Time for a new global narrative

What Al Gore’s Nobel Peace Prize says to me is that the world is deeply unhappy with America’s “war on terror” and desperately seeks new global narratives. It’s not that the world wishes us to be less active militarily or even to renounce the tactic of toppling bad regimes. The vision of America’s military Leviathan addressing the world’s many ongoing cruelties is hardly the creation of the neocons alone.

Plenty of our longtime — and some future — allies may have flown the coop over Iraq, but they’re slowly coming back to the roost over a host of compelling crises. Who doesn’t want Myanmar’s military junta eased out of power? Or to see the janjaweed put on the run in Darfur instead of African Union peacekeepers? Who wants to see Robert Mugabe’s nasty rule extended in Zimbabwe? Or witness the rising rape epidemic in war-torn Congo?

The world’s worry list goes far beyond America’s preoccupation with Iraq’s postwar partitioning and the nuclear newborns, North Korea and Iran. Every intervention mustn’t be hard-wired to the threat of transnational terrorism.

Today’s globalization is simultaneously far too expansive in its reach and far too immature in its rule sets to be captured by our now discredited storyline of defeating terror and making the world safe for democracy. In historical terms, we’re arguing over the bell curve’s sloping shoulders while ignoring the huge territory in between.

Think back to this country’s settling of the American West across the 19th century. There were leading security issues (episodic Indian Wars) and trailing questions of political integration (states joining the Union through 1912), but the towering bulk of activity fell between those two milestones.

The functioning core of today’s global economy is defined as: the old West of North America, Europe and Japan; the rising East led by India, China and Russia; and the emerging South exemplified by Mexico, Brazil, and South Africa. This two-thirds of humanity — and roughly 90 percent of world GDP — engages in deep and systemic integration.

In stark contrast are globalization’s poorly integrated regions, or that one-third of humanity stretching from the equatorial Americas across Africa and Central/Southwest Asia to the littoral states of Southeast Asia. Globalization’s “gap” population survives on about 10 percent of the global GDP, and suffers all of its wars, instability, and virtually all of its terrorism too.

If the core suffers too much globalization too soon, the gap suffers too little and too late.

Although core powers are frequently drawn into the gap’s enduring conflicts and failed states, they engage in nation building with great reluctance. But this wariness is giving way to a new sensibility, despite Iraq’s clearly difficult journey.

To continue the core’s stunning growth, globalization’s gaps must be shrunk: “frontiers” stabilized and settled, markets made and integrated, and political structures built and given resilience. America’s tendency to reduce all that to a “war on terror” or worse a premature battle for democracy, strikes most of the planet as painfully undescriptive.

These new global narratives must describe several complex goals worth pursuing.

Economically, the core must remember how to sell to the “bottom of the pyramid,” engaging the gap’s roughly 2 billion residents who, despite little disposable income, nonetheless want a better life.

Spiritually, we must recognize and accommodate the great awakening of religious fervor in those brittle societies currently intimidated by globalization’s advance.

Politically, we must facilitate the economic and sometimes political remapping of states as they open themselves up to globalization, something we witnessed in Yugoslavia and see again today in Iraq.

As technology expands global networks, we must encourage new worldwide regulatory schemes, in effect resurrecting our nation’s “progressive era” of a century ago.

In security, we must create a “postwar infrastructural complex” on par with our already substantial military industrial complex, because while wars have gotten shorter and easier for us to wage, the peace grows incredibly more complex.

Regarding the environment, we must understand that integrating globalization’s gap regions cannot be accomplished using the “American dream” model but something far closer to living, and sensibly reforming, the “Chinese dream” of rapid economic advance. And yes, sensibly stemming, and adjusting to, global warming is part of that mix.

For America to regain the global leadership it’s lost since 9/11, we need to expand our narratives beyond our immediate security requirements to those larger issues driven by globalization’s frighteningly rapid advance around the planet.

The good news is, the rest of the world wants us back — desperately.

Thomas P.M. Barnett is a visiting scholar at the University of Tennessee’s Howard Baker Center and the senior managing director of Enterra Solutions LLC. Contact him at tom(AT)thomaspmbarnett.com. For more stories visit scrippsnews.com.