Photo of the Korea’s at night. One is completely disconnected, the other obviously plugged in
Right now Jaffna is under effective siege, cut off via A9 (road) and sea. I’m not going to dwell on the specifics so much. The A9 was opened under the cease-fire but now it’s closed. The reasons are twofold, one is that the LTTE collects millions of dollars in tolls from the road. Two is that the LTTE has been blowing shit up in Colombo and Galle. Explosive people things and people move down the A9, hence. Unfortunately, food always moves up and down the A9. And ordinary people who just want to get out. Hence hence. Trouble. In fact the peace talks broke down over this point, and the fact that the talks had no point. I’m not going to address this issue cause it’s a motherfucking bramblebush, but rather the general drift of the thing. I’ve been reading this book that describes the nature of modern conflict. PM Barnett describes the conflict as this age as not being ‘Democracy vs Terrorism’ or ‘Islam vs West’ but rather as ‘Connectivity vs Disconnectivity’. I think there may be a better word for that.
The Book: Pentagon’s New Map
Pentagon’s New Map, by PM Barnett
I’m unconvinced that Donald Rumsfeld could find his ass with both hands, let alone map strategic thought. The Pentagon as an institution has taken a plane in the side and a cancer in the center, but there are still some thinkers associated with US Foreign Policy. Thomas Barnett was a interesting researcher and briefer from the Naval War College, now independent. His brief on the Pentagon’s New Map was given to every Air Force officer that reached General. It was also an Esquire article, then a book. I read the book and it’s innovative. Barnett is kinda an ass and half the book is devoted to how awesome he is at PowerPoint, but I’m probably just jealous. The brief has multiple parts, but I’m only concerned with one:
The world can be roughly divided into two groups: the Functioning Core, characterized by economic interdependence, and the Non-Integrated Gap, characterized by unstable leadership and absence from international trade. The Core can be sub-divided into Old Core (North America, Western Europe, Japan, Australia) and New Core (China, India). The Disconnected Gap includes the Middle East, South Asia (except India), most of Africa, Southeast Asia, and northwest South America.
Basically, he defines the conflict of the world as being those connected (globalized) and those disconnected. Not necessarily haves and have-nots, because it is possible to have cash without freedom (as per Saudi Arabia). Beyond simply philosophically dividing the world, he maps out the sources of conflict across the globe (view full size of map above). Specifically, he mapped where the US has made military/security interventions and drawn a border round the general cocked-upedness.
Interestingly, it’s equatorial, and it seems to be a coherent region. These regions are not united by religion, race, or even poverty. Rather, they are simply disconnected from the financial and communicative networks that bind human beings together with words and not bullets.
Show me where globalization is thick with network connectivity, financial transactions, liberal media flows, and collective security, and I will show you regions featuring stable governments, rising standards of living, and more deaths by suicide than murder. These parts of the world I call the Functioning Core, or Core. But show me where globalization is thinning or just plain absent, and I will show you regions plagued by politically repressive regimes, widespread poverty and disease, routine mass murder, andâ€”most importantâ€”the chronic conflicts that incubate the next generation of global terrorists. These parts of the world I call the Non-Integrating Gap, or Gap. (Esquire Article)
These nations do not have religion or race in common, but rather a common rule-set. They have legal, economic and social systems that play nice with each other and generally keep things from getting violent. This rule-site is broad, but it includes laws, business practices, airports, infrastructure, communications protocols and brands. There is a globalized world where your cell-phone will get roaming, your bank card will withdraw cash and your embassy can bail you out of jail. Your data will be carried by Cisco routers, your ass by Toyotas and you can catch the flight out on Star Alliance. There is a technological, economic and communicative rule-set that binds all the countries in the core, and it all rests on an unspoken security guarantee.
Technology: Meaning science and technology. There are certain ‘modern’ innovations which are common to Core countries, to differing degrees. Foremost are Airports, which provide the main vector for globalization forces into a country. This is also the channel that gets attacked first. Then come roads, cars, and petrol. These are all international goods, the supply of which binds you to the rest of the world. Then there is also Western Medicine, penicillin, surgery, medication, etc. There are also international engineering standards, architecture, and more. All these provide the raw infrastructure of the core.
Economy: Currency (preferably floating) connects Core countries, and their currencies are traded. They also have credit and capital markets, stock exchanges and the other mathematics that forms the discourse between natures. Even more obviously, Core countries (including China) participate in the World Trade Organization and try to adopt trade and intellectual property policies to match. In fact, WTO membership means they have to. There are also other orgs like World Bank and IMF, but those tend to draw peripheral nations into this rule-set more than to serve members. At the consumer level there are also international ATMs, Visa and Mastercard processing, and PayPal.
Communications: Atop all this infrastructure there is a common language among core countries. This also covers the last Millennium Development Goal – ‘Global Partnerships’. They include electricity, radios, televisions, and computers. They include Cisco routers, undersea cables and cell phone towers. It also means English in some places, and some English media. Also English speaking interfaces with the rest of the world. It means Internet, preferably high speed, and access to international media and news. It is connection to the global conversation.
Security: Subscribing to these high level rule-sets and their benefits means that Core countries have ‘something to lose’. They’re dependent on international travel, so they need friendly neighbors. They need oil, so they need stability (even tyrannical stability) in the Middle East. Their citizens (like in China) have become used to a certain standard of living so they can’t bomb the shit out of break-away islands without tanking the stock market and inviting internal rebellion. Once they let the Internet and communications technology in, restricting them will cause a huge fuss over those same networks. All the values the US is bombing to instill flow almost naturally from the rule-sets of Core countries. A connected country feels pain when it tears the global fabric, so it’s less likely to be aggressive. Of course, the US is a counter-example of what batshit-insane leadership can do, but I digress.
And here are the have-nots. These countries are outside the Core not because they are Muslim or Communist or poor. They simple lack the prerequisites to join the global game
Technology: Despite being between, say, Florida and Bangkok, no one ever connects through Africa. I can’t name an African airline besides South African. That conduit doesn’t have much human current flowing through it and that makes it prohibitively expensive. Also, roads are bad and petrol too tends to be expensive. Countries that are absolutely cut off have petrol shortages and embargoes, like North Korea and Jaffna now. Then there is a shortage of international consumer goods, and again high prices. Finally, there is a dearth of engineers and doctors and the basic infrastructure of The Core.
Economy: Many Gap countries have hyperinflated or spasmodic currencies, like Zimbabwe or Cuba. They also have weak capital markets, few credit card holders, limited credit information, and highly cash economies. In Sri Lanka, for example, most people buy houses or cars with straight-up cash (no lease or mortgage), which would be unheard of in the West. The fact that these small calculations are not done means that a whole number of higher order operations are neglected. Gap countries also have crappy banking sectors with lots of (some sketchy) banks, poor Basel II compliance, limited use of Visa/Mastercard, and no access to online payments like PayPal.
Communications: Because these countries lack infrastructure they also lack the voice to be heard in the global discourse. They have poor electricity, limited and sometimes suppressed media, less access to international news and media, crappy or non-existent Internet and unavailable or expensive phone and data services. They also lack significant English education, and the base of English speakers to do business and communicate with The Core. Not only do they not have the ‘stuff’ to participate, they lack even a voice.
Security: These countries have fuck-all to lose, so they can generally behave like spoilt brats with artillery. Saddam was so isolated he thought he could invade Iran and Kuwait with impunity. Castro was quite content to court annihilation by hosting Soviet missiles. Kim Jong Il will keep blowing up his nation’s GDP in the mountains cause there is only so much you can take away from people eating tree bark. Kim can continue getting his lobster thermidor through good old corruption and the manufacture of counterfeit money and sale of arms. They have nothing to lose and their populations are so isolated that they have neither the tools nor the knowledge to agitate.
Song from Team America:World Police
The above are largely my own observations, but Barnett goes on to posit that the current ‘Clash of Civvies” is between The Core and The Gap. It is essentially a clash between the forces of Globalization and forces that want to retreat to a (usually religious) fundamentalist state, ‘self-sufficient’, rejecting ‘Western’ media, laws, medicine, technology (except nukes), economics (capitalism), and ‘foriegn’ people. In effect, drawing back into the Gap, into the abyss. This is what I’ve described as following the J-Curve, retreating to the nearest peak where everything feels safe rather than braving the rockier path to long-term prosperity.
In Barnett’s example, groups like Al Qaeda aren’t necessarily trying to destroy the west. They want to remove the Western occupation from the Holy Places and Palestine and establish a hardcore Gap Caliphate, cut off from the rest of the world and its ungodly laws, media, and money. In the local example, the LTTE too rejects the idea that it’s illegal to field child soldiers, it’s bad form to kill opposition journalists, and that taxation without representation is so 1775. To a lesser degree, but it’s the same drawing away from Core norms into some ‘safe’ and ultimately lonely and poor place.
Like any novel immune reaction, the unfortunate response of Core states to this tension is to inflame it. When a disconnected Gap state like North Korea throws a nuclear tantrum, the Core responds my disconnecting it even more. Cutting off more trade, more oil, more travel, and more banking. Cuba is another case where the US simply refused to engage. The US today also refuses to or barely engages with Syria, Iran, and assorted baddies. Unfortunately, this often has the effect of leaving Gap nations to fester and wither in an isolated petri dish of despotism and tyranny.
North Korea is actually one of the most ‘stable’ nations because it’s people have limited technology, no money and also no clue as to what they’re missing. The government doesn’t change much. Lil Kim’s massive army near Seoul keeps military intervention at bay and his isolation means that the slow workings of media and economy don’t come into play.
In the same way Cuba’s dictator Castro thrived under sanctions, as did Saddam and as Iranian Ayatollah Controllahs kinda do. Cutting a nation of for the world is in many ways the best possible scene for a tyrant because the corruption gets through and the good is entirely blocked.
The Greater Strategic Goal
There are very valid reasons for cutting off belligerent nations – so they don’t get weapons, so they don’t get money to pay and arm oppressive armies, so corrupt bastards don’t get all the money, etc. However, nations imposing can forget the greater goal, which is bringing countries into the Core. I’m not saying that sanctions are bad, I’m just saying that turning away should be the last resort.
The goal and the victory is bringing Gap nations into the global Rule-Set, so that they have internal incentives to provide Security, and so they actually do it. This means not just knocking over their tyrants, it means building the technological, economic and communicative systems that can provide long-term peace. And that means engagement. It means negotiating with people you do not like, it means accepting some chance that weapons may get through with goods, and not fleeing in terror at the sight of terrorism. That is the easy response, the political expedient response, but it is not the right one. Making that hard decision to engage, to negotiate, and to connect, that is hard. That takes real leadership, real courage. Any third-rate warlord can make war or block a road. How many have the balls to turn around in the face of terror and steady their hand, open it, and unite a nation? Gandhi, Martin Luther King, not many. But they never took their eyes off the ball. In the face of inciteful violence and water cannons they held steady and said ‘we want to connect, we want to live in peace not pride, in harmony not dischord’. They never took their eyes off the greater strategic goal, and they won something worth winning.
I, of course, have never made this choice on a social level, but the way I understand it is working through a relationship. Relationships and marriage (I guess) are bloody hard and counterintuitive sometimes. Sometimes your Sig Oth says some horrible shit, or you just get backed in a corner and you feel like leaving. The strong overpowering instinct is ‘fuck this, fuck you, I’m leaving’. However, in a strong relationship you feel that urge and they you say ‘this is worth it, i’ll stay’. I’ll engage with this person, I’ll deal with their craziness, I’ll work this through and things will get better. If that person is important to you. Of course, some relationships aren’t worth it, but on a global level I think that the relationship with the people of North Korea, of Cuba, of Iraq and, yes, of Jaffna is definitely worthwhile and we should definitely stick it through.
There are plenty of attractive women there and they are ronery. We should never forget the goal and the end strategy. It’s not about punishing bad guys and getting revenge, it’s about building a more secure world. It’s about connecting this fragile web and making it a bit more difficult to tear. That is not to say I’m against closing the A9 or North Korean sanctions or whatever. Those things do have their place. All I’m saying is we should never take our eyes off the goal. Connectivity.