A couple of days ago, C-SPAN aired Thomas P. M. Barnett's lecture at the National Defense University at Fort McNair. While it didn't "transfix" me, as it did drdave, I've to admit the guy does know how to make Powerpoint slides fly. Barnett speaks like he's firing bullet points, and has the relaxed certainty of those who think in mutually exclusive possibilities.
The trip was accidental. According to Barnett, in the summer of 1998, Admiral Art Cebrowski -- the current head of the Orwellian-sounding "Office of Force Transformation" — asked him to:
"...look at the Year 2000 problem and treat it as a heuristic opportunity to explore how globalization — spread of the global economy, the rise of all this connectedness — was altering our sense and understanding of the very essential nature of international stability, international instability, definitions of crisis."
What the Admiral was saying, I think, was that he wanted his staff to spend time — what little remained — with their families, stocking up on dog chow and AAA batteries, trying on Mad Max outfits, etc. before Y2K hit the non-working fans. Barnett, however, took Cebrowski at his word.
And to his credit, Barnett did a good job. Rather than google obscure extracts from Sun Tzu or rehash Toffler and/or Prisoner's dilemma, Barnett came up with something original: a cartographic representation of ignorance. To wit, a political map. The map led to Powerpoint presentations at the Pentagon, and then to a couple of books, talks, and doubtless, moist DoD groupies. The map — detailed at length in The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-First Century — led Barnett to the one thing it hadn't predicted: celebrity.
Most recently, the map has monstrogrified into a blueprint for action. The C-SPAN lecture I watched was about the blueprint.
Barnett's basic thesis is that there are countries that are functional (the "Core"), that are mostly functional (the new-Core) and the malfunctioning (the "Gap"). The Gap consists, more or less, of countries whose leading cause of death is hunger and/or whose people don't mill around shouting "Death to the USA." The Gap is where the bad news comes from. The Core and the Gap are not really places; they're kinds of populations. And to understand what populations will do, it's a good idea to look at demographic data. Demographics, as Peter Drucker wrote in one of his essays, is the "future that has already happened." This seductive idea may be true of gas dynamics, but not for social movements; and besides, cohort analysis is nucking futs.