Book Review: The Pentagon’s New Map, by Thomas P. M. Barnett

Reading Time: 2 minutes

American military policy as most of us know it evolved in response to the Cold War.  The Soviet Union represented a military commander’s worst nightmare:  equal  or superior strength in numbers, technology, and intelligence, combined with a desire to conquer the world. 

But, as we found in the 1990s, the Soviet Union was also a military commander’s dream:  a formidable adversary requiring American and NATO vigilance in the forms of large, new weapons systems, enormous training budgets, and hands-off intelligence programs.  When the Soviet Union went away in 1991, the Pentagon found itself prepared for a war that would never happen, and unprepared for the many that did.

In “The Pentagon’s New Map:  War and Peace in the 21st Century,” Thomas P. M. Barnett, a Harvard educated political scientist who develops policy for the Pentagon and Navy War College, argues that the United States must radically overhaul its military.  In a highly readable, extremely informative, and thought inspiring tome, Barnett explains the Cold War mentality with examples that render moot any argument to the contrary.

As a political scientist, Dr. Barnett attacks the problem of force allocation, training, and systems procurement holistically.  His new map divides nations that have accepted globalization and its problems from those that have not.  Militarily, he contends, he must look at the non-assimilated nations, not China, for our next confrontation.  Moreover, we must use our security commodities, including the military, to draw the reluctant nations into the world fold.

Dr. Barnett explains that September 11 surprised only some in the Pentagon.  He and those who have adopted his view knew that the next Big Thing would come from a place that refused to join the world community and it’s “rule sets.”  Operating with a bizarre set of rules designed to isolate itself from the world at large, Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, Iran, and many African nations breed hatred for the assimilated world.   Combine poverty, ignorance, and anger with cutting-edge weapons systems, and you have Al-Qaeda and its kin.

Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of the book for me is Dr. Barnett’s skewering of Pentagon mentalities.  Having spent over 10 years in the military, I know the type Dr. Barnett battles in his daily policy work.  I’ve never been able to explain them, though, to the civilian world.  Dr. Barnett is a master at reducing the Cold War mentality to anecdote.

“The Pentagon’s New Map” is an essential piece to the puzzle that is the war on terror.