May 01

Applying Thomas P.M. Barnett’s “The Pentagon’s New Map” Strategy to the Nigerian Security Dilemma

Over the years it has been proven that there is a direct link between failed/failing states and terrorism.  These states provide terrorists safe-haven due to a lack of rule of law and because the host state authorities are simply unable to target these groups effectively. Empirical analysis has shown that there is indeed a direct positive correlation between state failure and terrorism. These states are “more likely to host terrorist groups that commit transnational attacks, have their nationals commit transnational attacks, and are more likely to be targeted by transnational terrorists themselves” (Piazza, 2008). When we look at the Fund for Peace Failed State Index 2013, Nigeria falls in at number sixteen on the list. While not considered a failed state it is certainly considered high risk due to a host of domestic issues, which have given rise to terrorism and prevented the Nigerian government from making  any significant headway against Boko Haram; a terrorist organization that continues to wreak havoc in Nigeria’s northern states. A solution to Nigeria’s problems may be found in Thomas P.M. Barnett’s The Pentagon’s New Map, in which he outlines a potential way to improve regional security and promote global stability through the expansion of globalization and restructuring of the U.S. military’s strategy. However, while I use Barnett’s ideas as the basis for state level solutions to instability, I will apply these concepts to Nigeria minus any U.S. involvement; extrapolating the ideas of promoting integration and restructuring military strategy.

Since we have proven through empirical research that failed/failing states breed terrorism, in order to combat this phenomenon, both the international community and individual states must promote development and stability throughout the regions where instability and underdevelopment are the norm; regions providing terrorist organizations with safe-havens from which they can continue to expand their operations relatively unchecked. Barnett refers to these regions as the “gap”. In the “gap”, instability and underdevelopment have disconnected many states from the rest of globalizations “core” (nations which we consider stable). This disconnection, in turn, has allowed terrorist groups and others with radical ideologies to flourish. Barnett argues that by promoting globalization and targeting terrorist groups through small scale direct action operations (which he argues must be sustained by a continuous U.S. military presence in the gap) we can significantly improve global security.  Until the gap is stabilized, threats will continue to emanate from these regions of the world; potentially destabilizing globalization’s core. Barnett’s argument offers a practical approach to this dilemma, as he targets the problem of instability on both a macro and micro level.

From a constructivist approach, the reality is, each continent, each region, each state, has unique factors in play that make any universal approach to combat instability something of a general treatment, which temporarily relieves symptoms, yet offers little chance of long term success. This is especially true for global counterterrorism efforts as terrorist organizations are fueled not only by government instability, but by certain factors which may be specific to the state/region in which they operate. For example, Boko Haram, which operates primarily in the northern Nigerian states of Yobe, Borno and Adamawa, has managed to survive due to support the group receives from disenfranchised northern Muslims and certain politicians. This sense of disenfranchisement has been exacerbated by a host of factors including; the lack of a uniform legal system throughout Nigeria, a lack of investment in the northern states and the Nigerian government’s reliance on heavy-handed tactics to target the group. However, when we look at Nigeria, it can be argued that it is one of the most integrated countries in Africa. It is Africa’s largest economy, the continent’s largest recipient of FDI and the continent’s number one oil producer. However, while Nigeria is already well integrated with the international community it suffers from many problems on the state level which have given rise to instability. While it falls in at number sixteen on the Failed State Index 2013, a large part of Nigeria’s ranking can be attributed to its score in the vengeance-seeking group grievance category due to the current insurgency taking place. When this factor is removed, the country falls in at number 34. For Nigeria to reduce its score in the  vengeance-seeking group grievance category (if one goes by the Failed State Index 2013 rankings), significant improvements in the categories of progressive deterioration of public services, security apparatus, rise of factionalized elites and uneven economic development would be needed; improvements not easily made through a universal (macro) one size fits all approach. Should improvements be made in these areas utilizing both macro and country-specific micro-scale remedies, not only will Boko Haram lose much of its legitimacy, Nigeria would also find itself much further down on the Failed State Index list. Since Barnett emphasizes the elimination of disconnectedness through the expansion of globalization and the subsequent stability it creates, then how can we apply this remedy to Nigeria’s current problems?

Firstly, the majority of Nigerian’s enjoy unrestricted access to the internet, television and other media, women enjoy the same freedoms as men, with many women (such as Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala ) holding high level positions within the Nigerian government. Also, the Nigerian government is secular; promoting religious freedom and tolerance. Yet, access to media and individual freedom are lacking in the northern states. While globalization has indeed reached Nigeria, it hasn’t spread throughout the state in its entirety. So how do we promote globalization in a state which is well on its way to globalization’s core yet has a segment of its population that remains disconnected? The answer is simple, while promoting globalization and economic integration may not help Nigeria, promoting the elimination of disconnectedness on the state level through policies aimed at the integration of the northern states would. If Barnett’s solution is applied to Nigeria on the state level, with the northern states representing globalization’s gap, and the south it’s the core, Barnett’s solution is actually quite practical.

Second, in regards to using military action against Boko Haram, while any such actions are certain to have a detrimental effect on the group temporarily, any long term solutions would need to be combined with effective policies aimed at promoting integration and the restructuring of Nigeria’s military strategy. Unless this tripartite approach is implemented, only temporary gains will be made. The restructuring of Nigeria’s military will be especially essential. As Barnett emphasized the need to turn the U.S. military into a global police force of sorts, the Nigerian government must adopt the same view in regards to its own military, but with a domestic rather than international focus; expanding its operations throughout Nigeria with a focus on keeping its citizens safe. While it will be essential to conduct direct action missions against Boko Haram, these must be limited to small scale special operations type missions where the targets are specific and relevant; causing maximum impact to the organization with a minimal amount of collateral damage. So far, the Jonathan administration’s heavy handed tactics have driven citizens into the arms of Boko Haram. Should the Nigerian government adopt a military strategy similar to Barnett’s on a state scale, it will most likely make significant gains in its battle against Boko Haram, especially when combined with policies aimed at integrating the northern states into Nigeria’s core.

While Barnett’s strategy was designed with a focus on promoting U.S. security interests on a global scale, his belief that the promotion of globalization will result in global integration, a subsequent elimination of disconnectedness and enhanced stability is certainly applicable on the state level. While Nigeria was the focus of my analysis, Barnett’s concept could certainly be applied to other countries such as Somalia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, etc. While the minutia of this strategy would vary on a case by case basis, the overall framework would remain the same and could significantly improve state, regional and global security.


Barnett, T. P. (2004). The Pentagon’s New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-First Century. Putnam Publishing Group.

Piazza, J. A. (2008). Incubators of Terror: Do Failed and Failing States Promote Transnational Terrorism. International Studies Quarterly, pp. 469-488.

The Fund for Peace. (2013). The Failed State Index 2013. Retrieved from The Fund for Peace: