America's New Map: Restoring Our Global Leadership in an Era of Climate Change and Demographic Collapse
“While Barnett has some big ideas in this volume . . . implementing a sweeping new strategy such as he suggests is always in the detailed policy recommendations, and he unfortunately provides very few.”
Thomas Barnett burst on the strategy and policy wonk stage in 2005 with The Pentagon’s New Map, a widely read and discussed volume that introduced the concept of the “non-integrating gap,” a volatile region of the world located along the equator that had been absent from the ongoing globalization of the world’s economy. This region was at that time likely to produce most of the world’s insurgencies, terrorism, low intensity conflicts.
Now he is back with an update to these theories, again postulating that this region located along the equator will continue to be unstable, but now this insecurity is driven by climate change. He has married this with his analysis of significant future shifts in global demographics to paint his new picture of what the U.S. needs to change in its foreign and domestic policy to not only meet, but thrive, in this new global security and economic environment.
Barnett examines seven themes, or as he calls them throughlines, to detail his thesis about how these influences will work together to produce significant shifts in global power structures as the U.S. is forced to compete with an assertive but gradually depopulating China for markets and influence in this unstable region.
His earlier theses of the unstable region centered on the equator caused by tribal, religious, and ethnic violence has now been more or less replaced by the concept of “environmental refugees,” creating failed states that create a vast migration toward the northern hemisphere where climate change will make previously uninhabitable areas toward the North Pole now more friendly toward settlement and economic exploitation. These refugees he argues, could represent a huge increase in the global middle class if they were only welcomed in the U.S. and Canada to fill these previously empty areas, providing a new source of population for the rapidly aging societies.
How these millions of refugees would be socially and economically integrated is made less clear. While Barnett offers grand pronouncements that this wave of northern migration is unstoppable and should be welcomed, the incredible challenges of integrating millions of refugees into economies still only slowly recovering from the economic effects of the global pandemic is glossed over.
One thing Barnett gets irrefutable right is that China’s “one child policy” is now coming home to roost and will have an irreversible effect on China’s heretofore stunning economic growth. India’s rapid rise, with a population that will soon exceed China’s, rapid increases in foreign investment and new assertion on the world stage will certainly challenge China in the Indian Ocean and Central Asian regions. The ultimate effect of China’s decline on the ruling Communist Party due to the social pressures of a graying population where fewer workers support an increasing number of pensioners is also very concerning, as China’s increasingly authoritarian leader Xi Jinping sees a rapidly closing window to achieve his most critical foreign policy goal, reunification with Taiwan.
The sections describing what Barnett sees as the competing visions of American and China seem to give the Chinese a significant advantage due to China’s more patient and methodical approach of using their so-called “Belt and Road Initiative” to establish de facto economic empires in this gap region, especially in Africa and Latin America. However, the rising awareness that China is essentially rebuilding an imperial system, built on corruption and bribery of government officials and the use of sovereign debt as a foreign policy weapon will not win China any real allies in the future.
At the end of the book Barnett notes that “I have not chosen to present any detailed plan for executing the grand strategy here proposed.” Unfortunately, his proposals are so grand and sweeping that it is challenging to see how they can be implemented in the current political climate. The lingering effects of COVID shutdowns not only on the American economy, but global supply chains has only exacerbated the impression among millions of Americans that globalization has not lived up to the grand expectations of the 1980s and 1990s. Coupled with the ongoing immigration crisis that shows no signs of abating or even being acknowledged in many political circles and it is challenging to see how any political party or movement could begin to embrace his grand strategy of essentially creating an American hemispheric version of the European Union.
While this New Map may become a gradual reality as climate change exacerbates the conditions of terrorism, tribal and sectarian warfare, and transnational crime, the political willingness of Europe, Canada, and the United States to culturally and economically absorb millions of “climate refugees” remains to be seen. While Barnett has some big ideas in this volume, the devil of implementing a sweeping new strategy such as he suggests is always in the detailed policy recommendations, and he unfortunately provides very few.