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Thomas P. M. Barnett – U.S.

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Last Build Date: Tue, 20 Mar 2018 22:38:59 +0000


Hunting Down Bad Guys: China vs. the U.S.Principal suspect Naw Kham leaves the detention centre for execution in Kunmingthomaspmbarnett

Tue, 09 Apr 2013 18:20:07 +0000

A pair of ostensibly unrelated New York Times‘ stories recently jumped out at me. Understand, the paper itself made no attempt to link the two. What struck me was just how calmly the Times reported 3,000 (!) targeted assassinations by the Obama Administration since 2009, after rather breathlessly noting – just days before – China’s “hard-nosed display of the government’s political and economic clout across Laos, Myanmar and Thailand.” Granted, the paper took both governments to task for their actions. It’s just that the wording and tone differed so much:  matter-of-fact for the de facto White House Office of Global Assassination, but notably alarmed about China’s “powerful Ministry of Public Security” nabbing and executing one guy — convicted drug lord Naw Kham. Beijing, you see, coordinated this drug lord’s capture by local Laotian police, and then had him immediately extradited to China, where he was summarily tried and executed him in a live TV broadcast. Beijing, it seems, thought about simply offing this guy with a drone, but decided against that. The drug lord was found guilty of masterminding the murder of 13 Chinese seamen operating on a Laotian river. The action was compared – quite brilliantly I thought – to the U.S. sending General John Pershing down to Mexico to nab Pancho Villa after he killed 18 Americans in New Mexico in 1916.  Reference was also made, via the same quoted expert, to this being a preliminary display of China’s “Monroe Doctrine” for Southeast Asia. Fair enough, say I. Great powers reserve the right to police bad actors in their neighborhoods. It just got me thinking, though. America currently reserves the right to kill something like 700 to 800 foreign citizens a year – often right in nations bordering China (Afghanistan, Pakistan) — and that’s just “targeted killing” coming “to define war on terror” and constituting a “mark of the Obama era.”  But if China arrests and then publicly executes somebody in its actual neighborhood (and not on the other side of the planet) . . . well, that is provocative, my friends! Seriously, sometimes it just gets so

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Pentagon Malady: “Next-War-Itis”158625728thomaspmbarnett

Wed, 06 Mar 2013 16:08:40 +0000

I was approached by Foreign Policy magazine back in January to pen one of their “Think Again” columns, this one focusing on the future of war. The notion was, now that America has disengaged from Iraq and is doing the same with Afghanistan, the Pentagon’s thoughts invariably drift to future definitions of conflict amidst the ongoing budget battles. Those future visions of war are how the various services rationalize their funding requirements in the fabled “out years” (beyond the current budget cycle) to Congress. Naturally, there’s a fairly fierce competition, in which each service attempts to paint the most compelling picture possible. Remember when then-defense secretary Robert Gates complained about certain Pentagon elements catching “next-war-itis”? That’s when you’re allegedly engaging in this sort of futurology, when you should be focused on the current conflict. Well, now that those conflicts are gone or being demoted, next-war-itis is kicking in, big time. That’s what this article I wrote sought to capture: the competition among the services to see which can come up with the most fabulously-gripping description of future war. Check it out, here. I interviewed a number of colleagues before attempting my write-up, to include the inestimable Mark Thompson. So let me thank those people now by citing their aid. They are Henry Gaffney, Gerald Mauer, Raymond Pritchett, Mark Lewellyn, Greg Jaffe, Alex Gallo, Shane Deichman, Randy Fullhart, Theodore Obenchain, Mark Safranski, Dave Dilegge, Henry Hendrix and Frank Hoffman.

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Putting China’s “Hacking Army” into PerspectiveCHINA-NATIONALDAY-TOURISM-HOLIDAYSthomaspmbarnett

Fri, 22 Feb 2013 19:15:02 +0000

Great New York Times front-pager on Tuesday finally provides a substantive overview of the comprehensive hacking activities of the Chinese military against all manner of U.S. industries (with an obvious focus on defense). Actually, the title was a bit of soft sell (China’s Army Seen as Tied to Hacking Against U.S.). This unit’s activities have been much discussed within the U.S. national-security community for several years now, so we are far past the “tied to” allegation. It’s clear that Beijing has the People’s Liberation Army conduct widespread cyber- theft all over the world, targeting the U.S. in particular. One is tempted to label this cyber-warfare, and to declare that bilateral conflict in full swing, but I like to avoid such imprecision in language. What we have here is industrial espionage on a grand scale – pure and simple. Yes, the PLA wants to know how to cause as much infrastructure mischief as possible in the event of a shooting war with the U.S., but let’s not be naive about the extensive and ongoing U.S. efforts to do the same to China (much less our Rubicon-crossing cyber strikes against Iran). That sort of spying and military espionage is nothing new. All that says is that both sides plan to go heavy on cyber warfare in the event of war. It does not prove that cyber is its own warfare domain – as in, constituting genuine war in isolation. As for the industrial espionage, China’s ambitions are magnificently broad. Check out the list of industries targeted, according to the Times: Information technology Aerospace Government-related agencies Satellites and communications Scientific research and consulting Transportation Energy High-tech electronics Constructing and manufacturing Engineering International organizations Legal services Media, advertising, entertainment Navigation Financial services Chemicals Health care Food and agriculture Metals and mining Education. Clearly, this is a scope far and beyond thwarting America’s AirSea Battle Concept. Now, I could rationalize this away by saying every economic power cheated and stole its way to the top – to include America across the 19th century. That doesn’t

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Minority Report Has Finally ArrivedTom Cruise In 'Minority Report'thomaspmbarnett

Tue, 05 Feb 2013 17:22:27 +0000

Read it and weep:  “Memo Cites Legal Basis for Killing U.S. Citizen in Al Qaeda.” As a U.S. citizen, the government can now kill you in advance of your actually committing a crime – simply by knowing that you are likely to act in a dangerous manner. For now, the only club whose membership can earn you such a “pre-crime-sentence” is al-Qaeda, but how many dangerous organizations (you tell me where to put the sarcastic quotation marks on that phrase) will be added to this list in the years and decades ahead? Ask yourself that, Mr. Obama. Naturally we are assured such killings will only happen outside of these United States, but you just know that rule will be broken eventually. The coolest part? Just like in the movie, we’ve already got the drones to hunt you down and kill you remotely. Actually, even Spielberg’s movie didn’t go that far, so here we’d need to switch over to The Matrix. This is an extremely dangerous rule-set for America to be exporting around the world: threaten or scare of just plain piss off the wrong great-power government, and it reserves the right to assassinate you at will.  The quid pro quos are easy to imagine:  you, China, turn your back when we need to kill ours and . . . America can probably do the same when you take out those “protestors” (I mean, terrorists!). I just have to ask: how does Obama lecture Netanyahu about anything at this point? The further we go with this President’s two terms, the more quaint and 20th century his predecessor seems. George W. Bush’s approach, as ham-handed as it was, at least came with some built-in limitations (e.g., you can only invade so many countries before the U.S. public has had enough, and those Gitmo prisoners do see a lawyer prior to sentencing). Obama’s approach, in contrast, is about as open-ended as it comes. Yes, he’s right-sized Bush’s pre-emptive war in the form of pre-emptive assassinations, and now he’s extended that pre-crime-sentencing capacity to American citizens — wherever

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Just How Intelligent is the National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends 2030?137074626thomaspmbarnettgt cover

Fri, 21 Dec 2012 21:37:19 +0000

Every half-decade, the National Intelligence Council’s “Global Trends” series produces a roughly 20-year predictive analysis of the world’s evolution – an analysis considered to be the best long-range geopolitical forecasting conducted by the U.S. government. These multi-year efforts involve consultations with hundreds of experts from around the world (the last two drills have featured interviews and presentations from yours truly.) The NIC also conducts global “road shows” to collect feedback for great powers like Russia, China and various European states. Simply stated, the biggest problem with this year’s Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds is the lack of internally consistent logic throughout each of the worlds presented. In its worst-case world (Stalled Engines), the U.S. energy revolution fails and thus America’s economy enjoys no resurrection. The nation as a whole falls under a mood of isolationism, decidedly disengaging from an equally troubled world. NIC In historical terms, the logic there is a bit odd. America has remained highly engaged in global affairs throughout decades of growing energy dependency, so it’s hard to imagine it would disengage if its quest for energy self-sufficiency failed – especially amidst a world of heightened resource competition. Wouldn’t it still be out there, protecting those precious sea lines of communication? Or should we expect the U.S. to rely on rival powers like China to provide the bulk of that collective good? Can we really expect a “Fortress America” mindset to emerge, or might we expect just the opposite? In this scenario we are also told that, absent a strong U.S. presence, a “great game” in Asia would unfold. This means global energy resources would suffer instability, while the U.S. would somehow stay out of the fray despite still being significantly dependent on foreign sources. In this “great game,” it is rising powers China and India that conflict with one another over scarce resources in Asia. Furthermore, the underlying logic for why the global economy stalls in this pathway is underwhelming: the Eurozone collapses but the global middle class  still expands (what the NIC terms Tectonic Shift #1).

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Missile Launch Doesn’t Make NoKo’s Kim Jong-un a DudThis undated photo released by North Korthomaspmbarnett

Fri, 14 Dec 2012 15:09:56 +0000

There’s a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Jack David saying latest North Korean missile launch proves Kim Jong-un won’t be a reformer and that — basically — anyone who still believes that is a dupe. That’s specious logic in the worst, narrow-minded national security way. North Korea’s new leader is pursuing some very interesting economic moves, and those do suggest he’ll attempt some Deng Xiaoping-like reforms.  They won’t come fast, however.  Consolidation of his power necessarily comes first. And no, it’s not like he’s suddenly tamed the tiger that is the DPRK military, which became hugely powerful during his old man’s reign – so powerful that it’s conceivable they could dump him if they felt he wasn’t doing right by the military. This is the common fate of the would-be reforming successor son: they can’t exactly rewrite the power rule book the minute they get in, and to make anything happen economically, they typically have to keep giving the military what it wants. Then there is the more general problem of the reformer in such a system:  they must appear strong to the outside – stronger even than their non-reforming predecessor.  This is the old “only Nixon can go to China” logic. Why?  Imagine the impossibility of trying to loosen up domestically and curtailing the military confrontation stance with the outside world at the same time. Kim may well not prove up to the task of changing things inside DPRK, but the mere fact that he continues the missile/nuclear program paths doesn’t rule that out whatsoever.  That would be a simplistic and premature evaluation of the situation.  And getting unduly freaky about the missile launch only plays into the hands of the military hardliners in the country. But David is right in this sense: carrots regarding the nuke program and missiles will change nothing. Even if KJE goes down the Deng path internally, he’ll need to maintain a super-strong face to the outside world. That much is guaranteed. My big problem with David’s analysis is that he’s presenting merely the military angle

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AirSea Battle: The Military-Industrial Complex’s Self-Serving FantasyJinshangling2thomaspmbarnettcsbaartillery

Wed, 08 Aug 2012 11:48:51 +0000

Nice Washington Post piece (by Greg Jaffe, of course) on the great COIN counterattack that is the Pentagon’s AirSea Battle. As scenario work goes, what the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Analysis has done in its war-games has to rank right up there with the most egregiously implausible efforts ever made to justify arms build-ups. These games, done for Andrew Marshall’s Office of Net Assessment at the Defense Department, enthusiastically embrace what I have long dubbed the exceedingly narrow “war within the context of war” mindset – purposefully zeroing out all outside existing reality that readily contradicts the core operational concepts behind AirSea Battle. [For my most complete criticism of ASBC, see “Big-War Thinking in a Small-War Era: The Rise of the AirSea Battle Concept” for the journal China Security.] A Post quote from respected China expert Jonathan Pollack, who, in another life, was a colleague of mine at the Naval War College: Some critics doubt that China, which owns $1.6 trillion in U.S. debt and depends heavily on the American economy, would strike U.S. forces out of the blue. “It is absolutely fraudulent,” said Jonathan D. Pollack, a senior fellow at Brookings. “What is the imaginable context or scenario for this attack?” Other defense analysts warn that an assault on the Chinese mainland carries potentially catastrophic risks and could quickly escalate to nuclear armageddon. The war games elided these concerns. Instead they focused on how U.S. forces would weather the initial Chinese missile salvo and attack. That last bit is what I mean when I say the “big war” crowd inside the Pentagon is actively seeking to lower the threshold of great-power war:  when confronted with the dangers of escalation, these complications are simply eliminated from the model in a truly Strangelovian twist of logic. CSBA Here’s how I wrote that bit up in the China Security piece: Most incredulously, a guiding assumption of the CSBA’s war scenario analysis is that, despite the high likelihood that a Sino-US conventional conflict “would devolve into a prolonged war” (presumably with tens of

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New Air Force Mission: Cyberwar Belongs to UsPersonnel work at the Air Force Space Command Network Operations & Security Center at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springsthomaspmbarnett

Wed, 11 Jul 2012 10:28:14 +0000

The Wall Street Journal noted last Friday about how the “Pentagon digs in on cyberwar front.” Bit misleading, as it’s really the Air Force that’s desperate to corner that market. You know the general story of Big War Blue (Navy, Air Force) feeling disrespected and underfunded across the “war on terror” era, and you’ve been treated ad nauseum to their budgetary counter-revolution in the form of the AirSea Battle Concept (whose combined Air-Navy motto should be: “It’s China’s turn — as well as ours!”). Well, the Air Force has it far worse than the Navy in terms of existential fears, primarily due to the rapid rise and unbelievable dissemination of drones, where seemingly now every military unit has their own miniature air wing of what would have recently passed as toys. Amidst all that, the Air Force has clearly decided that its institutional salvation lies in convincing Congress and everybody else that – somehow – cyberspace is the natural domain of their service and their service alone.  It reminds one of the Navy feeling lost in the post-WWII drawdown and eventually finding its purpose in nuclear-missile-launching subs. I have personally seen one hilariously over-the-top briefing by the Air Force’s top futurologists that paints a Tomorrowland where individual bad actors can destroy  the human race with a stroke of the keyboard and . . . if the U.S. government were smart, it’d basically dump the entire Defense Department budget into the Air Force’s coffer to allow it to monitor every byte of the WorldWideWeb 24/7 in a groovy, “trust us” Skynet sort of way. Without realizing it, I actually blurted out “bullshit” halfway through the presentation.  It was a bureaucratic jump-the-shark moment I will never forget. Is there anything about cyberspace that particularly screams Air Force?  Not really.  If cyber warfare is going to be as all encompassing as it’s made out to be by its vigorous proponents, then it will disseminate throughout the services even more than the drone phenomenon has. Having said that, it’s not hard to imagine a future where the Pentagon gives

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The Perfectly Ironic Chinese Foreign Direct InvestmentThe U.S. Navy's Blue Angels fly in a Delta formation past the Golden Gate Bridge during a practice run in preparation for Fleet Week air show in San Franciscothomaspmbarnett

Wed, 27 Jun 2012 16:56:27 +0000

Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal story of how Chinese state bank (China Development Bank) is pumping $1.7 billion into two long-stalled redevelopment projects in the San Francisco Bay area – namely, Hunter’s Point (a Navy base until 1974) and Treasure Island (same until 1996) — is worth noting. Both are familiar to me: as a Center for Naval Analyses analyst in the mid-1990s, I helped lead a political mobilization project for Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Bill Owens that had CNA working with local communities to avail themselves of resources freed up by base closures.  Having previously been a Sovietologist, it was an easy shift for me to enter the Bay Area political scene.  I ended up writing a primer for political activists looking to do the same elsewhere. Why I find this to be the perfect irony: — The U.S. long had a grand strategic approach to East Asia that saw us encourage export-driven growth and thus the “peaceful rise” of a number of economic powers there – to include (obviously) China. The deal was simple: you (Asia) take a chunk of your trade surplus and plow that money back into U.S. debt markets to keep the dollar cheap and allow us to finance our Leviathan force that obviates arms racing in the region. — Now, of course, with China having risen so much, we naturally fear it and are engaged in a “strategic pivot” toward East Asia that sees us massing naval assets there and selling arms like crazy to everybody but China (ah shucks, sometimes grand strategies work too well!). — Now, as our economy continues to struggle and our federal government teeters near complete bankruptcy, we desperately need Chinese foreign direct investment.  So why not have it flow into housing development projects that target old U.S. naval bases! That way, we can rebound our economy, eventually bolster our defense spending, and, on that basis, build and point more weapons at China – our most important source of new foreign direct investment in our embryonic recovery!

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Cyber Warfare Treaty: DOA, Thanks to President and Pentagon0625OPEDwagenbreth-popupthomaspmbarnett

Mon, 25 Jun 2012 14:55:32 +0000

Misha Glenny making a smart case in the New York Times for a cyber arms control treaty, but it won’t happen. Why? For the same reason why the U.S. has refused – for many years now – to engage other great powers on a treaty banning space weaponry: our Pentagon wants to dominate that imagine conflict space like any other. This fantasy lives on despite the great private-sector forays into space transport and travel. The lines have already been drawn in the defense budget by the Pentagon and this Administration: — Cyber has been declared – in leaked headline after leaked headline – the latest and greatest future warfare domain. — We recently got our new Cyber Command (after a blitzkrieg of Bush-like fear-mongering news stories – also leaked to the press). — Finally, there’s our recently unveiled national cyber warfare strategy (which, absurdly enough, provides a rationale for Iran to go kinetic on us after Stuxnet and Flame). Per the reality of our budgetary woes and the Pentagon’s inability to control spiraling personnel costs (healthcare, pensions), the U.S. military needs to be able to cut bodies while adding capabilities . . . in space and cyber warfare. Yes, our efforts in both instances will tremendously widen the opportunities for great-power war in the 21st Century, making us — arguably — the most dangerous great power on the planet. Best part: we’re being sold this misguided nonsense by a President whose public line is a “world without nuclear weapons.” Does it have to be this way?  Of course not. We can partner with China and India – two rising great powers with million-man armies – to deal with the world’s remaining security concerns, which are overwhelmingly concentrated along globalization’s rapidly moving frontier. Neither space nor cyber are particularly essential to that path.  Settling the frontier matches Woody Allen’s definition of a success: 80% is accomplished simply by showing up. But we have chosen a different path: to monger warfare in the cyber and space realms because those domains represent our

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