Academic Geographers Don’t Like the Pentagon’s New Map

Glossary,” by Thomas Barnett,

Updated Glossary of Key Terms from the Pentagon’s New Map,” by Thomas Barnett,

Neoliberal Geopolitics,” by Susan Roberts, Anna Secor, and Matthew Sparke, Antipode, 35:5, 2003, ppg 886-897,

Denaturalizing Dispossession: Critical Ethnography in the Age of Resurgant Imperialism,” by Gillian Hart, Creative Destruction: Area Knowledge & the new Geographies of Empire, 15 April 2004,


Continuing my work from “Operationalizing the Gap” (which itself built off of “The Cores of Europe“), I now look at what the academic press is saying about Tom Barnett’s Pengatgon’s New Map Theory.

The results aren’t kind.

The 2003 article in Antipode is the earliest example of academic geopgrahic reaction to Tom Barnett’s theories. It is striking how much it gets its interpretation wrong, though in fairness Barnett has since clarified his work so address the reactions. The authors lump PNM Theory with a “neoliberal geopolitics,” and begin their assault…

  • The authors assert that Barnett claims the Core and Gap are perfectly continuous

    “What remains of the world is, of course, the “Functioning Core,” supposedly characterized by low levels of US military involvement and high levels of global connectivity. It oddly includes such countries as Mongolia, Bhutan and North Korea. Perhaps the Gap’s lasso could have wiggled north in the East China Sea to capture North Korea, but Barnett seems determined to maintain the Gap as a contiguous area, represented on his West/East globes as a dark blot seeping across the planet from the Caribbean to South East Asia. For Barnett there is no Gap in the Core, no Core in the Gap: no details that might disrupt his Mackinderesque bands of homogenized planetary difference.” (890-892)

    In his Blueprint for Action glossary, Barnett addresses this claim:

    course, each region contains some countries that are very Core-like in their attributes (just as there are Gap-like pockets throughout the Core defined primarily by poverty), but these are like mansions in an otherwise seedy neighborhood, and as such are trapped by these larger Gap-defining circumstances.

    However, even his older Pentagon’s New Map glossary addresses the non-continuous nature of Core and Gap:

    The Functioning Core at present consists of North America, Europe both “old” and “new,” Russia, Japan, China (although the interior is less so), India (in a pockmarked sense), Australia and New Zealand, South Africa, and the ABCs of South America–Argentina, Brazil, and Chile

  • The authors assert that Barnett claims the US, unilaterally, is the SysAdmin

    “This systems theory technovernacular enables Barnett to refer to the US as the “System Administrator,” a metaphor that implies that the US alone has the ability to effect the rules and settings within which the other “users” on the network must operate.” (893)

    But compare to Barnett:

    The “second half” blended force that wages the peace after the Leviathan force has successfully waged war. Therefore, it is a force optimized for such categories of operations as “stability and support operations” (SASO), postconflict stabilization and reconstruction operations, “military operations other than war” (MOOTW), “humanitarian assistance/disaster relief” (HA/DR), and any and all operations associated with low-intensity conflict (LIC), counterinsurgency operations, and small-scale crisis response. Beyond such military-intensive activities, the SysAdmin force likewise provides civil security with its police component, as well as civilian personnel with expertise in rebuilding networks, infrastructure, and social and political institutions. While the core security and logistical capabilities are derived from uniformed military components, the SysAdmin force is fundamentally envisioned as a standing capacity for interagency (i.e., among various U.S. federal agencies) and international collaboration in nation building.

Roberts’, Secor’s, and Sparke’s conclusion, without comment:

As we said at the start, we do not want to claim too much for neoliberalism. It cannot explain everything, least of all the diverse brutalities of what happened in Iraq. Moreover, in connecting neoliberal norms to the vagaries of geopolitics, we risk corrupting the analytical purchase of neoliberalism on more clearly socioeconomic developments. By the same token, we also risk obscuring the emergence of certain nonmilitarist geoeconomic visions of global and local space that have gone hand in hand with neoliberal globalization (see Sparke 1998, 2002; Sparke and Lawson 2003). But insofar as the specific vision of neoliberal geopolitics brought many neoliberals to support the war (including, perhaps, Britain’s Tony Blair as well as Americans such as Friedman), insofar as it helped thereby also to facilitate the planning and overarching coordination of the violence, and insofar as the war showed how the extension of neoliberal practices on a global scale has come to depend on violent interventions by the US, it seems vital to reflect on the interarticulations.

In 2004, using the cartoons of Jonathon Shapiro as an anchor, Gillian Hart continues the attack


Like Roberts, Secor, and Sparke, however, Hart misses the mark.

  • Hart asserts that Barnett claims the Gap must be bombed into freedom

    “The Non-Integrating Gap must, quite
    literally, be bombarded into embracing Western liberal democracy and market capitalism.
    So direct, salient, and prescient is Zapiro’s cartoon of September 28 2001 that one is led
    to wonder whether he had privileged access to these savage Pentagon cartographies.”

    Hart is refering to the A-Z Rule-Set for Processing Politically Bankrupt states, one of Barnett’s two strategies. However, as Barnett wrote in his first book:

Hart’s conclusion, without comment:

The imperatives for foregrounding what Coronil calls non-imperial geohistorical categories assume intense urgency in a post-9/11 world in which the likes of Thomas Barnett and Samuel Huntington are at the helm of producing official knowledges that bound world regions in dangerous new ways. Relational understandings of the production of space and scale are crucial for forcing attention to the mutually constitutive processes through which metropoles and (post)colonies make and remake one another. In addition, attending to interconnections that circumvent the US and Europe can be productive of fresh insights into broader constitutive processes, as well as new possibilities for social change.

I’ve only highlighted interpretations which contradict Barnett’s definitions. The rest of the articles imply these errors may be purposive. Both are clear, normative attacks against PNM Theory. They are evidence that ideologically-based research has found a comfortable home in Geography.

Perhaps the most disappointing part of this research is the lack of geographic research in Barnett’s theories, at all. There’s the odd piece which lumps him with other “imperialists” or other boogie monsters, but nothing substantive. Nothing that adds anything,

Too bad.

2 thoughts on “Academic Geographers Don’t Like the Pentagon’s New Map”

  1. “They are evidence that ideologically-based research has found a comfortable hom in Geography”

    No poopy. Antipode is the journal of “radical geography” nuts that are trying to seize the AAG from the regular liberlas. At its website Antipode boats that it is “the only left-wing journal dedicated to exploring the geographical constitution of power and resistance”

    At the AAG convention two years ago they tried to pass resolutions supporting gay marriage and condemn the Iraq war. They also have a weird hatred for Plan Columbia. Marxists to the extreme.

  2. As I have said before, Barnett is a child of PowerPoint, and the “map” is just a visual device used to assist in the communication of his ideas. He isn't Mackinder. To Barnett the Heartland is Connectivity. Tell the geography mullahs to calm down.

    Oh, and Barnett is a neoliberal imperialist. Boogie boogie boogie!!

  3. Younghusband,

    Indeed. HJ de Blij defines a core of Europe in the same way, seeing it as an effect of culture and economics, instead of the cause.

    While doing research, I found “The Powerpoint Society” which uses Barnett as a case study on the effects of PPT within the Pentagon


    Well, that means at least his fellow Marxists are on to him!

    That only those who he shares a academic background with, as well as an interest in economic determinism, bother to mention him is dispiriting.


  4. Shloky,

    True — academics will work with what they are familiar with. That's why it's not surprising those who have picked him up have been, like Barnett, Marxist [1] theorists of the global south. [2]

    This isn't because of some noble aloofness — academics will jump over themselves to get funding on something newsworthy — but rather blindness and ideological aversion. Reading PNM would require tolerating a voice as far right as Tom Friedman's, and something not published in a journal, that that.

    We must wonder why we keep them around.


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