The Lights Wink Out in Asia

Thomas Barnett’s vision of the core and the gap

Japan’s 2022 National Security Strategy concludes with a dramatic pronouncement:


Ministry of Foreign Affairs Japan, prov. translation National Security Strategy of Japan (Tokyo, 16 December 2022), 1.

At this time of an inflection point in history, Japan is finding itself in the midst of the most severe and complex security environment since the end of WWII. In no way can we be optimistic about what the future of the international community will hold.1

I find myself strangely affected by this document. There was once a dream that globalization might save the world. As the fortunes and culture of the great human hive grew ever more intertwined, we dreamed that we could be one with all the globe. We would no longer just be citizens of soil or state, but citizens of the species! With hearts knit in unity, love, and enlightened self interest, old hatreds would melt away. Many millennia of chaos and strife might end. America would form the living kernel of this new commercial order. Her enterprise would provide the connecting tissue that wrapped together the prosperity and liberty of the entire human race.

This is not a caricature. I recently attended a conference where a historian claimed it was. I recommended he read Thomas P.M. Barnett’s The Pentagon’s New Road Map for a steel-manned version of this thesis. At the height of the Bush era Barnett divided humanity into two great swathes: those who lived in the “Functioning Core” and those who lived in the “Non-integrated Gap.” (The image at the head of this post shows one of his maps). The Core included America, of course, but also Europe, Japan, Australia, Brazil, China, and India–anywhere, basically, that had been smoothly integrated into the grooves of the world’s smoothest supply chains. Barnett’s Core was a realm of peace, prosperity, and technological advance; the Gap was the realm of deprivation, violence, and ideological extremism. The Core’s most pressing challenge was finding ways to elevate the peoples of the Gap into the networked whole.2


Thomas P.M. barnett, The Pentagon’s New Road Map (New York: Putnam, 2004).

That was an era when big ideas paid well, and the Pentagon paid Barnett amply for his briefings. But while these briefings were usually laser focused on the problems America’s imperial grunts were experiencing off in the Gap, I often thought the true avatar of Barnett’s worldview was Japan. From the prime ministership of Shigeru Yoshida forward, the priorities and policies put forward at Nagatachō seemed to embody the world-historical spirit Barnett so eagerly tried to summon. If any country had learned to succeed in a world conceptualized as Core and Gap, if any people understood how to ride markets to international success, if any nation was ready to quietly bury fear and heroism for the favor of the genteel pleasures of peace, if any state had a stake in integration as such–well, it would be the county, people, nation, and state of Japan.

Let us return to the present. Here is how the 2022 National Security Strategy of Japan begins:

The international community is facing changes defining an era. We are reminded once again that globalization and interdependence alone cannot serve as a guarantor for peace and development across the globe. The free, open, and stable international order, which expanded worldwide in the post-Cold War era, is now at stake with serious challenges amidst historical changes in power balances and intensifying geopolitical competition…   Today, we are in an era where confrontation and cooperation are intricately intertwined in international relations.3


Ministry of Foreign Affairs Japan, prov. translation National Security Strategy of Japan (Tokyo, 16 December 2022), 35.

So much for the theory of the Core and the Gaps.

I spend far less time reading Japanese documents than I do their Chinese and American counterparts. Reading judgements like these serves as a useful reminder that the transition away from the globalization paradigm of decades past is not purely a byproduct of Sino-American competition, and that China is hardly the only nation now injecting security concerns into the economic realm. Some of the passages of the Japanese’s National Security Strategy could have been lifted straight from a CPC report:

 the scope of national security has expanded to include those fields previously considered non-military such as economic, technological and others, and thus the boundary between military and non-military fields is no longer clear-cut either…. [we must] address those issues not necessarily deemed as security targets in the past, such as supply chain vulnerabilities, increasing threats to critical infrastructures, and leadership struggles over advanced technologies, has also become a major security challenge. As a result, the scope of security has expanded to include the economic sector, making economic measures even more necessary to ensure security.4


ibid., 6

There is more in this document. For the first time since the 1940s we see Japanese leaders dictating “autonomous economic prosperity” as the purpose of their policy.5 This drive for autonomy is driven by a new theory of the relationship between economics and security. The Strategy explains:

Japan will work to achieve a virtuous cycle of security and economic growth, in which economic growth promotes the improvement of the security environment surrounding Japan. Concurrently, Japan will ensure the self-reliance of its economic structure, as well as advantages over other countries and ultimately the indispensability of its technologies.6


ibid., 30. On the history of autonomy as an economic goal, see Michael Barnhart, Japan Prepares for Total War: The Search For Economic Security, 1919-1941 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991).


Ministry of Foreign Affairs Japan, prov. translation National Security Strategy of Japan (Tokyo, 16 December 2022), 11.

Note that this is essentially the opposite of the old “virtuous cycle” of Barnett’s day. In the globalizer’s world, security allows economic trade and commercial ties to flourish. These ties, in turn, make otherwise hostile parties more secure than they were before, as each hostile power now has a natural interest in the prosperity of the other. In this document both security and prosperity play a very different role. Here the power to secure protects domestic industry from harm and subversion; growing industry, in turn, provides greater resources and a technological advantage to the securing power.

At several points the National Security Strategy explains why this new paradigm is needed. It is

largely due to the fact that nations, not sharing universal values, or political and economic systems based on such values in common, are expanding their influences, thereby manifesting risks around the globe. Specifically, some states, which do not exclude the policy of increasing their own national interests at the expense of others, are expanding their influence through both military and non-military means, attempting to uninilaterally change the status quo, and accelerating actions to challenge the international order. Such moves have sharpened competition and confrontation among states in wide-ranging areas, including military, diplomatic, economic, and technological fields, and have shaken the foundation of the international order.7


ibid., 5.

The nations in question are clearly Russia and China. The focus on “universal values” surprised me. I did not anticipate a Japanese declaration that “strong leadership is being lost in the global governance structure at large” because of “diversifying values around the world.” 8This rubs against common potrayals of the Japanese as ideological pragmatists. It also reminds me somewhat of Kenneth Pyle’s survey of Japan’s diplomatic history, Japan Rising: The Resurgence of Japanese Power and Purpose, which concludes that since the Meiji era Japanese policy elites have tried to align their polity with the values and norms they believed were governing the world order. The explosive violence of the 1930s, in this view, occurred in part because in Japanese eyes there was no longer any set of hegemonic values for the Japanese state to anchor itself on. 9


ibid., 7


Kenneth Pyle, Japan Rising: The Resurgence of Japanese Power and Purpose (New York: Public Affairs, 2008). See especially pp. 170-210.

It also calls to mind a set of CST translations published in November. There translated was a roundtable discussion where several prominent Chinese academics described their view of the “great changes unseen in a century” now racking the international order. They too attributed at least part of the cracking up of the American-led order to a “diversifcation” of values. 10


Center for Strategic Translation, “Introduction to ‘How to Understand and Recognize Great Changes of the Century.’” San Francisco: Center for Strategic Translation, 2022.

I read the National Security Strategy of Japan with the same trepidation I read the Jake Sullivan’s speech on chip export controls.11 I believe the Japanese have judged correctly; I support the Biden administration’s attempt to blunt China’s technological edge. But it is difficult to see these things play out in real life and feel any sense of victory. We are sliding into a darker world order. The Chinese got there first; we should have followed long ago. There is little sense in keeping to old forms that do not match present realities. But the old forms will not go unmourned. It is always sad to watch a dream die.

Leave a Comment


“We are sliding into a darker world order. The Chinese got there first; we should have followed long ago. There is little sense in keeping to old forms that do not match present realities. But the old forms will not go unmourned. It is always sad to watch a dream die.”

It would seem more accurate, if less diplomatic, to say something like: “The Chinese chose the path towards a dark world order; we should have followed much sooner.” There is an alternate world history in which China chooses less repression and doesn’t continually threaten Taiwan.

There is only one China, and Taiwan is part of it. That is recognized international law, and international law is what matters. The rest is noise.

There is only one Taiwan, and China is not part of it. That is recognized international law, and international law is what matters. The rest is noise.

But, but, this is false. Most countries of the world do not have embassies in TW for example. And TW is not in UN. etc. You just say false things like a child and you think somehow you are on the good side.

Not an impressive stick by which to judge sovereignty. PRC did not have either of those things for decades, but it was a real country nontheless.

It is not the Chinese. How about it is You the neocons who chose a dark path. Totally unnecessarily. Does it ever occur to you in US of A that it is you that is pushing the world into a dark corner? Do you guys forget about what you did in the last two decades just so damn easily?

He’s not just a neocon; he’s also a Mormon. Mormons hold a particular messianic and eschatalogical view of the US as an exceptional nation.

This gentleman Will Schryver who lives in Utah also happens to be LDS, and expresses views sharply at odds with those of this site’s proprietor—he seems to view Russia and perhaps the PRC as the Mormon God’s chastening rods for a decadent and depraved late stage empire.

The point being, not all Mormons fit the stereotype of the strait-laced FBI recruit or the Russian one that all LDS missionaries were CIA leftover from the last Cold War. The edgy young males of ‘#Dezbollah’ for Deseret reactionary shitposters certainly don’t. But I suppose we’re living in an era where ‘they [insert whatever racial or religious group] are not all like that’ countering stereotypes is mostly wasted breath when speaking to many people.

I will attempt to give our host a definition of neocon, since Patrick J Buchanan once defined it in the early 90s run up to the First Gulf War with Iraq in heavily ethnic terms as ‘Israel’s Amen corner’ in the U.S. But given the fact that most neocons have turned on Benjamin Netanyahu, hated Trump as the ‘most pro-Israel American President in history’ and it is the British who have taken the lead in arming Ukraine with longer range weapons of late while the pragmatic Israelis hang back, and recalling the strange Anglophilia bordering on Anglomania of Max Boot waxing after 9/11 about self confident young men in jhodpurs civilizing Afghanistan makes me think that it is Great Britain, and not Israel, to which the neocons have divided or dual loyalties. Heck look at the sniveling Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger who went to one Halifax Conference in Canada and came away a committed hardcore McCain acolyte ready to provide tanker support to making Syrian skies safe for the Al-Nusra front.

So to answer Tanner’s question, I would say a neocon in foreign policy terms is someone who views the United States, whatever lip service might be paid to wokeness or having a Rishi Sunak in Number 10 rather than a David Cameron, as the eternal son and heir to the British Empire. Which must maintain the British Empire’s global network of bases and its 19th century Great Game antagonisms toward the Russians while trying and failing to keep the Germans down and away from the Russians cheap energy and natural resources at all costs (hell Stratfor’s once influential George Friedman famously admitted this as a prime directive during a speech). A foreign policy of course at odds with that of the Founding Fathers, some of whom wanted reconciliation with England but not at the price of American subordination to British elites by which I mean City of London interests.

The idea of the 5Eyes itself becoming less important to the US in the future, or Red States Americans starting to view the British and Canadian governments with less trust if not fellow citizens of the Anglosphere countries with mistrust in the future as a curious thing (the Steele Dossier aka disavowed MI6 meddling in an American election might have longer term consequences). So too is enduring Indian Russophilia, which is complicating India’s full absorption and trustworthyness as a full fledged American ally (picture Indians raised on anti-Britishness from their ‘red’ uncles gleefully selling the Argentines Brahmos high supersonic anti-ship missiles to make a repeat of British success in the Falklands War a far more costly proposition).
“British John! In all but name!”

So a neocon, in 2020s not 1990s America, is no longer an Israel firster if they in fact ever were, but an Anglo-American Empire worshipper.

I will point out that the baseline concept of “Core” and “Non-Integrated” is utterly ludicrous and ethnocentric.
The amounts of natural resources that the West imports from the 2nd and 3rd world is enormous and has been for a long, long time.
The only thing “Core” about the Core is its dominance over the international finance system because of its relatively large GDP share. The G7 was 61% of global GDP in 1991; it is less than 31% now.
This is meaningful because the G7 no longer can control the commodities market via its oversized economic presence nor via its control over international finance.
Japan, in this context, is a non-entity. While it is a large economy – it is literally the single most exposed country to the price of imported raw materials from food to energy to everything conceivable. The only rational explanation for its new position is economic: the rise of China has decimated Japan’s exports, and at least some Japanese think that by cleaving to the West in the coming (Western sponsored) confrontation with China, that Japan can claw back some of these losses.
My view is that this will be a historic error, but time will tell.

While not a defender of the core/gap concept, I’ll note that Barnett anticipates this objection. Or rather it does not even really feature it into it, as the flow of raw materials, especially energy, from core to gap is a core part of his larger theory, and in his eyes part of the story of successful integration.

It is also worth noting that he does not equate the core with the G7. Much more like the G20. All BRICS countries are explicitly included.

I wonder what such a map would look like today! Looking at it, i find it ludicrous that Romania – Bulgaria and the warring Yugoslavs were outside, while Russia and Ukraine especially were inside – the trajectory of Ro, Bg, Croatia and Slovenia just a short time after the map was published hinted that they were already integrated. Also the GCC countries are outside!

A not so long time ago I was writing to TPMB, what happened to that guy? I know he had severe nasal allergies and seemed to have succumbed to Russiagate mongering on his Twitter feed, but it seems like we haven’t heard much for Dr. Thomas PM Barnett in the last few years.

In the 1930s Japan tried to compensate for its exposure to foreign sources of raw materials by using its military to dominate its neighborhood. That is impossible for Japan now. China, a rising hegemon like Germany in the 20th century as against the UK and France, feels encircled by its rival, the US. The US must give ironclad assurance to countries like Japan that it will defend them against Chinese expansion. Under Biden the US has been doing this, lately with the reestablishment of a military presence in the Philippines. Ukraine is a massive test case of US will.

Exercise: Can you spot the logical error in the following statement:
“nations, not sharing universal values, … are expanding their influences” ?

I am reminded of the tired quip “That is why we can’t have nice things.” The nice thing is a world where you don’t have to be able to defend yourself against another when they come at you or you don’t need cops to do that for you. No matter what, there is always some evil in men’s hearts and they are going to come at you unless they are stopped or scared into not trying. Welcome to the life of the humans I guess.

At the risk of being a fool, is there a good link to a better quality of the picture to see what exactly it says?

Hm, if I read it correctly as a map written in 2002, it does strike me somewhat as a re-tread of the 1st and 3rd world, with the assumption of the 2nd world being gone. In that model, with a return of a “second” world on the horizon, its interesting how much things still overlap:

Which leaves some of the interesting choices of where to draw the 3rd world/gap on that map, some of it seem much more, aspirational, rather than real. South Africa’s inclusion in the Stable Africa seems questionable. Mexico I think was already falling apart. Though double checking your post on it, you put the falling apart of Mexico in the early 2000s, just as this map is made. So, this map of putting Mexico as part of integrated world may be tragic, rather than silly. Perhaps where the line being drawn in South America being strange also is just foresight, rather than something silly at the time.

The big differences of course were Mexico, India, China, Brazil, Chile, and Argentina.

I suspect were Barnnet to draw his map today mexico would fall out, while Indonesia, Vietnam, and [northern] Thailand would be plugged in. Maybe Benagladesh as well?But Vietnam is the one that stuck out to me the most as “well that has changed.”

Mexico has clearly fallen out — in 2000 it looked like it was “integrating” well. The Latin America ones were slightly arbitrary, but decided IMHO on questions like “where is the US military operating today?”

South Africa similar to Mexico in all this. Its historical arc in 1983-2003 more inspirational than 2003-2023 trajectory. But even in the aughts it looked like a good call–S. Africa added to BRICs (thenceforth BRICS) in 2010; inaugural G20 member.

The real questionable choice in 2003 wa snot putting Turkey in the integrated column. At the time it was mostly peaceful, looking to join the EU. Also part of the G20. But the reason why Turkey is not in is somewhat obvious.

I will not that my own country, Romania, was in Barnett’s Gap, while Ukraine, Hungary and Belarus were in the Core, which gave me a very rare frisson of outrage, given Romania’s exemplary integration in the European economy (with good and bad) ever since then (and which could be seen at the time as well). He basically pulled a lot of the map out of somewhere dark and smelly.

If the Japanese are seriously accepting US Tomahawks and follow on hypersonic ground launched missiles on their territory then they’re signing up for two hypersonic arms races in Northeast Asia for the price of one. Russia will defend Sakhalin with tactical nukes if necessary.

A big part of the strategy for the US is that Japan’s role is to soak up missile attacks from China in a conflict and draw it away.

Somebody else noted here a while ago in a thread that got overstuffed with their comments that Japan’s status as an unsinkable aircraft carrier is a big reason for the Pentagon’s confidence, one of the few in fact besides the world leading CISR that’s been spoonfed with great success for the Ukrainian military, in the event China moves on Taiwan in the next five years. But I can’t help but think the primary takeaway the PLA has had from Russia’s setbacks and failures has been: fry or jam the American satellites in low earth orbit first, or don’t invade Taiwan at all.

One should remember that the core reason for Japanese aggression in WWII was the massive population explosion caused by that nation’s pro-natalist policies (Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics Vol.6, pp158-9, 1996). It is often said that the Japanese attacked the US foolishly: wrong, it was desperation. Without invading and colonizing other lands, Japan at the time would have collapsed for want of resources. Of course, this is almost never mentioned, as it would remind us that government policies aimed at forcing population growth ever higher typically are disastrous for the working class (though short-term profitable for the elites).

So one can perhaps imagine that those Japanese officials with long historical memories, might think that having Japan be relatively self sufficient could be a good thing.

[Note: Changed your handle from TG to TG2 as TG is often an abbreviation the host uses; I would not want to confuse readers. –TG]

Our trouble is not about China; it’s about ourselves on two fundamental fronts,
1. free market capitalism has rendered the unbridgeable and worsening wealth/poor gap, the 1% vs. 99%.
2. And because of 1, our democracy is increasingly becoming populism, with both extreme right and left , especially the right, taken center hold of our politics.

‘China’ is not the cause of our problems, and even if ‘China’ goes away, it would not have solved our problems.

I, for one, am glad to watch this old ideological world order die. The architects of it never had any authority or legitimacy to pursue such a venture in the first place, using the graves of the fallen as their foundation as they did.

The veterans of WW2 did not fight for Globalized America. Globalized America was not desired by the people. It was always an ideological project forced top-down through generations. It should have died much sooner. Now there is little worth left in the pieces that remain.

That is a caricature and a whopper to boot. I called it the “Pentagon’s” new map for a reason.

Straw-man arguments are only required when one’s own argument is weak.