my view is that we are natural strategic allies…”
If you want to know why Barnett believes that—and the reasons are more plentiful than you might think– read the next post tomorrow.