The Corner

Barnett Vs. Kaplan

The other day, I put up a long post on our emerging China debate. One of the articles I discussed was Robert D. Kaplan’s fascinating Atlantic Monthly cover story, “How We Would Fight China.” Since then, several readers have pointed me to a ridiculously overheated critique of Kaplan by Thomas P. M. Barnett. Apparently, Barnett is a smart and interesting fellow who’s book, The Pentagon’s New Map, has had a real effect on Defense Department thinking. I guess Barnett was having a bad day, because his response to Kaplan is too much of an adolescent rant to warrant comment. Maybe someday, after Barnett calms down, we’ll have a real debate.

Some folks are disposed to discount Kaplan on Barnett’s say-so. That would be a mistake. Barnett’s basic complaint–that Kaplan is just parroting the Navy line–is way too simple. For one thing, Kaplan’s piece has the effect of exposing a weak-point in Barnett’s theory. Take a look at this review of Barnett’s book by Mackubin Thomas Owens and you’ll see what I mean. Owens suggests that Barnett is repeating the mistake of the pre-World War I intellectuals, who believed that close economic ties rendered war impossible. There’s certainly room for a serious debate here (although Barnett needs to calm down first). But to dismiss Kaplan on Barnett’s say-so is silly. The bigger point is that, encouraging as they are, China’s growing economic ties to the West do not guarantee peace.

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