October 04, 2004

The Libertarian Gap

The Gap, or more formally the Non-Integrating Gap, is a concept at the core of Dr. Barnett's The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-First Century. But what is the Gap? This question comes to me every time I read a libertarian critic of the concept.

Gap countries are, by definition disconnected from the global rulesets that manage the Core, those states where a disturbingly large proportion of the world wants to get into. I say disturbingly because, all things being equal, there is really no reason for people socially acculturated and biologically specialized to warm climes to make their way in large numbers to nordic nations, but they do. Something pretty special must be attracting them while simultaneously repelling them from their ancient homelands. That something is clear after a bit of investigation, huge waves of horrifying violence interspersed with a daily brutality of individual denigration and lack of the normal rights to live out their lives in control of their own destiny.

But violence, violating individual rights is as old a story as Cain and Abel and such regimes historically have been the norm. Something's different today and there's a disturbing lack of analysis among certain libertarian circles what it is. Hillaire Belloc touched the surface of the problem in his famous jingle "Whatever happens, we have got/ The Maxim gun, and they have not."

The jingle is no longer true. "They", the rulers in the Gap, now have the Maxim gun and many of its deadly progeny and it has revolutionized "their" world. Modern technology is both liberating and repressive but what characterizes a major difference between the Gap and the Core is that in the Gap, it is the repressive aspects that predominate, while the Core features a much stronger tilt towards the liberating aspects of technology.

To maintain a firm grip on power, Gap nation elites must repress the formation of independent power centers. To keep themselves on top of the heap they must ruthlessly hold down anybody who will not buy into the rules of the local game, screw the little guy and maintain power for the established elite at all costs. To do this they strongly control the connectivity that the little guys can have with the outside world. They make incompatible rulesets that leave normal people ill prepared and almost entirely unable to access Core capital that might allow them to build up some economic security of their own. They do not guarantee property, they regularly usurp it and only membership in the elite saves you from such indignities.

In the mediation of Core connectivity (they need their 'Maxim Guns' after all), they have allies in Core states who extract excess profits by catering to the odd and arduous hoops that connectivity with a Gap nation requires jumping through. To protect those excess profits, they form a ready 5th column inside the Core to fight against any humanitarian or libertarian intervention to reduce the misery and violence of the Gap system.

But there is a countervailing constituency for Gap freedom, immigrants into the Core. They keep their relatives alive with their remittances and feel strong attachment to the land of their birth. They see freedom and justice in the Core and want it for the old country too. Since these people live relatively free, they are able to save and build their own businesses in the Core and some of their discretionary income could be available for liberation of the old country.

This threat to Gap nations must be eliminated to preserve the near hermetic seal that makes the entire bloody operation viable. Sometimes this is accomplished by disrupting exile community solidarity, other times direct action is called for. But the worst possible threat is the actual organization of a rebel force to gather and train in the Core and take over a Gap nation, because while the Gap elites may have the Maxim Gun but they remain woefully far behind what is available to the Core. Such movements inside the Core would inevitably lead to infiltration by Gap agents and low intensity warfare to disrupt such organizations before they were ready to launch their invasion. The Core has universally (as far as I can ascertain) illegalized the organization of such movements from their soil in order to avoid such low intensity warfare.

It is this choice of repressing Core citizens from defending their loved ones still inside the Gap that should, but does not, trouble libertarian critics of Barnett. Because once you've agreed to repress the only escape valve for the populations in the Gap and you agree to tolerate those who would lobby for and support (directly and indirectly) the daily violence and repression in the Gap, then you've taken a long step away from libertarian ideals. Unfortunately, the ideal libertarian solution is not currently very practical.

Two examples of this impracticality come to mind. When I was young, I had a friend, Guido Valeri whose house, some years before, housed some Iranians, members of the Shah's upper class who fled after the revolution. They did not stay that long because the Iranian external espionage discovered where they were and went gunning for them one dark evening in their exclusive Greenhaven, NY neighborhood and they obviously did not wish to wait for them to try again.

The second example is a bit closer to where I live now in the suburbs of Chicago. Ion Petru Culianu, a University of Chicago Divinity Professor, was murdered in a campus restroom in the middle of the day with a single shot from a .25 caliber pistol. Prof. Culianu was involved in Romanian politics and his murder has never been definitively solved, though the Romanian secret police of the time are prime suspects and certainly his murder had the perfect effect in the emigre community if it were planned by the Gap style troglodytes running Romania at the time.

Bullets flying in the nighttime and assassinations in the men's room are just not acceptable so an alternative solution for libertarians with an ounce of practicality has to be fashioned. And thus we enter into the world of Dr. Barnett, shrinking the Gap, and harnessing the power of the State to undo the devil's bargain that we have fashioned with repressive Gap elites over the many years since the Core's technological advantage exploded to an insurmountable height and Hillaire Belloc rhymed his way into the hearts of 3rd world imperialists and armorers everywhere.

At the heart of Barnett's "future worth creating" is globally extending the territory where consensual government, rule based economics, and individual freedom empower moderates to the point where they can resist and suppress their own crazies so the inmates are not running the asylum. That's a goal that any libertarian should be more than happy to get behind. What is up for grabs in Barnett's vision (and here his history as a Pentagon thinker does not serve him well) is how much of this work will be done in the Pentagon and how much out of it? In fact, how much needs to be done by the state at all? Dr. Barnett is not doctrinaire about who is to do the shrinking of the Gap, merely that the Gap must be shrunk so that we no longer have to repeat the endless cycles of sending our armed forces to the same hot spots over and over and over again.

Posted by TMLutas at October 4, 2004 02:29 PM